Featured Snippets - The SEO Pot of Gold
Starting in January 2014 Google and Bing added rich entries to the search results pages called Featured Snippets.
There are a variety of Featured Snippet formats, appearing at the top of the search results, making them a highly coveted search engine result for savvy businesses.
Today I will explain what Featured Snippet is and how can your site earn one of these coveted search features?
You will also learn about different types of featured snippets and how Google and Bing use these to provide more value with searchers and for snippet source pages.
Features snippets are like a super search listing, a gold mine for your search engine optimization strategy. You work hard to get your pages ranked, featured snippets are bonus rewards you want to earn.
If you are wondering just how prolific featured snippets are in search results the Authority Hacker folks did a study by crawling over a million search results. They found “50-65% of all number one spots are dominated by a Featured Snippets."
This means even if you rank in the first position you may be conceding valuable traffic and branding by not owning the featured snippet.
Often when crafting a content strategy or pattern I look for editorial guidance from Google and research around what ranks. Featured snippets one of many tangible aspects of organic search everyone should set as a goal. The search engines would not add these components if their researched showed they added no value toward search intent.
The best news about snippets is they are a proven way to increase your organic search traffic, even when you are not the first search result. And they are used as the answer for voice search!
Google provided details about snippets in a blog post:
We display featured snippets in search when we believe this format will help people more easily discover what they’re seeking, both from the description and when they click on the link to read the page itself. It’s especially helpful for those on mobile or searching by voice.
- What is a Featured Snippet?
- Featured Snippets vs Knowledge Graph Answers
- 6 Types of Snippets
- Are Featured Snippets Permanent?
- How Can You Earn A Featured Snippet?
- Where Snippets Do Not Appear
- You Can Opt Out of Featured Snippets
What is a Featured Snippet?
These are answers the search engine has extracted from one of the pages ranked for the search phrase, framed by a box and positioned at the top of the results, but below the paid ads.
Earning a featured snippet can be a gold mine for businesses but requires crafting great answers and good SEO.
Snippets may also be referred to as a "rich answer" or "direct answer". Because they are placed above regular search results they are sometimes called 'position 0'.
Searches phrased as questions tend to have a better chance a snippet will appear, but it is not always the case.
Beyond enriching search results the featured snippet is often the answer to voice search queries, like from Google Assistant and Cortana. So as voice search becomes more important you want to make sure you include featured snippets as part of your intentional search strategy.
Think about it, when a consumer asked their digital assistant for an answer they will naturally phrase the query as a question. So you should write your page's copy as an answer to a question, which may be featured as a snippet in the search results.
Another reason why search engines added featured snippets is mobile. Remember Google now uses the mobile index as its primary search index and most search traffic comes from mobile devices today.
Snippets provide a better user experience on the smaller viewport and touch first experience. The added richness and often more visual format makes these results easier to consume.
This is another reason why including images and media in your articles is important to rank better. Not only do they add value to the visitor, search engines recognize the value and curate your media to surface in featured snippets.
Make sure you include good imagery and video in your articles, even when you are targeting readers, multi-media is worth the investment.
Here is an example for 'cats that look like tigers'
Contrary to common belief obtaining a snippet increases your click through rate. When they began to appear many feared search traffic would be cannibalized by Google.
We recognize that featured snippets have to work in a way that helps support the sources that ultimately makes them possible.
If the answer to the searcher's question was at the top of the results why would they click any results?
While there are some searches where this is true, by and large searches most businesses covet are not negatively affected. Our experience with featured snippets has been very positive.
Being positioned below paid results does not seem to reduce their effectiveness. Quite the contrary.
My experience shows they can combine with your regular search engine placement (SERP), to increase your click through rates. This means you get even more traffic to your site.
Featured Snippets vs Knowledge Graph Answers
Featured snippets and the 'knowledge graph' are often lumped together because they are both featured above search results. Knowledge graph snippets tend to be answers to questions with common answers. Sports scores and schedules are examples.
These knowledge graph answers are referred to as 'quick answer' boxes. Sometimes they are more rich than just an answer and are a tool, like calculating a unit conversion or translating between languages.
When I lookup my Wolfpack's score or football schedule I am often greeted with the immediate answer. As a searcher I am pretty happy because I don't have to wait on a slow sports site to load with the score.
I realize sites depending on traffic to support their advertising may not like the knowledge graph results. I guess I look at their business model a little different. In this example sites like ESPN can benefit by offering more details about the game, schedule and expert analysis. In these cases I tend to have a 'relationship' with their brand and go to the page or site directly.
