By Ryan Young
“Google it.” If your friends, families, or colleagues are anything like mine, there’s a good chance you hear this phrase on a daily or at the very least, weekly basis. While it’s sometimes used in jest, the reality is, we can count on Google to help us answer all types of questions.
Much of this thanks can be given to Google’s “Hummingbird” algorithm update, which focused on improving “conversational search” at its core. At the time of the announcement, Google said that Hummingbird would be paying closer attention to every word in a query, to better understand the true meaning behind the user’s intent.
Since Hummingbird, featured snippets have become much more prominent in search as Google has become smarter and aims to provide information quicker and more effectively than before.
Google’s featured snippets have been a welcomed addition to the SEO community as well. As a content marketer, I see these as empty plots of prime real estate calling my name. If you’re unfamiliar with what I’m referring to, let’s take a look at what appears when we search “what is B2B content marketing?” in Google.
The image below is an example of a featured snippet:
What are Google Featured Snippets?
Google says “featured snippets are special boxes where the format of regular listings is reversed, showing the descriptive snippet first.” Content for featured snippets is automatically pulled by Google from indexed webpages that Google believes matches the user’s intent.
For SEOs looking for ways to simply mark a page to be featured, Google says, “You can’t.” Not surprisingly, they aren’t offering up much more detail than that.
In translation: If you want to appear in Google featured snippets, you have to get out there, do some research of your own, put on your content marketing hardhat, and get to work.
That’s exactly what we have done here at KoMarketing for a number of our clients, and we can proudly say that we have had success.
Why Featured Snippets are Important for SEO
There are a few difference-makers when thinking about how featured snippet listings can impact SEO performance and results.
First, let’s go back to our above-mentioned definition of featured snippets, where we say “content for featured snippets is automatically pulled by Google from indexed webpages.” It’s important to note that your page does not have to be in the top position of organic results to be displayed in featured snippets. We have seen many client examples where blog pages or other educational site content that ranks further down page one begins to rank for featured snippet results.
Why is this so important? Well, oftentimes, the top few spots of organic rankings, especially for competitive terms, are taken up by websites with a massive business (and domain authority) behind them. Featured snippets allow smaller websites and organizations to compete for that essential search real estate.
The second primary benefit of featured snippets to SEO is simply the clicks and traffic that come from organic search when appearing in a listing. Industry research shows that about 9% of clicks go to featured snippets when there is a listing present.
At KoMarketing, we have been able to validate this research with several case examples. In fact, we recently landed a client’s webpage in featured snippets for a competitive question-based result, and have seen click-through-rates average between 10-25% for a variety of queries.
Here’s a snapshot of organic traffic to this page since it was picked up by featured snippets.
And finally, once you have pulled visitors to your site via featured snippets, you should capitalize by adding CTAs where they naturally fit. Since most of the queries that serve up featured snippets are considered to be “top of the sales funnel,” we often suggest adding banners to related whitepapers or other more buyer-centric content. Doing so allows us to push the site visitor further down the sales funnel, and will hopefully get them more interested in the organization’s offerings.
What are the Different Types of Featured Snippets?
To date, we have seen three primary types of featured snippets. These include:
1. Definitions: These snippets provide the user with a clear and concise explanation, specifically relating to the search term(s). We often see definitions appear for “what is” queries.
2. Tables: Google also commonly serves up tables as featured snippet results. Users are most likely to find these types of results when searching for dimensions of a certain item.
3. Lists: When information can be easily presented in a series of data points, or steps to explain a process, Google will use lists in featured snippets. You will find both ordered (numbered) or unordered (non-numbered) lists depending on the result.
Google Featured Snippets: SEO Best Practices
Here are the steps we have learned to be critical (content marketing-specific), regardless of the query being searched.
- Select a Relevant Query
- Create Relevant Content
- Focus on Structure
- Remember SEO Best Practices
- Be Patient
Step 1: Select a Relevant Query
Before anything else is done, you must first identify a query to target. Since questions are very common featured snippets results, one place to start is working across the organization (sales, marketing, customer service) to identify a handful of frequently asked customer questions.
From there, look for long-tail search queries that have volume (Keyword Planner is a helpful tool) and can be included in the question itself. Make sure this is a question that requires an answer with some depth, as Google is starting to bake answers to questions like “what time is it in California?” directly into its results, with no SEO value.
If you’re looking for some other ways to identify common customer questions, type a keyword associated with your business into Google and look for the “People also ask” results (see below) or use this tool, which is one of our favorites here at KoMarketing.
Step 2: Create Relevant Content
When creating content for featured snippets, you must first and foremost focus on the query at hand. Make sure the piece of content (whether it’s a blog post or a landing page) is created with only the most relevant material and supporting detail specific to that query in mind.
Sprinkling bits and pieces of an answer throughout a less-targeted post will cause Google to work harder to decipher your content and will reduce your chances of appearing in the featured snippet for the query.
The “quality over quantity” rule also comes into play here. Your piece of content does not have to be thousands of words long for it to appear. We’ve had content with less than 500 words appear and drive an abundance of traffic to our clients’ websites.
Step 3: Focus on Structure
In addition to the overall quality of the content, we believe the format of the post is just as critical.
Before creating your content, research your query and see what formats (if any) are appearing in the featured snippet. Regardless of the query you’re targeting, make sure you include it in the title of the content. Ideally, the title of the content (including the H1 tag) will be the target query itself.
If you decide it’s best to use a list-style post, be sure to include the list towards the beginning of the post. If you think the answer to the question is best suited to be presented in a paragraph format, make sure the answer is offered as early in the post as possible and in the most concise manner possible. ‘
- Include the question in the URL, title, and appropriate SEO tags
- Present the most critical information at the start (no fluff!)
- Think about using lists when answering “How” queries
- Think about using paragraph format when answering “What” queries
Step 4: Remember SEO Best Practices
While Google suggests they are simply looking for the best content with this initiative, SEO best practices should not be forgotten. Include things like links to reputable sources, well-optimized titles and tags, and Schema markup. Schema markup is code that’s put on a website to help search engines return more informative results. (For more information on Schema, give Derek’s post a read).
Most of the results we see appearing in featured snippets come from a result on the first page of SERPs. However, as we mentioned, you don’t have to be in the first organic spot to get the answer box result:
With this in mind, broader SEO factors like mobile-friendliness, link profiles, and domain authority also play a factor in the bigger picture.
Step 5: Be Patient
As is the case with most things related to SEO and content marketing, patience is critical. One of our clients was recently placed in featured snippets for a competitive query a full year after the content went live. If you consider these above steps and do the work to identify an opportunity that can be attained, there’s a good chance your content will be featured in what some now are calling “position zero,” and the benefits can be substantial.
There are many other posts on the web that speak to the best ways to be featured in Google’s featured snippets, and we encourage you to check those out as well. But, from our experience in the field, the steps listed in this post are essential to success.