Google tests multiple contextual links in featured snippets
Google this week began testing showing multiple contextual links within a single featured snippet result. In short, a featured snippet would have not just a single link to the publisher that Google used for this content, but would augment that featured snippet to provide links on phrases that Google feels needs more explanation. The catch is, those links would not link to the place Google grabbed the featured snippet from, but from other web sites.
What it looks like. Brodie Clark spotted this in action earlier this week and posted about it on Twitter. I was able to replicate it and here is a high resolution screen shot of this in action:
How it works. When you hover your mouse cursor over the dotted lines in the featured snippet, Google will overlay content from a third-party site. If you click on that dotted line or overlay, Google will take you to that third-party site, not the site Google uses for the featured snippet result.
Here is a video from Brodie Clark of it in action:
Google confirmed this as a test. A Google spokesperson confirmed with Search Engine Land that this is indeed something the company is testing. Google told us this is still a small experiment and the example we showed the company was not triggering the result in an ideal fashion. Google promises to continue to experiment and refine this feature.
Google’s goal is to help searchers understand jargon or technical terms they might not fully understand, by giving them this additional context without having to leave the page. But again, they can leave the page, by clicking on it, if they want to.
The problem. When featured snippets first launched, Google was called out as being a scraper site for stealing content from hard working publishers. Google did adapt the results over time but initially said publishers will deal with it. But truth is, most SEOs I know would prefer to have the featured snippet over a normal snippet, as they tend to drive more traffic that the normal snippets below it. But this depends and you need to test it.
Now, in this case, so you win the featured snippet and you are super excited. But now, Google is overlaying additional links, to sites that the publisher of this featured snippet did not link to in the source, to other parties. Who knows, maybe even a competitor. You wrote this content, Google is adding links on this content to other sites that are not yours. This can, and likely will, result in less clicks to your site.
Yes, this is useful to the searcher but this is your content, not Google’s. Does Google have a right to add additional links on your content that does not go to your site?
Google will keep testing. As I said above, Google said it is a small experiment. This may never really fully launch and if it does launch, it might launch in a different form. So hopefully, if it does launch, Google will do it in a way that not just helps searchers, but also helps the source of the featured snippet – the publisher.
Web stories in desktop search results. The other part here is that this snippet is not from any specific publisher. This is automatically created using Google’s AI system to build web stories. So Google took content from around the web, put together this web story and the company is using it’s own web story as a featured snippet.
The web story leads to a mobile user interface – and Google has confirmed with us isn’t a great experience on desktop and the company look into what the most appropriate improvements might be for this feature.
Why we care. In this form, Google is doing two things that can hurt publishers.
First, Google is taking publisher’s featured snippets and adding links to sites that are not yours – links you did not add.
Second, Google is using their own AI to build these web stories and sourcing them as featured snippets. Google’s AI builds this content based on numerous sources of content on the web, possibly partially from your own site. Are you getting credit?
The final aspect is that the web stories experience is really mobile centric and it feels awkward on desktop.
About The Author
Barry Schwartz a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land and a member of the programming team for SMX events. He ownsRustyBrick
, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runsSearch Engine Roundtable
, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is namedCartoon Barry
and he can be followed on Twitter here.
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November 24, 2020 at 04:21PM