The holy grail of SEO, Google’s featured snippets are reported to increase traffic to your page by up to 66%. The data, however, is hazy. Ahrefs informs us that featured snippets reduce overall clicks, as users are already shown the answer they seek. According to their research, ranking for the #1 spot below the snippet (position 0) is actually preferred. If you are a smaller online entity, though, gaining a featured snippet could be your best, cheapest ticket to increased traffic.
The snippet is thrust directly into the retina of users. They will almost certainly read the material that Google places above the rest. If they catch your website name besides that, forget the traffic – you’ve now exposed yourself (legally) to a mass of new users. What’s more, snippets, like other forms of SEO, inform us on how to write well, and how to write for the atomic age of content. Here’s how you tailor your posts to be snippable and earn your short time on the SEO throne.
Immediate content delivery
One of the implications of the snippet rush is that you should be direct and waste no time in delivering the goods. Snippets most commonly feature questions such as, “How to earn more followers on YouTube?”, or data-specific queries like “What are India’s biggest exports?”. Google provides a snippet when it thinks it can give the user all or some of what they’re looking for in just a paragraph. The top 5 keywords featured in snippets are:
These are all direct, immediately recognisable words. And while they feature most often in the title, the principle applies to the entirety of your content. There’s no room for loose fat in a snippet. When writing your article, bear in mind that a single unneeded sentence or clause could turn what was otherwise a snippable paragraph into a failed candidate. Depending on the complexity of the question, you should cut to the answer immediately. Academic papers may privilege addendums, side-notes and extra padding, but not for the fast-paced world of SERPs and snippets. Imagine the reader is late for their train, charging through a crowd, angrily typing in a question they needed answered 10 minutes ago, and give them exactly what they want with no time added.
A website designer was once asked by clients to use ”articles” instead of “blog” as a heading for the company’s written content. “Blogs”, they said, carry a negative connotation of pretentiousness to be avoided. While he didn’t disagree, he argued that the word “blog” is immediately recognisable as a company content section, whilst ‘articles’ belong more in scientific or academic journals. Research proved him right. Here is a case of time beating out aesthetics. Articles might sound nicer, but a blog is punchy and everyone knows what it means. 9 times out of 10, punchy wins.
Information over entertainment?
Google likes clarity for its snippets. Does that then mean that entertainment and witty packaging are counterproductive in the snippet-pursuit? The takeaway is that the content comes first. Delivering the answer to the user’s question is the prime objective. It could be a genuinely funny joke, but can you justify using it as a subheading when there’s a sentence that explains immediately what the following paragraphs will contain? Snippets are about handing over information, not tickling the sensibilities of your readers. What you can do, however, is keep your language fresh within the restrictive confines of fast explanation. Changing the odd use from ‘do’ to ‘perform’, or ‘make’ to ‘build’, for example, can elevate the quality somewhat. You can’t approach it with such a robotic eye, of course, but experimenting with slight changes without losing sight of the info-driven goal is a good practice.
Think like the inquirer
There are millions of questions searched every day. Many of those already have a host of articles waiting to greet them, but many others may find a lackluster response. Explore certain topics related to your business (or not) and put yourself in the position of a consumer going through those motions. It could be cooking, it could geography, or it could be travel, cryptocurrency, sports or video games. What are some stones left unturned, questions unanswered? Of course, these are hard to find. Not everything you post has to be novel. But, choosing an overly-saturated topic like “How to grow a following on Instagram” will make your life much harder, whereas smaller, more niche subjects like “What are the best dungeon retro RPGs from the 2000s?” might enjoy a better reception.
Content marketing isn’t getting any easier. There’re more posts than ever, and for every thought that occurs to you, you’ll normally find to your displeasure that 50-500 others are on the same track. You’ve got to outdoor outsmart them, do their job better or find new topics and frameworks for your articles. But with the value of information often trumping entertainment, you can’t resort to your shining wit to finesse them. Ross Pike of Quadrant2Design comments, ‘Content is catered to those that consume it. The people reading articles today are in a rush, looking for information and expecting that someone is able to provide it. We used to think that jokes were an ideal addition – now the speed of digestion is so rapid that they distract from the task at hand.’ You have to give users what they want quickly and concisely to maintain their focus. Featured snippets are part of that practice, and aiming for them (even if you don’t obtain them) will improve the quality of your content.
Theo Reilly is an independent writer and multilingual translator whose goal is to counteract stale writing in business blogs. Theo has a particular interest in business and marketing-related matters surrounding the online world, web design, exhibitions, and events.