Ever wondered about the mechanics of Google’s Featured Snippets? Learn what they are and how you can help your content earn this coveted spot.
Marketers often assume that the ultimate goal of SEO is landing in the #1 spot for a popular keyword, or at least appearing on the first page of search results. However, featured snippets are often easier to achieve organically than the coveted top spot and can mean similar if not better results for the website. These short blurbs of texts displayed after a search offer an excellent opportunity for sites that are newer or don’t contain backlinks, but which provide strong content, to get higher visibility.
What is a featured snippet?
When you perform a search on Google, you are then shown a page of results, referred to as a Search Engine Results Page (SERP). Sometimes the page only contains links with preview text shown, and you click on the links for more information. These links with preview text are called snippets.
Other times, especially when asking Google a question, the SERP includes a highlighted box containing text that (usually) answers your question. You then have the choice of either clicking the link for more information or returning to your task if your question is fully answered. This highlighted box is a featured snippet. Featured snippets can be formatted in a number of ways — as definition boxes, tables, videos, and lists.
While the #1 ranking can also be the featured snippet for a keyword, in many cases they are two different pages. Featured snippets have been around since 2014, and Google used to show featured snippets twice — as the featured snippet and as a regular listing. In November 2019, the process changed and now the SERP only shows the listing once — either as a regular snippet or featured snippet.
What are the benefits of a featured snippet?
Brands often believe the featured snippet reduces the click-thru rate (CTR), but research shows that is not usually true. Questions that are fully answered in a snippet may mean lower CTRs, but most questions require more in-depth answers, so people click to learn more. HubSpot reported a 114% higher click-thru rate for SERP pages when they had the feature snippet versus when they just ranked on the first page, including keywords for which they owned the #1 spot.
Brands whose customers often search through mobile or voice benefit even more by owning the featured snippet. When searching on mobile, the featured snippet is especially prominent, often covering the top half of the screen. Voice searches often read the actual snippet aloud in response to the search. However, people using these type of searches, especially voice, may be less likely to click-thru to the original page.
Who determines what webpage is the featured snippet?
Like with most things related to SEO, the answer is: Google. According SEMRush study only 19% of searches display a featured snippet, meaning Google reviews keywords to determine which searches show a featured snippet. The topic appears to be a deciding factor, with the study reporting that the majority are found in travel, computers & electronics, arts & entertainment, and science. Google also tends to select long-tail keywords for featured snippets more often than single words or short phrases.
Google then decides which results display as the featured snippet, as well as exactly what text is shown. Webpages do not have any control over what text is displayed if they are selected as the featured snippet. However, users can report featured snippets that they feel are not a good match or violate Google policies, which state that they may not be sexually explicit, hateful, violent, dangerous/harmful or contradict consensus on public interest topics.
Websites can decide to opt out of being considered for featured snippets, both on a page level and text level, by inserting codes in the HTML. While being a featured snippet is usually a positive thing, you may want to exclude humor or satire pages from being considered. Some companies have opted out when being the featured snippet brought traffic that didn’t help grow their business — such as 30,000 people mistakenly assuming the Canadian company Sterling Sky was actually Google support.
How can I increase my chances of being a featured snippet?
Google often changes its practices and algorithms regarding SERP displays — including featured snippets. However, webpages can make modifications that can increase their chances of being selected. Look at keywords for your industry and study the featured snippets from other brands to see what types of content is likely to get selected.
Here are 5 tips for optimizing your content to earn the featured snippet spot, based on selection patterns and Google’s help page:
- Identify featured snippet opportunities in your current content.
- Answer “why”, “do” or “can” questions in your content. SEMRush found that 29% of featured snippets use one of these question words. The study also found that 77.6% of “why” queries and 72.4% of “can” queries include a featured snippet on the SERP.
- Use structured data on your webpage. By using structured data, you can help Google better understand the context and intent of your page, which may increase the chances of being a featured snippet. Types of structured data recognized by Google includes articles, datasets, events, how-tos and products. In addition to finding the codes for all structured data types on Schema.org, many SEO tools allow you to automatically specify information as structured data without manually coding HTML.
- Use Headings tags. By applying the correct headings tag, such as <H1> and <H2>, you provide structure for Google and make it easier for the engine to understand the content. Be sure to use these tags for all headings on the page.
- Write concise content. After identifying that a piece of content is a good candidate for a featured snippet, focus on writing that section of content in a manner that very clearly and concisely answers a common search question. HubSpot found that the average featured snippet is 54 to 58 words. However, the most important key is providing information that is useful and fully answers the question.
Instead of attempting to create new content specifically for featured snippets, look at keywords you’re using that are currently ranking on the first SERP page, which is where most featured snippets rank. Making changes on existing pages to increase chances of Google selecting your content for the featured snippet is more efficient than creating new content specifically to gain the spot. By proactively looking for opportunities for featured snippets, you can improve your reach and click-thru rate.