Optimize for Featured Snippets: Should I or should I not?
Featured snippets offer a way to give your organic search results more relevance and exposure. However, a few requirements have to be met. And the question, whether this is always worth the effort, is another matter anyways. We have conducted an experiment by adding some featured snippets to our search results. Here you can read about how it turned out.
Table of Contents
A short introduction on what featured snippets are
If we start at the very beginning, then on dictionary.com we find, among other interpretations, the following quote for the term “features”, which comes very close to our concrete use case: “a prominent or distinctive part or aspect, as of a landscape, building, book, […or of a Google search result, we could add]”. Because that’s what the search engine does in the case of a featured snippet,it highlights a section or excerpt from a particular post that seems to best serve the search query.
Featured snippets in detail
If a so-called featured snippet is displayed, this means that the search engine automatically selects a specific excerpt (a “snippet”) from a post or URL to display it in a particularly prominent position when users enter a matching search term. In contrast to “normal” results, this supposedly best search result does not simply rank at the top of the search results, but is displayed in more detail before any other result. The following example shows how this works:
With a green lining, the featured snippet appears at the very top as a prominent result. It is followed by a list of related questions on the topic, highlighted in yellow (which, by the way, potentially expands as soon as a user clicks on one of the initial questions). Only then do the “regular” search results follow (in red), showing the typical information, i.e. title and meta description, as well as rich results, if applicable.
Characteristics and types of featured snippets
There are different forms of featured snippets. Most often, they are short paragraphs, i.e. content excerpts that provide an answer to a specific search query or define a term, provide specific recommendations, and so on. Below is an example of how the search engine provider itself has secured a featured snippet that gives a definition for the term.
Other types of featured snippets besides a short paragraph are lists:
And finally, tables are also often displayed as featured snippets when a suitable search is performed.
Technically, there is not much to consider for a piece of information to be displayed as a featured snippet. For instance, contents do not have to be provided in the form of structured data or similar.
Optimizing Paragraphs for featured snippets
Perhaps the most important general advice therefore relates more to content-related factors, which we would like to briefly discuss. With regards to the first example (paragraphs), the best advice that can be given is: keep it concise! Answers shouldn’t be overly sprawling, but rather provide the key info using as few words as possible. The ideal length for a paragraph is about 40-50 words (https://moz.com/blog/what-we-learned-analyzing-featured-snippets) or no more than about 320 characters. If possible, add a suitable image to the paragraph. This too, may be displayed as part of a featured snippet, which of course provides additional visual appeal.
Optimizing lists and tables for featured snippets
For tables and lists, the only basic rule is that content has to be structured appropriately in your source already. Lists may be provided accordingly in the original source text. But it is also possible that Google follows the structure of the chapters. Let’s assume you wrote a post on the top 5 tips for generating featured snippets, each chapter with a corresponding heading (H2: Tip #1, H2: Tip #2, etc.), then Google may just extract the headings as a featured snippet.
One more tip along the way: unlike paragraphing, you don’t have to be strict about brevity with lists and tables: it’s true that “featured” lists and tables usually only show the first few rows (usually less than 10 results). But this does not mean that your lists can’t get bigger. Quite the opposite. Google may cut off the result, as we see in the two examples above, but in both cases it will also encourage people to click through to the post by providing a direct link (“More item” and “56 more rows”). A benefit you cannot overestimate: not only do you rank in the top position, but you also create an additional stimulus to still click on the result. So the searcher has a reason to continue going from a search result to your website. And in the end, of course, that is the ultimate goal: to get users to visit our website!
Featured snippets vs. Website traffic
While it still seems “easy” to make users click on tables and lists, it looks more difficult with paragraphs. Once users have received a very precise definition, why should they still visit the page? As the above example shows, Google demonstrates how this can be done. It does provide an answer, but adds a hint that there may be more to the question, as the sentence “read more about how Google’s featured snippets work” suggests. Whether intentionally or not, we cannot and do not have to answer at this point. In any case, as a reader, I still have an interest in clicking on the post for more information, despite having received an answer.
So when optimizing for featured snippets, always think about where the user can go from here. How can I shape my snippet so that I offer users instant added value, but also benefit in increasing traffic from the high-exposure ranking?
With that in mind, let’s once again summarize the main potential benefits of featured snippets.
Benefits of featured snippets
1. Search result visibility
It doesn’t get any higher than this position. Plus, given the often already existing competition with paid search results ranking at the very top, a Featured Snippet (especially on mobile devices) clearly outshines other organic search results visually, of course. No one can ignore the Featured Snippet. Correspondingly, we see a positive overall assessment of Featured Snippets in terms of CTR.
2. Trust and authority
Which of these definitions would you rather follow? The first result returned by the search engine, or perhaps the explanation provided in a piece of text on page two of the search results? Of course, as a critical user, you should always question which of the results ultimately provides the greater value of information or the ultimately better answer.
