Are Google’s SERP Features Stealing Traffic from Your Site? [Research]

Nayomi Chibana is a journalist and content editor at Visme, a browser-based infographic and presentation tool. Besides researching trends in visual communication and next-generation storytelling, she’s passionate about data-driven content marketing.

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Data: Ahrefs' Content Explorer
    Most SEOs would agree that Google’s SERP features can be a double-edged sword. They can significantly cut into your site traffic if you aren’t featured in one, or they can result in a welcome boost if you are.

    Google’s number-one mission is to answer users’ queries in as little clicks as possible. So it’s a common-sense assumption that SERP features such as Featured Snippets and Related Questions significantly reduce the overall number of clicks to sites, including your own.

    Unless you happen to be featured in one of them.

    Have a look at the example below. One of our posts appeared in a Featured Snippet, even though it ranked in position number 5.

    This instantly bolstered its perceived credibility and, therefore, led visitors to click on it for more information.

    Editor's note
    Learn all the counterintuive facts we found out about the Featured Snippets from our recent study: "Ahrefs’ Study Of 2 Million Featured Snippets: 10 Important Takeaways"

    But is this true for different types of keywords? And how does this vary from one SERP feature to the next?

    This is what I set out to answer with this analysis of over 5k keywords across various industries. My study resulted in several actionable takeaways on how to avoid losing traffic to big SERP feature contenders.

    Research methodology

    Types of keywords studied

    Since Google is getting better at understanding search intent, we decided to take this factor into account by categorizing each of the 5,126 keywords analyzed in this study into three types:

    • Informational: search queries that indicate a desire to find specific information on a topic;
    • Navigational: search queries that show intent to navigate to a specific site;
    • Transactional: search queries that imply a transaction, such as purchasing an item, downloading a product or signing up for a trial.

    We did this by analyzing specific modifiers and suffixes and categorizing them according to intent. See the table below:

    We selected keywords from a variety of areas, ranging from business and industry to travel and tourism. We also went for a wide range of search volumes, from 100 searches a month to more than 100 million.

    Metrics analysed

    In total we included 5,126 search queries in our research. Since a keyword can display more than one non-organic result, a total of 11,065 SERP features were analyzed within this study.

    I won’t list all the existent types of SERP features here. They are perfectly described in this visual guide from MOZ.

    The following metrics were collected using Ahrefs Keywords Explorer and then processed:

    • Total SERP features: a number indicating the total number of SERP features displayed for a particular keyword.
    • Type of SERP feature: the name of each SERP feature present for a particular keyword.
    • % With clicks: percent of searches per month that result in clicks.
    Sidenote.
    For example, the word “chauffeur” has a large search volume of 42,000, but only 22 percent of these queries result in clicks because most people who search for it simply want to verify its spelling and definition.
    • % Without clicks: percent of searches per month that result in no clicks.
    • Search volume: total number of times a keyword is searched per month.
    Sidenote.
    I prefered to use Ahrefs’ search volume metric over Google Keyword Planner’s as it doesn’t lump data together by showing identical search volume estimates for similar keywords and keyword phrases. Instead, it displays accurate local and global estimates for virtually all search variants of a given keyword.
    • Clicks: total number of clicks on search results for a given keyword. As stated previously, not all searches result in clicks.
    • Clicks per search: average number of search results people click on after searching for a keyword.
    • Return rate: relative value that shows how often people search for a keyword again over the course of a month.
    Sidenote.
    Return rate is not meant to be interpreted as an exact number of searches and is only valuable when used to compare one keyword with another. For example, a keyword with a return rate of 2.25 is searched more often than one with a return rate of 1.5.

    Results

    Correlations observed

    In order to detect positive or negative relationships between variables, I calculated the correlation coefficient for different pairs of variables, as seen below.

    Sidenote.
    Pearson’s r was calculated for two ratio variables, while point-biserial correlation was calculated for pairings with one binary variable and one continuous variable.

