A featured snippet provides a summarized answer to a users search query at the top of the Google search engine results page (SERP), right above position 1. These answers are scraped from other sites content that best satisfies the user’s search. Also referred to as position zero, the featured snippet answer is contained in a text box commonly shown with a link to the source and an image to go along with it.
Featured snippet and SERP volatility
For digital marketers, the potential organic traffic growth from gaining a featured snippet can be pretty significant. In fact, two recent studies both identified that being featured equates to increased brand exposure- by as much as 677% in some instances! That’s 677 good reasons to try to get your brand featured in a snippet.
It’s important, however, to remind yourself the SERP is always fluctuating and there’s a certain amount of volatility when it comes to the appearance of featured snippets in search results. Moz collects data from the SERP and provides the information gathered monthly in a forecasted style. Here’s a look into the volatility of past month with featured snippets.
But what can happen more often than the fluctuation of a featured snippet disappearing and reappearing is the change in source shown in the snippet. Google does a ton of dynamic testing in the SERP to always create the best experience for the user. That means Google’s always crawling new content, re-crawling updated content and seeing who best answers the query. Perficient Digital’s Erin Enge conducted a study on featured snippet churn to understand this exact type of testing that occurs in SERP.
SERP features that are not featured snippets
A featured snippet is not the same as a knowledge graph or answer box, though they are often grouped together due to their proximity above search results. Google’s knowledge graph is their technology that stores and sorts both structured and unstructured information in order to enhance search results. This knowledge base is responsible for knowledge panels, answer boxes, rich cards that appear on the right side of a results page, and even the instant answers that appear as you type a query into the address bar. This is all to better serve the user and answer their questions more efficiently.
A knowledge panel is just one of the ways Google features information from its knowledge graph. This type of result showcases entities like people, places, organizations, etc.
Though the featured snippet may seem synonymous with the answer box, it is actually its own distinct entity. The main distinguishing feature has to do with the source of the answer to the queries, which Google provides linked in blue just underneath. Answer boxes, by comparison, give brief “quick answers” to common questions from users with no link to accredit a source.
Favorite answer box example: You’re welcome. Enjoy.
Fortunately, this information has become more accurate and less humorous. RIP vague, unhelpful answer box.
A featured snippet is also not the same as a rich snippet, which is an enhanced organic search result that uses schema markup from a page to create a specially formatted search result, like an event or a recipe.
Nor is it an instant answer which provides a brief answer as you type a query into the address bar without ending up on the results page. This is occurring more and more with definitions, calculations, and common questions with short answers.
Different types of featured snippets:
The following list characterizes exactly what featured snippets are by giving the most common types that appear in SERPs, what can trigger their appearance, and examples of what they look like in the search results.
The paragraph structured answer is the most common format for featured snippets, resulting in half of featured snippet and the most likely for content to rank for. This type of snippet is typically triggered by queries that begin with how, what, when, and why.
A result that returns a bulleted list is typically triggered by search queries that include keywords like top, best, and other terms that indicate an unranked set of items like the checklist below. Users searching with the terms that trigger a bulleted list as the featured snippet often are looking for a variety of ideas, options, or items before narrowing their search even further.
Numbered lists, however, do indicate order whether it’s through ranking a list of best to worst or providing a step-by-step process for something. This type of list is triggered by keywords like how to, steps for, [insert food] recipe, etc. Users searching with these keywords are often more decisive than those whose queries result in bulleted lists as they are looking for tactical content that will provide them with action items.
This answer is formatted into a table to make data more readable and easier to find for users. Google, like with other featured snippets, will choose what data to showcase on the SERP rather than pull an entire data set from a website.
For example, look at search result below for ivy league acceptance rates. Google provides a simplified answer to the question by only adding 3 columns of data compared to 13 columns; one naming the universities and the 2 others providing overall acceptance rate information. Displaying the data this way gives users the exact answer they were looking for without having to skim through a large set of rows and columns.
This answer is structured by way of a video, which the user is linked to by clicking on the provided image. Google has enhanced this type of search result by adding a suggested clip time to the featured snippet that will bring users to the direct moment that answers the question.
PAAs (People Also Ask)
“PAA Boxes,” known as people also ask, are related questions that appear in the SERP in an accordion style dropdown. Click one related query and additional queries appear as the accordion boxes expand. These appear in a similar format to the featured snippet, but typically live directly above or below the first few rankings. According to a recent study by Britney Mueller, PAAs appear is 65% of search results. Within that, PAAs appear in 93% of featured snippet results leaving even more reason to pay attention to these additional questions. Videos, bulleted and numbered list, and paragraphs formats all can show up in PAA’s.
Pro tip: Use PAAs to gather more insight into related questions users search for to optimize your existing content. This will likely improve your content’s search intent and lead to increase in rank.
Keywords that trigger featured snippets
Pro tip: Use a tool like Answer The Public to discover additional queries and long-tail keywords you can cover within your content.
The coveted “position zero”
While there’s some discussion over the actual benefits of ranking for a featured snippet and concerns from SEO’s out there regarding the click-through rate, position zero is where you want your content to be if it’s an option. For certain queries that contain a featured snippet, it may seem like Google’s stealing traffic from your site by directly answering the users question, but this isn’t always the case and depends on the search intent behind the query, the type of snippet shown, etc. The opportunity of being featured at the top of the SERP, the increased brand visibility, and the fact that Google thinks your content alone best answers a specific query should be enough reasons to aim high for this position. Seek out good sources for how to achieve featured snippets, optimize your content and improve your chances of earning a featured snippet.