But let’s not fool ourselves, in our fast-paced everyday lives we are constantly looking for answers to sometimes more, sometimes less complex questions and in the rarest of scenarios we have the time to check, validate or falsify each and every answer provided in detail. We rely on those results that are quickly and readily available to us. After all, the majority of cases do not revolve around academically ambitious investigations, but we seek quick solutions to everyday issues.
3. Brand Awareness
Just as with regular search results, it is even more true for Featured Snippets that every good ranking result will be beneficial for your brand and the brand perception. Whether through well-ranking posts or even more visible in the form of a featured snippet: the more prominent you appear in the search results, the better recognition you will get as a trusted source in the mid to long term.
And if you already appear as a reliable source on various topics, you are likely to be remembered as a valid source. And ideally, searchers may turn directly to you for their next search, or perhaps the one after that, because they’ve already bookmarked your website. At least, that’s the ideal scenario, and featured snippets seem to be helpful there.
4. Directly to the target
Although maybe only a small aspect, one very practical side effect of featured snippets arises when the user clicks on a result. This is because the search engine ideally does not simply take the user to the corresponding URL, but directly to the position of the featured element in the content. If the result URL is a fairly long text, it’s much more convenient for UX reasons alone to go to the right spot straight away.
5. Do your click-through rates improve?
We still often come across a reply that featured snippets will boost click-through rates, which we think is a bit too simplistic. Obviously, the reason is that the displayed result is significantly more comprehensive than a “normal” result, which brings us back to the topic of visibility. But in the end, neither various studies, such as this ahrefs one, nor the results of our own experiment, which we will discuss below, allow for a clear statement. Ultimately, it depends very much on the individual snippet and certainly also on the complexity of the underlying topic, whether there is still a need for further research once you get a possible definition or whether the question seems to be answered sufficiently with just a few lines. But what we can assume as certain: IF there is still a need for further research, then a featured snippet should have a good chance of being clicked and compete with the top ranking “normal” result that follows.
For search results without featured snippets, the top result accounts for an average of 28.5% of all clicks, while with featured snippets it is ‘only’ 23.5%, as a study by Sistrix shows. It is also extremely interesting to see how featured snippets seem to affect other click distributions as well with Positions two and three in particular appearing to benefit unlike the first one.
A Featured snippets Experiment
Last year, we conducted an experiment for a website we support, bautipps.almondia.com, a blog where prospective builders are accompanied throughout their construction project with advisory posts.
1. Identifying targets
At the beginning of the project, we first needed to define keyword targets we wanted to obtain Featured Snippets for. For this purpose, we used Ahrefs, as it makes it easy to select proper targets. Therefore, we first filter all organic keywords of the website for rankings 10th or better. While there is no clear statement from Google that only page 1 results would show as featured snippets, we have not been able to find any example to the contrary either. Furthermore, in our opinion, we do not recommend starting optimization for featured snippets if a post does not rank on the first page on average. In this case, our advice is always to first refine the content in advance, before moving on to “smaller” optimizations.
So, no sooner said than done: we first filter out all top 10 rankings in order to create a first “to-do” list of keywords for which we want to win a featured snippet., Ahrefs’ handy keyword tool shows whether a featured snippet is possible or not for each keyword. Likewise, the average monthly search volume is provided, which is of course relevant for further prioritization.
Even though it’s more time consuming, using Google search console is the way to go, as it is free of cost. Here we simply filter for rankings in positions 10 or better to identify possible keywords. Next, however, we should check whether a Featured Snippet is currently already included or not ( although this is now the case in most examples anyway).
So once we selected initial keywords to target, we began the actual optimization process. That is, we ran a search for each selected query to get an idea of the status quo: Who is ranking in which position and with potentially which featured snippet. We then adjusted our existing content to potentially deliver the kind of information that would make for a better featured snippet in search.
In about 6 months, we were able to more than double the number of featured snippets we had from 24 to over 51. It should be mentioned, however, that individual optimization was not performed for each of the 27 newly acquired snippets. In some cases, a featured snippet for long-tail variants of a parent keyword was played out along with the optimized snippet for that keyword. Of course, this is a pleasant side effect that we were happy to take.
Featured Snippets prior Optimizations
Featured Snippets after Optimizations
As far as the type of featured snippets is concerned, all of the previously described forms were included, but short answers, definitions and list formats proved to be particularly suitable for preparing content accordingly. Here are just a few examples.
Example of a paragraph “win”
Example of a paragraph “win” + images
Example of a list “win”
Winning a featured snippets: Simple or complicated?
As far as the question of feasibility is concerned, after 6 months the conclusion is clear: it’s feasible. Of course, every adjustment involves a certain amount of effort. Again and again, you have to get a firm grip on the topic and think about how you can perhaps answer the question a little more precisely, a little more clearly, and of course not every adjustment will automatically result in a featured snippet. “Success” is not guaranteed.
