Rank Ranger Blog

SERP News: AMP Disappears Amidst Multiple Featured Snippet Changes

Welcome to an all-new year for the SERP News! To kick start 2019 Google gave us multiple changes to Featured Snippets while a bug has kicked AMP results off the mobile SERP! At the same time, we've added a new segment of local data to our SERP Feature Trackers that lets you see the scope of hotel Local Packs. Might I add that January also saw the first algorithm update of the year! 

Let's dig in, shall we? 

SERP News Banner

AMP Pages Disappear from the SERP! 


It seems a bug of sorts caused some AMP content to disappear off the face of the SERP. According to reports, some publishers and site managers saw their AMP content appear on the SERP only for it to suddenly disappear. We noted a steep decline in organic AMP on the SERP that correlates to the timing of these reports. According to our data, it seems the issue began on January 24th. Since then, organic AMP has seen a 10 percentage point decline in its SERP showing - a roughly 35% loss. 

AMP SERP Decline
Organic AMP sees a steep decline as Google deals with a bug preventing AMP pages from appearing on the SERP 

Google was quick to respond to the reports of AMP's absence. Accordingly, the issue has been resolved and AMP has returned to its normal display level.  

Featured Snippet Changes Abound as 2019 Comes Roaring In 

It was an odd month on the SERP. Outside of the disappearing AMPs there wasn't this one blockbuster event that shook the bearings of the Google results page. Instead, the year began with some 'low profile' changes to Featured Snippets.  

Featured Snippet Content Highlights 

Starting things off is a new ability Google gave AMP pages that show up in a Featured Snippet. Now when users click on a Featured Snippet URL that leads to an AMP page, Google will highlight the snippet's content on the page itself. In other words, a user no longer would need to scour the page to see where the content used within the Featured Snippet is located. Instead, Google is highlighting said content (again, only for AMP pages). 

Content Highlight from Featured Snippet

Featured Snippet content highlighted on an AMP page (Image Source: SearchEngineLand)

If this is meant to somehow encourage AMP adoption, I fear it will have the opposite result. First off, as Barry Schwartz noted, by proceeding directly to the highlight users may be bypassing some critical call to actions or ads. Also, by giving users the ability to jump directly to the featured content there's less of a chance that the user will skim, let alone read your page. That means there is less of a chance that users will come to think of you as an authority on the topic and a source of future content. 

Proceeding directly to the snippet's content (do not pass go, do not collect $200) is also a bit hard to understand from a user's point of view. What new content are they getting? The only advantage I can see is that maybe some of the content placed near the highlight will be of relevance. 

PDF URLs Found in Featured Snippets 

Twitter was abuzz as Kevin Indig found a Featured Snippet with content coming from a PDF. The find opens all sorts of cans of worms .... Do you now need to start worrying about optimization within PDFs? Should you score such a Featured Snippet with a PDF URL, would it be worthwhile to create an HTML page in its stead? Let the debates begin! 

Google Is Asking for Featured Snippet Feedback 

Since the start of the month users have spotted Google running a blue bar under some Featured Snippets asking if they found its content helpful. I've personally seen the bar appear pretty consistently over the past month or so. Though not present for all Featured Snippets, I've seen the bar often enough to consider it "prevalent." It's unclear if this is a temporary test or if Google is moving towards showing the bar instead of the usual feedback labeling (though, as of late their appearance seems to have tapered off). 

The spreading of such an element makes perfect sense. Featured Snippets are the bread and butter of voice search and have been the source of controversy in the past. Of course, this "test" comes as Google seeks to bolster its public perception and aura of authority. 

Featured Snippet Feedback Bar
A bar asking if a Featured Snippet is helpful that was shown often during January 

Mobile Knowledge Panels Are Starting To Look Strangely Similar to Featured Snippets 

So technically this is not a change to Featured Snippets, but to mobile Knowledge Panels. Hair-splitting aside, some mobile Knowledge Panels are adopting a "Featured Snippet look." In some cases, this means bolded content and a header (much the way many Featured Snippets are formatted). 

