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Organic Search Strategy

Google’s Featured Snippets: What They Are and Why They Matter

By Mike Ramsey

Google continues to test new search result features — PPC ads, knowledge panels and Local results, to name a few — and your organic search strategy continues to get pummeled with each new test. To keep organic traffic flowing to your site, it’s important to keep up with the changes and adjust your strategy. Featured snippets — those short answers that appear on top of Google search results when users ask a question — is one feature you want to stay abreast of.

If you aren’t optimizing your website’s content for snippets, you should begin now.

First, What Are Featured Snippets?

Featured snippets are pulled from one of the top-ranking webpages that answer the searcher’s query. They are the first thing most people see in their search results and are more attention-grabbing than traditional organic results. Snippets always include a URL link to the source page for the snippet so users can get more detailed information— making them a great way to gain visibility for a website.

The goal is to answer the searcher’s question immediately via a summary. Searchers don’t have to click through to a site at all to get their answer: It’s right there in the snippet.

Featured snippets have been around for a while, but Google is showing them more and more frequently. As of May 2017, more than 12 percent of searches had featured snippets in the results. 

Here is an example of one:

featured snippets

These snippets take up a lot of real estate at the top of the search results, pushing typical organic and local results down. Snippets also stand out because of the box around them, their boldface focus keywords and by answering the searcher’s question immediately.

And your website doesn’t need to be ranked No. 1 in results to have the featured snippet pulled from it. Around 70 percent of featured snippets have come from sites not ranking in the first position, according to SEO polling and statistics website Getstat. However, you do need to be smart about crafting the type of quality information Google is looking to pull.

Types of Featured Snippets

To get your content featured, you need to be familiar with the type of content Google is looking for. There are three main types of featured snippets:

  1. Paragraphs
  2. Lists
  3. Tables

According to Getstat, the most popular type of those is the paragraph.

featured snippets

As far as the paragraph snippet goes, Google shows the answer in text form and may also include an image from the linked page. Here is an example:

featured snippets

List-type snippets often take numbered or bulleted lists from a page that answer a searcher’s question. Below is an example:

featured snippets

Table snippets pull information from the tables on the website. Here’s an example:

featured snippets

Finding Featured Snippets: Do Your Research

Any good marketing strategy starts with identifying your target audience — for snippets it’s no different. You need to identify the phrases and questions your audience is searching for so that you know what to write about.

Start with keyword research. A simple way to do this is to think like your target audience. What would they be searching to find you or your competitors online? What questions would they be asking?

Then, do these searches in Google. Make note of which searches return featured snippets and which don’t. Also note what type of featured snippet is showing up (paragraph, list or table). If a snippet doesn’t appear for a specific search phrase, keep searching until you find phrases that do return featured snippets. Put your focus on these phrases.

There are paid tools for keyword research that you could use, but good old-fashioned Google searches are a good place to start. Doing this will help you quickly identify content ideas and what search phrases to focus on.

Pay attention to the “People also ask” section whenever these show up in your research. This gives quick insight into specific questions Google is deeming relevant to the search phrase as well.

featured snippets

Identify low-hanging-fruit opportunities. While you don’t need to be in spot No. 1, you do need to rank somewhere on page one of the search results for the featured snippet you are trying to take over. According to Ahrefs, 99.58 percent of featured snippet results pages already rank in the top 10 of Google. So, it makes sense to identify phrases where you are already ranking well on page one.

Note: Wikipedia dominates a lot of featured snippets. That site will be very hard to overtake, so when you see it featured you may want to start on another search term.

Optimizing Content for Featured Snippets: Where to Start

Once you have done the research to identify questions to target, you’ll need to craft snippet-friendly content so that Google is more likely to pick it up.

Be concise. Google is only displaying a limited number of words in featured snippets, with the average length between 40 to 50 words. You want to make sure you answer the questions as quickly and clearly as possible. If you can do so in one paragraph, you increase the chances that Google may use your answer as the featured snippet.

Answer multiple questions. Once a page starts showing up for a featured snippet, it is more likely to show up in more snippets for similar searches, according to the earlier Ahrefs study. Because of this, you want to make sure your page is written in such a way as to answer multiple, related questions. Include logical steps and break up your text with headings. Be clear and concise and pay attention to word count.

Use high-quality imagery. Images grab searchers attention and enhance the design for the featured snippet.

featured snippets featured snippets

When optimizing your website for featured snippets, make sure you are adding good quality images to all your pieces. You can’t guarantee that Google will pull an image for the featured snippet, but by taking this simple step you are at least giving it a fair chance.

Don’t Get Confused by Answer Boxes

It is important to note the difference between a featured snippet and an answer box. Google gives quick answers at the top of a lot of search results that aren’t featured snippets. Answer boxes do not include a URL linking to the content source. Make sure you identify this difference so you don’t try optimizing for a featured snippet when it is really an answer box.

featured snippets

Snippets Are Here to Stay

Google is constantly changing but featured snippets continue to grow in prominence.

You now have the knowledge and tools you need to start your research. You will find where you are lacking in content and see opportunities to improve. Even if you don’t get a featured snippet for some phrases you go after, the quality of the content you provide will improve, and you will be on your way to becoming a more recognized leader in your market.

More Ideas to Boost Your Website’s Visibility … 

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Mike Ramsey Mike Ramsey

Mike Ramsey is President of Nifty Ventures and founder of Nifty Marketing and Nifty Law. The Nifty Law team brings digital marketing, website design, SEO and content marketing to firms nationwide. He is the author of “Winning at Local Search” and a partner at LocalU, which provides conferences in the realm of local search marketing. A speaker at marketing events such as Avvo Lawyernomics, Mozcon and Pubcon, Mike has been featured on Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal and SEOmoz. Follow him on Twitter @mikeramsey.

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