For technical SEO’s featured snippets are a part of a larger set of search results that Google refers to as rich results. I suggest you checkout the information on rich results to better understand the basics of featured snippets and their role in the SERP as a rich result and their possible role in the future of search and SEO.
Featured snippets or answer boxes are search listings at the top (position zero) of Google’s organic results providing answers and facts to a searcher’s questions and information queries. There have been reports of featured snippets comprising 50% of all SERPs.
I could take that number seriously if it further qualified that by providing a list of the sites that make up the research. Rumor has it their “research” is skewed towards informational sites. If that’s the case I’m surprised the number isn’t higher.
For instance chances of a featured snippet appearing in a navigational or transactional query are low to none since a featured snippet is generally associated with informational queries. Navigational queries are more likely to have a Knowledge Panel and or sitelinks. Transactional queries are more likely to have rich snippets with prices and other product info.
History of Featured Snippets
Featured snippets came about as a result of the book project which started in 1996 which would mean that the groundwork for featured snippets has been around almost as long as PageRank. Google have purchased patents in particular Ori Alon’s patent (2006) which the invention offered a list of topics directly related to the original source.
Chraracteristics of Featured Snippets
All three types of Featured Snippets generally have the following characteristics:
- User search intent is for specific information
- Generally from first page of SERP
- Snippet removes the need to go to website
- Source Page contains *tabbed data, HTML elements (tables, definitions etc.) or structured data (schema etc.) that enhances extraction of the snippet
*Tabbed data is content that is in key/value pairs parsed by using punctuation or HTML.
Types of Snippets
Generally you can break snippets down into 3 types based on the method of extraction of the snippet from the page or the data source including Google properties like YouTube. These are also ordered based on their share of snippet pie:
- Extraction by HTML and Tabbed data
- Extraction by Structured Data
- Data from 3rd Party Sites
HTML Featured Snippets
HTML tags like the definition tag and punctuation for tabbed data key/value pairs are easily turned into featured snippets. Google was using “tabbed data” long before structured data. Not in the same way as featured snippets, however, many of the early featured snippets were tabbed data!
Types of HTML Featured Snippets
Paragraphs Featured Snippets: A paragraph or block of information/text which can be enhanced using HTML code and structured data. Personally I like to start a page with a paragraph that starts with the keyword/entity followed by words like is, are and answer a question about or describe or define the keyword/entity.
Paragraph Featured Snippet Best Topics:
- Who, what why where type questions
- How to… (top category on YouTube)
Lists: Numbered or a bulleted “list” both can be used for featured snippet SEO. The type of list you use depends on the function of the list. A structured or ordered list should be used for indicating steps in a task or something like a best of or top 10 list.
A bulleted list would be more of a random list of items or information. It is not clear whether using schema ItemList type provides any value. Note that ItemList schema is only suitable for lists of items so likely not applicable for steps in a task.
List Type Featured Snippets Best Topics:
- Lists of items/entities
- How to/DIY (steps in task)
- Best of…
Tables and Tabbed Data: By far these are the most common types of HTML based Google featured snippets likely because of the webtables project in 2008 and Google Sets which didn’t require HTML but did require headings.
Tables and Tabbed Data Featured Snippet Best Topics:
- columns of data with a heading row
- Key|Value pairs using punctuation as delimiters
- descriptions and definitions of entities
Extraction by Structured Data:
Structured data provides a machine readable snippet making it easier for the discovery and extraction of featured and rich snippets by Google. Another important consideration is that some features of Mobile SERPs for carousals etc, Top Stories and more require structured data. Note that carousals also occasionally appear in desktop SERPs and do not require structured data. For instance Events Carousals on desktop search.
Structured Data Featured Snippets Best Topics:
- Products and services
- How to/DIY (steps in task)
- Best of…
- FAQ and QA pages
Data from 3rd Party Sites:
YouTube and Wikipedia are 2 of the top sites providing data or added details in featured snippets. Sites who do not publish video to YouTube are at a definite disadvantage not only for featured snippets but also in SERP visibility on Google and YouTube basically eliminating the two biggest sources of traffic for videos!
3rd Party Sites Featured Snippets Best Topics:
- How to/DIY Videos
This post was written after “the Entity Hour”: Featured Snippets with Lilly Ray show was completed.
Featured Snippet Optimization & Strategies to Maximize Clicks
How to get a Featured Snippet
- In most cases you must get to the first page of results
- Determine what type of featured snippet to target for the SERP
- Determine if structured data is required
- Determine Google requirements for the structured data
- Provide concise and informative answers
Featured Snippet Optimization
“A list of topics” is the most important part of the Ori Alon patent description for SEOs looking to optimize their pages because that is what Google does now! To optimize a page you identify the topics in the query corpus adding the identified topics and questions to the page in code that optimizes the extraction of entities and associated info.
For instance a list of steps could use an unordered list but that doesn’t indicate there is an order or that the list is a list of steps. If there isn’t a row of headings indicating what the data in the table column is about then chances of the data being pulled for a featured snippet are low to none as there is no way to associate value to key.
