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Google teases featured snippet update with multiple links

Google teases featured snippet update with multiple links Blog Feature

Nick Bennett

Partnerships Manager and Marketing Automation Specialist, Retains 16 HubSpot Certifications, 8+ Years Experience in Customer Service & Marketing Strategy

December 14th, 2020 min read

At this point, it should come as no surprise to anyone when the contents of a search engine results page (SERP) changes from one search to the next.

Recently, Australian based SEO consultant Brodie Clark noticed Google added multiple links within a single featured snippet. You read that right. Multiple links. One snippet.

“But Nick… I thought the featured snippet was a sacred place, a safe place, where only one publisher is crowned king of the query?”

As of right now, it still is. And Google tests a lot of features that never make it to production. But Google only tests features it believes are solving a real problem for searchers.

Wait, this is a problem? What is going on here?

Very much so.

But first, we need to figure out what Google is testing. Brodie Clark does a great job of breaking it down.

The way Google is adding links to the featured snippets creates two problems:

  1. The links don’t point to the publisher Google used to create the snippet in the first place, diluting the value of the snippet.
  2. As seen in Brodie’s example, if Google can’t find an answer it deems good enough, it will use its AI to scrape content from the web (called web stories) and take the snippet for itself while inserting third-party links as sources where necessary.

Google’s aim is to add context and explanation to something within the featured snippet it thinks is deserving without having to leave the page. Things like industry jargon and proper nouns appear to be the most common right now.

I was unable to duplicate the result so here is a screenshot courtesy of Search Engine Land.

We’re seeing an overlay of third-party content linked inside of the featured snippet. Google is utilizing several publishers to create this experience. One for the snippet itself, and numerous others to provide the peripheral information they deem appropriate. 

Okay, so what?

Google has confirmed with other publishers that this was a small-scale test but marketers, SEOs, and doomsdayers alike see the writing on the wall: Google is trying to steal the featured snippet for themselves!

While I do agree with the sentiment, I don’t think that is the intention. Google’s quest is to solve for the searcher and sometimes that means hurting publishers. Why? Because no one publisher answers all of the questions about every topic they write about. 

Google needs other publishers to complete the picture.

What can marketers do about it?

Answer customer questions. Yup. That’s it.

Answer so many customer questions that Google doesn’t need to use third-party links in your featured snippets. Answer so many customer questions that Google doesn’t need to create its own featured snippet.

If you’ve followed IMPACT for the last couple of years, you’re aware of our obsession with the way buyers and customers think.

We call this obsession They Ask, You Answer, which is a business philosophy rooted in solving for the searcher and ultimately the buyer. If you’ve read They Ask, You Answer you may be familiar with the concept of ostrich marketing.

And if you haven’t read They Ask, You Answer, ostrich marketing simply refers to the act of burying your digital sales and marketing problems, like talking about cost or price, in the sand. Much like an ostrich supposedly does with its head, hoping the problem will just go away and everyone will forget about it.

Google aims to effectively ban “ostrich marketing” in that it will no longer allow a question to go unanswered. Sticking your head in the sand hasn’t been a viable sales and marketing strategy for a long time, but now Google is using AI to generate snippets and answer customer’s questions whether you want to or not.

The question is when someone searches for the thing that you do, what will they find?

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