What are featured snippets?

Posted on 16/03/2017 by Team Hallam

Featured snippets are a type of Google search result listing which provide users with direct answers to questions entered into the search engine.

These listing types appear at the top of the search results in what is commonly referred to as position #0 due to their positioning directly above all other organic results.

What are the different types of featured snippet?

In-depth analysis of the search engine results pages (SERPS) conducted by STAT Search Analytics established that there are three types of featured snippet: paragraph, list (numbered and bulleted), or table snippets.

Paragraph Snippets

  • Extract copy from the page which best answers the user’s query
  • Include a direct link to the site’s URL
  • Can appear with or without images

how to boil an egg featured snippet

List Snippets

  • Extract numbered and bulleted lists marked up using <ol> or <ul> HTML tags directly from a page
  • Include a direct link to the site’s URL
  • Can appear with or without images

how to lose weight featured snippet

I also wanted to include this paragraph snippet to show just how detailed Google is at identifying, extracting and presenting answers to this cost-related search query:

mot cost snippet

Table Snippets

  • Extract content included in <table> HTML tags
  • Include a direct link to the site’s URL

cost of boiler repair featured snippet

How does Google choose when to display featured snippets?

Unsurprisingly, Google give little detail away when explaining what triggers featured snippets, other than to say that they “programmatically detect pages that answer the user’s question”, extracting information from a site’s web page and displaying the most useful information within the search result.

Google go on to state that featured snippets are reflective of the information on a website, not their own view on the content. This implies that webmasters do have the ability to structure and optimise their content in a manner that Google may favour in order to return featured snippets.

Featured snippets don’t seem to be influenced by organic ranking position, with URLs lower down the first page of the SERPs able to gain snippets. This presents a huge opportunity for smaller brands in competitive SERPS, where domain authority alongside quality content is the key driver of organic visibility.

What’s the impact of earning featured snippets?

The impact of featured snippets on organic site traffic is a widely-debated issue. Some fear that featured snippets hinder traffic as users are presented with information directly from the SERP, and therefore have no real need to click into the site for more information.

Others suggest that due to the highly prevalent and often visual nature of the search result, more users are likely to click through to the site associated with the featured snippet.

Several studies have been carried out to settle the debate, with the conclusion being that “it depends”.  A study conducted by Search Engine Land points to how a featured snippet led to a 516% increase in traffic. The case study highlights how smaller, less powerful websites can gain fantastic organic visibility through good content.

On the flip side, a study carried out over at Marketing Champlu demonstrates both positive and negative impact on organic click through rates and traffic. The results were dependent on a variety of additional factors, including the natural organic ranking, the nature of the SERP prior to gaining a featured snippet and the device on which the search was conducted.

How to optimise a webpage for featured snippets

To give your web pages the best chance of appearing for featured snippets, you’ll first need to establish the potential questions which users will be using to discover your content. These types of queries are also referred to as “long tail searches”, and there are many ways in which you can research these types of informational search queries. In fact, here at Hallam we’ve covered the topics of  discovering content opportunities and developing an effective content marketing strategy in good detail.

Once a list of informational queries and questions has been established, you’ll need to pay close attention to the webpages’ on-page optimisation and formatting. Here’s a quick checklist:

  1. Ensure that your content answers the question clearly and directly
  2. Include the answer early in the page copy, preferably the first few sentences
  3. Pay attention to your answer length – between 40-50 characters is ideal
  4. Include the search query within the page URL
  5. Where appropriate format your content appropriately within HTML tags ( <table>, <p>, <ol> or <ul>).
  6. Make sure that the primary question is included in the page heading (<h1> tag)
  7. Include appropriate related questions within sub heading and mark them up using <h2> tags
  8. Follow best practice image optimisation

In summary

Over the past couple of years featured snippets have risen in prominence. With Google powered by the semantic and informational search-driven Hummingbird algorithm, then I can only see search engine results evolving further to provide a much richer, quicker and more informative experience to users seeking out answers.

Although there’s no guarantee of securing featured snippets – or holding on to them if your site is triggering them already – there certainly are steps you can follow to stand your site in good stead, and more importantly provide your users with the best possible answers to their questions.

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