Yes, it does mean sites with common knowledge results need to improve their experience to retain brand loyalty, much like taxi services have been forced to improve due to ride sharing services.
For non-knowledge graph results, which most of us are trying to rank, studies show click-through-rates increase, even for the first result. I think this is because the snippet is providing a preview of the content on the page and lends extra credibility to the target.
I mean Google has decided to feature the page, it must be the best page, right?
6 Types of Snippets
There are more than one type of featured snippet, so there is no perfect answer as to how you should format your content to target a featured snippet.
My best advice is to ask yourself why type of featured snippet format best fits the type of answer the user might be asking.
The most common snippet is text including one or more paragraphs extracted from the featured results. It seems the most common length is between 44 and 58 words. So your answers need to be succinct. Don't worry you can add more value to your answer on your page, just make sure the target answer is relatively short.
Fun fact, Ahrefs research shows recipe is the most common word included in featured snippets!
A list can be either bulleted or numbered. Often these are the individual points featured in listicle type articles.
Step By Step
Many 'how to' and DIY answers are best served with a step by step list to achieve the goal. Cooking is the best example of these results. You will often see questions around how to prepare different dishes and beverages have step by step featured snippets.
These have been shown to comprise almost 30% of the featured snippets, making them an important format to target. What I find cool about tables is the source data does not necessarily need to be in tabular format, Google will extract the data and reformat into a table.
It is recommended when targeting a tabular featured snippet you make sure you include at least 4 record or rows worth of data. 4 or more seems to be a magic number to garner more clicks.
The most common types of data being sourced for tabular snippets is:
While not as common, many time snippets include a photo or image. They may be and often are from another site than the featured content was curated.
This means there is another opportunity to earn a place in this box. So, make sure you include good images on your pages with targeted 'alt' tag values. I recommend using the target question as the alt text.
You should note mobile search results tend to include more photos and images. If you are in a market where mobile is a traffic driver you should include images in your content. Make sure you include keyword targeting alt tags as well as captions, don't stuff keywords, but make it describe the actual image.
You should use images closely related to the keyword topic. Stock photos to theme the article, which I often use are not great candidates. But illustrations and examples, like I have included in this article, are great candidates.
Recently Gary Iyles touched on image SEO at the 2018 PubCon. He said to not only include descriptive alt tags but to also add captions. HTML has a figcaption element to provide semantic media captions. I will cover these soon as well start updating my articles accordingly!
These are sometimes called YouTube featured snippets because they feature YouTube videos. That's because they source videos from YouTube, which makes sense because it is a Google property.
These snippets have been spotted in two formats, one where the video is the full snippet and one where the video is thumbnailed to the right of the video's description.
These snippets are usually accompanied by a row of related videos below the featured snippet.
Bing Expandable Snippets
For the most part Bing's featured snippets mirror Google's. The sources may vary between the two search engines, but sometimes Bing extracts more content from the source.
They can come in multiple forms. Many allow you to expand the extracted answer, revealing the next few paragraphs or list items. Others appear as a series of expandable list items. The later use an accordion UI metaphor.
Google recently followed Bing's lead in this area by adding expandable snippets to their arsenal.
Are Featured Snippets Permanent?
No, they fluctuate all the time, just like the search results. I don't have a good answer to how long a site may be featured as a snippet, but in my experience, you can expect at least a week in most cases.
I think Google collects engagement data on the result to determine what works best. In other words, if your click through rate is low you may not retain the featured snippet long. If it is higher than average, you can expect to retain the position for a longer period of time.
It may also depend on your ability to stay ranked in the top 10 results. AHrefs found that 99.6% of featured snippets were extracted from the top 10 results. I suspect the .4% were pages that recently lost their top 10 placement and have not yet been removed from the snippet.
How Can You Earn A Featured Snippet?
Earning a featured snippet is not much of a mystery. Many studies have tried to reverse engineer how Google and Bing determine who receives a snippet. So far it seems pseudo-random, but following good online copywriting practices helps. You should also focus on what questions searchers want answers and the best format.
- Know What Keywords to Target
- Collect Questions Related to your Target Keywords
- Review What Keywords Have Featured Snippets
- Use Existing Snippets to Help You Define How to Structure Your Content (paragraph vs list for example)
- Make Sure You Have a Succinct Answer (roughly 50 words)
Many thought schema markup would increase your chances, but this is not true. Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes has stated JSON schema is not used to extract snippet content.
