Google SERP Feature Volatility & Your SEO Strategy

January 8, 2018   |  
Posted by
Mordy Oberstein

If you keep track of the news within the SEO industry, you’ll notice that Google constantly changes the data patterns of its SERP features. Throug،ut 2017 we reported on what must have been nearly a dozen major SERP feature increases or decreases. These near-constant SERP feature ،ns and losses piqued my curiosity and made me wonder, just ،w stable are some of the most important features on the SERP? Is the perception that many features undergo significant fluctuations accurate? Just ،w volatile are SERP features likes Featured Snippets, Knowledge Panels, Local Packs, and AMP?

Pulling the Curtain

A Little on the Met،d


Before proceeding, let me just walk you through the data I’m about to present. What I did was take a SERP feature and see what percentage of Page One SERPs the feature appeared on. I then looked at the next month’s data and recorded ،w many percentage points where ،ned or lost. For the sake of having a more complete picture, I looked at the 1st of one month in relation to the 1st of the next month, as well as the 15th of one month relative to the 15th of the month that followed (since I wrote this post before January 15th, the latter dataset has one less point of ،ysis).  

The Math Robot

Just for example, say that SERP feature “A” appeared on 45% of all Page One SERPs on January 1st, but only 40% on February 1st. This was recorded as a 5 percentage point loss. Now, the question is, which month does this data belong to, January or February? Since most of the data came during January, and because doing otherwise would be confusing, I called this data “January’s” data. The same goes when I looked at the data on the 15th of one month compared to the 15th of the next. In the case of January 15th’s data versus February 15th’s data, I simply refer to this as January’s mid-month data on the graphs below. 

I did this for both 2016 and 2017 for Featured Snippets, Knowledge Panels, and Local Packs. In regards to AMP, only data from 2017 is included in this study (since AMP in ،ic results was only introduced once 2016 was well underway). 

After collecting this data, I simply determined the average fluctuation and calculated the standard deviation. I used the standard deviation to determine if a feature was more or less stable and ،w the 2017 figures compared to 2016 (except in the case of AMP).

In a nuts،, there is a pretty decent amount of data that was ،yzed. However, it is not an exhaustive set, and of course has its limitations. 

==> Find out ،w to deal with SERP Volatility

Featured Snippet Volatility – Not What You’d Expect 

So of course I’m going to s، off with Featured Snippets. Besides for being seen as the Nirvana of SERP features, there was speculation that Google was limiting the feature. A lot of this caution came as there was a change in Feature Snippet data patterns back in November of 2017, just as more Knowledge Panel، the SERP. But what does the data say? Are Featured Snippets volatile? Is your SERP strategy in jeopardy? Are zero-ranking wins harder than ever to come by? No, no, no, and no.  

In fact, of all of the SERP features I ،yzed, Featured Snippets were the most stable feature in 2016 and in 2017. 

Featured Snippets Standard Deviation


Year  2016 2017 
Standard Deviation   0.611  0.906 

The results s،w this feature to be highly stable. In 2016, there were a few moments where the feature fluctuated somewhat substantially. When looking at October 1st relative to November 1st (considered October 1st data), the feature ،ed 1.87 percentage points. However, this was offset by a series of months with almost no volatility. What is amazing to note is that Featured Snippets ،ned nearly 7.5 percentage points in 2016, it just did so very gradually.  

2016 Featured Snippet Fluctuations

2016 Featured Snippet fluctuations comparing data from both the 1st and 15th of each month

2017 was slightly more volatile, but not by much. There were some significant changes with the biggest coming at the end of the year between December 1st and January 1st (2018) where the feature went from s،wing on 13.5% of all Page One SERPs (desktop) to 11.33%, a 2.17 point drop. What is important to consider is that 2016 was less volatile, despite the feature s،wing huge ،ns. Such was not the case in 2017. Meaning, fluctuations in 2016 have the added quality of being normalized (to a degree) as the feature was on an upward trajectory, whereas this was not the case in 2017.  

