Google Directly Embedding Stack Overflow Responses in SERPs

Mattias Geniar, Tuesday, January 27, 2015

I'm not sure how they decide which search queries get a direct response, and which don't, but this was an interesting finding.

If I search for "php how long are sessions kept", I get a Stack Overflow response embedded in my search results.


Some observations

  • Incognito mode doesn't show this, you have to be logged in with your Google account.
  • The quoted Stack Overflow response isn't the top/approved post. In fact, Google's excerpt combines 2 Stack Overflow comments into a single paragraph.


This is the first time I've seen this, but if it continues this would surely harm Stack Overflow's pageviews and ad revenue? Are they doing this to other sites as well?

Update 13:00h: this appears to be with "consent" of Stack Overflow

Enter, structured data

Google offers the "answer box" (the excerpt shown right under the search query) as an optional tool to sites. For instance, that particular post on Stack Overflow has structured data that allow Google to filter the results and embed them.

By embedding structured data, you basically give Google the freedom to do whatever it wants with your data.

Search engines are using on-page markup in a variety of ways—for example, Google uses it to create rich snippets in search results. Not every type of information in will be surfaced in search results but over time you can expect that more data will be used in more ways.

In addition, since the markup is publicly accessible from your web pages, other organizations may find interesting new ways to make use of it as well. FAQ

So it appears this is happening with Stack Overflow knowing about it and approving it, after all -- they implemented But at the cost of pageviews?

Could this eventually lead to's open format being abandoned? I know it's contradictory to the "open data" movement but ...

<wishful-thinking> Maybe it'll lead to new business models, no longer based on pageviews and ad impressions. </wishful-thinking>

Hi! My name is Mattias Geniar. I'm a Support Manager at Nucleus Hosting in Belgium, a general web geek & public speaker. Currently working on DNS Spy & Oh Dear!. Follow me on Twitter as @mattiasgeniar.

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Jelle Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 13:19 - Reply

Op wel,
Op niet…

Wim Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 13:20 - Reply

Cool feature but like you metioned, I don’t think that the stack overflow team will be too happy with this.
I seem to remember that I’ve also seen it with some wikipedia content.

Kacper Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 14:49 - Reply

I think that I read somewhere that SO makes about 2/3 of their revenue through their job board. So losing some PIs on the Q/A section of the site might now hurt them too badly.

kaoD Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 14:57 - Reply

So it appears this is happening with Stack Overflow knowing about it and approving it, after all — they implemented

Not really. As far as I know, implementing means your data is structured, not that you can do whatever you want with it. The real reason Google can do it is because Stack Overflow user submitted content is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Matthias Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 15:43 - Reply

This is nothing new. Google started embedding imdb data (scores, etc.) into their SERP’s a few years ago. They called it “Rich snippets”, I believe.

Publishing data enriched with or RDF is another way of providing a machine readable API. The idea being that information should not be secluded to a particular domain.

I think it’s this implies an important value proposition: a site like StackEx closes a deal with Google, provides the data and Google publishes it as rich snippets.

Google earns direct revenue via a new income source
Google’s service improves as visitors get a nicer/better/more human/… experience (actual data instead of a targeted ads)

How does this impact traffic? Postively or negatively?
I believe that rich snippets are a selling point that drive traffic to a website (i.c. stack exchange). Even more so, then via advertising or SEO fscking. Why? Because people want an authentic answer. Of course, I don’t have any numbers on this. But, I would love to see some figures from this deal. I think there are lessons to be learned here.

    Mattias Geniar Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 16:00 - Reply

    It makes sense, but at the same time Google provided me with my answer straight in that little answer box. I had no need to click through to Stack Overflow anymore. In my case, they lost 1 pageview and at least 1 ad impression.

    (I eventually did click through to Stack Overflow, to grab screenshots, but that’s beside the point)

      seth godin Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 17:41 - Reply

      Actually, unless you’re a top 10 website, having Google feature you in the SERPs ends up HELPING your traffic, because for every regular user (like you) who doesn’t click through, there are a dozen or more people who end up discovering the site.

      That’s how Google keeps growing… in the short run, discovery is priceless.

Preston Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 17:04 - Reply

DuckDuckGo sometimes shows similar results. For example:

reid Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 18:52 - Reply

p.s. your comment form is infuriating

Blake Frederick Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 23:10 - Reply

Yes I think it’s pretty clear that Google is going to start doing this with as much of the web as possible. Existing websites will essentially become content creators for Google.

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