Google Featured Snippets: Opportunity or Risk ?
How featured snippets influence the click-through rate
Although there are no recent studies on the issue, it is clear that featured snippets draw a significant amount of attention away from “regular” search results through their visual presence above-the-fold alone. Already in 2017 a study by Ahrefs found that featured snippets attracted 8.6 percent of clicks, reducing clicks to the first regular results (Soulo 2017). In the meantime, Google has succeeded in improving the quality of featured snippets, which suggests that the appeal of featured snippets has continued to grow. Furthermore, in January 2020 Google decided to no longer list featured snippets as “position zero” but as the first regular search result, which further emphasizes their importance.
Therefore, content is clicked less in organic search, but is not necessarily worth less. Rather, it is the usefulness of the click-through rate as an indicator of success that must be further questioned. Many content marketers are convinced that good content continues to attract clicks and that the conversion rate is better suited to measure success (Sam-Martin 2020). Featured snippets and other SERP features, however, increase the requirements for content – which evolves “from SEO content to strategically charged multimedia content production”, as Gerrit Grunert of Crispy Content puts it.
Featured snippets in the Customer Journey
If organic search has been established as an important distribution channel, it is therefore essential to consider featured snippets in the strategy development and implementation. A look from the perspective of the customer journey shows what role featured snippets play and where opportunities and entry points lie for successfully using featured snippets in the customer journey.
1. Featured snippets in the awareness phase
The user has a diffuse problem that becomes more and more concrete through research. In this phase, featured snippets may appear as answers to users’ more general search queries. Since the search for information is still rather superficial in this phase, there is a high probability that the Featured Snippet content will be able to answer the question without clicking through to the website. There may be a branding effect for the brand that owns the Featured Snippet. However, this is difficult to measure.
2. Featured snippets in the consideration phase
The user is aware of his problem and is now looking for concrete solutions. Featured snippets are particularly relevant in this phase, as they are designed to provide answers to concrete questions. In this phase, authority and trust should be established and featured snippets could help in this process. As the need for information is already deeper, the likelihood that the website will be clicked through and the user will become a lead increases.
3. Featured snippets in the decision phase
The user now looks for concrete products or services to solve his problem. Different solutions are often compared with each other – a process in which featured snippets in table format can play a role. In general, however, it can be assumed that featured snippets play a rather minor role in this phase. Other SERP features, such as Google Shopping, are likely to be more common at this stage, as they better match the searcher’s intent. Unfortunately, there are no studies on this question at present.
Are featured snippets even relevant to my area?
Generally speaking, featured snippets are relevant for all those who rely heavily on organic search as a content distribution channel.
However, there are big differences in the percentage of featured snippets in search results, depending on the thematic niche and language. In the anglophone world, featured snippets are currently generally more widespread (around 9 percent on Google-US) than in the German-speaking countries with around 6 percent. In addition, the widely used “People also ask…” SERP feature follows the same logic as featured snippets and is already present on 29.26 percent of all search result pages on Google-DE and on 41.75 percent on Google-US. SEMrush Sensor is a useful tool to examine the prevalence of featured snippets and other SERP features, as it offers a detailed breakdown by countries and thematic niches.
One can assume that Google-DE will catch up, because featured snippets are of great strategic importance for Google. In fact, they are closely linked to voice search and especially to voice answers, which are largely based on the content of featured snippets. In 2016, 40.7 percent of all voice search answers came from featured snippets according to a study by Backlinko (Dean 2018).
Conclusion: featured snippets need to be considered
Featured snippets sometimes seem to be a niche phenomenon, but their impact on visibility in organic search is already very present in some areas. They can pose a risk as they increase the competition for visibility – but when you have a featured snippet, you are almost certain to be noticed. So, if you are interested in a visible placement in organic search, you should definitely look into featured snippets and consider them in the strategy development and content creation process. When creating outlines and producing content, simple optimizations can be implemented, which can increase the chances of winning featured snippets without much effort. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee and no universal recipe for this, but there are a number of expert recommendations that I have compiled in the free e-book “Featured Snippets and Strategic Content Marketing”.
Dean, B. (2018). We Analyzed 10,000 Google Home Results. Here’s What We Learned About Voice Search SEO. In: Backlinko Blog. https://backlinko.com/voice-search-seo-study (18.2.2019)
Fishkin, R. (2019). Less than Half of Google Searches Now Result in a Click. In: SparkToro Blog, 13. Aug. 2019. https://sparktoro.com/blog/less-than-half-of-google-searches-now-result-in-a-click/ (31.1.2020)
Kristina Sam-Martin lives and works in Vienna as a digital marketing consultant. Her focus is on online communication for international organisations and NGOs. She is particularly fond of infographics, content strategy and SEO. In 2020 she published the eBook "Google's Featured Snippets and Strategic Content Marketing".