On January 22, 2020, Google announced via Twitter that they have rolled out an important core algorithm update impacting the relationship between featured snippets and organic results. Naturally, this update announcement caused quite a bit of stir in the SEO community and sparked many questions.
What is a Google featured snippet?
Featured snippets, also known as answer boxes, are search results that appear in the very first position on a search results page (in a box) below any ads that may be present. This is also known as position zero.
The purpose of a featured snippet, from Google’s perspective, is to directly answer a user’s question or address their inquiry in the best way possible so that a user doesn’t need to keep searching. From an SEO perspective, “winning” a featured snippet gains you more visibility and likely traffic to your website.
The coveted position zero gives your brand and business more exposure should you be able to address an inquiry better than your competitors.
How did featured snippets work before the January 2020 update?
Even though Google announced the featured snippet update on January 22, it’s likely that the update began rolling out several days before.
Prior to the update, websites that earned a featured snippet also had their site appear in the organic results beneath the snippet if appropriate. This meant that websites could potentially score two spots on the first page of search results for a single inquiry or question from a user.
How will featured snippets work after the January 2020 update?
The purpose of the January update is to improve the user’s experience by removing duplicates from the search engine results. Websites that have a featured snippet for a specific inquiry, and appear in the organic results for that inquiry, now only hold on to their snippet and lose their organic result. Websites can no longer score two spots for a single inquiry or question from a user.
How does the January 2020 update impact me? Do I need to adjust my SEO strategy?
The change to featured snippets and organic results has understandably stirred up a lot of questions and panic amongst ecommerce business owners and website owners.
Because of the widespread prevalence and reliance on Google to find information, users have gotten used to its patterns and adjust their online behavior accordingly. For example, users are used to seeing advertisements directly above snippets and organic results. If users are disinterested in ads, they will scroll past them in order to reach the results they’re looking for. Some users even prefer to skip past the featured snippet and choose the first organic result to get a better understanding of the information they’re seeking out – even if the featured snippet and first organic result are the same.
If you owned a featured snippet and first organic result for a keyword, users who skipped over the snippet were likely still visiting your site anyway. However, because of the most recent update, you may not own the first organic result anymore. Your competitor may own it. So even though you have the best answer to someone’s question, your competitor may see more traffic.
Although this update means different things for different online businesses and websites, it’s likely going to require some re-evaluation at the very least. Because the update is so new and we are still studying the impacts, there are several strategies to consider.
Should I opt to deoptimize or tag my content with “nosnippet”?
Deoptimizing your content is definitely a risky move and we recommend discussing it with a specialist before committing to this strategy. If your content used to rank for both position zero and position one, and it would be better for your site to not hold the snippet, you could opt to lose your snippet in favor of hanging onto position one.
There are a few ways to do this. You could either apply a “nosnippet” meta tag to the content you no longer want to appear in position zero. A “nosnippet” tag means that your content won’t be included in the answer boxes, even if it’s a qualifying answer box winner. Or you could play around with keywords to try and lose the spot. The latter choice of course is riskier than the former. Intentionally losing the snippet through content rewrites, keyword research, and edits will be very time consuming and you could harm your organic rankings.
Deoptimizing and forfeiting the featured snippet feels and seems like the opposite of core SEO values and practices. It’s also likely a drastic measure to take in order to stabilize after the update. You’ll have to consider whether it’s better for you or your competitors to hold positions zero and one.
However, it’s very important to note that there are other strategies aside from rewriting your content or using the “nosnippet” tag to avoid position zero. You’re going to need to do some research to determine how well your snippet would perform in the organic search results should you implement a “nosnippet” tag.
The Google algorithms that determine how and why a website makes it to the top of the search results mostly focus on whether content provides a useful and valuable user experience. Does the content answer a question? Is the content easy to access and read? Is the inquiry addressed?
These are the guidelines that you can use to develop a more broad strategy towards acclimating to the January 2020 update. If you focus on the needs of your customers, clients, and users, and you’re actively providing them with the best online experience you can, you’re more likely to make Google happy as well.
To determine which strategy works best for you and your ecommerce business, we recommend reaching out to us for a free consultation today. We will take a look at your online traffic and performance to determine which move is the best for you.