Featured Snippets are good for SEO, except for when Featured Snippets are bad for SEO
Even if you don't know what a "Featured Snippet" is, you've probably seen quite a few of them. Featured Snippets are those "quick answers" you get to questions at the top of your search results when you search for something like "How long do I boil an egg?". Since Google launched Featured Snippets the race has been on between competitive SEO consultants to get their clients sites into the Featured Snippet answer box because being a Featured Snippet is great for SEO. Except when it isn't...
Why Featured Snippets Might Be Good for SEO
Featured Snippets appear between ads and organic listings. On that basis, the first Featured Snippet is the real first place organic position.
Being underneath the Featured Snippet is no longer the same as being in position one, unless you're looking at your Google Search Console data, in which case it is - because Google doesn't show that data in Search Console yet.
A Featured Snippet does include an attribution link to the website that Google scraped the data from for its answer box, so logically being in the Featured "answer" Snippet for a question is good for your website... right?
Why Featured Snippets are Bad for SEO
In March 2019, Wikipedia reportedly lost 21% of their organic traffic when Featured Snippets were launched. Moz also has a prominent blog about sites losing traffic to Google because of Featured Snippets.
Arguably, the experience is much better for the searcher when the answer is presented in a Featured Snippet. If I want to know how long to boil an egg for, do I really need to see two banner ads, a cookie pop-over, and a 500 word essay on eggs before I get to the answer? No. I just want the answer.
So, once I have the answer, via the Featured Snippet, is there any compelling reason for me to click through to the website that provided it? Still no. I just wanted the answer.
But I'm at the TOP of Google. Isn't that good?
Here's where things get a bit difficult. What is a good or bad outcome from an SEO perspective should be pretty simple.
If you're an SEO consultant, your primary job is to generate traffic to your client website. So, anything that doesn't do that is immediately bad (or at least "not good").
But, the world of SEO is not as simple as that. Things can get pretty subjective and for every article I can find complaining about the negative impact of Featured Snippets on organic traffic, I can find another advocating getting your site into a Featured Snippet as quickly as possible because "it's the new position one".
Why is being the Featured Snippet good even if there's no traffic?
The main argument that I see online for wanting to be in the Featured Snippet is "brand awareness" - being the de-facto "right answer" to a question in your niche must be a pretty good feeling right? I mean, of all the billions of web-pages that Google could pick it picked... you!
Google make it very clear in their own guidelines that the preferred way for SEOs to improve their presence in search isn't with behind the scenes wizardry or shady link building schemes but with high quality, informative, original content.
High quality, informative, original content that has now turned up in the Featured Snippets. So, being the Featured Snippet meant you were hitting the right metrics in terms of providing content that Google liked.
This also meant that being the Featured Snippet used to mean you were probably also the first normal organic listing. After all, if Google think your answer is "best", that's where you should be... right?
Wrong. Because, as they often do, Google just changed the rules.
Google Changed the Rules: Featured Snippets are no longer guaranteed an organic listing
Google say that this change is being made in a bid to increase the number of domains featured on the first page of search results.
What is means in the SEO space is a lot of people are very, very quickly having to pivot their advice. I never thought being the Featured Snippet was a good idea because it doesn't drive traffic. As an SEO, if you're not driving traffic, creating conversions, or increasing order value then you are just not doing your job. (At least, IMHO).
So, for every article written telling people how to get their site into the Featured Snippet, we are now seeing a veritable tsunami of articles on how to escape the Featured Snippet and get your organic position #1 back. You know, that place that you used to be and where all that lovely organic traffic came from...
Why this is just bad form from Google
I've always had a problem with Featured Snippets. Whilst they are great for me as a searcher, I know that Google aren't the people collating the answers. They aren't the people creating the content - they are just harvesting vast amount of expert information from other people's websites and using it to enhance their own.
In short - aren't they stealing the traffic that they are supposed to be sending?
Needless to say, the SEO community is up in arms about the change. Whether or not Google listen is another question - they are allegedly rolling back some design changes to search results after a lot of negative feedback, but whether they will do the same here remains to be seen.
Ultimately, if Google can make a case that there is still a link to the source site in their Featured Snippet and they are improving the search engine result *for the customer*, I think they probably have a legitimate, arguable case for leaving things as they are.
Do Google have a legitimate case for harvesting your website data to use in their Featured Snippets? Well, that's a very different question and one that is being looked at by EU Antitrust regulators right now.