Google removed a great deal of featured snippets at the start of March 2021 then they returned. Google’s John Mueller comments on why visibility of featured snippets changes.
Featured Snippets Search Volatility
At the beginning of March featured snippets seemed to disappear from the search engine results pages (SERPs). Some were calling it historic lows.
Yet until recently there hasn’t been much information from Google.
Google’s John Mueller explained the reasons why featured snippets aren’t always stable in a recent office-hours hangout.
Was Featured Snippet Volatility Deliberate?
Someone asked if the removal of the featured snippets was intentional or if there was something else going on. Usually changes are incremental and not so seemingly dramatic.
“Just wondering if that was deliberate on Google’s side to reduce featured snippets from showing up or if it was maybe… for another reason that might be happening?
Just wondering if there’s any… rationale or if you know if… maybe it was a side effect of another change?”
John Mueller didn’t comment on the recent featured snippets volatility. But he did offer an explanation of why featured snippets can seem volatile.
Of interest is when he mentions that they are triggered and that Google tries to update the “thresholds” for triggering them.
John Mueller answered:
“I don’t know. …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.”
Reasons for Changes in Search
Organic changes in search can be a wide variety of things.
In general, Google’s search focus tends to align towards:
- Devaluing manipulative tactics
- Satisfying user expectations
- Showing useful content to users
- Responding to changes in search intent (shift in what keywords mean)
- Responding to changes in user behavior (Covid, travel, work from home)
John Mueller continued his answer by stating with confidence that a “technical requirement” is not a reason for losing a featured snippet.
“It’s definitely not the case that we say well, like there’s some technical requirement that’s missing on these pages therefore we dropped it.
It’s more we need to refine which types of results we show over time.”
When pressed on whether the recent reduction in featured snippets was a deliberate choice or a byproduct of something else, John Mueller explained Google’s perspective on it.
“I don’t know… I don’t know.
Usually we don’t think of it as much as we want to reduce the number of times we want to show a feature. But rather, we want to improve the targeting and the relevance of when we show the feature.
And sometimes that does mean overall it’s like fewer. But it might be that they’re fewer here and there’s a little bit more here.
That’s something that just happens over time. They’re always trying to find a better balance of what to show in search and improve that.”
Finding a Better Balance in the SERPs
Some in the search industry used to insist that Google Updates “targeted” niches and page quality issues. It was a widespread belief within the SEO industry that Google updates were “targeting” page quality issues or specific industries without stopping to think about how things like natural language processing might be affecting the SERPs.
While Google does focus on quality, Google’s major updates are generally about what Mueller said about finding a better balance.
When trying to figure out why the search results are changing, one can hardly lose by checking if the change relates to things like satisfying user expectations, usefulness of the SERPs, responding to the evolution of what users are searching for and taking into account the physical and geographic context in which users are searching.
Why Featured Snippets Change – View at the 24:20 Minute Spot