For several years Google has provided direct answers to straight-forward questions such as, “What time is the World Cup.” While that killed traffic to the many sites happy to provide the answer while serving a half-dozen banner ads, the gain in user search experience was measurable.

More recently, Google has broadened the snippets program answering more nuanced questions, sometimes with horrible results. According to The Outline, the answers displayed are algorithmically generated from highly ranked web pages ranked. They’re officially called featured snippets. Google added featured snippets in 2014. Apparently, the search giant wants more canned answers available to read to searchers from its smart speakers.

But when the question has no obvious fact-based answer, like “Which company has the best mobile banking” (see above), Google still persists in providing a suggested answer. In this case, showing the first 8 banks from a list of 15 published by GoBankingRates in January (link). And for some reason, 4 are bold faced.

GoBankingRates is a good site with proper advertising disclosures, but is it qualified to provide the definitive answer? The GoBankingRates list is pretty much the who’s who in U.S. digital banking, so they are probably not so far off. However, there is no methodology given for how they rank them. GoBankingRates say Ally Bank is #1 and Citibank is #9 with no justification. And why does that matter to Citibank if they made the top 10? The snippet only displays banks #1 through 8, so to see Citibank you must clickthrough to the GoBankingRates site. Interestingly, both banks are currently major GoBankingRates advertisers.

Is Ally the best? While it doesn’t come to mind first when I think of outstanding mobile, they do have an outstanding 4.7-star rating on iTunes. So maybe they do have the best mobile.

I’m glad GoBankingRates has a solid list and that Google ranks them highly organically. But I still question why Google highlights them with a snippet. They are not even the first result in search and since they don’t post their methodology it’s difficult for users to assess the quality of the list.

Bottom line: What should you do? As a user, indicate your dislike of the snippet by clicking the Feedback icon in the lower right. But for far more impact, especially If you are a major Google advertiser, contact your Google rep and tell them to stop providing canned answers to subjective questions. That’s what organic search results are for.

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