When people search for something in Google, the results will often include an answer card that contains a snippet from a website with a relevant answer. Websites that have their content used for the snippet benefit from increased exposure and traffic for their site. However, getting Google to use your content for the snippet is harder than people realize, and not because of the competition among pages. Google has guidelines it tries to follow to ensure the snippets don’t contain problematic content. Understanding the things Google avoids putting in snippets can help marketers create better content.
In a way, Google snippets are the true top result for a search done on the platform. The information from the site gets displayed prominently at the top of the page and shows more text from the site than what is used for link descriptions in the search result page. Featured snippets can come in paragraph form, may contain images, and use formats such as bulleted lists, tables, and more. Snippets can even be read aloud Google Assistant.
There has been some discussion in the SEO community about Google blacklisting individual sites and preventing certain information from being shown in the featured snippets. Google confirmed that they did have measures to ensure the results meet quality standards.
In response to a query from Search Engine Land, a Google spokesperson replied, “Featured snippets are a feature within Search that highlights web sources that are likely to contain what you’re looking for. Due to the special formatting they receive, we have policies that prevent us from showing a featured snippet for topics like civics or medical information where the content lacks broad consensus. Our systems are designed not to show featured snippets that would violate our policies, and we take action if violating snippets still appear. These policies and actions have no impact on how a page ranks in organic search listings.”
Though mistakes get through, Google does intentionally show featured snippets for content that falls into one of several categories. These categories include sexually explicit content, hateful content, violent content, as well as content that is determined to be dangerous and harmful. These restrictions cover most of the things that people would expect, but there’s another category that may catch site owners off guard.
Google tries to avoid showing content that lacks consensus on public interest topics content such as categories like civic, medical, scientific, and historical issues. This decision has been made to combat misinformation campaigns that sought to make Google give incorrect answers on certain topics. The problem has grown in significance as people blame the internet for things like the spread of conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccine misconceptions. Avoiding these topics is necessary for sites that want to be used as a featured snippet.
It’s worth noting that having your content used for snippets isn’t universally considered a good thing. If snippets do their job correctly, they reduce the need for people to click on the link to learn more. For example, if you ask Google the name of an actor in a movie, the search results would feature a snippet from IMDB that answers the question. IMDB gets exposure in the search result snippets, but since the snippet thoroughly answered the question, the searcher no longer has a reason to visit IMDB.
This dynamic happens most when the question is simple and can be answered in a few words or a single paragraph. If your content has more in-depth analysis than what can be shown in a Google snippet, people will click through to learn more about the topic. Snippets may indeed discourage some people from clicking through to read more, but in most cases, having your content used as the snippet will boost traffic to your site.
For more information that explains the inner workings of SEO systems, read this article on how Google and Bing handle spam, penalties, and algorithm updates.