How important are featured snippets, and how can you get them?

Featured snippets were once touted as the be-all-and-end-all of organic search. We were told to structure our entire strategies around it. And it’s true, they are useful! But why?

To start, I’m not going to lecture you on what featured snippets are. Instead, have a read of this handy featured snippet on what a featured snippet is. (How meta).

Featured snippets

Okay, so now that the basics are covered, let us talk a bit more about why they’re important and how you can get them.

Why optimise for featured snippets?

There are a few reasons why you should optimise for featured snippets:

  1. Taking advantage of the search engine results page (SERP) real estate
  2. Getting high click-through-rates (CTR)
  3. Optimising for voice search
  4. Jumping up the SERPs

Taking advantage of the SERP real estate

As we all know, featured snippets come up above the #1 ranked position. They also appear above the fold a lot of the time, something that is quite rare for an organic link these days. Featured snippets, depending on the type, can take up a huge amount of real estate on the SERPs, pushing regular organic listings all the way down – sometimes below the fold.

The cynical amongst us (me) will say that this makes sense. Organic clicks don’t bring in any revenue for the search engine giant, so of course, Google wants to push organic listings down.

But this does mean that it is becoming harder than ever to gain those sweet, sweet organic clicks. Hence why we should all be optimising for featured snippets. These big boxes draw the eye and should encourage you to want to read more.

Featured snippets have high CTRs

Featured snippets have a clickthrough rate of 32.3%. If you compare this to the opensource CTR data from AWR, featured snippets have a slightly higher-than-average CTR when compared to a non-branded search query (32.3% vs 27.2%).

One of the key worries when creating content for featured snippets is that you’ll lose out on the clicks, and it makes sense! If you give away all the information up front, what incentive is there to click through to the site?

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim to appear in featured snippets. After all, it’s still part of SERP real estate so if you don’t take it, your competitors definitely will. As for the lost clicks, we can recoup those using some structured HTML trickery – but we’ll talk about that a bit later.

Voice search

We’ve all been told to start optimising for voice search for some time now. Both Bing and Google have said that voice searches will make up 50% of all mobile searches by 2020. And featured snippets do give you a way to successfully dominate voice search if you’re looking to do that. There are factors at play here (like page speed), but optimising for featured snippets is a good start.

Jumping up in SERPs

This is another major benefit of featured snippets – you don’t have to be ranking at position #1 to get the featured snippet. You simply have to have the best result.

Now, this should be taken with a pinch of salt. There have been a few studies that show that the majority of featured snippets are taken by URLs ranking at position 1, but the theory still remains.

Optimising for featured snippets

I’ve seen hundreds of studies and blog articles around the technical elements for featured snippets, so I’m going to look more literally at how to write featured snippets here.

There are three things you need to focus on here:

  1. How you’re writing your featured snippets
  2. Using lists in your snippets
  3. Using other HTML jargon

How to write your featured snippets

When we’re writing featured snippets, we use the Dale-Chall readability index to help structure the sentences that we’re hoping will get into the featured snippet box. First, we use a sentence that has a Dale-Chall index of four and then follow it immediately with one that indexes at an eight. The two sentences should total between 40-50 words and should include the query you want to rank for (obviously). We’ve found this really helps us get into the featured snippet box across the board, but especially when a list is not a practical way of structuring the particular snippet at hand.

Using the Dale-Chall readability index method also gives you a quantitative element that you can apply to your writing to help improve your chances to appear in the featured snippet box. This can be really helpful when you’re briefing in your copywriters, particularly if they don’t have an SEO background.

Using lists in your snippets

Google absolutely loves a featured snippet that uses an ordered list, and you’ll learn to love them too!

Using lists actually presents you with a great way to take full advantage of the SERP real estate offered through featured snippets, whilst also still retaining your ability to drive clicks. Google’s featured snippet boxes are only so long, so if you’re using an ordered list that is longer than the real estate afforded by the box, it will convert some points to a handy little link, like so:

featured snippets

See that little ‘More items…’ link? That goes straight to your content, allowing you to still drive clicks while taking advantage of the featured snippet box.

Usually, we say that the cut off is around seven items on the list, depending on the length of the list. As you can see from this Vans example, all of the list components are quite lengthy, so we were only able to get three into the featured snippet box – which actually worked to our advantage.

The key here is to give enough away to appear in the box, but not the entire list of steps. A tricky balance, but definitely something that is achievable.

Using other HTML jargon

When it comes to featured snippet boxes, Google really prefers clean code. This means you should be limiting your use of code like <span>, <strong> etc. It might seem like a small point, but it can drastically improve your chances of appearing for a featured snippet box.

I followed all your advice, but I still didn’t get into the featured snippet box. Now what?

The first step is to work out what the problem is. Is it your copy or your authority? What do you need to do to get that coveted top spot?

First, run a search for your query. See what pops up. Then use search operators to start removing the domains that appear in the featured snippet box, until eventually, you pop up.

List out all the domains. Are they more authoritative? What does their backlink profile look like? You don’t need to rank #1 to get that featured snippet box, but studies such as the STAT whitepaper on featured snippets have shown that it does help.

If you’re seeing a pattern of high numbers of referring domains, perhaps it’s time to look at how you can drive links to your newly created featured snippet-focused content.

If you keep removing domains and your featured snippet doesn’t show up, then you know that you need to rewrite your copy. To paraphrase one of the most influential minds of our time, Aleksandr Orlov, it really is that simples.

There’s no need to base your entire SEO strategy around featured snippets, but you’d be a fool to omit them entirely. With the number of featured snippets available constantly on the rise, you better get in there quick before your competition does.

To find out more about our SEO and Content services or about Croud, get in touch.

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