The more observant amongst you will have noticed that SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) have evolved. Once the prime real estate on the first page of a web search was dominated by paid ads, swiftly followed by organic results. Now the top of the page has a new landscape. The paid ads are still there, but top-ranking pages based on organic search have been pushed much further down the page, often ceding position to Featured Snippets and People Also Ask (PPA) questions.
It should come as no surprise that Google continues to prioritise paid content – after all this is where the money is, but the changes to the page below the ads represent new challenges and opportunities for search marketing. The challenge is to make sure your content is as visible as possible on the SERP, while the opportunity lies grabbing the coveted spot as a Featured Snippet, as this is largely based on quality of content, rather than your advertising spend.
Rob Bucci, CEO & Founder at Stat Search Analytics, gave a presentation on this topic during the recent Brighton SEO Conference where he revealed that Featured Snippets are growing in importance; from appearing in just nine percent of searches in January 2016, by November last year they were in 31 percent.
What is a featured snippet?
Featured Snippets are the box of text on the SERP, usually accompanied by a relevant image (more of which later), that gives an answer to the search query. Featured Snippets always feature a link back to the originating website, so they are a great way to draw more people into your site.
These should not to be confused with Knowledge Graph Cards, which offer factual information, for example if you ask what the population of the UK is. These pull data from Google’s partner sources and don’t include a link, as they’re designed to keep people on the SERP. They’re also different from Rich Snippets, which is the information that can appear below a listing of a web page on the SERP, for example giving star ratings and calorie information about recipes.
The benefit of a Featured Snippet is that you don’t pay for it to appear and yet arguably has more prominence than paid content. It also allows you to leapfrog up the SERP, as you don’t have to be the top ranked page in organic search to get a Featured Snippet slot, although you can’t afford to let your SEO slip as Rob Bucci’s research shows that 99% of Featured Snippets are sourced from sites that rank in positions 2-10.
If you win a Featured Snippet the real benefit could be a boost in traffic to and revenue from your site. One case study featured on Search Engine Land reported a 516 percent increase in organic visits and a 677 percent increase in revenue from organic visits.
What does this mean when it comes to developing content?
The lesson of all of this is that when you create content Featured Snippets must be front of mind. Any good SEO strategy will ensure your content is good quality and addresses the right keywords and search queries but winning a Featured Snippet slot is a little more complicated. While Google is notoriously secretive about the algorithms that power search results there are a few things that seem to help improve your chances of being selected as a Featured Snippet:
• Make sure you give a succinct, authoritative answer in the first paragraph of your content.
• Ensure that this is backed up by a deeper, more detailed explanation further down the page.
• Keep your content engaging, fresh and up-to-date.
Another thing to bear in mind is images. You may notice that some Featured Snippets have text from one source and an image from another.
Not good. If you have got that elusive text snippet, you don’t want it to be accompanied by a picture of a competitor’s brand. You also don’t want to win just the featured image, as it doesn’t link back directly to your site, instead it meanders via Google Images first, making for a complicated user journey. You can counter this problem by ensuring you have an image to support every search query you address and ensure they’re all optimised for search.
This is only going to become more important over time as 50 percent of all searches are predicted to be voice by 2020. Google’s Voice Assistant pulls responses from Knowledge Graph Cards and Featured Snippets, so it’s vital to futureproof your content by ensuring it gives the best answers to relevant queries.
What’s the future for Featured Snippets?
Earlier this year Google announced its new ‘multi-faceted snippets’, which deliver several answers to more broad questions, for example ‘Garden needs full sun’, would be answered with two responses, ‘what plants need full sun’ and ‘what does full sun mean’.
Microsoft has introduced something similar for its Bing search engine, called Intelligent Answers. This feature means that when you enter a question with several valid answers, such as ‘is coffee good for you?’ the search engine collates them all to give you different points of view.
Featured Snippets are set to play an ever greater part in ensuring your content reaches as many people as possible, fortunately it turns out that the formula to get your snippets featured is pretty simple: make sure you have the best content delivering the right answers to the right questions.