Ahh, Google. Most people know that search results change based on whichever eight machine learning alternations go into effect this week. It’s not worth getting too attached to Google’s results page layout either because that’s bound to change too. Google’s mission is to become increasingly more useful to its users, helping them find what they want even quicker than before. As is the case for featured snippets, this isn’t always good for the humble search engine optimiser.

What is a featured snippet?

You probably already know. Featured snippets are that distinguished box that comes before the search engine results when someone searches for a question or long-tail keyword usually. They’re often referred to as ‘position zero’ on the results page. Pretty much every Google user recognises this:

Featured snippet in Google's search results

They can appear as a paragraph of text, lists or tables. Frequently asked question boxes, known as the ‘People also ask’ section, appear in a similar manner:Google People Also Ask question box snippet

Featured snippets made their debut to the world’s most popular search engine in 2013 and their prominence is still growing. These kinds of results are friendlier to mobile users and voice searches so they’re not going away. Organic search engine optimisation must change to reflect this. With users getting quick answers, they’re less likely to click on any of the search results links, meaning less traffic for you. Content with featured snippets have double the click-through rate of other content. It’s important that you optimise your most informative pages with featured snippets in mind.

How to optimise webpages for featured snippets

The good news is that featured snippets still get fewer clicks than the top search engine result. However, they still steal some from the top so why not aim to optimise for both positions? Here’s some more good news – you don’t even need to be the top result to appear as a featured snippet. You can be as low as fifth and still reach that converted box.

Research your keywords

Like with regular SEO optimisation, you need to conduct some keyword research so use those keyword research tools. A lot of Google users use the search engine to answer questions. The snippets appear most often when the search terms begin with question words like ‘what, ‘how, ‘where’ and ‘who’. Write copy to answer these questions and provide useful information that a user would want. Remember that long-tail keywords get the overwhelming majority of snippets.

Choose your format

Remember that snippets appear in paragraphs, lists and tables. Look at the format of the snippets that appear for the keywords you want and build on this. This is a great way to mix up how you present text on your web pages too. Too often, copywriters think walls of text are the best way to display information rather than a table.

Talk to people

Sometimes, it’s so easy to get caught up in the highly technical stuff like keyword research that we forget that Google serves humans. Remember that featured snippets are based on a more informal quicker way of locating information So why not ask these homo sapiens what they want themselves? Talk to your potential customers and try to get insights into questions they want to answer when researching your products. The most popular questions will be invaluable to you. Don’t forget to make use of the ‘People Also Ask’ boxes for inspiration too.

Don’t neglect on-page SEO

You won’t know immediately what makes your content appear in a featured snippet. That’s why it’s important to start with what you do know. As the snippets are picked from the top search results, obviously ranking high organically is important to get featured. Make sure your web pages are SEO-compliant (they really should be anyway!) and easy to digest. It makes sense to start by optimising the relevant pages with the highest SEO ranking.

Keep optimising

It’ll take a while to appear in featured snippets so don’t forget to keep checking the success of your attempts over a longer period of time. When you find the magic formula that works for one set of keywords, look to replicate it across the others. Always stay ahead and keep track of a competitors stealing your hard-fought snippet. It’s a competitive game.

SEO is a multi-faceted beast. We’ve already discussed in this blog how so many businesses don’t do SEO for images. Chances are that many are overlooking featured snippets, giving you the opportunity to leapfrog them. Not only will you improve your click-through rate, you’ll also be in a better position to capitalise on the growing popularity of voice searches. You’ll also position yourself as an expert on the questions customers most want to discover when they’re at the research stage of the buying process, instilling trust in your brand early on.

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