But neither is it if we produce an entirely new post, for example about the pros and cons of featured snippets, which will probably involve some extra effort. In other words, you have to factor in a certain amount of time, of course, but the optimization work itself is no magic trick for someone who is already familiar with the topic, and bare figures show that the chances of success are good, at least in purely quantitative terms (51:24).
Bottom line: Is it worth it to win featured snippets or not?
This brings us to the final and undoubtedly most difficult question, which in fact also took up the most space in the preparation of this article. In the end, is it worth it? How many more clicks did we generate or not. Strictly speaking, we would have to look at each keyword individually and review daily if it was played out as a featured snippet or not, and how our page performed for the exact keyword. That is not possible at this point and does not seem appropriate given the value of a single featured snippet. Instead, our approach is to look at a longer period of time, over which we examined the performance of both the “optimized” keywords and the pages in question, in order to draw conclusions about the value and non-value of snippet optimization. Some of our key findings:
1. More clicks and better click-through rates for featured keywords
If we focus solely on all keywords optimized for featured snippets, the first impression is clearly very positive. We explicitly filtered our results for keywords for which we ranked at position 1 within the last three months, achieved a featured snippet and ranked at position 2-10 within the three months of the previous year. In just one out of 11 examples to which this applies, the click rate has dropped. In this case, despite jumping from position 3 to 1 and receiving a featured snippet, the click-through rate dropped from 5.28% previously to 4.8%. However, since impressions have dropped considerably at the same time as well, this resulted in two-thirds fewer clicks in total.
In contrast, for all other examples, we find that winning the featured snippet was accompanied by a significant improvement in CTR. In some cases, of around 5%. In the best cases, of up to 15%. Thus, for those featured results, even 73% more clicks could be generated in the end, despite lower impressions in total.
2. URLs’ Performance
A somewhat similar picture comes to light when we look at the URLs behind the keywords, focussing on those keywords specifically. Where featured keywords achieved more individual clicks, the URL as such also wins in the end. What is remarkable about this example, however, is that all of the URLs affected here achieved even fewer clicks in the end than in the reference period, even though the rankings improved. Here, the overall decline in demand was the decisive factor in the end, as shown by a drop in impressions.
Overall impact of optimizations
A distorted picture of the analysis results if one detaches from the individual keyword level and looks at the performance of URLs regardless of individual keywords. To provide just one example here:
For the above example, optimization in terms of featured snippet was (successfully) carried out. But in fact, impressions have dropped significantly in this case compared to the reference period. Nothing unusual, of course demand can drop. Presumably because of the optimization (at least this is the only explanation, since no other adjustments to the content were made), a general “re-evaluation” of the content by the search engine also took place. However, with remarkable effects. Overall, the average position was improved by 2 points. The URL clicks increased by approx. 11.5%. Especially remarkable, however, are the changes in terms of impressions and the resulting impact on click-through rates, which make for such a distorted picture. Almost 50K impressions mean more than a doubling, which however (unsurprisingly) is not even remotely reflected in clicks. The click rate is correspondingly worse, almost cut in half.
Another very similar case:
It’s almost even more remarkable in this case: the average position is basically stable, strictly speaking even minimally improved. It’s a similar story with impressions, which have increased from 111K to 114K. How does it translate into clicks? Not at all (not at all positively, anyway). On the contrary, the click rate decreased by one percentage point from 6% to 5%, resulting in 13% fewer clicks total or 900 users less. A result of featured snippets? At the moment, this is at least one assumption, which of course needs to be verified. But as already mentioned, in view of the many different factors that play a role here, it is not at all easy to draw definitive conclusions and make unambiguous decisions on the basis of this data.
Organic visibility for search results, reputation and increasing brand awareness are, in our opinion, plausible, and strong arguments in favour of featured snippets. However, results like those we observed in our experiment also show the difficulty in dealing with the highlighted results in Google search. Incidentally, branded traffic has also not increased in the period under review (at least not so far).
Nevertheless, we still see considerable potential in the optimization for Featured Snippets and the definitive recommendation therefore remains to think carefully about when you can create content that, despite its prominence, still offers sufficient incentive for a click. For those who have now become entirely skeptical about featured snippets, or even have their own examples that did not have the desired effect, we would like to remind you once again: featured snippets can be completely suppressed with an HTML attribute “no snippet” without any problems. Not that we would generally recommend it, but perhaps you have one or two particularly tricky examples. One very important aspect for us to recommend optimizations like these in principle: in 9 out of 10 cases, the optimized post subsequently showed improved ranking signals. In other words, continuous improvement of your existing content should always be part of the content strategy. For search engines, but especially for users themselves. And that’s true even if you don’t end up with a featured snippet.
In any case, we will continue to critically analyze our featured snippets and further monitor where they lead to success and where we might prefer to forego them and, of course, provide you with an update on this here as soon as possible. Until then, we look forward to hearing your opinion on featured snippets. What experiences have you had? Regardless of whether this or any other search engine optimization topic is of interest to you, we are always available to exchange ideas and support you with any questions you may have regarding your marketing strategy.