Take the example I spotted below. Not only does this Knowledge Panel include bolded text it also includes a URL format that is alien to the Knowledge Panel but looks mighty like the format used in Featured Snippets. In this case, take note of the image format Google went with. Most mobile Knowledge Panels offer a plethora of images, here you have one lead image with the URL inside of it. This is exactly how images appear in many mobile Featured Snippets!   

Featured Snippet Panel Formatting

New Hotel Local Pack Data 

Back in November, Google changed the format for hotel Local Packs. The new look on desktop is far more visual, contains a highlights carousel, and usually sports four listings (not three). Aside from offering new rank tracking abilities for hotel Local Packs, we added new hotel listing data to our SERP Feature Tracker (which is a free tool). 

Hotel Local Pack Data
Hotel Local Packs show on roughly 4.5% of desktop SERPs in the US

A first look at the data shows that hotel Local Packs show on roughly 4.5% of desktop SERPs (US) and on about 5% of mobile SERPs (US). That means that as of this writing hotel Local Packs are responsible for 9% of all desktop Local Packs and nearly 12% of all mobile Local Packs. 

The First Algorithm Update of 2019!

According to our Rank Risk Index, Google pushed the button on yet another algorithm update on January 7th. 

Rank Fluctuations January 2019

January presented a few mild increases in rank fluctuations throughout the month

Per the index, the update lasted for five consecutive days during which rank fluctuations levels teetered from being moderately high to just plain high. At the peak of the rollout, we recorded rank fluctuations being as high as 74/100 on the index. 

Throughout the rest of the month, there were indications of smaller changes to the algorithm that were signified by short one or two day increases in rank fluctuations. In all such cases, only moderate increases in rank fluctuations were recorded.   

Additional Changes to the Google SERP in January 2019 

As I've mentioned, the January SERP and the changes made to it had a bit of a different feel or "vibe" to it. Aside for the lack of blockbuster changes to the results page, some of the changes/tests we saw in January weren't your typical run of the mill updates to the Local Pack or Knowledge Panel. 

That said, I like nostalgia, so let's start with those updates that were made to the Local Pack and Knowledge Panel so as to breath the air of familiarity... and move on from there!  

Video as the Lead Image in the Knowledge Panel 

Towards the end of January, I noticed a peculiar Knowledge Panel on desktop. The panel represented the first time I've ever seen a video being shown in place of the lead/top image in a Knowledge Panel. 

Knowledge Panel Lead Video

A query for oscar nominations produced a Knowledge Panel that contained a video, not an image 

In this case, a query for oscar nominations produced a Knowledge Panel with a link to a video at its top. The video took you to the live stream of the Oscar nomination announcements. What's odd is that by the time I did this search the live stream had been over for hours. 

The Messaging Button in the Local Panel Gets Bigger 

For some time now, Google has offered businesses the opportunity to add a "Message" button to their business listing. However, just as the month rolled in Google began testing a far larger version of the 'Message' button

Message Button Local Panel

A more noticeable 'Message' button being tested in the Local Panel (Image Source: SERoundtable.com) 

Setting the feature up connects the Local Panel to your phone, as you'll receive message notifications on your mobile device (though this may soon change). That's important to note, as being timely in responding is important. Personally, I have not seen many businesses use the feature. I wonder how many users would use the feature as their "first contact" with a business, though I know some business are quite fond of the messaging element. 

More Link Possibilities for Google Posts

Should you be the verified author of a Knowledge Panel Google is giving you the opportunity to insert links by using anchor text within Google Posts

Anchor Text Link Google Posts
Google Posts showing anchor text links 

The added ability is nice, however, at the time of this writing Google is still pushing Google Posts down within the mobile Knowledge Panel thereby limiting their exposure. I'm not sure Google can keep burning the candle at both ends, adding some great new features but still keeping Google Posts towards the bottom of the mobile panel. 

