Featured snippets can seem like the Holy Grail of SEO, so it makes sense the industry has been buzzing about them for awhile … how to get them? How to keep them? How is Google ranking and returning them? And for just about every question you can think of regarding featured snippets, there’s a theory or even a pretty good answer.
What are Featured Snippets?
More and more of us are using search engines as answer machines, and they’ve been preparing for this trend to continue expanding, especially as voice assistants (think Alexa,Google Home, etc.) in homes, cars, on our watches and phones themselves compete (and sometimes outpace)traditional desktop searching. It’s easier to ask Alexa what the day’s forecast will be while you’re busy than to stop what you’re doing and go Google it. This behavior translates into subtle but powerful changes in the way we look for information online. We’re more comfortable — and more likely — to use question-styled queries when we’re looking for something, and Google and Bing are more likely to give us an answer in a pretty definitive manner. Usually taking the shape of a featured snippet, these are the boxes you might have seen directly under the search bar that contain a simple, straightforward answer to a query.
Why Do They Matter?
If you’re a local business or service provider, featured snippets can play an important role in the way you optimize your site. Think about some of the questions your potential customers might be asking themselves — “Is there a coffee place near [x location]?” “What is cold press coffee?” These are both questions with definitive, quantifiable answers. Google recognizes that, and is often prepared with a featured snippet-style answer to return in the highest priority location, putting that answer above all the other search results or paid listings. As a result, snippets are often considered the most prime real estate in SEO.
And what’s more, there are probably questions that your business is uniquely well positioned to answer. Chances are Google wants to help you provide those answers, since it helps everyone but primarily your potential customers.
How Do You Earn Featured Snippets?
Many emerging best practices around getting the coveted featured snippets within Google focus on directly answering a user query. This involves sitting down to brainstorm potential questions users might ask related to your product or service, and using tools like Google Analytics and the Keyword Planner to help you find out which of those queries are the most valuable and relevant for your particular audience.
But it doesn’t end there. We’ve known for a while that the Google search algorithm evaluates site content semantically — so the overall content layout of your site is critical to helping your site not only rank, but be more visible and desirable for featured snippet-style results, and in general, a wider-range of search results.
Thinking about web content from this perspective, featured snippets can seem like they should be easy to acquire — just write content that answers questions, right? The answer is more complicated than that. Businesses can spend a lot of time and money chasing featured snippets that never really pan out, or work only for a short period of time. So how do you know what will work for you, and if pursuing snippets is even a worthwhile endeavor?
Practical Steps Forward
While creating content that answers questions can be part of the equation for earning featured snippets, the bigger picture hinges on the quality and the connectivity of the content. It’s not enough to simply have the content, it needs to be used properly and organized correctly. A good way to do this is to map out all of your existing content — we can’t recommend a content or editorial calendar here enough — and audit all of it. Measuring where you are is key, so you can plot a course forward.
Once you’ve established the lay of your content land, you can start to target areas of improvement and areas where you could earn a featured snippet. We’d also recommend creating a separate map of these topics so you can test different question variants and different keyword targets, and have a place to record the results for future iterations. SEO can — and should — help tremendously here, too. You’ll want to do your research, whether it’s on your own, or tapping into another SEO specialist. Keyword selection, and the relative competition for them, can help you choose the best options and position you for the best chances of earning a snippet.
Though far from an exact science, these tactics provide a solid starting point for not only a sound content strategy, they’ll also lay the foundation for featured snippet-worthy content.