Over the last few years, Google has made a series of major changes to its algorithm. Though they’ve been dramatic and wide-sweeping, the goal of these changes has been a simple one: make Google better for users.
For years, black hat SEO experts were able to artificially inflate their search engine rankings using sneaky techniques like keyword stuffing, spamdexing, page swapping, and cloaking to trick search engines into thinking that their sites were more relevant and respected than they actually were. The result for users was that their search results often returned a mixed bag of websites, some of which were helpful in answering their query, but many of which were not. Google’s algorithm changes have made huge strides in closing many of those black hat loopholes to ensure that each query returns the best possible set of results for the user.
With the featured snippet box (sometimes also called the “answer box”), Google is taking things one step further, making it easier than ever for users to quickly find the information they’re looking for. So what is the featured snippet box and what does it mean for you and your business? We’re so glad you asked. As you can see in the header image above, we know a thing or two about getting in the featured snippet box and the huge positive effect that it can have on your organic search traffic.
We’ve made this happen not just for ourselves, but for our clients as well. From big national brands to small businesses and startups, just about anyone is capable of making the cut — you just need to know how to optimize for it. Read on for a rundown of everything you need to know to snag a spot in the Google featured snippet box for yourself and stay ahead of the curve.
What Is Google’s Featured Snippet Box (AKA Answer Box)?
The Google featured snippet box appears at the top of an increasing number of search results — most often for question-based queries. The content in the featured snippet box provides a direct answer to the question being asked. This information is pulled directly from the text of one the first page results for the query.
Why Is Google’s Featured Snippet Box Important?
The answer comes down to one thing: traffic. Content that is featured in the answer box will generally get significantly more traffic than even the top search result for a given search. Let’s break down a typical question-based query to see why:
For example, a search for “How to make French toast” in Google gives you the following result:
Need to know how to make French Toast? Boom. You’ve got it. There’s no more poring through the top results trying to find the exact answer you need. It’s right there as soon as you press search.
While this new functionality is great for users, many SEO experts initially were concerned that it would seriously cut down on search traffic for the page from which the featured snippet was pulled. Afterall, if users already have the answer to their question right in their search results, what motivation do they have to click through to the website?
Luckily, these fears have proven to be largely unfounded. All the evidence thus far points to websites receiving a significant, if not staggering, increase in organic search traffic for a particular keyword once content from their result is pulled for the answer box. In many cases, users seem more likely to click on the link to the website for the featured snippet than even the top organic search result.
Going back to the French toast example, we can see how this makes sense. First of all, seeing the answer to their query gives the website credibility in the eyes of searchers. They want to know how to make French toast and they can see immediately that this website can give them the information that they need.
However, there’s obviously more that the user probably wants to know. How many eggs and how much vanilla and cinnamon do they need to use? Have other users given this recipe good reviews? Are there other related recipes that they might want to check out?
What’s becoming clear is that for many searchers, the featured snippet box serves not as the end of their search, but as a jumping off point for further investigation once they’ve confirmed that the website being featured has the answer they are looking for. Searchers get to cut down on their search time and content creators have the opportunity to increase their traffic by getting their content in front of exactly the people who are looking for it. It’s a win-win.
So how do you increase your chances of your content being pulled into the featured snippet box? The SEO experts have crunched the numbers and the answer is relatively simple. Just follow these steps:
How to Optimize Your Content for Google’s Answer Box
1. Format your subheading so Google knows it’s important.
Place the search query or keyword you are targeting in a header tag (h2, h3, h4, etc).
2. Place the answer immediately after that in a <p> tag.
Ideally, it should be 54-58 words long. This word limit is especially important for keyword based queries like “content marketing” for which a user is probably hoping to find a definition, because those are the cases when Google is most likely to pull out a whole paragraph of text as the answer.
3. For question-based queries with more complex answers, number your response.
Google doesn’t always pull a whole paragraph of text, and in this case, Google will pull the first part of each subheading in the order in which they are numbered.
4. Answer the question logically.
Google is getting signals all the time about how users are responding to your content, so be sure to give them what they are looking for.
5. Use SEO best practices to rank on the first SERP (search engine results page).
Content is pulled from the first page of results, so you need to rank on the first page for that keyword. If you need help with this, we’ve got you covered (and have a couple of posts for you to bookmark). Check out The Ultimate Guide to Content Marketing, How to Write a Blog Post That Converts AND Brings in SEO Traffic, and Keyword Research Revealed: How to Find Keywords for SEO.
What do you think of our tips for optimizing your content for Google’s featured snippet box? Do you have any other tips to add or success stories to share? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @ContentFac.
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