Update: September 14, 2023
Google just announced that HowTo snippets will now be removed from the desktop results as well. The original announcement explained desktop HowTo snippets would remain, but Google reversed course and has now removed them.
Update: September 13, 2023
Google finally removed FAQ snippets from the desktop results. Learn more about the removal.
On August 8, 2023 Google announced a big change that would impact both FAQ and HowTo snippets. First, Google explained it was removing FAQ snippets in the SERPs for most sites other than “well-known and authoritative government and health websites”. The change would impact both the desktop and mobile search results, although I have more to share about that in my analysis.
And from a HowTo standpoint, Google announced those incredibly visual snippets that take up precious SERP real estate would be removed on mobile. Google originally said that they would still remain on desktop (usually in a list format), but HowTo snippets have now been removed from both the mobile and desktop search results.
For sites that received FAQ and/or HowTo snippets, the change was not well received by most site owners. Rich snippets can help listings stand out in the SERPs, can help boost click through rate, and can provide more information to entice users to click through. And as someone who spent the time adding HowTo structured data for my SEO tutorials, I loved having HowTo snippets in the SERPs. Seeing them disappear was tough… and had me wondering how CTR would be impacted by their removal. And many other site owners who had FAQ or HowTo snippets also wondered how the removal would impact clicks and CTR. Therefore, I decided to dig in and analyze data across sites to find out.
Tracking The Changes To Clicks and Click Through Rate (CTR):
After quickly scanning GSC’s performance reporting after the changes went live, I was eager to analyze the data across sites, verticals, countries, etc. I have access to a number of sites that were receiving both FAQ snippets and HowTo snippets and I was very interested to see the impact of the removal on clicks and CTR. Below, I’ll quickly cover the methodology I used when analyzing the impact and then I’ll cover each site’s data.
- I analyzed six sites in total, three that heavily received FAQ snippets and three that heavily received HowTo snippets.
- I analyzed the change in clicks for both mobile and desktop through the removal of FAQ and HowTo snippets starting on August 8, 2023. Note, click through rate is a better indicator since clicks can jump or drop based on demand and impressions. But I included clicks for the six sites below.
- I also reviewed the change in click through rate based on filtering pages that received rich snippets prior to the change. i.e. How will the removal of rich snippets impact visibility of those listings, and potentially how many people click through those listings.
- And to clarify, I isolated pages receiving FAQ and HowTo snippets in the SERPs and filtered in GSC via regular expressions. This enabled me to gain a closer view of specific sets of pages that received FAQ or HowTo snippets to see the change in clicks and CTR.
First up, I analyzed the impact of FAQ snippets being removed:
Case 1 – Stable.
First, you can see the removal from the mobile search results as expected on August 8, 2023. Clicks drop off a cliff for listings that contained FAQ snippets. Note, this doesn’t mean clicks overall dropped for the site, just that Google stopped providing FAQ snippets in the mobile SERPs.
In the announcement, Google explained that FAQ snippets would also be removed from the desktop search results, but that’s not what I’m seeing across sites. For example, checking desktop, you can see FAQ snippets are alive and well (at least for now). Clicks actually increased after the changes were implemented (but that can be influenced by impressions increasing too). Note, Google finally removed FAQ snippets in the desktop search results on 9/13/23.
When checking the impact to clicks and CTR when filtering by urls via regex that received FAQ snippets on mobile, I didn’t see much impact at all. Clicks are stable and CTR looks normal based on the history of the site. I’ll cover more about why I think this is happening after providing the data for the sites.
Note, you can first see an increase in CTR after the change went live and then a drop back down. But again, there was nothing that stood out based on the historical trending of the set of pages.
Case 2 – Also stable.
When analyzing the data (isolating pages that used to have FAQ snippets via regex), I noticed the same situation. FAQ snippets were removed from mobile, but not from desktop (yet). Again, Google did finally remove FAQ snippets from the desktop results on 9/13/23.
And I’m also not seeing a change in mobile clicks or CTR overall for the set of pages when filtering by urls yielding FAQ snippets before the removal (via regex). Clicks are a bit volatile, which is more of a demand situation, but CTR is stable for the set of pages.
Case 3 – Click Through Rate Drops…
Based on what I saw for the first two sites, I was fully expecting to see the others follow (with no change in clicks and CTR). But the third site I dug into was an interesting one. Mobile CTR clearly dropped when FAQ snippets were removed from the mobile search results… For this site, it could be the niche that’s the reason… It’s a YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) category and those FAQ snippets could have helped the listings stand out, provide helpful information to users, and then get more people to click through. It’s hard to say exactly why this site was an outlier, but you can clearly see the drop below.
First, desktop FAQ snippets were not impacted yet (like the others):
But for this site, CTR was impacted when filtering by urls that used to receive FAQ snippets:
Clicks do drop, but not by much. Again, clicks could be impacted by an increase in impressions (which did happen). First, here are clicks:
And here are impressions increasing, which yields more clicks. That’s why CTR is a better indicator of impact based on the removal of FAQ snippets. And CTR did drop.
Next up, HowTo snippets:
Case 1 – Totally stable after removal.
As I mentioned earlier, HowTo snippets provided an amazing SERP treatment (especially on mobile). For example, you would often see a carousel of thumbnails for each step, the snippet would take up a large amount of screen real estate in the viewport, they were extremely visual and engaging, etc. They were hard to overlook, that’s for sure.
So how would the removal of those HowTo snippets impact clicks and CTR? Not much at all from what I’m seeing, which was surprising. As you can see below, clicks and CTR are stable through the removal on mobile.
Case 2 – Also stable.
The next site I checked revealed the same situation. I did not see any changes to clicks or CTR based on HowTo snippets being removed from the mobile SERPs.
Case 3 – Yep, also stable.
And the third site revealed the same result. Clicks and CTR were stable through the removal of HowTo snippets in the mobile SERPs. CTR drops slightly recently, but it’s not too far off based on historical trending for the set of pages.
Key points and insights:
- For most sites I’m checking, the removal of FAQ and HowTo snippets are not having a big impact on click through rate and clicks from the search results. That was surprising to me, but that was the case for most sites I’m checking (even beyond the six I covered in this blog post).
- That said, there are outliers with some sites seeing a drop in CTR after the snippets were removed. Note, I haven’t seen that for the removal of HowTo snippets, but I provided an example earlier for FAQ. And that change I documented could be based on niche… For example, the case I covered where CTR dropped was a site focused on a YMYL category.
- Although FAQ were supposed to be removed on both mobile and desktop, I was only seeing them removed on mobile until recently. Google finally removed FAQ snippets from the desktop search results on 9/13/23. You can read more about that below.
- Google also announced on 9/14/23 that HowTo snippets would be removed on desktop as well as mobile. Originally, only the mobile SERPs would be impacted, but Google seems to have reversed course and removed HowTo snippets on desktop too.
Desktop FAQ snippets finally drop out of the SERPs on September 13, 2023:
We knew that FAQ snippets on desktop would eventually be removed, and now the time has come. As of 9/13/23 I am now seeing FAQ snippets removed from the desktop search results. I checked across sites and the snippets are gone. You can see a before and after photo below.
Prior to 9/13/23:
After 9/13/23 when FAQ snippets were removed:
Summary – The removal of FAQ and HowTo Snippets Are Not Having A Big Impact on CTR
For site owners, it’s always tough losing a special SERP treatment like FAQ and HowTo snippets, but there’s not much you can do about it. They are gone and probably not coming back. The good news is that I’m not seeing much impact to clicks and click through rate for sites that lost FAQ and HowTo snippets. I’ll keep tracking this over time and will update this post if anything changes performance-wise.