How to show up in Google’s ‘featured snippets’

When users search for products or services on their phones, Google features some brands at the top, boosting their visibility and performance. Here’s how to get in on the action.

Google’s featured snippets—the boxes with select information that appear before full search results—have become increasingly important.

Google has increased the share of search results in which snippets appear and has also expanded the feature, adding elements such lists, tables and images. Moreover, as search optimization has shifted toward mobile devices, the relative prominence of snippets has increased, now often dominating results pages.

All of this has made ranking in Google’s featured snippets increasingly valuable, especially for mobile devices.

Which technical and editorial approaches are most valuable in helping to land your content in those valuable placements?

To find out, SEMRush and Ghergich & Co. conducted an in-depth study of 10 million mobile keywords and 1.3 million featured snippets on Google. The researchers focused on “snippet hubs”—URLs that garnered many featured snippets to the same page/piece of content.

The researchers found that top-performing pages have these things in common:

1. A place in the top five in search results

Not surprisingly, the researchers found that the content which is featured in mobile snippets tends to come from pages that rank well in general on search. Ninety-four percent of the featured snippet URLs examined rank in the top five results for various keywords tested.

In other words, snippets optimization is intertwined with overall SEO. It’s likely that you’ll only get featured if Google already values your pages.

2. A high-quality mobile experience

The researchers found that the URLs which appear consistently in snippets have an average Google Mobile Friendly Score of 95 out of 100.

This means that pages which are featured in snippets nearly always meet Google’s mobile best practices, including fast load times on various devices and little to no Flash.

3. Content that’s structured and easily skimmed

Featured snippets on mobile tend to come from pages that are quickly scannable.

On average, top-performing URLs have 22 headers and sub-headers, indicating that they’re well-structured and divided into easily digestible bites.

The researchers advise that those looking to optimize pages to appear in snippets should craft succinct paragraphs in the 40- to 60-word range, or roughly 350 characters.

4. A secure (HTTPS) webpage

In general, Google has been moving more and more toward prioritizing secure pages. Eighty-two percent of domains ranking in the top 20 results across categories are now secure (HTTPS).

It’s no shock then that this carries over to snippets. The researchers found that 83 percent of URLs that are cited in featured snippets for mobile are HTTPS.

If your site isn’t up to snuff in terms of security, the content on it has little hope of being featured in snippets.

5. Clear and simple writing

The researchers found that the average Flesch-Kincaid reading level for pages that appear in snippets is the 7th grade—equivalent to a Harry Potter book. This doesn’t mean that you can never use descriptive language. Just do your best to avoid unnecessary jargon and overly complex descriptions.

6. Visuals as well as text

In addition to having structured blocks of text, pages that appear in snippets tend to also be broken up by images. The researchers found that URLs which appear in featured snippets for mobile have 12 images with alt text, on average.

7. Links to reputable external sites

Content creators are often inclined to avoid linking to external sites for fear of losing traffic. This is a mistake when it comes to snippets.

The researchers found that URLs which appear in featured snippets on mobile include 33 external links, on average. Because the topics covered in snippets need to be authoritatively addressed, and citations to reputable external pages help to back up claims.

8. A good site architecture

It’s not just individual pages that matter for snippets, but also the overall website.

The researchers found that sites with a strong architecture—for example, those that place topic pages within a well-thought-out, keyword-heavy URL structure—are the most likely to become hubs for featured snippets.

When planning your SEO strategy for snippets, make sure to take a holistic view of your entire site and don’t simply focus on optimizing individual pages.

9. Content targeted toward questions and comparisons

The researchers found that snippets tend to be served for terms involving questions and comparisons. Questions are particularly important, with 53 percent of all who, what, when, why and how search terms resulting in a featured snippet box.

Michael Del Gigante is the founder of MDG Advertising, a full-service advertising agency with a leading reputation for developing effective branding strategies. A version of this article originally appeared on the MDG blog.

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