Local Match Score in Local Packs for Culinary Happiness

Here's a curious one, Google was spotted testing a "match score" within the Local Pack. Shown next to the reviews, the Local Pack match score told users how likely they are to enjoy a restaurant. 

Local Pack Match Score

A test showing a match score indicating your propensity to enjoy a restaurant 

I'm curious, should Google move ahead with the score, what will its impact on Local Pack ranking be? Will a restaurant that's a bit further away but has a better match score rank higher in the Local Pack than a closer establishment with a lower score?  

Streaming Options on the SERP

Google seems to be offering a more pronounced mobile element that shows you where a movie or TV show is available to be streamed. This is not a wide-spread change, though I have seen it here and there. What I do see far more often is a separate box at the top of the desktop SERP that indicates where a film or show is available to be streamed. This "Answer Box" is shown in conjunction with the entity's Knowledge Panel. 

Streaming Sources on SERP
A box showing streaming options that works in conjunction with a Knowledge Panel


Sparse SERPs for Europe

Here we move away from Local Packs and Knowledge Panels. More than that, we move away from images altogether! In response to the EU's copyright directive, Google has been releasing bareboned SERPs throughout Europe. By the end of January, there were a slew of reports that Google was showing SERPs in Europe that had no images and stripped down versions of the News Box and Related Questions. 

No Image EU SERP
A European SERP showing with no images and a stripped down set of news links 

Without getting into the nitty-gritty of Google's EU predicament, the above SERP is obviously striking and drastic. 

Google to Take on Sensationalist News Headlines? 

Well, not exactly. What Google did say is that they are aware that sensationalist news headlines make their way into the News Box. It's not clear what they plan on doing about it. Again, poor news results have been a problem for a bit of time now and there have been serious questions as to Google's ability to prevent inaccurate news content from appearing on the SERP. 

It's interesting to note Google's statement comes but a few weeks after they announced their new local news CMS and partnership with WordPress. 

Rich Result Tool Updated 

Rich results are certainly one of the hot topics within the SEO industry. Fittingly, on January 7th Google gave the Rich Results Test Tool a welcomed upgrade. Now webmasters can edit the code and see what effect those edits would have within the tool itself. Meaning, before implementing any changes you'll have an idea of how those changes will affect your results on the SERP.  

A New Special Sports SERP Feature 

I consider my being a sports fan to be an asset to my SEO endeavors. Point in case, when searching for something related to the NBA (America's most popular professional basketball league) I came across this: 

SERP All-Star Voting

This is not an organic "feature." Rather, the NBA entered into a sponsored partnership with Google so as to allow users to vote for players to be selected to the all-star game via the SERP. The feature, in it of itself, is fascinating. That said, I wonder if this is the start of a new trend where Google will create SERP features for pay. 

Activity Cards Now on the SERP 

Last up, Activity Cards. As part of Google's 20th anniversary updates, the search engine announced the pending release of Activity Cards. January saw Activity Cards go live. As part of Google's 'search as a journey' outlook, Activity Cards allow users to continue with a previous session's "search exploration." That is, if a query from your current session aligns to that of a search done during a previous session, Google may show you a list of sites you visited for a past query along with a carousel of other related searches from previous sessions. 

Bigger Changes to Come? 

Is this what we can expect from Google going forward? A series of changes to the SERP without any major bombshells? No way! January was an aberration. There will certainly be more high-profile changes to the SERP coming our way. Google's John Mueller has already hinted that major changes are coming to image search. As for the January SERP and its less prominent changes, I would just chalk it up to it being the start of the year. 

As always, if you see anything strange or new on the SERP, let me know!

Thanks for reading! 

About The Author
Shay Harel is the CEO of Rank Ranger, an innovative and comprehensive SEO & digital marketing Saas platform. In addition to overseeing company growth, Shay can be found tapping away on his keyboard developing new and unique SEO data reports.

When not hard at work helping guide the SEO industry, Shay enjoys spending time with his family, strumming his guitar, exploring exotic places, and indulging in fine wine from his growing collection.

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