The Dirty Little Featured Snippet Secret: Where Humans Rely on Algorithmic Intervention [Case Study]

I lately completed a undertaking the place I used to be tasked to research why a web site (that receives over a million natural visits monthly) doesn’t rank for any featured snippets.

This is clearly an alarming state of affairs, since ~15% of all outcome pages, in line with the MozSolid, have a featured snippet as a SERP function. The undertaking was handed on to me by an business pal. I’ve achieved a variety of analysis on featured snippets up to now. I hardly ever do once-off tasks, however this one actually caught my consideration. I used to be decided to determine what difficulty was impacting the location.

In this publish, I element my methodology for the undertaking that I delivered, together with key takeaways for my shopper and others who is likely to be confronted with an analogous state of affairs. But earlier than I dive deep into my evaluation: this publish does NOT have a fairy-tale ending. I wasn’t in a position to unclog a drain that resulted in 1000’s of latest guests.

I did, nevertheless, ship large quantities of closure for my shopper, permitting them to maneuver on and make investments sources into areas which could have a long-lasting influence.

Confirming suspicions with Big Data

Now, when my shopper first got here to me, they’d their very own suspicions about what was occurring. They had been suggested by different consultants on what to do.

They had been instructed that the featured snippet difficulty was stemming from both:

1. An difficulty regarding conflicting structured information on the location


2. An difficulty regarding messy HTML which was stopping the location from showing inside featured snippet outcomes

I instantly shut down the primary difficulty as a trigger for featured snippets not showing. I’ve written about this matter extensively up to now. Structured information (within the context of does NOT affect featured snippets. You can learn extra about this in my publish on Search Engine Land.

As for the second level, that is extra near actuality, but additionally so removed from it. Yes, HTML construction does assist significantly when making an attempt to rank for featured snippets. But to the purpose the place a web site that ranks for nearly 1,000,000 key phrases however doesn’t rank for any featured snippets in any respect? Very unlikely. There’s extra to this story, however let’s verify our suspicions first.

Let’s begin from the highest. Here’s what the estimated natural visitors appears to be like like:

Note: I’m unable to indicate the precise visitors for this web site attributable to confidentiality. But the month-to-month estimation that Ahrefs offers of 1.6M isn’t far off.

Out of the 1.6M month-to-month natural visits, Ahrefs picks up on 873Ok natural key phrases. When filtering these key phrases by SERP options with a featured snippet and ordering by place, you get the next:

I then did related analysis with each Moz Pro utilizing their featured snippet filtering capabilities in addition to SEMrush, permitting me to see historic rating.

All three instruments displaying the identical outcome: the location didn’t rank for any featured snippets in any respect, regardless of ~20% of my shopper’s natural key phrases together with a featured snippet as a SERP function (increased than the typical from MozSolid).

It was clear that the location didn’t rank for any featured snippets on Google. But who was taking this place away from my shopper?

The subsequent step was to research whether or not different websites are rating throughout the identical area of interest. If they have been, then this may be a transparent signal of an issue.

An “us” vs “them” comparability

Again, we have to replicate again to our instruments. We want our instruments to determine the highest websites based mostly on similarity of key phrases. Here’s an instance of this in motion inside Moz Pro:

Once we’ve got our closing record of comparable websites, we have to full the identical evaluation that was accomplished within the earlier part of this publish to see in the event that they rank for any featured snippets.

With this evaluation, we are able to work out whether or not they have featured snippets displaying or not, together with the % of their natural key phrases with a featured snippet as a SERP function.

The subsequent step is so as to add all of this information to a Google Sheet and see how every thing matches as much as my shopper’s web site. Here’s what this information appears to be like like for my shopper:

I now have to dig deeper into the websites in my desk. Are they actually all that related, or are my instruments simply choosing up on a subset of queries which might be related?

I discovered that from row eight downwards in my desk, these websites weren’t all that related. I excluded them from my closing dataset to maintain issues as related as potential.

Based on this information, I may see 5 different websites that have been just like my purchasers. Out of these 5 websites, just one had outcomes the place they have been rating inside a featured snippet.

80% of comparable websites to my shopper’s web site had the very same difficulty. This is extraordinarily essential info to bear in mind going ahead.

Although the pattern measurement is significantly decrease, a kind of websites has ~34% of search outcomes that they rank for the place they’re unable to be featured. Comparatively, that is fairly problematic for this web site (contemplating the 20% calculation from my shopper’s state of affairs).

This evaluation has been helpful in determining whether or not the difficulty was particular to my shopper or your entire area of interest. But do we’ve got pointers from Google to again this up?

Google featured snippet help documentation

Within Google’s Featured Snippet Documentation, they supply particulars on insurance policies surrounding the SERP function. This is public info. But I feel a really excessive proportion of SEOs aren’t conscious (based mostly on a number of discussions I’ve had) of how impactful a few of these particulars might be.

