Image shows an example of what a featured snippet looks like

This is a featured snippet.

You might be thinking, “So what”? Right? But what is interesting about featured snippets is that they represent something more than just an improved SERP experience – they form part of a wider search initiative and demonstrate how Google is adapting to the increasing growth of voice search.

Before we get into the crux of the article however, it is probably best to understand what constitutes as a ‘featured snippet’ and the difference between other methods of content display in SERPs.

It’s a question we get asked a lot and frankly, if you’re not familiar with the mobile content and rich result ecosystem, we can appreciate the need for more clarity.

Let’s get started…

OK, WHAT ACTUALLY IS A FEATURED SNIPPET?

A featured snippet is a short summary which aims to answer a question asked in Google search. The result is shown in Google’s special featured snippet block which can be located at the top of a results page.

The featured snippet block includes a summary of the answer which has been extracted programmatically from a web page; it will be presented alongside a link to the page as well as the page title. Here’s an example of what it might look like:

Image shows an example of what a featured snippet looks like

(https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/6229325?hl=en)

WHAT A FEATURED SNIPPET IS NOT

A featured snippet should not be confused with ‘rich snippets’, ‘rich cards’ or ‘direct answers’. Although they’re all features which Google have introduced to help users find the best answers to their questions in the most convenient and efficient ways possible, there is a difference with how they work.

WHAT ARE RICH SNIPPETS?

‘Rich snippets’ are the result of using structure data, such as Schema.org micro-data, to mark up content to help Google better understand its context for display in SERPs.

Better distribution of content can be achieved by effectively marking up properties and enabling actions where relevant; for some content, users will even be able to engage with it directly for SERPs. In addition to this, it makes content eligible for inclusion in Rich Cards.

WHAT ARE RICH CARDS?

Introduced in May 2016, rich cards are the next step in the evolution of rich snippets. They use Schema.org structure mark up, just like their predecessor, to display content in an even more engaging and visual format.

Rich cards are designed to provide a better mobile experience for users whilst also driving more targeted users to your webpages.

An additional benefit of this feature comes with the introduction of host lists. Whilst single card results can be featured in SERPs, rich cards also offers the opportunity for host lists to feature a carousel of cards from a single website.

Image shows differences between standard results, rich snippets, and rich cards. None are featured snippets.

(https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2016/05/introducing-rich-cards.html)

Mark up is currently available for recipes, events, products, reviews and courses – more details can be found in Google’s Search Gallery.

WHAT ARE DIRECT ANSWERS?

Often, it is ‘direct answers’ that are more commonly confused with featured snippets as they’re both used in similar context and are often displayed the same.

The difference? Direct answers are generally sourced from information in Google’s own knowledge base and/or from sources trusted by Google. Featured snippets, on the other hand, are taken from third-party sites and notably feature a link to their source.

Image shows an example of what direct answers look like not to be confused with a featured snippet

No link to source (^) Google it if you don’t trust my editing skills…

WHERE DO FEATURED SNIPPETS COME FROM?

I’m going to try really hard not to insert some form of meme here.

When Google recognises that a query asks a question or it recognises that the implied intent behind a query is to ask a question, it detects ranked pages which answer the user’s question and then displays a summary of the information within the featured snippet block.

The featured snippet is not part of the knowledge graph or the knowledge base. If Google can answer the question from information within its knowledge base then it will, if not, it will look to third-party sites and use featured snippets.

HOW CAN I MARK UP MY PAGE FOR THIS?

Another favourite question from those who seek search engine supremacy. The only problem is that you can’t.

It is not possible to ‘mark-up’ a webpage for featured snippets as this information it programmatically determined by Google. However, there are ways of assisting Google with the extraction process to increase the chance of gaining a featured snippet.

Don’t be disheartened though, the tips are coming soon!

THERE ARE THREE DIFFERENT TYPES OF FEATURED SNIPPETS

To date, featured snippets come in three different forms: paragraphs, lists and tables.

PARAGRAPH

The paragraph is arguably the most common featured snippet according to research conducted by Get Stat and similarly the most competitive. We’ll touch upon what you can do to increase the chance of scoring a feature snippet using clean and organised HTML later, however, if it is a paragraph snippet which you have set your sights on, you’re probably going to have to pimp what’s between your <p> tags.

Image shows an example of what a paragraph featured snippet looks like

TABLE

The table snippet is an excellent way to display larger quantities of information and data.

Image shows an example of what a table featured snippet looks like

LISTS

List snippets are perfect for displaying instructions.

