Google’s search layout has changed dramatically in the past couple of years. Historically, a search engine results page (SERP) would have a horizontal search bar at the top of the page. Beneath that bar would come 10 blue links, each with a small description of the page underneath.
Now, those 10 links have been pushed down on the page and ranking for position 1 is no longer the holy grail in search engine optimization (SEO). The new top dog in town is the content that Google bubbles up and places above those traditional 10 blue links.
I recently presented a visual guide to Google’s new search layout in my blog, Google’s New Search Layout and Why It’s Important to Keep Up. Please review that primer for information about the various kinds of content that may appear at the very top of page 1, including the Featured Snippet.
Why Is It Important to Know About These Different Google Features?
Every time Google pivots we don’t need to blindly alter our digital strategy to follow – but we should be aware of overall search trends and how it may impact our website’s organic traffic and, more importantly, our correlated sales revenue. In 2017, Ahrefs, a top player in the SEO tool space, did a massive study of the search data they harvest and found that of the data set they studied, over 12% of search queries resulted in a featured snippet.
Two years later, some studies are showing that nearly 30% of Google search queries are rendering featured snippets. So, there’s no doubt the landscape is changing and at a rapid pace. Moz, another leader in the search space, studies SERP features and tracks changes over time in their Google SERP Feature Graph. It’s a handy tool to keep your finger on the pulse of SERP trends.
Moz’s Google SERP Feature Graph
Just this week, Founder of Moz, Rand Fishkin, released some startling new data on zero-click searches from Q1 2019. Jumpshot, the source of Fishkin’s data, reports that 49% of Google searches in Q1 resulted in zero clicks. Read the fascinating and data-rich blog post to learn more about how searchers are interacting with SERPs.
What Is a Featured Snippet?
A featured snippet is a block of information that appears at the top of a SERP when you enter a query into Google. Many experts in SEO circles have dubbed this special box as “position zero.” There are several types of content that may appear in this position. Google pulls certain quick answers from their database of public domain content, called the Knowledge Graph. They are usually answers to brief questions like, “Who is the leader of Cuba?” See the example result from that query below. This is an example of a Knowledge Panel, which is content pulled from Google’s Knowledge Graph. It is technically NOT a featured snippet.
Google’s featured snippet is content extracted from a website (not Google’s own database). The format of a featured snippet can vary from a bulleted list, a paragraph, videos, images or a data table. After the extracted website content, there is usually a link to the page with the page title and URL displayed. As you can see in the screenshot of the SERP below, Google will often place more than one featured snippet on a SERP.
Google extracts the snippet programmatically. Why are they doing this? Here is Google’s official answer to that question:
“We display featured snippets when our systems determine this format will help people more easily discover what they’re seeking, both from the description about the page and when they click on the link to read the page itself. They’re especially helpful for those on mobile or searching by voice.”
Google is attempting to answer a user’s question directly on the SERP. The prominent position of a featured snippet on desktop and mobile make that content appear more authoritative to users and thus, the links in a featured snippet will often experience a higher click-thru rate than the list of 10 links below the featured snippet. Note: The site from a featured snippet is almost always also listed in the list of 10 links on the page.
What’s the Connection Between Voice Search and Featured Snippets?
Comscore predicts that 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. As of 2017, 13% of US households owned a smart speaker with some studies predicting market penetration of near 50% by 2022. If you want to dive deeper into the impact of smart audio devices on business and beyond, I highly recommend the Smart Audio Reports produced by NPR and Edison Research.
Are people actually buying anything via voice search and smart audio devices? You bet they are!
Again, according to a Smart Audio Report, 22% of smart speaker owners in 2017 used voice commerce to complete their purchase. What’s the connection between voice search and featured snippets? Currently, voice search pulls answers almost exclusively from featured snippets. Hence, the race to earn a featured snippet has become increasingly important over the past few years.
How to Get a Featured Snippet
First things first, your page must already be on page 1 of Google. Ahrefs, in their study of over 2 million featured snippets, asserts they are 99.58% positive that Google only features pages that already rank in the top 10. So, make sure before you start diving into optimizing your content to try and win a featured snippet that you’re targeting pages that are already ranking on page 1.
Remember that Google is trying to specifically answer people’s questions in a featured snippet so take the set of target keywords and phrases you’re trying to rank and search those in Google. On the SERPs for each phrase, skim down on the page for People Also Ask (PAA) boxes. These boxes provide a goldmine of related search phrases for you to examine for possible page content updates or new content ideas.
If you have a subscription to a premium SEO tool like Moz or SEMrush, you can do this same work much more efficiently so you can see the search volume, search trend and who’s currently ranking for each phrase in the SERP – all in one view. See an example from SEMrush below:
Once you have homed in on pages you would like to earn a featured snippet from, the following tips can helpyou optimizeyour content to be more attractive to Google. I’ll break the on-page optimization tips out by the 3 most common types of featured snippet:
Do your best to answer the query associated with your target phrases in a short paragraph at the top of your page. You can certainly go into great depth further down the page but front load the page with a keyword rich paragraph that concisely answers the primary query. The average length of a paragraph featured snippet is 45 words so bear that in mind when writing and optimizing your lead paragraph copy.
Additionally, an eye-grabbing image on a featured snippet increases the likelihood of getting the click and thus, the visit to your website, so wherever possible, include a great image or images on your webpage.
When appropriate, use good old fashioned bulleted or numbered lists to organize and present your information. Google loves information they (and their users) can quickly digest and assess so if you are going back to review and potentially edit existing page content, ask yourself, “Might this information be more easily understood if it were in a bulleted or numbered list?” If so, experiment and change the layout of your page’s content. Then monitor your rankings over time and see how those changes have impacted the page’s rank.
Similar to bulleted and numbered lists, tables are a common format displayed in featured snippets. In many cases, Google will extract a page’s content and then render it into a table. But if you are presenting data on your website and it’s not already in a table format, consider moving that data into a table. Make sure to include clear headings.
Featured snippets are becoming more and more common on SERPs. We will continue to cover the pivotal trends in search. For more information about how to optimize your website for search, drop us a line.