Google's number one goal is to connect searchers with information that answers their query.
It's as simple as that.
The faster, easier, and more reliable resource usually wins out over the slower, more convoluted, badly laid out resource.
If your site is hard to navigate, hard for Google to crawl, hard to pull information from, and slow you will likely rank worse than your opposition - but in some circumstances Google skips the middle man (you) altogether and pulls information from your site that users might be interested in seeing and displays it in a better way than you are - so that their searchers can get information faster.
These are typically referred to as "rich snippets" which act as tables, graphs, bios, or other information that is displayed directly within a search engine results page (otherwise referred to as a SERP).
At the end of the day these rich snippets can help you gain traffic dramatically, or hurt your traffic dramatically - and it typically depends on a few different circumstances.
Rich snippets are typically represented in three different ways:
According to Getstat paragraph snippets make up 82% of overall snippets found on Google, while list snippets make up 11%, and table snippets make up the other 7%.
Feature snippets and list snippets are typically really helpful for site traffic - and in some circumstances can actually surge an article's traffic - or really harm traffic to your article if yours is not the one being featured.
Table snippets on the other hand can be very helpful to customers, but if the data pulled solves the need of the searcher without having to access your site it can have a massive negative traffic outcome on your site.
For a bit of information on how to optimize your site to be included in the rich snippets of a search query Ann Smarty wrote a great post on the Moz blog about just that.
In circumstances when your articles are being represented as a featured snippet or a list snippet the effect can be massive over the volume of the article or resource the information is being pulled from. We've had clients who have had their articles included in the featured snippets that have seen 100x the amount of traffic that their normal articles see from organic traffic.
When this happens it can be a really great experience, and typically looks something like this:
This resource from IMDB likely gains a lot of traffic from being represented in this list snippet - as anyone who would be interested in seeing more information on this topic that isn't listed here might be more inclined to click the IMDB link after engaging with the information in the link rather than progressing to the other organic options further down the page.
Unfortunately it can go the other way as well, you can have your article not be featured - and your competition can have a featured snippet, which means your organic traffic might see a massive dip from this specific search query.
An even worse circumstance is when Google pulls information from your site for a direct query about your business that is more user friendly than the same information represented on your website. These are typically seen as a table snippet.
I'll use a ski lodge near me as an example of this.
Here's the site of the lodge:
But Google knows that most people who would be searching for this resort would likely be wanting to know if it's open, what the slope conditions are, and if the slopes and lifts are currently open. That being the case Google shows a table with that information in a much more user-friendly way at the top of their SERP for a direct query about this mountain:
If I'm finding this information so easily here, why even visit your site?
And to make things worse, unlike the feature snippet - where is the link to visit your site? It's not there. In-fact in this circumstance Google is pulling this information then not even showing the organic listing for the website this information is pulled from until after this table and their local listing table:
You could imagine that this is likely highly affecting the click-through traffic of Wolf Ridge's website, and while the information still might be helping them get business because their customers are getting information about the slope conditions quickly - they're unable to control the messaging and call to actions that surround that information until someone scrolls over 70% down the page to click on their organic listing, unless they click on their paid listing at the top of the SERP (which costs them money every time it's clicked).
So there's plenty of reason to be concerned about these rich snippets - they can help or harm your business in a massive way - but they can be adjusted, they can be adapted to, and you can make them a part of your online strategy too!