By: Cole Rieben

Don’t Settle For #1: Optimize for Google’s Featured Snippets

September 7, 2016

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From Quick Answers to the People Also Ask section, featured snippets have been at the top of numerous result pages and top of mind for many digital marketers and online businesses. First position in Google search is no longer adequate, especially when almost any competitor on the first page could qualify and leap multiple positions to snag the prime real estate above the first organic result. The result pages that have featured snippets tend to have two important elements, an entity and an attribute related to that entity. Here is a diagram Google used to explain the concept in their patent for Inferring attributes from search queries:
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While these results are not new, there are still tons of opportunity to be had. For starters, they’re being rolled out to more international SERPs as time goes on. There are still plenty of US queries for which Google will eventually display a featured snippet. Below are the findings of three consecutive studies performed by Stone Temple Consulting whose data from 855k test queries support the assumption that there is still more growth to be had.

 

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Is Optimizing for a Featured Snippet Worth the Time and Effort?

Before you go any further, and before I get into optimizations and prerequisites for showing up in a featured snippet, you should weigh the potential gains from your efforts. For some markets there aren’t currently any featured snippets present. Don’t forget that Google is still rolling this out to new areas and for more terms. So I would still encourage research and optimizing pages that rank high for potential featured positions. The payoff may not be immediate though.

In most cases where the opportunity currently exists, tests have shown an unexpected increase in click throughs. The assumption is that having a featured snippet on the result page for a query would reduce the clicks to the first position url and subsequent urls. Matthew Barby’s sample of Hubspot urls showed the opposite with an improved amount of click throughs to result #1 that followed the featured snippet. His analysis showed that the urls that displayed in a featured snippet saw a higher click-through-rate than ones that only displayed in regular first page results.
SERP_CTR_for_Featured_Snippet_vs_No_Featured_Snippet-1 (1)

 

Where to Optimize

I would first start by digging through Google result pages where your site ranks #1. If there are featured snippets on any of those result pages that aren’t pulling from your site then there is great opportunity for some upgrades to your page. If your site ranks for a large amount of queries in position #1 then focus first on the higher volume terms. While it is very possible to grab a featured snippet position if you aren’t ranking #1, there are two separate studies showing that about 30% of featured snippets pull from the #1 result. The graph below was pulled from a study run by Moz on 10k keywords.
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The second study was run by Stat with 1 million competitive keywords. While they found a similar result that about 30% of featured snippet results pulled from the #1 ranking page, they do call out that 70% of featured snippets came from results other than the first organic position. Even more interestingly, they found that a small percentage of queries sourced their featured snippet from positions beyond #10. I would recommend downloading their whitepaper that explains their findings from analyzing 1 million high-CPC terms.

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Dr. Peter J. Meyers illustrates this nicely as he proved this to work for Moz and the question phrase “What is page authority?.” Another site lept over Moz’s #1 result  for the term to capture the featured snippet position.

 

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The Moz team noticed that Drumbeat Marketing did a great job of directly and promptly defining page authority and answering the question. Moz promptly upgraded their copy with the question in the header, and to read as follows:

 

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Not long after, they captured the prized featured snippet display for that query while maintaining rank in the first position.

 

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The next area of focus should be on any other keywords your site ranks for on the first page. You could waste a lot of time researching all the keywords you could potentially rank for but your time is most wisely spent on first page positions based on the data from industry tests.

 

How to Optimize

Now that you know which pages need your attention you can determine which type of featured snippet to rank for. Is it a list? Is it a paragraph answer? Is it a table with information? Google very plainly communicates in their explanation of featured snippets that page markup won’t be a factor in qualifying for these positions.

Where does the answer summary come from?

The summary is a snippet extracted programmatically from a webpage. What’s different with a featured snippet is that it is enhanced to draw user attention on the results page. When we recognize that a query asks a question, we programmatically detect pages that answer the user’s question, and display a snippet as a featured snippet in the search results.

How can I mark my page as a featured snippet?

You can’t. Google programmatically determines that a page contains a likely answer to the user’s question, and displays the result as a featured snippet.

So the best thing you can do is upgrade your content to fit the query’s featured snippet. In Stat’s research they discovered that paragraph answers are the most common type of featured snippet and displayed that way for more than 80% of the million terms they tracked.

 

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Optimize for Paragraphs

The paragraph featured snippet displays pages that have answer oriented copy as well as the question in a header. Google will only pull a few sentences, so make your answers brief but directed at the searcher. In most cases Google will pull the copy from text they deem most valuable to the user. As such, I have run into an interesting scenario where Google actually selected partial information from a list and displayed it in paragraph form. Below is the result page for “home protection plan”. You will notice that the answer is displayed in a paragraph form, but the page it pulls from actually has it listed out.

 

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The same approach should be considered for the People Also Ask section. Once research is done on related questions, follow the same pattern of addressing the question and exclusively answering it below the header. In most cases you will be building out questions and answers on your landing page and not a designated FAQ page.

 

Optimize for Lists

The featured snippet that displays a list is one of the more recognizable types and usually occupies more real estate on a result page then paragraph answers. These types of answers tend to show up for how-to’s, cost breakdowns, as well as numbered and bulleted lists of all kinds. To rank for this type of featured snippet you may want to adjust some copy to introduce a list. Do your best to use the term or phrase in the heading of the list. It is important that it stays relevant and increases the value of the page.  Another thing to keep in mind, especially if you win these positions, is that you leave the user wanting a little more. Give them a reason to go to your page. Recipes can be a great chance to do this as each step usually involves more details that can’t fit.

 

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Stat’s research also found the use of <ol> tags on pages are 41.6% more common in featured snippets than in regular results. They saw the use of <table> tags nearly 22% more common in featured areas than in regular results. This brings me to the next type of featured snippet.

 

Optimizing for Tables

Optimizing for tables really comes down to displaying data or information that may already exist on your page a little differently. If you currently have a list on that page but there is an opportunity to grab a table snippet then find a way to compare the list to another list or just display multiple attributes at once. As mentioned above, it wouldn’t hurt to make sure that you are using <table> tags on your pages.

The most important area to focus on for optimizing your chances of being featured is your on page copy. Backlinks and other external factors for ranking become less important the closer your page is to the first position. Remember that before you optimize any pages you will need to research the Google result pages for keywords you rank for on the first page. The benefits of more clicks are definitely there, and you can always do more to direct the user to your page with enticing copy. This is definitely an area of optimization that you will want to return to often as Google expands to new markets and includes featured snippets in more result pages.

Written by Cole Rieben on September 7, 2016

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