The featured snippet is the coveted zero position on Google. This isn’t one of those times where zero is a bad thing; it means your page and content are featured above almost anything else in the search results. That’s high-value real estate in the instant-gratification, first-clicks-go-to-top-spots culture of the internet.
So, it’s no wonder everyone wants in on this featured snippet game. Over the past year at Crowd Content, we’ve had increasing numbers of clients asking for writers to craft snippet-rich content. Snippet-rich content answers search queries in a concise, organized fashion; it’s also the type of content most likely to win the featured snippet (also called the Google Answer Box).
Why Do You Want the Featured Snippet?
Who doesn’t want to be the first result in the search engine? The benefits of the spot can include:
- Increased traffic, as people often click the first result that pops up for their query.
- Better brand authority, because your content shows up prominently at the top of the search engine, making it more likely people will remember your site or company.
- You potentially steal traffic from the top organic search result, which is helpful if you haven’t landed the top spot.
- Some sites find that winning the snippet leads to increased organic conversion rates.
- Snippet-rich content performs well in voice search because it’s short, concise and customer targeted to searcher intent.
The Danger of Blindly Chasing the Snippet
Yes, there’s a lot of value in the featured snippet. And clients who are chasing it are clearly paying attention to SEO trends and best practices, which we applaud.
But we’ve noticed another trend developing over the past year: Some people are chasing the featured snippet at the expense of content quality or other SEO efforts. Or, they don’t realize that the featured snippet isn’t a magic box that solves all your SEO problems; winning the snippet the wrong way can actually diminish your organic traffic.
Check out these times when optimizing for the featured snippet can go wrong and how to avoid them.
You Give the Cow Away for Free
Perhaps the biggest risk is that you do such a good job of answering searcher intent in your snippet that the click never happens. If you answer the query and leave nothing on the table, there’s no reason for the searcher to click any result; they found their answer on Google’s page and that was the end of their activity for that query.
Will Craig, the managing director of LeaseFetcher, says that obtaining the zero position on Google is often one of their top priorities. But it doesn’t always go as planned. He recounts a time when winning the featured snippet dropped their click-through rate substantially.
“We’ve seen our click-through rate drop up to 24% on our featured snippet for the keyword write off lease since the launch of our in-depth pillar guide. So, although we are providing users with the instant, concise answers they need and want, a lot of the users get all the information they need from the featured snippet and, as a result, don’t click through to our website.”
How to avoid the issue? Kim Streich, a technical marketer at Sovereign Man, says, “The most important part is to make sure the snippet answers the query but at the same time evokes curiosity and sells the reader on wanting to read the full article. Otherwise, you risk a low click-through-rate.”
Feature Snippet Performance Can Be Fickle
Colin Ma is a digital marketing entrepreneur and founder of Makujin Media. He provided analytics from his own data that help demonstrate how the featured snippet can drive both wins and losses. According to Ma’s experience and data:
- Around 10% of the time, businesses see a 20% (or more) increase in traffic
- Around 35% of the time, pages get between a 5% and 20% increase
- Around 35% of the time, the impact is nothing or negligible
- Around 20% of the time, attempts at the featured snippet result in a 5% to 20% traffic decrease
- A very small percent of the time (around 1% or less), attempts can drop your traffic more than 20%
The too long; didn’t math story here is that if you optimize for featured snippets, you might hurt SEO performance one time out of every five.
How to avoid the issue? You shouldn’t avoid chasing the snippet completely. Ma doesn’t, even though he’s seen the 1% described above. He tells of working with a client with a page that received 3,500 hits per day that drove a four-figure income daily. Ma made some changes on the page to capture the featured snippet and checked back a week later to see how they were performing.
The results were not positive. Traffic was down 40% and revenue down around 60%. Ma didn’t panic or eschew featured snippets altogether. Instead, he worked on the page, and within three weeks, he had captured the snippet. The results were 4,500 daily hits and an increase of 50% in revenue over the original numbers.
The lesson here is pretty standard: If at first you don’t succeed (at winning the feature snippet), consider trying again.
You Chase Featured Snippets That Don’t Exist or Make Sense
But don’t keep trying for featured snippets that don’t exist or make any sense for your brand or audience.
Not every query has a featured snippet. According to Ahrefs’ data from 2017, around 12.29% of queries could pop a featured snippet. That’s likely increased slightly over the years, but it’s far from the majority at this point. Trying to optimize your content for snippets when Google hasn’t gotten around to adding them yet definitely puts the cart in front of the horse and could result in wasted marketing effort and spend.
And even if a featured snippet does exist, it may not make sense for you to win it. Streich gives an example of this, saying, “Make sure the query matches the goal of your website. For example, our website won the snippet for Norway taxes, and taxes are a core topic for our company. While this result drives a lot of traffic to our site, the intent of the searcher doesn’t match our content, and so it doesn’t generate a lot of value in terms of leads and revenue.”
How to avoid the issue? Instead of concentrating solely on the idea of a featured snippet, focus on holistic SEO and semantic completeness. If you’re creating comprehensive, high-quality content that answers the intent of the search, you’re positioning yourself to potentially win the featured snippet at the same time.
Katie Kuchta, the marketing manager for LawnStarter Lawn Care, provides some advice for covering all your bases, including the featured snippet. “Always do your research,” she says. “Ahrefs is super helpful for looking at who currently owns the featured snippet for a certain keyword. You can also use the same tool to see what pages of your website are featured as a snippet. Using this tool can help you identify, first and foremost, what the competition is like on the first page of the results and the type of content that is ranking. Use that as a guide to help you optimize your content.”
Kuchta also advises:
- Answer questions that others didn’t and add unique information that others didn’t cover.
- Make it easy for anyone (and any search engine) to read. Add in headers, bullet points and summaries.
- Try to create comprehensive content that a skimmer can quickly look through and get all the important information within a minute of scrolling through the page.
You Compromise Your Content Quality for the Snippet
Finally, don’t give in to the temptation to use shortcuts. We’re seeing clients simply grabbing the list of People Who Also Ask questions and creating pages that ask and answer each one. That might seem comprehensive, but not every question asked by people browsing the internet is relevant to your page or target audience.
Featured snippets should be part of the quality content you create. They shouldn’t be the foundation of it.
If you’re struggling to create comprehensive content that performs in SERPs, consider partnering with Crowd Content. Our enterprise project teams and experienced writers know how to incorporate SEO elements in ways that improve your page performance and user experience, not derail it.