    You can see the expectedly strong correlation between the monthly search volume and the total number of clicks per month. Relationship between the total number of SERP features and the return rate is weak-to-moderate negative. The same observed for the appearance of Featured Snippets and percent of searches with clicks.

    SERP features vs clicks

    Although more evidence is needed, the correlations above could be indicative of the assumption that the appearance of SERP features, particularly Featured Snippets, reduces the number of clicks on search results.

    To confirm this, I also calculated the percent of searches per month that result in clicks per number of SERP features that appear on the first page.

    As you can see below, searches with one or no SERP features result in more clicks than those with two or more of these non-organic results.

    Featured Snippets
    As hypothesized, SERPs with Featured Snippets resulted in 18.5% less clicks than those without the non-organic feature.

    Related Questions
    SERPs with Related Questions also resulted in 11.3% less clicks when compared to those without this feature.

    Image Packs
    The same trend is observed with the appearance of Image Packs, although the difference is not as large as for the previous two.

    Site Links and Ads
    Of all SERP features analyzed, the only two that resulted in more clicks were Site Links and Ads, with an increase of 11.6% and 4.7%, respectively. This is expected since their purpose is not to answer a question but to take users to another site.

    SERP features by keyword type

    To dig deeper into the data, I also analyzed the results by keyword type for each individual SERP feature.

    As expected, the percent of searches with clicks grows as you move down the search intent funnel, starting from informational keywords down to transactional ones.

    After analyzing the presence of SERP features by keyword type, I also confirmed the assumption that Featured Snippets and Related Questions appear the most in informational search queries.

    On the other hand, navigational queries are dominated by Site Links and Knowledge Panels, while both Site Links and Ads are prevalent in transactional queries.

    Conclusions and Practical Takeaways

    Looking back at the results of this study, it seems that the most logical assumptions regarding SERP features and their effect on site traffic are true:

    • Knowledge Graph features such as Featured Snippets, Related Questions and Knowledge Panels do significantly reduce clicks on traditional organic results.
    • Site Links lead to in an increase in the number of clicks to organic results
    • Ads feature also increases the overall number of clicks, but PPC traffic is not a part of Organic traffic. Besides, advertisers will use the most “clickable” keywords in their PPC campaigns.

    All of this confirms the fact that Google is becoming better and better at understanding search intent in its mission to serve users exactly what they’re looking for -- in as little clicks as possible.

    But how can one take advantage of this and get an edge over the competition?

    Here’s what you could do:

    1. Create a search intent funnel

    It’s vital to understand that the battle for SERP features is not so much about demographics as it is about search intent. The important thing is to “be there” when a potential customer turns to Google to answer a question or fulfill a need.

    This means appearing in highly coveted SERP features, especially those triggered by top-of-funnel queries, such as Featured Snippets and Related Questions.

    To start, create a search intent funnel like the one below, with the different types of keywords to target. This will help you visualize the types of search terms your potential customers will use at different stages of the buying journey.

    2. Format content for Featured Snippets

    Next, you can Google the term and analyze the format of content featured in these non-organic results in order to tweak your own existing pages. If you want to go a step further, you can use Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer to detect SERP feature opportunities and craft new content accordingly.

    For example, if you want to place for “how to write a resume” and it has a Featured Snippet with step-by-step instructions, then you can “win” it by using the keyword in your H1 and H2 tags and providing the answer to the question below it, in an easy-to-read, structured format with numbered steps.

    Featured Snippets should be at the top of your list of obtainable SERP features for three reasons:

    • If you’re in a Featured Snippet, this automatically boosts your content credibility (since Google chose you).
    • Other prominent SERP features such as Knowledge Cards and Knowledge Panels are not easily obtainable for most sites.
    • Winning a Feature Snippet is one way to leapfrog competitors who appear in the first positions.

    3. Format content for Image Packs.

    To increase the likelihood of appearing in Image Packs, you can start by optimizing your images for Google Images search. Make sure to give your image file a descriptive name and alt text and a reader-friendly URL.

    4. Create content that matches search intent.

    Lastly, one of the most important factors in winning the most coveted SERP features--and also climbing organic results positions--is to ensure high CTR and dwell times by creating engaging, unique and useful content.

