For the digital marketing world, August 2019 began with a bang as Google announced a BIG update to its search algorithm. With this update, Featured Snippets – Google’s favorite baby of this decade – saw a major rejig. For certain user queries, Google will now prioritize ‘fresh’ content in Featured Snippets. This blog shall help you understand the changes made by Google and how they affect your business.
What changes have been made to the Featured Snippets?
Google’s latest attempt is towards making its search engine think the way humans do. Users can ask any sort of queries to a search engine. Let’s take a few examples of user queries:
- Why does Earth revolve around the Sun?
- When was the US Open first held?
- Upcoming public holidays
The answers to the first and second questions above are ‘evergreen’ – they do not change over time (unless you have a revolutionary idea to thwart the principles of planetary motion or you have a time machine to go back and alter US Open’s history).
However, the answer to the third question – ‘upcoming public holidays’ requires some sort of time-relevancy. When a user asks such a question, he or she would be expecting a list of holidays coming next – in 2019 – 2020. Previously, the Featured Snippets did not consider such ‘freshness’ or ‘timeliness’ factors as much, and we often encountered results from pages from past years that had higher popularity than recent yet relevant pages. With the new update, Google tries to address such user queries and displays time-relevant Featured Snippets in the search results pages.
In essence – this update improves Google’s understanding of answers that require regular updates vis-à-vis answers that remain meaningful over time.
Which type of user queries shall get impacted by this Google update?
To understand this, let’s first categorize the user queries:
While the first category of user queries has no time-relevancy, the other 3 user queries have. With the latest Google updates, expect changes in the selection of content for Featured Snippets for user query categories – 2, 3 and 4.
Category 1 – Queries for information that seldom change over time:
The answers to these questions are “evergreen” and are not expected to change over time. Google’s new update does not affect the Featured Snippet in the SERPs for these user queries. For example, the answer to the question “Why does Earth revolve around the Sun” has not changed in the past decades. Therefore, the following Featured Snippet that is picked by Google after the update continues to show content that was created some years back:
Category 2 – Queries for information that change frequently
In contrast, there are certain queries that invoke answers that need to be fresh. If a user queried “upcoming public holidays”, he should see the list of holidays from the current year and next, not from 2017 or 2018. Before the update, users were at times seeing answers in the form of Featured Snippets from previous years. These results were therefore irrelevant and offered bad user experience. Now, Google’s engine tries to understand the intent of the user and displays results that are the most recent and relevant. Here is an example of a query ‘upcoming holiday in US’ made on 5th August 2019, after the Google update:
Category 3 – Queries for information that gets more accurate with time:
For certain cases, such as upcoming shows, the information gets clearer over time. As in August 2019, when the exact release date of Narcos: Mexico season 2 is unknown, Google’s response to the query “when will Narcos: Mexico season 2 be aired” displays “..can expect in November 2019..” in the Featured Snippet. However, the updated algorithm will now keep the information displayed under Featured Snippet time-relevant and update the answer displayed as the exact dates get clearer.
Category 4 – Queries regarding current events:
For queries that are related to current on-going events, the users expect answers to be most recent. The updated algorithm shall now identify queries for current events and the Featured Snippets displayed shall be from the most recent updates regarding the events. For the on-going strikes in Puerto Rico, the latest information is being displayed:
The extent of the impact of Google’s update on businesses?
You would have realized by now that the August Google update is indeed big. It is expected to give a huge boost to user experience for end-users querying through Google search. However, from a business point of view, things might not be hunky-dory. Businesses from across the world are complaining of a drop in search engine rankings for various keywords. Many responses that were earlier getting picked by Featured Snippets are not getting picked anymore. Check out what businesses are saying after the update (on WebmasterWorld.com):
So, here is what you should do keep your business on the top of the Google search page There are two clear takeaways from what Google has claimed and what businesses are experiencing post the update:
Content ‘freshness’ is more important than ever:
Clearly, creating content and just getting it backlinked over time won’t make the cut anymore. Most high-quality but out-dated contents are no longer getting picked in Featured Snippets for time-relevant searches. Therefore, you first need to identify keywords that are time-relevant and then continuously keep the content recent for those keywords.
Featured Snippets is the future of search:
While the world is harping about the introduction of the “freshness” factor in Featured Snippets, many are missing out on an even bigger observation – how Google’s strategy is increasingly about Featured Snippets. The August update ensures that Featured Snippet results are more meaningful. Interestingly, the same Featured Snippets have a huge role to play in voice search. Voice answers to voice search queries are likely to get picked from Featured snippets. What that means is – with the update, Google has enhanced the voice search experience of users.
“Optimizing for voice search is optimizing for featured snippets”
– Sathya Krishnamurthy, Head of Products, Milestone at Milestone’s ENGAGE 2019 conference
Therefore, as your business embraces voice search, you should focus on building content for Featured Snippets. Here is a blog on building a winning voice search strategy. Once your content starts getting featured as Featured Snippets, regularly update and monitor the content to ensure that it stays up to date and relevant over time. Milestone’s Voice and Insights shall help you to continuously monitor your content for Featured Snippets. If you are a Milestone customer looking to know more on this, please reach out to your dedicated Customer Success Manager. If you wish to know how you can optimize your site for Featured Snippets, call us at +1 408-200-2211.