Automating Optimisation For Featured Snippets on a Large Scale

Delete’s Digital Marketing Director, Polly Pospelova, recently spoke on this topic at BrightonSEO. If you missed the event or you simply want to know more about this subject, here’s a summary of what Polly had to say.

I was very proud to take part at this year’s virtual BrightonSEO, not only because I love the event but also because I got the chance to talk about yet another subject I find very interesting. 

I’ve put together this blog post based on my BrightonSEO talk to go into more detail about Featured Snippets, insights,trends and some approaches large organisations can take to optimise thousands of pages and legacy content on a large scale.

This blog will be a useful recap of the challenges large organisations face when it comes to optimising for Features Snippets and demonstration of how our SEOs here at Delete are addressing them.

What are Featured Snippets?

As many people reading this post will already know, Featured Snippets are brief answers to a user’s search query, which are displayed on top of Google search results. They look like this:

What are featured snippets

More often than not, if you perform a search for a question, you’ll see a Featured Snippet box providing (what the Search Engines believes) is the most relevant answer to your question. 

A Featured Snippet always references a page title, the page’s URL and most of the time is extracted from one of the top-ranking pages for that search query.

Featured snippet types

Features Snippets come in a few different types depending on your question and the format of the answer which Google etc thinks answers your question.

Paragraph

This is the most common type of snippet and is a paragraph answer to “How? What? When? Where? Why?” questions. The screenshot below is an example of this type of paragraph Featured Snippet.

what is a featured snippet

List

List Featured Snippets is the second most popular type. These come in both bullet and numerical formats and with or without an image. List Featured Snippets apply mostly to posts about step-by-step instructions, listicles and recipes.

list featured snippets

Table

Table Featured Snippets are less common but often show up for user queries that contain comparisons or are topically linked to comparisons such as the example below. 
Google values well-structured content with prices, rates, years, and other numerical data for these Featured Snippet types.

table featured snippet

Video

Video featured snippets are very self explanatory, though it is interesting to see Google are refining the video Featured Snippet to be tailored to the part of the video which best answers the question.

video featured snippet   

How popular are featured snippets?

According to different sources between 12% to 24% of search queries have featured snippets. 

For example, Ahrefs’ research data suggests that approximately 12.3% of search queries have featured snippets in their search results, while Moz’s research data suggests that approximately 23.9% of search queries have featured snippets. Whether you choose to trust the first or the second source, either way it is quite a lot and they are not going away any time soon. 

volume of searches which have featured snippets

Do featured snippets drive more clicks?

Featured snippets are styled differently from the rest of search results and by occupying a prominent position in SERPs page they take up a lot of page real estate. Because of this surely you would expect them to drive more clicks? 

Not according to Ahrefs data. Their research shows that 26% of clicks go to the 1st URL when there is no Featured Snippet. Only 8.6% of clicks to the featured snippet and 19.6% of clicks go to the results immediately below the featured snippet. 

average car on seeps with and without featured snippets

While this might be true with Ahref’s research, my experience shows a different result. 
For example, when we earned a featured snippet for one of our clients assets, Google Search Console reported that our organic CTR for that page increased by 66%.

featured snippet increases CTR

And, Google Analytics showed Organic Traffic to that page increased by 125.64%.

Google analytics graph

Also, it is important to remember that features snippets are not just about clicks and traffic. One of the forgotten values of Featured Snippets is in enhanced brand awareness, controlling messaging in SERPs and a possibility of inclusion in voice search results. If you don’t take the featured snippet space, someone else will.

How to optimise for featured snippets

Find a search results page that already has a Featured Snippet.

Your first step is to look for a search results page that already has a featured snippet. That way, you know that Google wants to show a featured snippet for that term. Also, you can see what type of featured snippet Google wants to show for that search query (paragraph, list or table). Knowing the content format favorable for the Featured Snippet makes optimising your page for that specific type a lot simpler.

what type is this featured snippet

For example, when you search for “how to get work experience as a student”, you can see that Google shows an Ordered List Featured Snippet at the top.

It also helps if you already rank within the top 3 to 5 results for the same search term. That way, intercepting a features snippet will be easier.

it helps if you already rank on page one

There are a few ways to look for SERPs that have a featured snippet.  Obviously you can do it manually by typing in a number of queries with known trigger words or you can do it with great tools such as SEMRush and Ahrefs.

Once you found the right featured snippet opportunity, take time to examine it closer. 
In the same example below, you can see that the content is extracted from the middle of the page and the list content is taken from the website in its entirety.

examine where content for featured snippet comes from

It is interesting that list items within the content are actually lot longer than what Google is pulling through into the features snippet.

When you look at the source code of that content, you can see that it’s literally the exact same list, wrapped with <ul> markup. The wording which shows for each list item is exactly the text wrapped with a <strong> tag.

content comes form bullet list

Now you have the data on what type of featured snippet to optimise for and how to structure your content and markup. You can begin to optimise your page:

  1. Lay out your page so that the specific steps (or list items) are presented in a way that Google can easily understand.
  2. Wrap every item or step in <li> tag.
  3. If your list items are too long, wrap the shorter text you want to show in the featured snippet in <strong> tag.

To some of you, following the above process may seem straightforward. But this is just one page. Two questions I have not addressed so far are important ones and questions overlooked by many SEOs. 