Think about the code in your page and how Google uses markup to extract info for featured snippets and write/code that enhances discovery and extraction of the info from your page. You can add images video and links more info to maximize traffic to the site and garner more SERP visibility.
IMO on-page and copywriting SEO is about identifying the topics, questions/answers and using techniques like tables, HTML coding and structured data to enhance extraction of entities and associated information for both rich and featured snippets.
Headings are also an excellent way to add context to featured snippets and there are now reports of featured snippets created using nothing but the headings. I believe that any SEO technique you use to optimize a webpage can be applied to featured snippets.
Featured Snippet Strategy
There wouldn’t be much to a featured snippet strategy beyond how get to the first page of results on Google if it weren’t for the change on January 22, 2020 when Google started removing the organic listing from the SERP. This is also true of other SERP features like Local Search Paks.
Personally I’m more concerned about Local SERPs since my experience with CTR from the Local Pak has been extremely disappointing. IME, phone calls often aren’t tracked **properly** by clients but are by Google so the CTR is more in-line with norms when the Google phone calls are added. I believe phone calls are driving better conversion opportunities than a website visit.
Pros and Cons of Featured Snippets:
|Increased visibity at position zero in the SERP||Depending on query can impair traffic|
|Substantial above the fold RE||Removal of ranking page from organic results|
|Depending on info and optimization can drive traffic||Can result in a zero click SERP|
|Provide excellent answers for voice assistants||CTR can be degraded|
|Raise brand visibilty, moreso, in zero click SERPs||Occasionally don’t meet users expectations|
From the above you see that there isn’t a clear answer on whether featured snippets are good or bad. As with many things in the SEO world it depends on a few variables that need to be analyzed before you can determine the value of featured snippets. Even then you can only analyze what is there and what isn’t which in some cases the current snippet may not drive traffic, however, if a link or media were added to the same snippet it might drive significantly more traffic.
The bottom line is that if the featured snippet is getting the bulk of the traffic because it answers a specific question then if your listing is lost because of the featured snippet it doesn’t matter you have the visibility that matters. If there is no picture, video or link with the snippet consider adding one of them near the snippet as that may get included and drive more traffic.
Some SERPs with the feature may have decent CTR and traffic and losing the organic listing is bad. If adding media or links didn’t help drive the desired traffic then changing the page to remove the snippet should be the last thing you want to do to achieve that goal. Sometimes you want to edit the snippet because you didn’t like the text Google extracted. Google does provide code to manage the featured snippet or remove all snippets entirely from the page.
Google provides the following methods to remove featured snippets:
- nospippet tag: removes all snippets and video preview from the page including the regular snippet which could be your meta description or one Google extracts from the page.
- max-snippet tag: Google recommends this method be implemented using it to make the length of the snippet short enough to remove it
- the data-nosnippet is used as an HTML attribute on span, div, or section HTML elements. For example:
This text can be included in a snippet <span data-nosnippet>and this part would not be shown</span>.
Considerations for Targeting Featured Snippets
- What type of query is it? Transactional and navigational seldom have featured snippets usually informational queries are best to target
- What is the Intent of the user for the query?
- Is query for specific info?
- What type of featured snippets are currently in SERP? If no snippet why not?
- How could a featured snippet improve the SERP?
- What kind of featured snippet could improve SERP?
- How can I improve the snippet currently provided?
During the interview Lilly mentioned her concern that SEO may become obsolete. IMO, it is the opposite as ranking is becoming complicated by Rich Results comprising significant SERP real estate. Getting meaningful results is becoming much harder as you can’t just throw links at a page to get ranked and getting the prime SERP real estate takes research and scripting skills beyond generic HTML.
I believe that SEO’s who possess this skill set will be in high demand especially since voice assistants and similar devices will grow just like the internet did and featured snippets are tailored to provide results for questions and list requests. You know we’ve reached that point when these devices are not new home options but included in the infrastructure like cable and phone connections.
It is important to note at this point to note that all the SERP features beyond the traditional “10 blue links” have one thing in common and that is to keep users on Google by removing the users need to to go to the website for the information. No click search is Google’s ultimate goal so an SEO’s ability to implement code and get featured snippets and other SERP features is important to their long term future in the trade!
Featured Snippet References and Resources
SterlingSky.ca: Why You Might Not Want a Featured Snippet
brodieclark.com: Google pulling excerpts from clips for featured snippets
Terry’s Featured Snippet Research
This post reflects my initial research on featured snippets for “the Entity Hour”; what I learned in the interview; what I learned from Bill’s patent suggestions and what I learned in researching Google’s solutions for unwanted featured snippets. I also picked up a little info while reviewing SERPs for optimization of this post for featured snippet extraction.
Featured Snippet Types
How to Make the Most of Video Timestamp Results in Google Search
Schema Success Stories: Using Structured Data to Boost Traffic
Google References for removing unwanted Featured Snippets:
Special tags that Google understands
Featured snippets and your website