Google’s methods of selecting which sites and types of content can be included in featured snippets have raised censorship concerns and murmurs of blacklists in some SEO circles. Google has numerously been asked to clarify what it’s policies are around what types of content can be displayed as these featured snippets and how it finds and removes content they deem as inappropriate for those placements. Featured snippets can be a fantastic way for companies to achieve increased exposure across search terms they may not rank at the top of the page for.
What is a featured snippet?
Featured snippets are blocks of content sourced by Google’s search algorithms from pages across the web. They are often shown at the top of search results pages for some queries. They can show up in paragraph form, with images or they can include bulleted lists, tables and more. The aim of these features is to give searchers a quick concise answer to a query that can be scanned by the user or read by Google Assistant or another voice partner.
Over a year ago, Google released a comprehensive guide to featured snippets and we believe that this guide has not changed much but it has been more refined.
What types of content does Google try to keep out of featured snippets?
Google states that they do not intend to show featured snippets for content that falls within several categories:
- Sexually explicit content.
- Hateful content.
- Violent content.
- Dangerous and harmful content.
- Lack consensus on public interest topics content such as categories like civic, medical, scientific and historical issues.
The last point on their list is an interesting one; Google specifically designed systems to generally prevent Op-Ed content from showing up as featured snippets, continuing their attempt to provide searchers with the most factual answer. As a result this means sites and pages that include highly polarized content are unlikely to represent consensus viewpoints on a range of sensitive topics would also be excluded from being shown as featured snippets.
“Featured snippets are a feature within Search that highlights web sources that are likely to contain what you’re looking for. Due to the special formatting they receive, we have policies that prevent us from showing a featured snippet for topics like civics or medical information where the content lacks broad consensus,” a Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land (one of the top SEO blogs). “Our systems are designed to not show featured snippets that would violate our policies, and we take action if violating snippets still appear. These policies and actions have no impact on how a page ranks in organic search listings.”
How does Google keep content out of featured snippets?
Primarily Google’s algorithms detect and automatically remove the types of content that don’t conform with its published content policies for featured snippets. Google cannot rely on human or manual actions to remove these types of content as they handle way too many searches per day and are constantly finding new content. Google states that, “our systems automatically strive not to show featured snippets that would violate our policies. However, the scale of search is so large that no system can be perfect. This is why we provide a public reporting system.”
Google is able to generate lists algorithmically to identify a large number of sites likely to contain highly polarising content that would be unlikely to represent consensus viewpoints on a range of sensitive topics, and would thus be likely to violate their policies. The vast majority of sites on this list are not political. Furthermore, Google claims that they do not encode any notion of political leaning or preference into their products, including Google Search.
When the algorithmic lists and detection systems fail, action will be taken manually. You can report featured snippets by clicking on the “feedback” link under the featured snippet to notify Google of an potential issues.
Not penalised in core search.
Just because a site is not eligible to show in Google’s featured snippets section does not mean it won’t rank in core web search. These sites still rank as they normally would in organic search results, there will be no impact on ranking and no penalty applied to these sites in normal web rankings.
Why should we care?
Featured snippets can be a great source of traffic to a web site and can also be the only source of traffic from voice searches from Siri, Alexa or Google assistant. Typically publishers and brands want content shown in the featured snippet box for a given query, but if the content of your site falls within these categories, the chances of your content being featured is far more unlikely.
If you would like to learn more about featured snippets and increasing your Google Search visibility please contact a member of our SEO team for a free consultation.