Google’s Video Thumbnail Apocalypse Is Causing A Huge Drop In Video Snippets In The Search Results (But Traffic Could Remain Stable)

Glenn Gabe

google, seo

Google video thumbnail apocalypse.

On April 13, Google announced a change to how video thumbnails would be presented in the search results. Until now, a listing could receive a video thumbnail even when that video content was not the main content on the page. Although that was a nice benefit for the sites receiving the video thumbnail, it was often confusing for users. For example, they might click through looking for a video, but the video might be way down the page (and might just be supporting content, and not cover the core point of the page).

Therefore, Google decided to remove video thumbnails for pages where the video is not the main content. And they weren’t kidding. I am now seeing massive drops in video thumbnails across a number of sites starting on 4/13. I’m not referring to small drops here and there. I mean near-complete drops in the number of video thumbnails being presented for those sites.

And I’m not saying this is a bug, or wrong. The video content for those pages isn’t the main content, so the system is working as intended.

Here are three examples of what I’m seeing. Again, huge drops in GSC for clicks from pages that used to receive video thumbnails. Note, this doesn’t mean traffic is down… more on that soon:

Video snippets dropping heavily in Google Search Console.
An example of video snippets dropping heavily in Google Search Console.
Another example of video snippets dropping heavily in Google Search Console (GSC).

Important: A drop in video snippets doesn’t mean a drop in traffic:
Now, just because a video thumbnail is removed doesn’t mean traffic will drop. Sure, video thumbnails can definitely impact click through rate from the SERPs, but rankings aren’t impacted at all with this change. It’s just about the SERP treatment. Traffic for these sites has remained stable, although I still need to dig into the CTR data to see what the impact is there.

Of course, that’s tricky since some of the content I’m reviewing is news-oriented (where CTR will be much higher at certain times than others). Anyway, I’ll post more about the impact to CTR and clicks after digging in more.

Also, Google is sometimes replacing the video thumbnails with image thumbnails. When that happens, CTR could even go up… There is still special SERP treatment with the image being displayed, but it doesn’t have the play arrow overlaid on the image thumbnail. Again, I’ll need to dig into the data to see if there are any significant changes in CTR based on these changes.

Here is an example of two listings in the SERPs that used to have video thumbnails that now have image thumbnails. For this example, I wouldn’t expect CTR to change much. The SERP treatment is still strong:

An example of search listings losing video thumbnails, but they were replaced by image thumbnails.

Video thumbnails in Top Stories, spared or overlooked?
I also wanted to mention that Top Stories seems to be treated differently based on this change from Google. I am still seeing video thumbnails show up in Top Stories when the video is NOT the main content on the page. So this is either by design, or it was overlooked by Google when implementing the video thumbnail changes. Time will tell if the video thumbnails remain. I’ll post an update if anything changes on that front.

For example, here are video thumbnails showing up when the video isn’t the main content:

Top Stories in Google still showing video thumbnails for pages where the video isn't the main content.

And here is the page that ranked with a video thumbnail. You can see the video is not the main content:

An example of a page where the video isn't the main content, but it is receiving video thumbnails in Top Stories.

Summary – Check your stats based on the video thumbnail apocalypse (but don’t freak out).
SERP features and rich snippets can definitely impact click through rate from the search results, so big changes like removing video thumbnails can cause issues for some sites. I wanted to document the huge drops I’m seeing in video thumbnails in the SERPs to make sure site owners and SEOs knew this is happening (so they could check their stats to analyze the impact). And remember, this might not impact clicks at all… especially if video thumbnails are replaced by image thumbnails. I’ll continue to analyze the situation and will post updates here. Stay tuned.