If there’s something Google has taught the online community over the years, it’s that change is inevitable, a fact reinforced by how Google rolls out new features to improve user experience. Starting January 2014, Google added super-rich entries known as featured snippets to the search results. These featured snippets were designed to serve users with quick answers to their queries. To SEO professionals and businesses, this was a gold mine, an exciting opportunity to enhance online visibility and gain leads from organic search.
In this post, we will explain what a featured snippet is, and why you should strive to clinch the highly coveted position zero on the organic search results. You will also learn about the different types of Google featured snippets and how you can outrank your competitors to earn one. Part of the article also looks into how this bandwagon affects web traffic and click-through rates (CTR). So, let’s dive straight in.
What is a featured snippet?
A featured snippet is a short, value-rich answer to a user’s search query, usually displayed in a box above regular search results, but just below the paid ads. The search engine extracts this information from one of the top-ranking pages that provides the best answer to a given search phrase.
According to a blog post by Google, featured snippets are designed to help users discover what they’re seeking more easily. This is because the information presented contains the most concise answer to a search query. Additionally, it appears above organic search listings, also called position #0 (position zero).
Other than adding richness to the search results, featured snippets also serve as answers to voice search queries. With the increased use of voice assistants and mobile index as Google’s primary search index, optimizing content for featured snippets is now more crucial than ever. It’s such a great way to take your SEO game a notch higher.
Types of featured snippets
There are three common types of snippets used to represent the featured content. These are:
- Paragraph snippets
- List snippets
- Table snippets
Paragraph-style snippets answer questions like what, when, how, why, and who. The answer to the search query is a bit longer on the source page, but google only displays a short section of the text. These types of snippets are the most popular on the web. Here is a good example of a text-snippet for the question “why you need a financial advisor”.
List snippets are in the form of numbered or bulleted lists. Most “DIY” and “how-to“ queries are best served with list-style snippets. You will often realize posts with step by step instructions such as recipes have these types of snippets. Here is a list snippet for the search phrase ”How to prepare matcha tea”
Table featured snippets show up for content that contains well-structured comparison charts. The most common data sourced for tabular snippets include pricing, years, rates, and other numerical values. Below is a table-style snippet for the query “richest countries comparsion”
Google understands that most people prefer learning visually. For this reason, they often include images in the featured snippet. The text and image in the snippet could be fetched from the same source or two different websites as shown below.
While not as common, featured snippets may be in the form of a YouTube video. This means there’s a chance for your content to earn the snippet position if you make good use of graphic elements in your content. Remember that high-quality videos are also great for engagement. Take a look at the sample video snippet below.
Why are featured snippets important?
Featured snippets boost organic traffic for websites, optimize content for voice search, and position your brand as a trusted expert in your niche. Simply put- the benefits of appearing at position #0 on the SERPs have pretty much surpassed ranking at the traditionally-desired top spot. But why?
- It steals organic traffic from the top results
If you want to get more eyes on your content, always strive to land a featured snippet. Websites that rank at position #0 for a given search query takes a substantial part of the traffic that usually belongs to the top organic search result.
- It optimizes your content for voice search
The use of voice search and personal digital assistants has been on the rise for the past few years. Come 2020, voice search will account for 50 percent of the total searches conducted. As such, it makes sense to optimize content for featured snippets, which often provide answers to the voice-search queries.
- It positions you as an authority
Ranking for a featured snippet is one of the easiest ways to position your brand as an industry leader. From the perspective of potential customers, Google recommends your website because it provides reliable information. This way, you can easily compete with more authoritative brands in your niche without ranking at the top position.
How featured snippets impact organic traffic and click-through rates
Obtaining featured snippets on Google can significantly boost brand visibility and website traffic. The featured snippet, which appears directly below the search query, often supplies the best answer. A study by Ahrefs shows that 26 percent of all clicks go to the first result. However, if there’s a featured snippet for the search query, it gets around 8.6 percent of the total clicks. Consequently, the page ranking at position #1 receives a comparatively lower amount of traffic in presence of the featured snippet. In their study, Ahrefs found out that the traffic drops to around 19.6 percent as illustrated below.
Featured snippets capture a substantial part of the traffic that top-ranking pages used to enjoy in the past. The impact is so huge that some websites on the lower search results almost become obsolete despite ranking on the first page. If you want to snap up most of the organic traffic, then learn how to earn and maintain the featured snippet position.
Are top rankings required to earn a featured snippet?
Yes, in a study conducted by Ahrefs, 99.58 percent of featured snippets are pulled from pages already ranking at the top 10. Similarly, a whopping 30.9 percent of the featured content comes from pages ranking at the very top. These findings imply that it is almost impossible to land a featured snippet if your website doesn’t rank on the first page of Google. Wikipedia, for instance, which is the most featured website on the snippet box, often ranks in the top 5 for most search queries.
How to get a featured snippet on Google
The most effective way to earn a Google featured snippet is by pinpointing what type of questions that are common in your segment, picking one of them to target, and then provide the most concise answer to that particular search query.
These are the steps to take in order to maximize your chances of getting a featured snippet:
- Identify a search query to target (SEO tools, Google autocomplete, etc)
- Create a headline (H1, H2) on your page, which includes the search query
- Determine which featured snippet format that best suits the search query (paragraph, list or table)
- Create a concise answer to the question and place it immediately after the headline created in step 2
- Add a relevant picture with an alt tag that includes the search query
The next section digs deeper into the main things to consider when formatting your content for the three types of snippets.
Optimizing for paragraph-type snippets
For paragraph snippets, Google is only going to display a short extract of your content, so be sure your answer lies within the optimal word count (40 to 55 words). Think of a short summary that directly answers a potential query and include it right after the subheading. The key is having the most important information at the top, then diving into more details as the article goes on.
Optimizing for list-type featured snippets
The first thing to do when targeting a list-type snippet is formatting your content in a logical manner. This can be done in two ways- by either using bullet points or subheadings to organize your listings. For bullet points, follow the same guidelines as for paragraph-type featured snippets. Use the target query in the sub-heading, followed by a summarized list of instructions or series of steps best answers the question. The latter involves formatting your content with H2 or H3 subheadings to give it a logical flow. Google will pull the steps outlined in these subheadings and populate a list-type snippet for the target search query.
However, there’s one tricky thing about list-type snippets. You might discourage users from clicking the link to your page, but why? Because you’ve already provided all the necessary information. The best way to go around this caveat is by making your list longer than eight bullet points. Google shows a maximum of eight items on list-type snippets and adds a “More items” link. This serves as a call to click, provided you’ve not laid all the cards on the table.
Optimizing for table-type featured snippets
Google loves table featured snippets as they are perfect for organizing and displaying data values. So when applicable, add tabular data or reformat your text into tables – provided it makes sense. Start by giving an appropriate heading and then insert your table right after. Like the list-type snippet, Google shows a maximum of three columns and nine rows and adds a click-through link for tables with more elements. One more thing- do not forget to mark up your tables using tags.
Featured snippets can be a valuable source of traffic if you can properly answer what users are seeking on Google. Worth a mention is that Google does not keep the same content in the featured snippet all through. The aim is to provide users with the best possible answer at any given time, so they actively update the snippet position if there’s new, more valuable content. This means every website that earns a place in the top ten SERP results has an opportunity to get featured.
The bottom line- outsmart the competition, and your content might appear on the featured snippet, the path towards online visibility, higher traffic, and increased conversions.