Image shows an example of what a list featured snippet looks like

5 TIPS ON HOW TO GET FEATURED SNIPPETS

As previously mentioned, it is not possible to physically mark up your content for featured snippets in a similar way you would for rich results as Google will programmatically determine this. Despite this, it is not to say that there is no way of increasing the potential of acquiring a featured snippet by optimising your content. Here’s a list of what to do:

  1. Summarise – don’t beat around the bush with a myriad of waffle, the word count for a featured snippet in roughly 50 words. Be concise and answer the question with a clearly defined summary.
  1. Location – don’t bury the answer in an ocean of text, make it accessible, make it easy for Google to find and use your content to answer potential questions (put it close to the top).
  1. Use relevant HTML tags – make sure that you use relevant HTML tags to display your content how you would want Google to display your content. Use tables (<table>), paragraphs (<p>) and lists (<ol>, <ul>). Javascript can be cool but don’t conceal your important content in an interactive thingy if you want it to be picked up as a snippet.
  1. General best practise – I’m sure most of you are doing this already but make sure you utilise the proper use of <h> tags and image <alt> tags in your content.
  1. Context and use of language matters – featured snippets are designed to answer questions and so speaking and presenting content in a question and answer format may help to increase the chances of acquiring a featured snippet.

 

As obvious as the last point sounds, for many of us, we have been so used to considering search engines in our content development process that it’s really easy to end up sounding like a robot and not like a human.

The funny thing is, is that Google is becoming more and more human.

Even Google Now’s voice is starting to sound way more natural and human, as demonstrated by Nat and Lo (who is dressed as a banana).

F

This leads nicely onto the next and final point: Voice Search.

THE FUTURE AND HOW VOICE SEARCH IMPACTS FEATURED SNIPPETS

Let’s recap and bring this back to how featured snippets relate to voice search.

For a long time, virtual assistants and AI had been talked about with great anticipation and fervour but yet never really been taken seriously. However, with the introduction of virtual assistants such as GoogleNow, Cortana, Siri Alexa and more, voice search has absolutely imploded.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that 20% of queries on its mobile app and on android devices are voice search.

SO HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO FEATURED SNIPPETS?

Google uses the information in featured snippets and knowledge graphs to return results to the user via voice search. Why? In order to return a result to the user, it actively seeks out the ‘best’ answer to the question, which also happens to be ipso facto the featured snippet.

The reason why featured snippets are so important is because Google doesn’t have all of the information it needs in order to satisfy the world’s queries from within its own knowledge base – an opportunity for third-party sites to gain additional visibility and credibility.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR SEO AND CONTENT DEVELOPMENT?

Well, as the team at Get Stat report, it marks the return of natural language.

For years, as users we have been manipulating the way we search and interact with search engines by adjusting the way we communicate to be more mechanical so that a robotic search engine would be able to understand.

However, with the introduction and success of voice search, search engines have evolved to better understand natural language patterns and the implied intent behind queries. In fact, with access to information like, who the user is, where they are and what device they’re using, search engines are able to apply proper intend to queries.

Similarly, with voice search being a lot more fluid, Google can now determine intent by using previous queries as added context, linking them together understand the full scope of what a user is looking for.

As this transpires into SEO, it means a couple of things:

  1. Expect an increase in the quantity of long-tail, more conversational search queries
  2. Prepare to change the approach you take when creating content for your website
  3. Take more time to consider your customers user journey online

Incorporating natural language into content and speaking in a tone which is more conversational is going to be key for obtaining featured snippets and making sure that your content is visible as users begin to change the way in which they search.

WHAT YOU NEED TO DO NEXT

In order to make sure that you capitalise on the rapid growth of voice search, you need to:

  1. Acquire relevant featured snippet blocks.

In order you acquire relevant featured snippet blocks you need to:

  1. Track and understand long-tail, natural language queries and the logic and intent behind them
  2. Create content which aligns with the way in which users search via voice command
  3. Make sure that your content is formatted for easy consumption and extraction by Google

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

Rather than using this section as an opportunity to exercise my inner philosopher, I’m going to leave you with 4 reasons why you need to get on board with featured snippets:-

  1. They can yield much larger volumes of targeted traffic to your website
  1. They can help you build credibility and acclaim with your field or on a specific topic
  1. You can obtain them at little expense of time and resource (much cheaper than a paid ad!)
  1. It’s an opportunity for you to get your foot in the door and be part of the next evolution of search.

I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on featured snippets and what you think they could mean for the search-sphere – don’t be afraid to drop us a line on LinkedIn or Twitter to share your thoughts, we love a good old search discussion!