What is a featured snippet?
Ironically enough, “What is a featured snippet?” is answered in a featured snippet. A featured snippet is an answer, or summary of an answer, to a user’s query that appears at the top of Google’s search engine results page (SERP). It is an outlined box with the answer and a link to the source site. With the answer to your query right there, why click through to the site? This is where it is helpful to the user, but might hurt the click through rate (CTR) of the site.
Studies have shown that 38% of desktop users do not click on results in their SERPs because they found the answer to their query in a featured snippet. On mobile, this number is 57%. That is a significant amount of traffic that could be on your site.
One of the hardest hit categories by the featured snippet is weather related sites. When you search, “What is the temperature?” not only does it provide you with the answer right at the top of the SERP, but it gives you an extended forecast and hourly forecast. It will even pull the answer into the recommended search before you finish typing (see below).
A recent study by Ahrefs found that the first URL on the SERP typically gets around a 26% CTR, whereas a featured snippet only gets an 8.6% CTR. The second URL after a featured snippet will get 19.6% of clicks. This evidence makes it fair to say that featured snippets are hurting clicks and traffic for the site.
Beyond the SERPs, these featured snippets are also being integrated into your virtual assistants at home. Devices such as AmazonEcho (Alexa) pull their answers from rich snippets. ComScore predicts that 50% of all searches will be voice by 2020. This includes mobile phone voice searches which operate the same way. This is one incentive for sites to strive for featured snippets.
The ball is still up in the air on whether to optimize your site to become a featured snippet. There are some marketing professionals that believe featured snippets can help your CTR. The data here which is just a few months old at the time of this posting, seems to be the most relevant and accurate.
Anyone can see how the featured snippet is and will continue to be a great resource for the user to get a quick answer to their questions. Marketers will likely continue to dig into these to come up with a conclusive answer about whether these are going to help or hurt traffic to their sites. As of right now, it seems to be pointing to the unfortunate latter of the two, though there is evidence to support both points. Be warned that Google takes what it THINKS is the best answer. This best answer is not always the correct answer or information.
Other Ways to Rise in SERPs:
How To Optimize Your Home Page for SEO
Drive the Right Traffic to Your Website
Visual Content the Pros Can't Live Without