Google Explains the Volatility of Featured Snippets in Search

At the beginning of March 2021, the search giant Google discarded heaps of featured snippets, and then, later on, they came back. In a recent Google Search Central office-hours hangout, Google’s John Mueller explained the reasons featured snippets visibility changes.

Featured Snippets Volatility in Search

At the start of March 2021, featured snippets seemed to vanish from Google search results. Some people called it historic lows.

However, Google has not provided much information on this until recently.

In a recent Google Search Central office-hours hangout, John Mueller, Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, explained why featured snippets are not always stable on the search engine results pages.

Was Featured Snippets Volatility Intentional?

A person asked Mueller if this removal of the featured snippets was deliberate or if it was due to some other reason. Typically such changes are gradual and not so apparently histrionic.

The individual said that they were wondering if Google deliberately reduced featured snippets from appearing in the SERPs or if there was another reason why that happened. They wondered if there was any rationale or if the change was a mere side effect of another change.

While Google’s John Mueller did not give any comments on the recent featured snippets volatility, he did explain why featured snippets can appear volatile.

What’s interesting is that Mueller mentions that featured snippets are triggered, and Google tries to update the ‘thresholds’ for triggering them.

In response to the question the individual put forward, Mueller said that the featured snippets and rich results, by and large, are the types of things that can fluctuate over time. He added that the teams are constantly working on those features, trying to improve the triggering.

So, when Google would and wouldn’t show them, sometimes the triggering just shifts over time that the team just kind of lowers the threshold overall or changes the focus a bit and say like less here and more here. At times, that also happens across languages or geographies. Further adding to his statement, Mueller said that such changes from Google’s side are basically regular organic changes in search, how they can always happen.

Reasons for Changes in Search

Organic search changes can be various things.

Mainly, the search focus of Google tends to align towards:

  • Displaying valuable content to searchers
  • Fulfilling the expectations of users
  • Responding to shifts in user intent (change in what the search terms mean)
  • Responding to shifts in user behavior (work from home, COVID-19)
  • Devaluing manipulative tactics

Continuing his response, Mueller confidently said that a “technical requirement” isn’t a reason for losing a featured snippet.

He explained that it is undoubtedly not the case that due to some missing technical requirement on pages, Google drops the snippets. It’s more about that the search engine needs to improve the kinds of results they display to the users over time.

When pushed on whether or not the recent removal of featured snippets was an intentional choice or merely a byproduct of something else that was going on, explaining Google’s point of view on it, Mueller said that he doesn’t know about it. He said that generally, they don’t think of it as much as they want to decrease the number of times they want to display a feature. But instead, they want to fine-tune the targeting and the relevance of when they display the feature.

Further adding to his answer, Mueller said that sometimes that does mean overall it’s like fewer. But it may be they are fewer here, and there’s a little more here. According to Mueller, that is just something that takes place over time. The team is always trying to find a better balance of what to display in search and refine that.

Wrapping It Up – Finding a Better Balance in the SERPs

Earlier, few people in the search industry used to claim that Google Updates were targeting quality issues or particular websites without even considering that things like natural language processing may be impacting the SERPs.

Undoubtedly, Google focuses on quality, but its significant updates are usually about what John Mueller said – to find a better balance.

When trying to determine why the search results are changing, it hardly ever hurts to check if those changes relate to aspects such as fulfilling user expectations, improving the usefulness of the SERPs, responding to the development of what searchers are looking for, and considering the physical and geographic context in which users are performing searches.