Are Google's Snippets A Death Knell For Publishers?

Did you ever have one of those conversations that tickles your interest enough to prompt a little desk research? Ever been surprised about what you find? I'm sure we all have.

I had taken a look at voice -- okay, I know that is very unique, and we're all wondering what its impact will be. As soon as you start digging there are many forecasts for the future that are fascinating. One of the big figures that is constantly quoted comes from comScore. It forecasts that half of all searches will be via voice by 2020. That equates to a couple of hundred billion spoken voice searches per month, apparently. From a standing start a year or two ago, that is pretty startling, isn't it?

Well, among all the future-looking research that is fascinating to plough through, there was one observation that really stopped me in my tracks. It's obvious when you think about it, but it's a statistic that affects everyone in digital marketing -- particularly search -- right here and now.

We all know that Google is working on Featured Snippets, which provide a quick answer to a query and often form the words a voice assistant will read out for a particular search query. Well, when there is a Featured Snippet for a query, it's pretty obvious that many internet users will simply read the result in the box at the top of the page and look no further.

Wordstream research shows that there is a 39% drop in 2017 click-throughs, compared to 2015, for a search query that is answered by a Featured Snippet. If you give people a really quick answer, then most people are satisfied and so don't feel a need to click through.

The very short conclusion, then, is that being at the top of a search engine results page is not as valuable, in terms of website traffic, as it was two years ago. 

The researchers even make a forecast that Google will soon be able to answer half of all search queries on the results page without the need for a click-through.

This must have massive implications for search marketing. If you're hoping to optimise a page so people click through and then interact with a brand, you're currently losing a around a third of the traffic you might have expected from coming out on top position -- even more if the term has a Featured Snippet. Search marketers may find that impressions for a search term, where they perform well, can leap upwards, but click-through rates will only make a much smaller increase.

I will stick my neck out slightly here and suggest that at the moment, it is publishers who will struggle more with this than eCommerce operators. Generally, Snippets are the way friends can settle a bet on how high Everest is or how many goals or home runs a particular athlete achieved. They are question-based queries about the who, what, where and when of the world of knowledge.

Surely it will be publishers who rely on this type of content being supported by advertising that will suffer the most. Just think, when was the last time you asked Google what the time was and actually clicked through to a page? Or what the world's biggest country is, and clicked through to a page. It's the publishers that have this type of content that will surely be losing out.

Somebody searching for a black dress or grey training shoes is still going to get back a myriad of results that will likely see them click through to research a purchase.

I've always stood by Google when it is accused of stealing content from publishers that it makes money out of, without ever having to write a word itself. For me, pointing readers toward an apt headline is a free service.

With Snippets, however, I'm not so sure. There are likely to be up to four ad links above a search term answered by a Featured Snippet, and so you would have to say that if people are not clicking through, the only company that stands to gain is Google. In these cases, it is completely off the back of someone else's content. 

If I were providing knowledge for clicks right now, on an ad-supported site, I'd be worried -- very worried.

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