Irrespective of sector, market, target audience or end product, what unites all digital shopfronts is the thirst to rank number one on Google’s SERPs, thwarting competitors from gaining this position and even more so, doing this at a low cost such as through featured snippets. The featured snippet spot sits above the fold, ahead of the number one organic search result which is why it’s also known as the ‘number zero’ position.
As with the ever-changing nature of Google’s algorithms, the rules around featured snippets are constantly changing as Google futureproofs the search engine by adapting to new ways of search, such as voice search. A featured snippet provides an instant answer to a question searched for by the user, so if you haven’t answered this question within your content, your chance of winning the featured snippet is slim.
What is a featured snippet?
On beginning your quest to winning a featured snippet spot, you will need to thoroughly understand what a featured snippet is, how you can earn one and Google’s best practise advice on featured snippets. A featured snippet is an excerpt sliced out from a website and pinned to the top of the organic search engine results page (SERPs), answering the users question concisely, accurately and factually. The featured snippet will link to your site which could contribute to a significant increase in traffic and conversions. Gaining a featured snippet is competitive as it offers an attainable chance of earning exposure for your shopfront without allocating any fixed paid spend.
Positioning – Featured snippets dominate close to 1/3 of the screen above the fold which assists in driving traffic to the site of the featured snippet holder. Ongoing developments to the rule book and Google algorithm changes mean that it’s vital to wise yourself up on the latest guidance concerning featured snippets and take heed of what industry specialists are advising.
Content quality – The information pulled to form a featured snippet should belong to a wider piece of content which is comprehensive, trustworthy and reads naturally, rather than functioning as a highly geared example of SEO content. The article in its entirety should be useful and relevant, matching the running theme across the domain. This helps Google curve black hat websites which disregard readability and user experience. As a result, the featured snippet is typically taken from the domain ranking position one; however, this can be attributed to a site ranking further down.
In addition to content quality, rich snippets and meta tags will help Google assess the accuracy and relevance of the content. Domain authority will also play a mitigating factor as this reflects upon the credibility of the source.
Layout – Featured snippets can take the form of a simple paragraph, bullet points, numbered lists, general lists, accompanying images, diagrams and tables, all of which illustrate the information in a digestible manner.
Widening the conversation
A recent addition to the featured snippets section is the ‘people also ask’ dropdown of related questions and answers, allowing for more featured snippet opportunities from a varied list of different sources. This feeds additional insight to the reader without having to click onto a series of multiple sites.
By using tools to look for what people are searching for, you can identify and answer multiple questions within one dedicated article or a branch of related articles. There are dedicated platforms such as Answer the Public and Also Asked which topically group searches, making it easier for you to gauge what information you should be providing to your audience.
Voice search – A study by backlinko found that 40.7 per cent of voice search answers come from the featured snippet which is an indicator of how as time passes and voice search popularises, competition is expected to increase for the prized featured snippet spot. As the demand for voice search increases, Google will continue to experiment with different featured snippet elements.
Why competitor analysis is vital in this game
On beginning your journey to gaining position zero on SERPs, competitor analysis is the first step you should take to identify who’s appearing for a selected search term. Use SEO tools to identify which featured snippets competitors are appearing for and then compare the quality and complexity of the content. Note that the featured snippet on display will vary, including those appearing on desktop and mobile.
Google’s advice on featured snippets
During Summer 2019, Google introduced an algorithm update concerning featured snippets to ensure that the information on view is timely, up-to-date and remains useful over time. Here’s the update:
As part of our ongoing efforts to make Search work better for you, a new algorithm update improves our systems’ understanding of what information remains useful over time and what becomes out-of-date more quickly. For queries where fresh information is important, our systems will try to find the most useful and up-to-date featured snippets.
For example, as an event approaches, we learn more specific details. A fresher page about an upcoming TV premiere might have more specific information and other useful content, like trailers, that you can click through to view. Sometimes a query is related to current events, so fresh sources are particularly important.
Making this change to featured snippets is an attempt by Google to increase the quality of search results and presenting the freshest form of information available to users. Comscore, a leading marketing data and analytics firm, found that by the end of 2020, 50 per cent of all searches will be through voice search, paving the way for voice-activated, smart home devices such as Google Home and Alexa. As with all SEO strategies, the process of trial and error, regular analysis and seeking best practices is vital, all of which can lead to scoring a host of featured snippet spots.
Keith Tully is a partner at Real Business Rescue, a nationwide firm of licensed insolvency practitioners and business rescue experts with over 70 offices across the UK. His specialities lie within acting on behalf of struggling businesses and negotiating with HMRC to negotiate time to pay schemes.
Also published on Medium.