A featured snippet is the little box of text that often appears at the top of search queries where users have asked Google a question or they’re clearly looking for information.

Featured snippets are scraped from web pages and include a page title and link to the page.

So what’s so great about featured snippets? The obvious answer is that you can get ‘position 0’ in the SERPs. It’s also great for users, giving them quick answers to their queries. This can help increase your brand authority and awareness.

In Emily’s first attempt to win featured snippets, she went into STAT to find out the opportunities for her client. She made a recommendation for each available snippet that her client didn’t rank for.

Her recommendations included keyword targeting and page structure. She read that Google preferred certain formats for different types of informational queries (e.g. lists).

Emily was convinced that this was her masterpiece. But did any of these tactics work? She can’t answer this question, because Google updated about a week later and removed all the snippets she was targeting.

What Emily learned is that Google is the enemy. But she soon had another opportunity to have a go. She took a more competitive approach this time. She looked at what competitors were doing and just tried to copy what other sites were doing – how were they better than her client?

She assessed the format of their content and looked at whether they were using headings more effectively.

When she got down to her final keyword, she took a pretty lazy approach and just copied the heading of the current snippet owner and recommended it to her client. This was the tactic that worked! 10 seconds of research turned into a success.

New conclusion? Featured snippets are bullshit.

Why?

Featured snippets steal clicks. Ahrefs used clickstream data to show that with a snippet, the top ranked result takes about 19.6%. Without a snippet, the top result gets 26%. They’re also increasing the number of no-click searches.

Next, featured snippets create confirmation bias. If you ask a question like, ‘are reptiles good pets?’ Google will tell you, ‘yes.’ But, if someone asks if reptiles are bad, the snippet will also answer, ‘yes.’

They’re also really unsophisticated. There are examples all over the web of snippets that are clearly not being vetted for the best content. They are really easily manipulated!

Emily decided to prove that they don’t even help your organic traffic that much.

She looked at existing studies and found that Hubspot said they increased their CTR by 114%. Search Engine Land also said that they increased their CTR by over 500%.

But these studies sucked.

They used misleading wording. They were identifying correlation, not causation. And the headline was misleading. What happened was that they compared pages that had a featured snippet to pages that didn’t. There are a lot of different reasons why the pages with snippets might have a higher CTR that have nothing to do with snippets.

These studies also didn’t have a good controlled experimental environment. Hubspot used small volume keywords that can fluctuate a lot. For Search Engine Land, you can see that performance for one of their focus pages was increasing even before they earned the snippet and that their rankings across the board were improving prior to this time. Of course they saw a big increase!

So, Emily decided to create her own study.

Her hypothesis was that owning a featured snippet would not significantly increase CTR.

She used STAT to get data on a range of different Distilled clients, recording examples that did and didn’t include featured snippets and tracked performance over time. She put ranking data over time together with Search Console data to get CTR information. This left her with over 300,000 data points.

She found that featured snippets improve organic CTR at every single position.

Owning the featured snippet means that your CTR is always higher than not owning your featured snippet.

Ranking also really matter if you want to earn a featured snippet. Average rank with a snippet was 2.1, without was 3.3. Pages ranking below position 10 are highly unlikely to own a featured snippet.

Emily also wanted to assess CTR increase for the same URL when it obtains a snippet. The biggest improvement was in position 6, where sites saw a 7% rise. However Emily manipulated the data, she couldn’t find a 20% CTR rise that the other studies reported.

In trying to disprove the studies, Emily found that featured snippets do work.

But, she still hates them for all the reasons listed above.

She still has some actions for us:

  • Find keywords you rank for with a featured snippet and make a targeted list for those you don’t own. You can use all sorts of tools for this, but avoid keywords that have a commercial intent, especially if you’re targeting them with commercial pages. Also, flag where you’re higher than the current owner. If you’re ranking higher, it’s a sign that you need to focus on content.
  • Look for low hanging fruit, like where you can just copy and paste a heading (yep, this is actually okay!).
  • Join two points together with ‘however’ to show Google that you’re actively combatting confirmation bias. Google is trying to improve this.
  • Add on-page content for well-performing pages, especially for those pages that are ranking well but aren’t optimised for snippets.
  • Reformat your content to match the current owner. Turn paragraphs into lists or tables or whatever as needed.

Bonus tool: use the question and answer demo in BERT NLP. This will verify whether or not Google can find an answer based on natural language processing.

Ben Garry

SEO Strategist

I'm a Strategist in Impression’s SEO team. This means that I work to make our clients stand out in the crowded online space through on-page optimisation and original, high-quality content.

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