Firstly, if you are wondering what featured snippet is, it is a short section of text, a table or a list that appear at the top of search results that directly answers a search query. It is also known as position 0 as it ranks above the 1st organic result on the search page, as shown below.
Because of their prominence on the search page and the likelihood people would click on those results, there has been more and more focus in the SEO community to ‘win’ featured snippets for their websites.
Since their inception in 2014, the number of featured snippets showing for various search results has constantly grown, until the start of March 2021 when the frequency of featured snippets dropped to the lowest ever rate.
Bug or deliberate?
As this drop started to become apparent people were left wondering whether this was another bug in Google’s algorithm or was this drop in featured snippets done deliberately and if so, why?
As is normally the case Google wasn’t being particularly forthcoming with any information until John Mueller discussed it on a recent office hours hangout, which you can watch below.
Whilst he didn’t confirm or deny that this was a deliberate move on Google’s part, he did explain why we might see volatility in 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.
So, when we would show them or when we wouldn’t show them, sometimes the triggering changes over time that we just kind of reduce the threshold overall or that we change the focus a little bit and say like less here and more here. Sometimes that happens across geographies or languages.
But these kinds of changes from our side are essentially normal organic changes in search, how they can always happen.”
For better or worse
What we do know is that Google is always striving to deliver the best and most informative results possible to users. If they felt that by removing featured snippets users would have a better experience or find more relevant results then we should not be surprised by the change.
What we do know, almost a month after the first drop in feature snipper frequency is that they have now, almost all, returned. Google has not said it was a bug so if we are to believe that then this must have been a test of some kind to see how people interact with search pages with and without featured snippets.
As the featured snippets have returned, to the relief of many, we should assume they are here to stay and will form a part of the search results pages for the foreseeable future.