Where schema markup ads more value are for results like recipes where the structured helps the bots know more details for common patterns. For recipes this could be ingredients and steps to prepare the food or drink.
You should consult schema.org for more details about specific content categories.
It appears the search engines use ranking signals differently for featured snippets than they do for the regular results. They are looking more for a succinct answer to the searchers question.
This goes not mean good SEO practices don't matter, they do. You still need to rank relatively high (top 10) for Google to extract your content for the featured snippet.
Like I mentioned before 99.6% of the featured snippets seem to come from the top 10 results. So again being on page 2 means you don't exist.
Google says summaries are extracted programmatically from the content the user sees on your page. They intentionally look for answers to questions in pages and highlight good answers in the results.
It does appear having the search query in an H2, H3, H4, etc. tag helps. Right below this header tag you should include your answer to the question, typically in a P element.
If possible, include facts and numbers. Google loves these because searchers want them. For example, I have included the percent of top 10 results that earned a featured snippet in this article. If possible add a chart or graphic to reinforce your answer. This may also be included in the snippet box.
You wont be featured for just one query. Just like a good page will rank for dozens or hundreds of keywords you will also find you earn position 0 for multiple, related searches. Search engines are great a identifying similar phrases.
Identify where you rank and determine how many keywords are questions. Try to add those questions as headers and provide good answers. You can use this as an inventive to reoptimize your site's content.
Don't stop at just providing a direct answer to common questions, you should also add more value to your page. Go beyond the direct answer and provide more value. This is where you will be sure to earn more clicks. Plus, I suspect Google will view the page as a better option to feature in position 0.
As with any search engine marketing strategy you need to explicitly target keywords. As part of your targeted content include what', 'how', 'who' and 'when' questions in your content. But don't stop there, think about search intent as well. It seems featured snippets appear at higher frequencies for longer tail keywords.
A good source of topical question is the search results themselves. Google often includes a box of 'people also asked' suggested phrases. You should mine these questions to add more targeted value to your content.
If you are still stuck for where you should start, review your Google Search Console to find your best ranking pages. Make sure you include the postion column in the 'search analytics' report.
Once you have your results sorted by position you can then filter the queries to include question predicates like 'how'. You will have to change the filter for each question type, you can't combine them.
From here you can see if you have potential content you can improve and exactly what question to answer. My typical strategy is to review the other search results and any featured snippets for ideas how to answer the question. I mean you have to know what the competition is doing so you can do it better, right?
Where Snippets Do Not Appear
You won’t find featured snippets in the Google image or video search results. This makes sense because each of these return rich media results, not text-based results.
Google Shopping results are also void of featured snippets. I think if they had snippets in the shopping results this would be viewed as a clear bias and break some consumer trade laws somewhere.
Local searches won't yield any features either. Instead local searches return a map pack and details about known local results for the query. There currently is not an opportunity for you as a local business to outflank your competition with a snippet.
This does not mean you can't target featured snippets as a local business. On the contrary, your local SEO strategy should include targeted content to be featured in regular search results. This means you should absolutely write content with featured snippets in mind.
Think about it. If you are constantly in the results when someone searches for information on your niche and a local business is featured does that not give you a distinct advantage? Plus, Google and Bing are known to shape search results by location, which gives you the opportunity to rank against your national and global competition for the customers you want most.
You Can Opt Out of Featured Snippets
Google allows you to opt out of being considered for a featured snippet by adding a META tag to your page's HEAD element.
<meta name="googlebot" content="nonsnippet">
I can't imagine why you would want to do this, but I guess for legal reasons Google's provides a mechanism to opt out of this feature.
Featured snippets are a gold mine of free traffic if you can properly target what users Google and Bing are looking for. The good news is you don't have to be ranked #1 to be featured in a snippet or rich answer. Google looks for direct answers to questions in good content to feature.
I also think featured snippets are another way Google is demonstrating to us, the content producer, how to write and structure our content. We can use featured snippets as a reference for how good content is produced because Google has lots of analyzed data to help them identify what is good and what is not.
So use these recommendations to help you create your content. Even if you don't earn the featured snippet you will earn more visits than if you don't write for snippets.
If you earn a featured snipped expect your traffic to increase, even if you already have the top search position. Unfortunately, Google does not keep the same answer in the featured snippet over time, they rotate. But this volatility means you have opportunities to earn this coveted position even if you are the new guy in the top 10.