    Make sure that your headlines grab readers’ attention, match search intent and accurately reflect the content of the page in order to meet users’ expectations as much as possible.

    Over to you

    What do you think of this study? Have you experienced similar (or opposite) impact from SERP features?

    Let us know in the comments below!

    Nayomi Chibana is a journalist and content editor at Visme, a browser-based infographic and presentation tool. Besides researching trends in visual communication and next-generation storytelling, she’s passionate about data-driven content marketing.

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    • Jim Beals

      nice job laying out some incredible points regarding the latest from Google. Well done.

      • Nayomi Chibana

        Thanks for the feedback, Jim. Glad you found it useful.

    • My personal experience supports what you’re saying about Featured Snippets reducing clicks because I noticed a large drop off in visitors to one of my articles ever since the featured snippet appeared. Also, it didn’t help with Google decided to blend the Adwords ads into the top 4 positions of the serps 🙁

      • I’ve had a similar experience with 2 of my clients’s sites. Glancing below I also see someone talking about AMP doing the same … :O

      • Nayomi Chibana

        Thanks for the comment, Chris. This has also been our experience, except in the instances where we’ve been lucky enough to appear in a featured snippet, in which case traffic tripled or quadrupled.

        • Hey Nayomi, if another site is currently shown as the Featured Snippet, can you take it over from them? In your experience, has this happened before where someone can oust another site from being featured?

          • Nayomi Chibana

            Although it can be challenging for more competitive keywords, yes, we have been able to oust other sites as the winner of a coveted Featured Snippet. Of course, being on page 1, preferably in top 5 positions, increases the probability of taking over that position, as well as formatting content in accordance with the FS. For example, if it is a “how to” KW, then format as Step 1, Step 2, etc.

    • Does this confirm what others are saying about AMP stealing their traffic?

      • Nayomi Chibana

        I’ve heard this as well but since last year, Google has changed this so that you can view and share a publisher’s own links, instead of the AMP URL. Besides, it was also shown that the traffic was always the publisher’s.

        • Yes, AMP pages/sites is getting advantage on Google Mobile

    • Müslüm Aslantürk

      thank u nayomi

      • Nayomi Chibana

        You’re welcome!

      • Oo kimler burada 🙂

    • A lot of very useful information, Thank you for this Great article.

    • Great article! simply awesome analysis.

    • very good guide, I am impressed with your method of teaching. Thanks.„

    • This is great piece of information; I will keep my tabs on to learn some more things that will boost my SERPs; Thanks for this…

    • Interesting article. Will try to implement featured snippets.

    • Featured snippet changed the game of Google Optimization

    • I am not sure. I am still confused about it. I must research more about it. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Berkat Ahrefs 12 Situs saya naik pesat. Hampir rata-rata blog alexa dibawah 150rb 😀

    • Yes you are right, one on my website getting 2 position on the top page but my competitor site post presented on SERP even his post also getting 4 position on the top page. he is driving more traffic on his website as compared to my site. I searched lot on the internet about this but now found any valid answers. but thanks for your article.. now I understand some concept about google SERP.

    • This isn’t a surprising trend — if you’re asking a Google a question and you get the answer right from the SERP’s then you don’t really need to click on anything. It’s obviously more convenient for the searcher and it also underlines the importance of ranking for position zero.

    • i am not sure they steal traffic

    • ver good

    • Excellent notes Nayomi. Implementing processes to get featured snippets for clients so very relevant article.

    • good information. I looking for a long time. Thanks.

    • I’ve always tried to get that featured snippet, but it may be time to at least rethink that strategy.

    • Its is not sure that the website traffic is affected by this or not.

    • Eddy Kinuthia

      I am a newbie and created articles without any keyword research and SEO but surprisingly two articles got to page 3. After i did them with SEO etc they disappeared from that position. I do not want to doubt what you have put across but i guess there are secrets about Google that we do not know.

    • This is a very nice article, But am not sure if they really steal traffic.