Webmasters seem very torn about the ever-increasing encroachment of Google Featured Snippets into the search results pages. A featured snippet (AKA “Direct Answer” or “Rich Answer”) is a feature of Google search which displays a direct answer to a query for information in a box at the top of the results, without necessarily requiring a click through to a web page to get the desired answer.
In this post, I’m going to show you Featured Snippet types that likely don’t drive much traffic to the sites from which they were taken, some that probably do drive significant traffic, and then a real surprise: a rich answer that looks like it shouldn’t drive traffic, but probably does!
For more background on Rich Answers, see the following:
The latter post linked above summarizes some of the concerns SEOs and site owners have about these answer boxes. Chief among those concerns is the worry that such answers steal traffic from the sites from which they were scraped. It’s not a groundless consideration.
Answer Boxes That (Probably) Don’t Drive Traffic
If I ask Google what the local temperature is, and I get:
…I probably don’t need to click through to weather.com (the site from which the displayed information was taken).
In short, any answer box which contains exactly the bit of information the searcher wanted probably won’t cause many clicks on the citation link.
As Perficient Digital’s Eric Enge has said many times, if your site’s business model is built around providing such commodity information, you probably need to get a new model. At the least, you’re going to have to find some way to increase the value of the information you provide to a level where searchers will still want to seek out your site over the quick answers Google can provide.
Featured Snippets That (Probably) Do Drive Traffic
On the other hand, some types of Answer Boxes only provide so much information, but many searchers will probably want to know more. In such cases, the link(s) to your site in that box gives you a free trip up to #1 in Google search rankings, with a nice implicit Google endorsement of your site to boot.
Here are some examples that Eric Enge and our team found in our Rich Answer Box study linked at the top of this post:
The ellipses at the end of steps two and three in the example above are clickable links. They are meant to indicate that there is more text for that step on the original site. Of course, a click through would depend on the user recognizing that the ellipsis is meant to be a link, and the user feeling that more explanation was needed for the step.
Pro Tip: If your site has step-by-step instructions that might show up in a Google Answer Box, make sure at least some of the steps are longer than one sentence. Even better, see if you can end the first sentence in a multi-sentence step with some hint that there may be more valuable information not shown in the Answer Box. For example: “Learn these types of credit where you should always have low balances.” Then the next sentence would list the types of credit.
Even better for potential click-throughs is a list that is too long for an Answer Box to display all the items:
In this case, the quikrete.com post has a fourth step with considerably more text than the first three. The “More items…” link is very likely to be clicked by anyone who has read the first three steps and (I hope!) recognized that the job is not quite done. My bet is that Quikrete is very happy to have this Answer Box. In their case, they already had the #1 spot in the organic results for this query, but that isn’t always the case. Sites can get in the answer box even if their organic result is lower on page one, and/or they have lower domain authorities than the sites above them in the SERPs.
A Featured Snippet that DID Drive Traffic (But Looks Like It Shouldn’t!)
Finally, the example I’ve been waiting to share with you.
David Kutcher, owner of Confluent Forms, a website design and marketing firm, alerted me that he noticed recently that a post of his explaining RFPs (Requests for Proposals) was getting a Google Answer Box for the query “What is an RFP?” Here’s what it looks like in search as of this posting:
At first glance, this result would appear to be a traffic killer. It looks like it belongs in the first category above (Answer Boxes That Probably Don’t Drive Traffic). The entire short definition for RFP is given in the Answer Box. No need to click through to the site link, right?
However, Kutcher told me that starting around 20 February 2015 they began seeing a sudden, inexplicable, sharp increase in traffic to this nearly two-year-old post, an increase of about 20%. They entered the posts primary keyword (“what is an RFP”) in Google, and lo and behold, the Answer Box!
So why are people clicking the link in this Featured Snippet?
…if they are. We can’t be 100% certain, but I think people are clicking it (see section below on “Can We Prove It?”).
But why would they if the box seems to give the complete answer? I think there are at least two good reasons:
- The original post is about a complex topic. Kutcher managed to provide a concise, one sentence definition that Google thought was ideal for an Answer Box, but it’s obvious that this is a fairly technical subject, so many searchers will want to know more than just brief definition. Where they would go next is obvious: to the link in the Answer Box.
- The title tag Kutcher used (“What is a RFP, where to find RFPs, and are RFPs relevant”) is brilliant because it plants in the reader’s mind the idea that there is a lot more to this subject. (Thanks to Eric Enge for this last insight.)
Have We Proven That Featured Snippets Can Drive Traffic?
Now, unfortunately, we can’t absolutely prove that the Featured Snippet is the prime contributor of the new level of click volume their page is getting. Kutcher hadn’t been regularly doing this search recently, so he can’t say exactly when the Answer Box appeared.
However, Answer Boxes, especially the Featured Snippet format we see here, are a relatively recent addition to Google Search. Furthermore, the query set for which they appeared has been very limited, although it is now growing. (See our study linked above.)
But here’s what I think is the strongest circumstantial case for the direct answer as the explanation for this case. Take a look at the organic results under the Featured Snippet in the screencap above. The organic result for Confluent Forms is #2 behind Wikipedia as #1, and has been for some time now.
That’s significant. We already know that the #1 result on any SERP gets the most clicks, and that clicks on the #2 result drop off by as much as 50% compared to #1. But when the #1 result is one of the most trusted sites on the web, and #2 is relatively unknown, it’s probably a safe bet that the drop off between 1 and 2 is even steeper.
So….when you’ve been puttering along on the crumbs dropped off Wikipedia’s table for two years, and your traffic suddenly leaps upward (and stays there), and you notice Google has given you a free ticket to #1 in a featured, big-font box….well it’s a pretty safe bet you’ve found your culprit (or in this case, your benefactor!).
Once again, I want to stress that we have not proven that the Featured Snippet caused the sudden boost in traffic. But I think we at least see some smoke coming from the gun.
I’d love to hear from anyone whose site is getting shown in an Answer Box. Please share what results you’re seeing, positive or negative, if any!
Mark Traphagen was our Content Strategy Director for Perficient Digital until February of 2019. He has been named one of the most influential content and social media authors in numerous industry listings.