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November 30, 2017 (Updated: March 2, 2020)
While good SEO typically follows a clear path of creating useful content and setting up responsible linking strategies, there are a few tricks available for brands who want to get ahead. One of the latest tools that SEO specialists use is targeting featured snippets and optimizing for Google’s Answer Box.
What is this mysterious feature that has the power to boost your brand above the rankings, and how can you optimize for it? Here’s everything you need to know about featured snippets and using them to your advantage.
Image via Google
The featured snippet, otherwise known as position zero, is the box placed above listings in search rankings. These featured snippets are also used to answer questions on Google Home, Google Voice, and other voice-activated systems.
As of March 2017, almost 50 percent of all search queries result in a featured snippet, direct answer, or similar quick response. This is a significant increase from test runs in 2015 and 2016, where only 30 percent of queries returned a featured snippet.
While rich snippets are pulled from content and highlighted in organic listings, featured snippets are used as immediate answers in the Google Answer box. For some questions, users will never have to click on the link to get the information they need, as the answers will be immediately available in the featured snippet box.
However, the lack of exposure doesn’t mean that rich snippets aren’t important. The study above reveals that in 90 percent of the research cases, the featured snippet was close, if not identical to the regular rich snippet. If you have been creating valuable rich snippets over the past few years, then your content is prime to be featured in the “zero position” answer box.
There are two main reasons why marketers and content creators should care about featured snippets: they can give brands more traffic even if they’re not in the first position, and they can take away traffic from brands that are placed first.
According to a May 2017 study, results in the first position in Google without a structured snippet receive 26 percent of all clicks. When a featured snippet box is placed in the results, nine percent of customers click on the box and only 20 percent of customers click on results in the first position. SEO specialists who focus on the first position but not zero position might discover that being on the top isn’t so sweet when their competitors are stealing their traffic.
Another reason to care about featured snippets is the voice search technology mentioned earlier. By 2020, experts believe 50 percent of Internet searches will be through voice search, either through home assistants, smartphones, or car search systems. The use of featured snippets will only increase if those are the responses shown when customers use voice search. Brands that get on the ground floor now by targeting voice search queries could find themselves ahead of the game a few years from now.
When featured snippets debuted, a handful of marketers worried that they would actually drive traffic away from websites as customers got all of the information they needed from the first sentence or two. However, features snippets actually filtered out traffic that was going to bounce after a few seconds anyway once readers got their answers. The traffic that clicks on a featured snippet is happy to have the information but wants to learn more by digging deeper into your article.
Some brands might discover better analytics because of featured snippet results, including a longer time on site, more pages views, and higher engagement rates because of better traffic, proving that there’s no downside to optimizing for this feature.
Before you can create content that appeals to Google’s search algorithm so your website is placed in the featured snippet, it’s important to know what Google typically highlights. Information in the featured box typically comes in three different forms:
Not all of these featured snippet types will be ideal for your brand. However, you may find unique ways to target the featured snippet box by formatting your content strategically. For example, the web hosting platform Godaddy creates list-based articles for its blog. At the top of each post, it shares a quick list of the topics covered further down in the article. Google is able to quickly pull this information and feature Godaddy in zero position because it’s the right format and offers the information that customers expect.
The easiest way to create content for featured snippets is to look at what your customers ask. In some search results, Google will show four or five questions that customers ask based on a query. For example, if someone searches for “food poisoning,” Google will feature questions like “What are the symptoms of food poisoning,” or “What should you do if you have food poisoning?” These questions are ripe for the taking. Creating content with the questions as the headline shows Google exactly what the content covers and why it should be featured.
Along with featuring the question in the headline or in the subheads, marketers should try to answer the question succinctly toward the top of the article. You can dive deeper into the content further into the body, but try to come up with a clear answer in one or two sentences at the top. This will be the featured snippet that Google pulls for the answer.
Customers prefer featured snippets because of their ease of use, while Google values the importance of delivering valuable information quickly. Between these two audiences, there’s no reason for your brand to ignore featured snippets. Start adding concise snippets to your content creation process today to see if your search results rise and traffic increases.