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Google Explains Missing Featured Snippets Following Unexplained Drop A Popular Search Display Feature 'Disappeared' – This Might Be Why

author image Written by: Wade Morris           Categories - In The News

Have you noticed that featured snippets are appearing far less frequently in Google search results? One Google user did, prompting the search engine’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, to explain the feature’s supposed volatility.

Featured snippets are a type of search result that displays an entire passage from a result at the top of the results page, rather than the typical page title and link you’d normally see.

In other words, when Google is so confident that a page can answer your query, it displays a relevant paragraph from that page right on your results page. The feature is great for a lot of reasons, primarily that it speeds up the process of getting an answer.

However, some Google users started to notice that featured snippets weren’t showing up as often as expected. Search Engine Land reported that there was a significant drop in the frequency of these results after Feb. 18.

Fortunately for those who became curious, Mueller gave some insight on the function of featured snippets during a recent Google Hangout.

Mueller’s comments were prompted by a viewer, who said that he was “Just wondering if that was deliberate on Google’s side to reduce featured snippets from showing up or if it was […] for another reason?”

Mueller didn’t provide any clarity on the Feb. 18 drop, but he did talk give insight on featured snippets.

“The featured snippets and rich results in general, those kinds of things can fluctuate over time, and I know the teams are always working on those features and trying to fine-tune the triggering.”

Mueller then speculated that the issue could be from a significant change in the threshold of what would ‘trigger’ a featured snippet to appear.

“Sometimes the triggering changes over time – we reduce the threshold overall, or we change the focus a little bit and say, ‘less here’ and ‘more here’. Sometimes, that happens across geographies or languages. These kinds of changes from our side are essentially normal organic changes in search.”

Wade Morris

Wade brings an energetic approach to writing – he is always on the hunt for stories and angles that matter. With years of experience in journalism and marketing environments, Wade has written about everything from politics to education. Now, he writes about SEO and digital marketing trends.

This is How Google Ranks Page Elements

08/04/2021

When you search the phrase “digital marketing” on Google, you might see a variety of items on the results page.

For example, we see, from top to bottom: a featured snippet linking to a page that defines ‘digital marketing,’ a list of questions that ‘People Also Ask,’ a map with nearby marketing offices and firms, and some standard page results.

If you were to type in a different search query – say, a celebrity’s name, or a question about fixing an appliance – you’d get a completely different list of result types.

How does Google decide which page elements are appropriate for each search query?

A few of Google’s Webmaster Trends Analysts discussed this topic on a recent episode of the company’s Search Off the Record podcast.

Read below to learn what Google’s Gary Illyes and John Mueller had to say.

How Google Ranks Page Elements

Google search results are determined by what most describe as an automatic bidding process. A search query could relate to standard page results, a featured snippet, a map, a set of images or videos, news articles, and many other possibilities – each of these bids for a spot on the page.

How do these elements earn their ranking?

Mueller says that “it’s almost like all of these different indexes, or kinds of content, have their own search engine. Basically, they’re saying, ‘my result is, like, super relevant, or kind of relevant.’ Then, there’s a ‘super search engine’ on top of all of these search engines that mixes them all together.”

In other words, the type of content is organized first – images go together, news articles go together, and so on.

Then, the relevancy of each page element is determined. This way, the more relevant elements end up competing for a spot at the top of the page, while less relevant elements aim for the middle or bottom.

It’s worth noting that some results will deliberately aim for a specific spot on the page – and it might not necessarily be the top spot.

“We have preferred positions for something like, for example, the video results,” Illyes explained.

For example, ‘related searches’ are often found near the bottom of the page.

So, what factors determine how these elements end up ‘winning’ their bids? Google’s precise ways of ranking are a bit of a mystery, but Illyes and Mueller explain that user interest plays a major role.

“How do you recognize if we should show images or videos?” Mueller asked.

“We learn it,” Illyes says, explaining that users’ clicks are important. “When you search for something that normally doesn’t have images or videos, and you tap the images tab on the result page, you are essentially teaching Google that there was this random person who wanted images for this particular query. If there are enough users doing that, then you are essentially teaching Google that the query might deserve images, or videos, or whatever.”

User behaviour shapes how Google learns and changes. For this reason, digital marketers, advertisers, and site owners should constantly keep up with Google, as it is always modernizing its services. This is especially true considering that Google frequently updates its algorithms – this spring and summer alone, there have been about a dozen updates.

READ MORE: Google Link Spam Update Continues String of Summer Updates
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Google: Bug is to Blame For Embedded Links in Featured Snippets

05/05/2021

Have you noticed that embedded links have appeared in Google’s featured snippets? You’re not alone. After a marketing professional in India noticed the links appearing in search results, Google confirmed that this is NOT a new feature. It is simply a bug.

The “bug” had embedded links within a website’s content that were included in a featured snippet. This kind of link is known as a search refinement.

A search refinement is when Google suggests a different search query when a user’s search is considered too vague. Vague searches can have multiple meanings, so rephrasing search terms can help users get better search results.

Here is a helpful example provided by Search Engine Land:

“If someone searches for Lollipop, Google will refine that search to satisfy users who are looking for lyrics to the song, a video of the song or versions of the song by different musical artists.” 

Why this Bug is Stirring Controversy 

The bug was first discovered by a marketing professional in India, who noticed links to additional Google searches within the content from the website that was displayed in the Featured Snippet shown in his search results for “cyber security courses.”

The idea of embedding a search refinement within a featured snippet was widely criticized within the search community, with one marketer describing it as “shady as hell.”

The reason for this is that when the embedded links are clicked on, it sends the searcher to a new set of search results without them realizing that this is what would happen. It is essentially a “secret” query refinement feature.

After the discovery was not well-received, a Google spokesperson responded with the following statement:

“We can confirm that this is a bug and is not intended behavior for links on featured snippets. We are actively working on a fix.” 

So, there you have it. Those who were concerned about this becoming a permanent feature can rest easy knowing search refinements in featured snippets are not here to stay.

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