Google Featured Snippet Bubble Links Now Showing in US Search Results

By Brodie Clark

September 13, 2021
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Key Sections: How They WorkWhy The NameImpact On SEOKey Takeaways

Featured snippets are one that can change often in Google’s search results. Due to their prominent placement, they are a feature that SEOs should pay attention to when new updates are rolled out.

As some backstory, featured snippet bubble links first started appearing in November of 2020. At the time, the test (not showing for all users) had the bubble links combined with Google’s AI-generated Web Stories.

The main issue that many had with this test was Google taking content from publishers and presenting it in search results as if it was their own. The other issue related to presenting competing sites in the bubble links.

Here’s a video that I published on Twitter at the time, showing an AI-generated Web Story published on Google’s domain appearing in a featured snippet, with 3 bubble links appearing for different sites:

What’s interesting about this SERP treatment is that the bubble links aren’t used as references for information, but instead being used as definition-styled links for users to click on for the answer, and not necessarily visit those sites. Justin Mosebach noticed a new iteration on Twitter at the same time as I did, so I decided to investigate.

What I’m seeing in Google’s US search results now is a continuation of the bubble link featured snippet treatment. Within this post, I’ll explain how the new bubble link iteration works, how the name came about, it’s impact on SEO, plus some key takeaways from the change.

How featured snippet bubble links work

Google has clearly heard the feedback from the SEO community and refined the bubble link feature to some strict parameters. A key concern by SEOs was that publishers originally received full credit for being featured, now the spot is technically being shared.

In an article that was published on Search Engine Land at the time of the original iteration, Izzi Smith mentioned that: “What could put some publishers off is the fact that winning a featured snippet may now result in sharing the spoils with the other websites that were linked to“.

Google has listened to this feedback and made it so that a competing site won’t accidentally be referenced within your featured snippet. Instead, the new iteration (which has now launched in the US as of around September 8th in 2021) will only ever show either Wikipedia or internal pages from your own site.

For the vast majority of situations, it will likely be Wikipedia that shows within the bubble link. There are few authoritative sites that have definition-styled content to compliment their featured snippet placement to justify Google then enabling an internal link.

For example, the website Investopedia is an authority within the finance space and they have a lot of pages with definitions for different terms. They also rank for a lot of paragraph featured snippets (the format where this can appear) so they receive the internal link treatment. Another example of this that I came was from Nintendo:

In Nintendo’s case, they have a lot of sub-domains that receive high traffic. In the example above, they have a ‘store’ page being referenced for an explanation of some terminology. While extremely rare at this point, it actually looks like you can receive more than a single internal link at a time with this treatment. Using the example above, I was able to trigger two internal links for the same result:

Because the bubble links are algorithmic, there’s not a way to force your site for having the links appear or prevent them from doing so. It is also something where because Wikipedia is the site that is referenced in the vast majority of instances, site owners will rarely come across this data in Google Search Console (unless you’re Investopedia, of course).

A couple of my client sites rank for a ton of featured snippets in the US and currently trigger bubble links, but it looks to be Wikipedia that is occupying the result in many of these cases. Again, this means that I don’t have any specific data to analyse in GSC related to this change.

So, why the name ‘bubble links’?

Well, they look like speech bubbles when you click the links… is that not enough? Ok, there is another reason for why I’ve been using the ‘bubble links’ terminology when talking about this featured snippets addition.

When inspecting the HTML for the new link treatment within featured snippets, the link has been referenced in a specific way by Google. It is showing as data-bubble-link, which is the main reason I’m running with that name.

The example above is a good example of how Investopedia has dominated their space with a lot of their content. If they didn’t have content for the ‘supply of money’ term, I’d guess that Wikipedia would have been next in line to show here.

But again, the more likely scenario for most sites is having the bubble link referencing Wikipedia, as I’ve shown in the feature image for this post for The Verge. Not every site is THE dictionary for their niche.

Impact of featured snippet bubble links on SEO

With the current implementation of this feature, and seeing that Google has heard previous feedback, I don’t think we have too much to worry about when it comes to bubble links.

The big concerns relate to showing competitors in the snippet being referenced and also potentially losing a searcher to a site that they wouldn’t have visited otherwise. At this stage, competitors aren’t showing. But I’ll certainly be watching closely and will mention if I see this happening.

The other aspect for potentially losing a searcher to another site isn’t of too much concern here. I think most of us understand Wikipedia’s place in the online ecosystem, and the vast majority of sites wouldn’t call themselves direct competitors to Wikipedia.

From a user standpoint, I can see how the bubble links could be useful. Clicking the link to get a quick definition for a term that you’re not familiar with could be a big time saver. And I wouldn’t think that many would decide to click through to Wikipedia either, considering that they can get the answer directly in search results (albeit that being a scary sentence to say out loud).

For sites that have their own internal pages appearing within the bubble links, I think this is fine too. One aspect to keep in mind could be your Google Search Console data, where this could throw off impressions for some pages. Alongside a feature like Twitter carousels which I’ve documented, bubble link data could be a good one to track and see how the data is represented.

Key takeaways

Overall, I think bubble links are quite an interesting feature in its current form for featured snippets. There is however a fine line here which has been crossed in the past and one that I will be keeping a close eye on.

This post has covered some of my early thoughts on this rollout, along with what the initial rollout looked like. Here’s some of the key takeaways from this post to keep in mind about this feature:

  • Bubble links in featured snippets first appeared in November of 2020. SEOs felt like Google crossed the line with this test, and it looks like Google listened to feedback.
  • In September of 2021, Google has brought back bubble links to some paragraph featured snippets. Instead of testing the feature again in a widespread capacity, the feature has been rolled out to US search results.
  • Bubble links are an algorithmic function of featured snippets that can appear for some results. At the moment, you will only ever find bubble links that reference either Wikipedia or internal pages (can be multiple, but quite rare to find more than one reference at this time).
  • The name ‘bubble links’ has come about from how the embedded links in featured snippets are being referred to in their HTML. The reference being: data-bubble-link, and that they look like speech bubbles, of course.
  • Should SEOs be worried? Not at this stage. It looks to be quite a useful feature within featured snippets at this point in my opinion, but I’ll be keeping my wits about me.

Bubble links in featured snippets are still at an early stage of the rollout to US search results and will likely change over time. Google has been sitting on their feature for about a year now, and it looks like the changes I’m seeing so far have been well-considered.

If you have other examples that you’d like to share with me, or have any thoughts on featured snippet bubble links, feel free to tag me on Twitter and I’ll take a look 👀 💬 https://twitter.com/brodieseo

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