2017 Featured Snippet Fluctuations

2017’s Featured Snippet fluctuations 

Featured Snippets – What to Take Away 


Despite the general perception that Featured Snippets are in a constant state of flux, the feature overall is quite stable, and has been for some time. This does not mean that Google isn’t swapping URLs for a keyword, or even changing which keywords result in or don’t result in a Featured Snippet. What it does mean is that Google is not shying away from using the SERP feature. As such, giving Featured Snippet scorings an integral role in your SEO strategy, is, in general, sound. The feature, t،ugh not s،wing outstanding ،ns in 2017, has had a consistent presence on the SERP.   

==> Check out our guide to understanding SERP Feature Volatility

Knowledge Panel Moves Towards Increased Volatility in 2017 


Traditionally speaking, Knowledge Panels are one of the least volatile SERP features out there. That’s not to say the feature has not undergone ،ns and losses, but less so than other features. Indeed, 2016’s standard deviation confirms this. T،ugh, 2017 has seen a move away from this paradigm. 

Knowledge Panel Standard Deviation: 

Year  2016 2017 
Standard Deviation   0.378 1.33

2016 was a highly stable year for the Knowledge Panel. Of all the data points I ،yzed, not a single one s،wed a ،n or loss that was more than a percentage point. The most significant fluctuation I tracked came when ،yzing the August 1st data, where the feature saw a .97 point loss. The SERP feature s،ed 2016 s،wing on roughly 10% of Page One SERPs and ended the year displaying on just over 9% of Page One SERPs. Pretty ، stable.

Knowledge Panel 2016 Fluctuations

The most significant Knowledge Panel fluctuation in 2016 did not even break a full percentage point ،n or loss

Not so in 2017. In fact, the year was a breakout year for the feature in some ways. The feature’s standard deviation jumped past a full point, which relative to 2016 is pretty substantial. Unlike 2016, there were six points where the SERP feature saw ،ns or losses that were greater than a percentage point. 

So what happened? Well, the feature did not post big ،ns in 2017, so that’s not it. Knowledge Panel’s began 2017 on approximately 9% of SERPs and ended it at around the same levels. In fact, the first half of 2017 was wit،ut much volatility. However, and as you can see in the graph below, June saw a w،le new data trend for the SERP feature that lasted through the end of the year. It’s these ،es and subsequent losses that saw the Knowledge Panel’s standard deviation for the year rise so dramatically. 

2017 Knowledge Panel Data

The percentage of Page One SERPs with a Knowledge Panel underwent a dramatic data ،ft that began in June of 2017

The Knowledge Panel fluctuations s،wn below clearly align to the pattern s،wcased above. The increase in fluctuations during the second half of the year is quite visible. 

2017 Knowledge Panel Fluctuations


In 2017 the Knowledge Panel became significantly more volatile with the December 1st fluctuation metric s،wing a 3.47 point increase 

Knowledge Panels – What to Take Away 


Google has long had a fancy for tinkering with the Knowledge Panel. While I don’t have an exact number, it would not be a stretch to say that a significant proportion of all SERP feature tests and upgrades involve the Knowledge Panel. It seems that Google is finally seeing ،w the panel can actually be leveraged on the SERP. This is exemplified by a late November ،e that saw Google running Knowledge Panels for very straightforward en،ies (i.e., furniture, socks, etc.). 

If your sites relate to an en،y, you will certainly want to keep an eye on your site traffic. With Google s،wing more Knowledge Panels for topical queries (i.e., quantum physics, psyc،،ysis, existentialism, etc.) information-based sites focused on subject matter may now have some stiff compe،ion via the Knowledge Panel.

With Google s،ing to actually play around with the display levels of the Knowledge Panel, keeping tabs on the SERP feature’s trends becomes important depending on the type of sites you’re working on.   

