SERPs and Featured Snippets

Published on Authoritas August 20,2020 (Jason Barnard)

How to Rank for Featured Snippets?

Jason Barnard is known as the Brand SERP guy and he knows a lot about increasing both his site and that of his clients’ visibility in the SERPs. He shares his tips on how to rank for featured snippets.

Tip 1: Use FAQ Gutenberg blocks

To get more than your fair share of Featured Snippets, if you have a WordPress site, use FAQ Gutenberg blocks (part of the free Yoast plugin). They trigger more featured snippets than is reasonable.

A client of mine switched from a one page accordion system for FAQ to one-page-one-question system using Yoast on WordPress… and voila – a hockey stick ! They saw considerably more impressions and clicks and as a result more traffic to their website. We were all very happy with the results.

But there are alternatives. If you don’t have Yoast, or don’t use WordPress, or for another reason this schema markup isn’t an easy option for you, then simply organising the content of the page intelligently will help win a featured snippet. Keep it simple: the H1 is the question, the paragraph below is the answer and the image must be in the same block of content as the answer. 

If the answer is too complex for a quick and easy answer, then the H1 is the question, the paragraph just below (with the image) is a quick summary of the answer (or perhaps a table or a bullet point list of steps or options)… then the content that follows starts with a H2 that offers “more details on XXX” and goes on to expand on the summary you wrote under the H1.

Tip 2: Sitelinks on Brand SERPs are wildly underestimated.

Not really a Featured Snippet… But very much featured and full of snippets. 

Look at how many searches there are on your brand name every month (look in Search Console, filter on your brand name and isolate the homepage). The proportion of brand searches vs other searches is probably more than you think.

On a brand search Google gives a phenomenal amount of space to rich sitelinks. Why? Because it wants to give it’s users direct access to relevant pages on your site. Rich sitelinks give the user the opportunity to bypass your homepage and get to the information they want more effectively and efficiently.

Rich sitelinks typically contain pages such as: contact us, about us, login, pricing…. are probably not part of your day-to-day SEO strategy because they are not going to bring valuable organic traffic outside brand searches. But look here…

Even if they are unimportant in your wider SEO strategy, they are vital for every single search on your brand name (look in Search Console – that might be a lot more people than you thought). 

You really should optimise these pages. People see them WAY more often than most of us realise. 

And if you don’t have these rich sitelinks on your Brand SERP, that is a big red flag about the way your site is organised (see point 1 below). Then look at the competition. Do they have sexy sitelinks? Probably. 

There are three considerations for rich sitelinks on Brand SERPs. 

  1. Firstly, do they appear? If they don’t then Google cannot figure out which pages within your site would be of interest to your clients and prospects. That implies that your site structure is confusing and the role that each of your brand-centric pages plays within your organisation is unclear. A well organised site with pages that have a clear role to play in the user journey is essential.
  2. Secondly, are the ones that appear logical and helpful to your audience? Google shows those that it feels are the best candidate for direct access for your audience. If the ‘wrong’ pages appear then that means your site is pushing your audience to the ‘wrong’ places. Once again your own site structure is the culprit and needs to be reevaluated.
  3. Thirdly, is the text that appears (blue links and snippets below them) helpful and attractive? If not, then  look at the meta titles and descriptions on those pages. Rich sitelinks on Brand SERPs is one place where Google will more-often-than-not use those when you provide them.

This is an easy win and it touches both existing clients and prospects – both of whom are fundamentally important to your bottom line.

Tip 3: Think in Blocks

Organise your content in blocks (if you use WordPress, Gutenberg is your friend). If you don’t use WordPress, look at how that CMS organises content within a page. Theirs is very good. You need to be at least as good.

Fabrice Canel (head of crawling and indexing at Bing) says that a well-structured site helps him help them. If Bingbot (or Googlebot) can understand the structure of a page, he can index your content efficiently and annotate it accurately. And that content becomes a prime candidate for ranking as a blue link, or as any relevant SERP feature – video boxes, featured snippets, images, events… 

If you want to grab SERP features for your content, then the first step is make sure Fabrice can extract, index and annotate it accurately. Listen to the podcast episode here.

ANY systematisation of the way the content on the pages on your site are organised is helpful to a machine. Schema markup is the ‘dream’ for these machines. But simply using headings, paragraphs and images in a consistent manner across your entire site is a help.So, if schema markup is a step too far for your budget or your technical understanding, then Gutenberg blocks in WordPress or a similar block-based systematisation of the content in your pages is a great alternative.

Tip 4: Think Darwinism

Darwinism in Search is a term I coined. But it is Gary Illyes from Google who explained the concept – rich elements / SERP features live and die by the value they bring to Google’s user. If you want your content to appear as a rich element (here I mean both extended and universal search), then you have to convince the relevant algorithm that your content brings more value to its user than the equivalent blue link. If you can do that, then the blue link ‘dies’ and your content survives in the form of a rich element. Darwinism in Search (read more on Search Engine Journal here).

Making great content in an appropriate format that is truly valuable to your audience is the key. I know that sounds very much like what Google representatives (John Mueller, Gary Illyes, Danny Sullican, Martin Splitt et al) often say… and that this staple answer is often perceived to be unconstructive… 

But give them some slack… this Darwinistic approach means that quality content will increasingly rise to the top and that there is no magic formula beyond creating content that satisfies the needs of your audience (which, when all is said and done is simply good marketing). SEO becomes the job of demonstrating to Google that your content is in an appropriate format and is truly valuable to the subset of their users that is your audience. 

I’d suggest that you look at Google in this manner. A portion / subset of Google’s users is your natural audience. What content are those people looking for and what format will make that content most helpful and valuable to them?  The content that stands out in Google’s SERP will ultimately be the content that serves the user’s needs in the format that is most relevant given the context of their search.

If you are creating the right content for the subset of Google’s users that are your audience… and that content is in the relevant format… the only SEO work you need to do is present your content to Google in a manner that ensures it understands your content is the best solution for its users.

Tip 5: Engagement is the key

Google have been dilly-dallying around the question. Bing are very, very clear. Engagement is the key in this Darwinistic system. For a lot more on that, watch the Bing series here.

At Bing, there is a whole page team that oversees the SERP environment and manages the exact anatomy of the page – the aim is, of course, to ensure the SERP corresponds to the needs of the user and satisfies the user in the context of their search query. 

The Whole Page Algorithm can (and often does) override the individual rich element algorithms. It will do that when it considers the ‘natural Darwinistic results’ do not provide adequate satisfaction for the user. There are many signals that are taken into account… but it would appear that recent user engagement with similar SERPs is the strongest signal. That is a very simplistic appraisal read more on the Whole Page Algorithm here (fascinating stuff) >>

From a SERP anatomy perspective, high levels of engagement with a SERP feature ensures the survival of any given element (video, image, featured snippet, map pack…. ). Low levels of engagement will kill it. 

Google and Bing want to satisfy their users as quickly and efficiently as possible with the content that is most relevant given the context of the user (query, geo, device, search history, intent…).

In order to be THE result Google or Bing push hardest (recommends 🙂 for any given search query from a specific user in any one ‘micro moment’,  you need to provide the most efficient and relevant solution that corresponds to all three – the user, the problem and the environment.

And, unfortunately (if you are looking for easy quick fix wins), that means understanding who your audience is, what their problems are and what context they are in when that problem manifests itself.

Scary? Probably not if you are a marketer first, and an SEO second 🙂

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