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If you’ve Googled anything recently, you’ve probably noticed that Google often provides an answer to your question before you even click on a link. These answer boxes, which Google calls featured snippets, are short answer drawn from content pages on the Internet. They’re drawn from one of the top search results, but not necessarily the first. And they provide an interesting opportunity for marketers.
But before you start chasing featured snippets, it’s worth taking pausing to consider if they’re worth the effort. After all, landing that spot is no mean feat, and it may not fit in to your actual objectives. Wondering if this is an opportunity worth pursuing? Let’s take a look.
Many site owners wonder if featuring in a snippet is a good thing at all. If Google’s already answered the question, why would anyone want to come to their site? If you’re really worried about this, you can take yourself out of the running by using an HTML tag on your page to opt out.
However, several studies have shown that featuring in Google’s answer boxes increase click-through rates and web traffic rise significantly when pages were featured in Google’s snippets.
If you stop to think about it, this makes sense. After all, SEOs have known the importance of a well-written meta description for years, and not one of us has ever suggested that users won’t click on a link because the meta description is too informative.
Snippets are also authoritative. They imply that your answer is the best, possibly even the only answer you need to know. And they certainly raise your site profile in the minds of searchers.
However, there are still some downsides. For one, featured snippets only show up for certain kinds of searches. Posts that answer specific questions, provide DIY guides, or offer lists are most likely to result in a featured snippet. But not every search has an answer that fits those parameters.
Furthermore, getting featured is hard. In many cases, you’re going to be up against Wikipedia to provide the top answer, and for a small website without a lot of domain authority, that’s going to be a hard position to displace.
But, if you’re up to the effort, it could definitely pay off in increased traffic and greater conversions. If you’re ready to give it a shot, here’s what to do.
First off, there is no guarantee that you will land in a featured snippet. Just as you can’t guarantee making it to position one in Googles search rankings, there’s no magical formula to ensure Google chooses your article for the snippet. (Well, there is a magic formula. It’s Google’s algorithm, and they aren’t sharing that secret.)
However, if you want to give yourself the best chance, here are the steps to follow.
Google won’t feature your snippet unless it’s in the top 10 Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). That’s already a challenge for your marketing team, but one you can easily achieve if you focus on creating valuable content for your visitors.
Beyond that, even if you do manage to trick your way into a snippet answer with low-quality content, you’re liable to shoot yourself in the foot. Featured snippets are a means to an end. Your actual objective is to convert visitors to your site. If they aren’t impressed by the content they find, your featured snippet isn’t going to help.
Featured snippets almost universally answer questions. This is partially the result of Google’s hummingbird update, which shifted the focus from dense keyword phrases to more conversational queries. These days, more and more searchers type questions into Google the same way the would ask them in person. They don’t type in “Alexander Hamilton duel,” they ask “who killed Alexander Hamilton?”
Fortunately, Google is very good at spotting similar questions. “Who shot Alexander Hamilton?” and “how did Alexander Hamilton die?” will both qualify for the same featured snippet.
Google’s featured snippets only have a limited amount of space. In fact, the maximum space allowed for a paragraph snippet is 97 words, or 752 characters—about the length of a long paragraph. The average snippet is half that.
But that doesn’t mean your entire post should only be a paragraph long. Quite the contrary: a short post won’t have the SEO juice to make it into the top 10 SERPS. Plus, if you only write that much, your users won’t have a reason to visit your site.
Again, you need to write high-quality content in order to feature. That means helpful, detail-rich material that your users want and that is also relevant to your brand. Provide that, and you’ll build your SEO—even if you don’t make it into the featured snippet.
While there’s no way to code your answer to tell Google what part of your text to feature, you can organize it in a way that will make it easier for Google to identify what part of your text might be relevant.
You don’t need to make the title of your blog the same as your targeted search query, but you should use it in one of your headers. Lists also help, particularly if your answer is providing step-by-step instructions.
Featured snippets can be a great traffic boost, but they can also be a distraction from your larger goals. Your best strategy will be to focus on creating excellent content first. Start by building your SEO the old-fashioned way (through detailed, informative, keyword-smart blog posts), and you may land yourself in a featured snippet along the way.
If not? You’ve still made excellent progress toward providing user-focused content to your visitors. And isn’t that the point?