Kellie Gibson is part of the research team at STAT Search Analytics and has been heavily involved in SERP research for the last three years. She shares her research through her writing and recently joined us for DMC 2018 to reveal her findings regarding featured snippets.
Featured snippets (or answer boxes) are selected search results that show up directly beneath the ads after a search is performed.
Websites that have URLs ranked in a featured snippet often experience heightened brand visibility and the majority of available traffic for an associated keyword.
This make featured snippets a lucrative opportunity, but how challenging is it to rank for them? And is going after them a viable SEO strategy?
In her talk, Kellie addresses these questions and also provides some insight into the evolution of featured snippets, how they are currently trending in the SERPs, and the role that voice search has played on their development. She also explains how to improve your odds of ranking for a featured snippet, how volatility influences your ability to stay there, and what you can do to optimize your content for spoken queries.
The Evolution of Featured Snippets
While featured snippets have seen a bit of a decline in 2018, they continue to have a large impact on SERP interactions.
About 22 percent of U.S. search results now contain a featured snippet and they have seen several changes over the last year, which include:
- Featured snippets have now started to appear in position #2 due to shopping boxes taking priority.
- The most common source position (the SERP position that results in a featured snippet appearance) is now position #3.
- ‘People Also Ask’ boxes show up in the second position 66.6% of the time and are the second most common type of snippet.
- Your URL must be ranked on the first page in order to be eligible for a featured snippet appearance.
- Video results are increasing year-over-year due to algorithm updates (they are another type of result that can be used to answer questions aside from snippets).
- Snippets are starting to show up on local search along with Local Packs.
In addition to the changes above, featured snippets are starting to show up with ‘IQ bubbles.’ These are buttons in the featured snippet box that direct you to a different featured snippet. They are essentially snippets within snippets and show up for approximately 9 percent of searches that contain a snippet. IQ bubbles typically contain information pulled from a different URL but it is possible to have a piece of content that ranks for both the parent and child snippets.
The volatility associated with featured snippets has also seen some changes over the last year, which we’ll expand on below.
Volatility in the SERPs
The URLs featured in snippets have the potential to move in and out of their positions fairly regularly.
In April of 2017, Kellie and her team ran a test with 1 million keywords and tracked the 232,451 that returned featured snippets for 19 days. During this period, 68 percent of featured snippets had no volatility.
In this case, snippet volatility is defined as a result that has no URL disappearances, reappearances, or changes. The lack of volatility indicates that it can be difficult to take over from another URL that is already in that position. For the other 32 percent of snippets, gaining and losing your position has a higher probability of occurring.
If you’re looking to increase the stability of your URL in a featured snippet, then work on bringing up your ranking to a higher position in the SERPs.
The rise of voice search has had specific effects on featured snippets.
As search engines have evolved, so has their ability to understand natural language. Machine learning has an improved ability to take a voice query and type it out into a search query. However, if a searcher switches tracks while asking a question or uses non-literal queries, the results are often inaccurate.
Voice queries are usually longer than typed queries, which has had an impact on the typical length of keywords that return featured snippets and the number of words contained.
If you are interested in optimizing your content for voice search, using long, full queries that contain natural language is ideal.
While featured snippets have seen a lot of change, they are beginning to show up more often and generally provide stable ranking opportunities. They have become a cornerstone for voice search and offer some powerful traffic potential for a variety of keywords.