For occasion, the rules state that: 

“Because of this prominent treatment, featured snippet text, images, and the pages they come from should not violate these policies.” 

They then point out 5 classes:

  1. Sexually specific
  2. Hateful
  3. Violent
  4. Dangerous and dangerous
  5. Lack consensus on public curiosity subjects

Number 5 particularly is an attention-grabbing one. This part shouldn’t be as clear as the opposite 4 and requires some interpretation. Google explains this class within the following means:

“Featured snippets about public interest content — including civic, medical, scientific, and historical issues — should not lack well-established or expert consensus support.”

And the much more attention-grabbing half in all of this: these insurance policies do not apply to internet search listings nor trigger these to be eliminated.

It might be lights out for featured snippets in the event you fall into certainly one of these classes, but you’ll be able to nonetheless be capable of rank extremely throughout the 10-blue-link outcomes. A little bit of an odd state of affairs.

Based on my information of the shopper, I couldn’t say for certain whether or not any of the 5 classes have been guilty for his or her downside. It was certain trying prefer it was algorithmic intervention (and I had my suspicions about which class was the potential trigger).

But there was no means of confirming this. The web site didn’t have a handbook motion inside Google Search Console. That is actually the one means Google may talk one thing like this to web site house owners.

I wanted somebody on the within at Google to assist.

The lacking piece: Official site-specific suggestions from Google

One of essentially the most underused sources in an SEOs toolkit (based mostly on my opinion), are the Google Webmaster Hangouts held by John Mueller.

You can see the schedule for these Hangouts on YouTube right here and be a part of dwell, asking John a query in particular person if you would like. You may at all times attempt John on Twitter too, however there’s nothing like video.

You’re given the chance to clarify your query intimately. John can simply ask for clarification, and you may have a fast back-and-forth that will get to the underside of your downside.

This is what I did as a way to work out this example. I spoke with John dwell on the Hangout for ~5 minutes; you’ll be able to watch my section right here in the event you’re . The outcome was that John gave me his e-mail tackle and I used to be in a position to ship by the location for him to verify with the rating crew at Google.

I adopted up with John on Twitter to see if he was in a position to get any info from the crew on my purchasers state of affairs. You can observe the hyperlink above to see the total piece of communication, however John’s suggestions was that there wasn’t a handbook penalty being put in place for my shopper’s web site. He mentioned that it was purely algorithmic. This meant that the algorithm was deciding that the location was not allowed to rank inside featured snippets.

And an essential part of John’s response:

If a web site doesn’t rank for any featured snippets once they’re already rating extremely inside natural outcomes on Google (say, inside positions 1–5), there is no such thing as a strategy to drive it to rank.

For me, it is a soiled little secret in a means (therefore the title of this text). Google’s algorithms might resolve that a web site can’t present in a featured snippet (however may rank #2 persistently), and there is nothing a web site proprietor can do.

…and the top outcome?

The results of this, within the particular area of interest that my shopper is in, is that a number of smaller, seemingly much less related websites (as a complete) are those which might be rating in featured snippets. Do these websites present one of the best reply? Well, the natural 10-blue-links rating algorithm doesn’t suppose so, however the featured snippet algorithm does.

This signifies that the location has a variety of queries which have a low CTR, leading to significantly much less visitors coming by to the location. Sure, featured snippets generally don’t drive a lot visitors. But they actually get much more consideration than the natural listings under:

Based on the Nielsen Norman Group research, when SERP options (like featured snippets) have been current on a SERP, they discovered that they acquired appears to be like in 74% of circumstances (with a 95% confidence interval of 66–81%). This information clearly factors to the truth that featured snippets are essential for websites to rank inside the place potential, leading to far better visibility.

Because Google’s algorithm is making this determination, it is doubtless a legal responsibility factor; Google (the individuals concerned with the search engine) don’t wish to be those to should make that decision. It’s a difficult one. I perceive why Google must put these methods in place for his or her search engine (scale is essential), however communication could possibly be drastically improved for some of these algorithmic interventions. Even if it isn’t a handbook intervention, there must be some type of notification inside Google Search Console. Otherwise, web site house owners will simply spend money on R&D making an attempt to get their web site to rank inside featured snippets (which is just pure).

And once more, simply because there are classes out there within the featured snippet coverage documentation, that doesn’t imply that the curiosity of web site house owners is at all times going to go away. There will at all times be the “what if?”

Deep down, I’m not so certain Google will ever make this addition to Google Search Console. It would imply an excessive amount of communication on the matter, and will result in pointless disputes with web site house owners who really feel they’ve been wronged. Something wants to alter, although. There must be much less ambiguity for the typical web site proprietor who doesn’t know they’ll entry superior individuals from the Google Search crew straight. But for the second, it would stay Google’s soiled little featured snippet secret.

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