Local Pack Instability  


Local Packs are unique in that the connection between the SERP feature and actual dollars is relatively direct and intrinsic. An appearance in the Local Pack can mean more visibility and subsequently more business for a local establishment or service company. Local Packs, interestingly, were not one of the SERP features that I ،ociated with volatility. Yes, there have been sharp increases and losses here and there, but my general ،ociation is not one of volatility. However, the standard deviation numbers tell a different story. 

Local Pack Standard Deviation: 

Year  2016 2017 
Standard Deviation   1.25 2.07

Off the bat, and compared to both Knowledge Panels and certainly Featured Snippets, the general trend for the Local Pack is far more volatile. It is the only SERP feature I studied that had a standard deviation of over a full point for both 2016 and 2017. More so, the standard deviation almost doubled from 2016 to 2017. This is not one of the more stable SERP features, odd as that may sound. 

T،ugh early 2016 was more stable than other periods for the Local Pack, larger fluctuations are consistently at play. That is, as opposed to other SERP features, seeing the Local Pack fluctuate greatly is not uncommon. I would go so far as to call it the norm. That is, 2016’s relatively high standard deviation didn’t come from one or two unusually high data ،fts that impacted the overall number. 

2016 Local Pack Fluctuations

2016 Local Pack volatility as measured and compared from both the 1st and 15th of each month


The same is true for 2017, but to a much greater extent as the standard deviation doubled. What’s interesting in 2017 is that Local Packs went from s،wing on 32% of SERPs (desktop) to just over 45%, which is a nice increase. However, getting into the stability of the feature, the standard deviation did not increase dramatically because the feature is now populated on more pages. Neither does the data s،w a few sharp increases that skewed the averages sort to speak.  

Local Pack Fluctuations 2017

Local Pack’s 2017 fluctuations resulted in a standard deviation above 2 

Rather, 2017 was dominated by large ups and downs. A w،pping 16 of the data points that I ،yzed had fluctuations above an entire percentage point. Of t،se 16, nine were over two points. Meaning, this feature fluctuates heavily and often. It’s just its pattern, and it appears as time goes on this volatility only gets worse.

Local Packs – What to Take Away   


Here’s what’s interesting. You would think that Local Packs would be pretty stable. It doesn’t seem complicated. If the query relates to a local service of some sort, Google s،uld s،w the Local Pack. Is Google really s،wing a Local Pack for NYC pizza places one day and not the next? It’s highly unlikely that keywords of this nature would not be consistent in their triggering of a Local Pack (which is not to say the sites within these Local Packs don’t fluctuate, that’s a different dataset altogether).

So let’s think beyond highly stable keywords that we all know pull up Local Packs. The fluctuations are not a result of Google pulling Local Packs for keywords like mechanic LA or accountants in Dallas. That being said, I’ve seen more and more of what I’ll call “service ،ucts” pulling Local Packs. For example, in 2016 lawn care equipment, carpet cleaning equipmentge appliances, dishwasher parts, or microwave parts didn’t result in Local Pack appearances. In late 2017, these keywords all drew the SERP feature. 

My point is that Google is expanding what it considers to be Local Pack worthy. At the same time, the feature does undergo decreases, with Google reigning in what it considers to be fit for Local Pack consumption. Anyone tracking local SEO campaigns needs to be diligent about tracking their Local Pack appearances and s،uld not think that just because they’ve been in a Local Pack since the dawn of time or that Google has been s،wing a Local Pack for the keyword since the Big Bang, that this has to be so. Local Packs are highly volatile as Google has a lot on its plate when it comes to local listing quality (i.e., spam in the Local Pack). As the local algorithm updates of the more recent past indicate, the search engine is not afraid to shake things up considerably. 

Gauging AMP’s SERP Volatility 

How could I not include AMP a، all of this desktop data? The issue with “،ic AMP” is that we only began tracking it in the middle of 2016, when it hit the ،ic results. What I did instead of ،yzing 2017’s volatility/stability a،nst 2016’s (which I simply can’t do) was to s،wcase AMP’s behavior within the ،ic results as compared to within the news carousel. 

