Also known as “answer boxes” and “direct answers”, featured snippets happen when a Google search result page (SERP) features an actual answer to the search query above the top standard result.
These answers are pulled directly from other websites. For example, in a search for “when will my baby smile”, Google returns the following from our client BabyCentre UK:
In the past few years, these quick answers have been appearing in more and more SERPs, with some estimates suggesting as many as 30% of searches could be affected. Featured snippets are also used on mobile searches, for example they provide many of the answers for searches via Siri, Alexa and Google Home.
What featured snippets mean for traffic from search
The rise of featured snippets poses an interesting conundrum for content creators. When a snippet appears, many searchers can find the answer to their question without a single click. This obviously impacts click-through rates, and can reduce traffic to all sites ranking for that query. From this perspective, featured snippets can be seen as a negative.
However, there is one major upside to featured snippets, especially for smaller sites: if you’re not already ranking top for a keyword, claiming the featured snippet could actually increase your clicks from search.
This is because the featured snippet doesn’t always come from the top-ranked page (though it almost always comes from one of the top 10 pages). So even if you’re ranking 5th or 6th, your content may still be the first thing people see when they search.
Given that featured snippets seem to be here to stay, any possible decrease in clicks from SERPs is just something SEO professionals are going to have to get used to. But traffic aside, it always pays to try to get your content in the quick answer box, as this still gives unparalleled brand exposure. Better you than a competitor!
How to boost your chances of getting featured
There’s no sure-fire way to “claim” a quick answer box. However, research suggests that there are a few tactics that can increase your chances of being selected:
- Be concise: summarise answers to complex questions in a few sentences. One Moz study suggests that the optimum length is about 45 words, or 293 characters (maximum 97 words, or 752 characters).
- Bullets, ordered lists and tables: use bullet points for lists, ordered lists for sequential steps or ranked lists, and tables for comparisons. All of these formatting types have been shown to feature more frequently than straight copy in quick answers.
- Questions in headings: when trying to claim the quick answer for a particular question, include the question as an h1, h2 or bold heading directly above the paragraph/list/table you hope to feature.
The future of featured snippets
It’s worth noting that featured snippets still seem to be evolving, as Google continue to experiment to see what works best. In late 2017, Thrive noticed several new trends, including:
- Text from one site, image from another. If the page that provides the text for the featured snippet doesn’t feature a suitable image to accompany it, a relevant image from another site may be used instead.
- Concatenating text. Initially, featured snippets seemed to be pulled verbatim from the page. However, we have started to see some concatenation. For example, one featured snippet took the first sentence from the first three paragraphs on a page (omitting the rest of each paragraph), and pulled them together into a single answer.
In 2018, Google have already announced that future searches may return more than one featured snippet. We might also expect to see more video featured snippets (which jump straight to the part of the video that answers the user’s question). One thing is for sure: Google isn’t done experimenting yet!
See the next blog in our SEO series: Why images and video are crucial for SEO
This series provides a rough guide to five of the most important content-based SEO strategies for 2018. Ultimately, however, the user is king. If your content fulfils your users’ needs, and even goes the extra mile to inform or entertain (or preferably both!), it stands a better chance than ever before of making it to the top spot.
Sound like a lot of hard work? Let Thrive help! Contact us now to find out how our expert writers and editors can develop your content to increase your traffic from search.
Polly Logan-Banks is a Thrive editor and our resident SEO expert.