Featured snippets. Instant answers. Position zero. Whatever you call it, it’s prime real estate in the search engine results.
But how do you get there?
Like most things in search engine optimization, there’s no magic formula that applies to featured snippets. The algorithmic scheme that selects snippets is opaque and ever-changing.
But thanks to the efforts of data geeks like Rob Bucci (of STAT) and Eric Enge (of Stone Temple), we do know a thing or two about what it takes to propel part of a page into the featured snippet position.
Here’s a top-level summary of what featured snippets are, how they work, and what are considered best practices for snippet optimization in 2019.
Featured Snippets: What They Are
The ‘how’ and ‘why’ of featured snippets all comes back to Google’s bottom line.
Google wants to give searchers the best possible results, meaning the most relevant and useful content on the user’s search query. That’s what keeps people coming back to Google when there are plenty of alternative search engines – the quality of its results. Google’s army of engineers are constantly tweaking and fine-tuning search to deliver better results.
In a world where more and more people are searching on-the-go (and increasingly through voice assistants), better results means results that are instant and concise.
Enter rich answers: quick, precise results highlighted in a box at the top of the SERP below the paid listings.
Rich answers come in several different forms, including:
- The knowledge panel, which provides detailed answers to localized product and service-based searches;
- Direct answers, which draw information from Google’s personal data files; and
- Featured snippets, which display relevant bits of information from third-party sources, along with a link back to the page.
Recently, featured snippets on mobile search have links that jump to the exact spot on the page the snippet came from, making it easier to see where that information came from.
Featured snippets often appear in queries that Google takes as questions: searches that open with who, what, where, why and so on. But the snippet algorithm can also catch on to queries that imply a question. It’s getting better and better at guessing the unspoken question behind the search.
If I search, “when is E3 in 2019?” for example, that’s obviously a question-based query; if I instead search, “E3 2019 date” the algorithm knows enough deliver the same answer.
Vox has a video on featured snippets that summarizes this well (and humorously).
Why Do Featured Snippets Matter in Marketing?
Put simply, featured snippets get clicks. Lots of clicks.
When a page holds the featured snippet for a high-value search query, it can lead to a sharp increase in traffic, conversion and clickthrough.
In one case, a featured snippet led to a 516% increase in organic search sessions and a 4% higher clickthrough rate for a lucrative keyword. Others have noticed a similar boost for pages on their sites that secure snippets for search terms that matter to their sales funnel.
The continual rise of voice search is another reason to give snippets a second look. Rich answers are Google’s go-to result for voice queries, where results are spoken out loud to the user in reply. Optimizing a page for snippets also serves it well in voice.
Optimizing for Featured Snippets: What We Know
Featured snippets are not an exact science, but there are clear trends to and themes as which pages are likely to rank for featured snippets.
- Google favours questions with multiple answers rather than one. When there’s a single clear-cut answer to a user’s search query, the algorithm can just pull from Google’s own Direct Answers database; when the answer’s more complex, it’s more likely to pull a relevant snippet from a third-party site.
- A good answer is a comprehensive one. Stone Temple’s data confirms that, although only 100 or so words will appear in the snippet itself, the algorithm likes to pull snippets from pages with detailed, comprehensive information. Sub-topics and tangents are a good thing, so long as they’re relevant to the page’s core topic.
- The fresher, the better. Snippets need to accurate and up-to-date. It’s important to keep your content current have a chance of being featured.
- There are patterns that lend well to snippets. It’s no trick or formula, but there are ways of structuring content to make for good snippets:
- In the headline, tell readers they question you’re going to answer.
- Write a brief paragraph that provides context to the content that will follow.
- Give a point-by-point breakdown of the possible answers to the query, or, if there’s only one answer, expand on it. Depending on what best fits this specific query, this information can come in the form of subheadings and paragraphs (one subheading per point), a numbered or bullet list (one number/bullet per point) or a table (one point per row).
How to Track Featured Snippets
Long ago, in the bygone year of 2015, Google’s own Gary Illyes said there’s a chance you might someday be able to monitor featured snippets in the Search Console. But as of 2017, he’s denied it’s something Google is working on yet. So, it isn’t currently possible to keep track of a site’s snippets using Google’s proprietary tools.
But there are several third-party sites that document how many pages on your site have featured snippets (if any) and to which search terms they apply. And the good news is, if you’re an SEO nerd, you’re probably using one or more of these tools already:
- Moz’s rank tracker
- Advanced Web Ranking
- SEO PowerSuite
Is It Worth Chasing After Featured Snippets?
The pages that tend to rank for featured snippets have a lot of good things going for them: they’re current, relevant, comprehensive, and structured in a way that makes it easy for readers to scan and digest the info.
In other words, they’re doing all the things great content should do.
Featured snippets come and go. You could spend weeks working on reaching that coveted spot and be dethroned by a competitor through a shrug of the algorithm days later. But in general, the steps you can take to optimize your content for snippets are things you should be trying to do anyhow – so at worse, you’ve improved your site and added value regardless.