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Extended Snippets in Google’s SERPs – Even More Clicks for Top 3?

Posted in: Search Engine Optimisation by Richard Hearne on March 25, 2009
Internet Marketing Ireland

This is pretty big in my opinion. Google has announced two changes to SERPs, the first being an update to Search Refinements, but for me the bigger change is to the snippet display:

When you enter a longer query, with more than three words, regular-length snippets may not give you enough information and context. In these situations, we now increase the number of lines in the snippet to provide more information and show more of the words you typed in the context of the page.

I’ve always considered snippets to be important – they act as a draw, and a good snippet with a strong CTA can often improve click-through from the SERPs.

This change has only been announced today, but you can bet this was thoroughly tested and resulted in an improved user experience. Google is generally a master at iterative improvement to web UIs.

How Will This Affect Site Owners?

I think an impact that maybe hasn’t been considered is the impact on click-through rates. This change is bound to impact where click placement occurs. Here’s a scaled SERP image with fold mark at 700px:

Old Google SERP with 2 Line Snippet

Old Google SERP with 2 Line Snippet (gotta love the MISSING TITLE)

Now here’s a similar SERP with extended snippets:

New Google SERP with 4 Line Snippet

New Google SERP with 4 Line Snippet

So the impact is an extension of the page height, and an increase in the top offset of each SERP listing.

Top 3 Consolidate Even More Clicks

The interesting issue is that we’re going from 4 to 3 organic listings above the fold based on average screen heights of 700px. I’ve run some random queries, while this change doesn’t affect every query over 3 words, it does affect quite a few of the tiny sample I tried.

There’s obviously some informational threshold below which the extended snippet isn’t displayed, so while it may not impact lots of searches it is going to change the display of some.

Will Extended Snippets Mix With Adwords?

I haven’t found any search that uses extended snippets on competitive Adwords SERPs. But if the extended snippets are used alongside masthead Adwords blocks we could easily end up with just one or maybe two organic listings above the fold. I’m doubting we’ll see this, but given that I recently saw a SERP screenshot with 8 paid listings and only 3 organic listings above the fold. That was based on 2 line snippets. 4 line snippets for a similar SERP could reduce that to 2 organic listings to 8 paid ads. Horrible thought for me personally…

End Of Meta Descriptions?

Well obviously the META Description will still be very important, but from what I can see the extended snippets come from body content. Google has been using body content where it makes better sense for a long time. But you could still use well crafted META Descriptions to improve the chances they’d be used as snippets for you key search terms. That’s now a little more difficult to control. At least for the longer tail of search…

Definitely worth keeping an eye on anyway.

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  1. Hi Richard,

    I’ve done a few tests and noticed in the results that you can get 3 and 4 lines mixed in with 2/1 lines. Some listings are returning 2 lines and some 4.

    I’ve also seen them with Adwords listings and a search with a one box local listing.

    With local search and PPC the organic searches are continually getting pushed down the page.

    8 paid listings and only 3 organic listings above the fold? Never seen that before, though I’m not surprised.

    Comment by Michael — March 25, 2009 @ 1:31 pm

  2. Hey Michael

    I think it depends on whether the results actually have enough info to create an extended snippet. I’d be interested in any queries you found that brought up extended snippets and Adwords in the onebox area. Can you give you me any? I tried this with all the most competitive terms I could think of but couldn’t get any decent extended snippets to appear with masthead Adwords.

    I was sent a screenshot recently – obviously 1024×600 – and it only had 2.5 organic listings underneath 3 masthead Adwords ads and 5 ads visible in sidebar. Terrible :(


    Comment by Richard Hearne — March 25, 2009 @ 4:46 pm

  3. Hi Richard,

    Haven’t seen many competitive terms that bring up Adwords and longer snippets at this stage, no doubt will come across some in due time if they are relevant.

    IMHO the days of organic results dominating are on their way out and have been for a while. Local search, video, ppc and whatever next will further push the organics further down the page.

    A varied approach is the way to go.

    Comment by Michael — March 27, 2009 @ 9:54 am

  4. I wonder if they will stick with this. It certainly gives more power to the top 3 sites. It would seem to give less choice in a way. I like to scan through a few sites quickly after I do a search. More people are going to have to scroll down now.

    Comment by Mary in San Antonio — March 31, 2009 @ 4:53 am

  5. I have done some tests and noticed that the results can get lines 3 and 4 mixed with 2 / 1 lines. Some ads are returning lines 2 and 4.

    I have also seen the AdWords ads with a search box and one with a local list.

    With local search and organic search PPC continually getting pushed down the page.

    8 paid ads, and only 3 organic listings above the fold? Never seen that before, although I am not surprised.

    Comment by FlashBack — June 15, 2009 @ 10:02 am

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