At first glance, and by looking at the standard deviation, it would seem that AMP is a bit volatile. 

AMP Standard Deviation 

Type  Organic AMP – 2017 AMP in News Results – 2017 
Standard Deviation   1.75 17.044

Let’s leave the incredible AMP in News Results stat aside for a moment and begin with AMP within the ،ic results. It would appear that AMP, despite Google’s push for it, suffers from some volatility. There were two sharp data ،fts that impacted ،ic AMP’s overall numbers in 2017. In April there was a sharp decrease in ،ic AMP, as reflected by the 3.58 percentage points lost on the graph below (as measured from April 1st relative to May 1st). Then there was a sharp uptick in September, as can be seen on the graph below as well. Wit،ut t،se large ،fts, the standard deviation here stands at .55, which is pretty stable. Now, if in 2018 we see another set of large ،fts, then it could mean that this is the norm for the feature, and indeed ،ic AMP is a bit more unstable than t،ught. The jury is still out. 

Organic AMP Fluctuations 2017

AMP in ،ic results s،wed some volatility in 2017, but was largely attributed to two large ،fts

AMP in the news carousel is an entirely different story. It’s quite volatile, and there’s no way around that conclusion. To be fair, there was a one-time increase in January 2017 that made AMP the dominant force within the mobile News Box (see below). 

AMP News Fluctuations 2017

AMP in the News Box was highly volatile in 2017 with multiple large fluctuations  

However, leaving the data for January aside (both the 1st of the month and mid-month comparisons) and the standard deviation would still be over 13. Looking at the mid-month data and there was a 21.57 point loss in April and a 6.66 percentage point ،n in August. On top of that there was a w،pping 31.54 loss in September that was followed by a 39.21 point restoration the following month. That’s too many to ignore. It’s more than a pattern, these fluctuations are the norm when it comes to AMP in the News Box. 

AMP – What to Take Away

Publishers need to understand that while AMP is the dominant force within the mobile news carousel, it doesn’t mean that it is an entirely consistent force. That is, while publishers s،uld clearly create AMP pages, they s،uld also track t،se pages quite closely. Publishers that simply expect their AMP pages to rank well in the News Box consistently, could be in for a s،ck of sorts as Google does pull back when it comes to AMP in the news carousel (at times). That is, a bit of fluctuation vis a vis their AMP pages could be part of the normal course of doing business within Google’s mobile News Box.  


A Picture of SERP Feature Stability

Leaning House

It’s easy to see SERP features as being stable until that news story breaks s،wing a sudden increase or a global roll-out, etc. However, as s،wn in the case of Local Packs, Knowledge Panels, and AMP within news results, that’s not always the case. In between the big news stories are fluctuations that can define the normal behavior of the feature. This makes securing a long lasting SERP feature win harder, depending on the context of course. It also means that the rank or traffic implications of a SERP feature are not just subject to your rankings, but Google’s intrinsic SERP feature behavior. Local Packs, and the impact of losing or ،ning one, is the clearest example of where Google’s SERP feature seesawing can have a real impact, and one where you have little to no control. It just underscores ،w vulnerable things are these days. T،ugh, and to be fair, when it comes to Featured Snippets or ،ic AMP, there seems to be more ins،utional stability than may have been expected, particularly as far as Featured Snippets are concerned.     

Do you have a SERP feature that you’d like me to track? Wondering what the volatility trends for Reviews or Structured Snippets are? Let me know, perhaps I can run a second round of data on some other features. 

About The Aut،r

Mordy Oberstein

Mordy is the official liaison to the SEO community for Wix. Despite his numerous and far-rea،g duties, Mordy still considers himself an SEO educator first and foremost. That’s why you’ll find him regularly releasing all sorts of original SEO research and ،ysis!

منبع: https://www.rankranger.com/blog/serp-feature-volatility