First Result Fascination: Google’s Search for a Featured Snippet Alternative

By Brodie Clark

June 7, 2020
mobile google testing first result more prominently

I’ve been out here taking notes on Google’s movements for the past few weeks and am noticing an interesting pattern.

As a starting point, I’ve been seeing a consistent dip in the prominence of Featured Snippets as a SERP feature in Google Search.

I recorded Featured Snippets at ~15% of all queries in the MozCast 10K query set early this year, and they’re now down to ~9%.

This isn’t particularly surprising on its own, because SERP features do vary in their prominence over time, but that is quite a low recording based on recent years.

With voice search, Google would ideally have a single result that they can read out to the searcher. Featured Snippets play into this system well with respect to snippet extraction.

On the back of some recent changes, Google can sometimes show a Featured Snippet as low as position #7 in Search. But that only applies to a very specific type of Featured Snippet.

Using the same view of a “featured result”, I’m seeing Google’s fascination being explored with different outlets in some recent tests.

I’ve seen 4 separate tests in the past few weeks where Google is trying to make the first Ad and organic result become more prominent in their search results.

I’ve used 3 examples of this test in the feature image for this post. Each with different characteristics, but attempting to achieve the same thing: more visibility to the first result.

Each of the 3 examples above are mobile tests only for the moment. As an alternative, I’ve also seen similar happening on desktop:

Google is again trying to make the first result (both Ad and organic) stand out more in comparison to the other listings in their search results.

When tests like this are being rolled out on the massive scale that they are, it’s not uncommon to see some concerning results. We saw this happen in March of 2018 with the infamous “zero results” test.

A concerning part (this is a just a side note) in this string of tests is when they decide to only have a paid result as the prominent variation. Here’s an example of this happening:

Google’s fascination with the first result continues, in a non-Featured Snippet format. The intent of this recent string of tests is clear and one to keep an eye on.

One distinction between a Featured Snippet and this test is that Google is focusing on both the first Ad and organic result. Featured Snippets are just for organic results at this point.

I expect we’ll see a variation of this testing spree result in a global roll out at some point. It could happen next week or next year, but I’d expect a change consistent with this approach to happen.

Have you seen any of the tests mentioned in this post, or others? Let me know by tagging me on Twitter with any screenshots and I’ll add to my collection.

Update: some more details on the boxed-in sitelink test.

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