Would earning one featured snippet make any difference for a large organisation? Would it deliver an organisational impact? 

The answer is, no.

SEOs have never been under more pressure to demonstrate tangible and organisational impact. The only way for us to deliver an organisational impact is to leverage the benefits of Featured Snippets on as large a scale as possible by making the most of our clients existing resources.

What does it take to optimise for features snippets on a large scale?

To find out what it takes to optimise for featured snippets on a large scale, and drive meaningful impact we needed the right project to carry out an experiment. Fortunately we got our chance, working with one of our clients on the design, development and launch of their new web platform. 

Learning about the clients existing resources

Our approach begins with learning about the client. While this sounds obvious, it is a simple step which is sometimes overlooked. At Delete, as part of Digital Transformation projects we always start by working with the client to understand how they manage content on their old website and what the challenges and pain points they have.

We learn about the client’s complex content structure, the different databases where content sits and most importantly, the format of that content. We learn a lot from working with developers, database specialists, IT and content editors and it has really opened our eyes to how much content our clients already have, but is hidden away or not used.

Design and development of components with SEO in mind

Due to CMS limitations or lack of backend experience, Content editors never have much control over HTML structure behind specific content types. This can often cause issues because as we mentioned earlier in the post, using the best suited HTML structure is crucial to getting content placed in Featured Snippets.

Let’s take an Ordered List component as an example. Ideally an Ordered List should look like this in the front end.

list component in the front end

SEOs want this component to have clean markup in the source code, in the same format which Google seems to favour for Ordered List Featured Snippets.

list component code behind

Most new development projects (especially our Sitecore and Kentico builds) are component based. This empowers content editors to create pages which look good, and most importantly when targeting Featured Snippets, can be designed and built from the ground up with SEO in mind.

other list components

We have recently delivered a new website for one of our higher education clients and this approach of applying groundup SEO stretched to their entire component library containing a number of individual unique components.

component library

We didn’t stop at creating optimised HTML for components, but also made extensive use of Schema Structured Markup wrapped around all possible components. Another crucial aspect for leveraging Featured Snippets for a variety of media types.

Look to solve legacy content format issues

The next step is to make any legacy content usable wherever possible.

There are myriad reasons why legacy content can often seem unusable at first, but with some time and development magic it is a valuable resource.

Here is an example of what an Ordered List HTML could look like. There are some <div> and <br /> tags but no clear <ul> or <ol> which we know Google favours for Featured Snippets.

legacy content with clutter html

This is where the need for SEOs to work with developers pays off. Developers can easily write scripts that convert content into any desired format replacing double <div> tabs with opening <ul> tags and double <br /> tags with opening and closing <li> tags, to send up with something like this:

legacy content after conversion

This is the creation of the perfect automated process.

We take the outdated content, convert it, enable editing in the way the client is used to and get the optimised structure that we want, PLUS cut down the human hours and resources needed - true optimisation.

process of optimisation automated

Look for large scale features snippets opportunities

Let’s look at an example of a large scale features snippets opportunity.

Delete work with a lot of large Higher Education businesses and we noticed that course pages do not trigger many Featured Snippets.

Example - A search query such as “nursing degree” returns a standard SERP.

searches with no featured snippets

But changing the angle of the search (while still being relevant) to include a question like “how to become a nurse” reveals a mass of Featured Snippets opportunities. This keyword group has over 81,000 searches per month - a huge opportunity.

Further analysis of this keyword Group in SEMRush shows us that the majority of these keywords have a featured snippet already showing in SERPs.

semrush featured snippet opportunities report

Looking at the page which currently holds the Features Snippet, we know that our client already has most of the information they need, and the information is currently held in their databases. The blue arrows point to the content we have and the red arrow points to the only element of the content which needs to be written by the contine editors from scratch.

page content examined

All we need to do is create a new dynamic template to target the 'how to become a…’ keyword group opportunity and automate the creation and population of content via what is already in their database.

dynamic template generated to match the page which owns featured snippet slot

The new template can almost entirely consist of the components from their component library which have been optimised (from the ground up by SEOs, designers and developers) to target Featured Snippets.

As you can see by the Red arrow, 95% of these pages can be automatically created with the only missing element being the introduction. This is the only part which needs to be manually written by content editors, massively cuts down on the resource time needed.

This is a way of quickly putting together and automating high quality, rich content on a large scale that’s going to achieve a tangible improvement on an organisational level.

Key takeaways

1. Find keyword group opportunities with high search volume

Research keyword group opportunities to ascertain if this is a viable tactic. Lower search volume answers may not be worth it, as if there are only a handful of featured snippet opportunities then you can probably just do it manually.

This approach is best suited to big websites with lots of outdated legacy content, and limited human resources.

2. Assess the situation and resource

Understand the client's (or your own) situation and resources. Find a way of achieving the most form of what limited resource you have.

3. Leverage developers expertise

Leverage the expertise of the developers to achieve scalable solutions to SEO problems which deliver mass impact.

Find out more

Hopefully you’ve found this review of my presentation useful, and we hope you can follow some of the advice to get the most out of your Featured Snippet opportunities.  If you’d like to download the slides from my actual BrightonSEO presentation, you can find them here in PDF format.

If you’d like to know more about scalable optimisation for Featured Snippets or would like some further advice or support on automation of any of your SEO processes then please get in touch with our team via email at: hello@deleteagency.com.

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