Google and other search engines have become an essential part of the way we live our lives: they help us to find information quickly, and work to connect businesses with prospects who are seeking relevant products and services. According to one estimate, Google processes roughly 5.6 billion searches per day – or 3-4 searches per day for the average Internet user.
The company is constantly experimenting with new ways to make its product more helpful to users. In Summer of 2021, for instance, it released a two-part update to its core search algorithm. And almost ten years ago, it introduced featured snippets, which hover in “position zero” of Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs).
Since then, many have debated the value of position zero: should businesses try to rank for it? How does it benefit them? As it turns out, the answer to both these questions is somewhat controversial – but in this article, we’ll try to provide one, beginning with an explanation of position zero and featured snippet types.
Position Zero and Featured Snippets Explained
Since the day it launched in 1998, Google has featured ten results per SERP by default (although users can change this in their preferences). Today, these ten standard results are sometimes preceded by a featured snippet, which is said to be in “position zero,” since it comes first. On average, 19% of Google search pages include a featured snippet.
It's important to distinguish between featured snippets and two other content varieties that can appear in position zero: rich answers and knowledge graph carousels are generated from Google’s own database, and do not link to a source. There are also rich snippets, which are just normal search results enhanced by special features using structured data – “rich snippets” are not “featured snippets,” and they do not appear in position zero.
Featured snippet types which websites can rank for come in four varieties:
- The most common type by far, accounting for around 70% of featured snippets with a length under 250 characters, according to Semrush. Paragraphs are a small quote or portion of text from a website which are sometimes accompanied by an image.
- Bulleted lists
- Bulleted lists clock in right after paragraphs in popularity, accounting for about 19% of featured snippets, with 6 items and 44 words on average. Bulleted lists come in numbered and non-numbered varieties and are commonly used to generate a list of steps, tips, or instructions for certain topics.
- Tables are fairly uncommon, accounting for only 6% of featured snippets. Drawn from HTML-formatted tables of data across Top 10 websites, they average 5 rows and 2 columns on average
- The least common variety by far, videos account for less than 5% of featured snippets, averaging 6 and a half minutes on average (although it’s not clear if this matters).
All featured snippets include a backlink to the article or source from which they originate, which can drive traffic to a brand’s website or its social media platforms.
How Does Position Zero Benefit Your Business?
Is it worth your time to optimize for featured snippets – and if so, why?
The answer to this question is more complex than many assume: like any other position on Google’s front page, ranking for position zero can be helpful – but it doesn’t work like a normal search result, and there are drawbacks. As for benefits, featured snippets can:
- Boost your authority
- Snippets elevate your brand’s authority and reputation by bringing timely information to prospects.
- Draw clicks from the top organic result
- If a competitor has the top Google result for a certain keyword, position zero will draw away up to 8.6% of their clicks on average.
- Assist with targeting
- While optimizing for snippets is not a ranking factor, it can help Google to better identify your website and indirectly boost rankings for your other pages.
- Increase traffic from voice search
All that being said: the whole point of position zero is to provide users information without requiring them to click on anything, so it shouldn’t be surprising that links in position zero receive significantly fewer clicks than the top Google result – 8.6% vs. 19.6% when a snippet is present, and 26% when there are none.
Consequently, search marketers have diligently avoided optimizing for position zero if they already had a top result to avoid a sharp decrease in traffic – and this was true even before Google’s 2020 update which prevented duplication of top results with featured snippets.
Ultimately, snippets should be seen primarily as an extension of your content strategy: while they can boost your traffic in certain cases, their primary benefit comes from increased brand authority and reach.
How to Reach Position Zero
Ultimately, Google’s algorithm decides who is and isn’t in position zero; featured snippets are generally more volatile and finicky to optimize for than other Google results. But it is possible to push the algorithm along by feeding it data and formatting your content in a strategic way.
The advice below primarily applies to paragraphs and bulleted lists – tables and videos account for a minority of generated snippets, with videos being drawn from video sites (like YouTube) and tables requiring an HTML-formatted table on your site.
- Reach top 10 results
- Research indicates that featured snippets are overwhelmingly drawn from top 10 Google results, so if you want to optimize a page for snippet generation, make sure it’s already there – but remember: if you’re in position one, position zero is a downgrade.
- Do keyword research
- Find what snippets are already appearing for the keywords you want to target. You can do this manually, or with the help of tools like Semrush or Ahrefs. Try to understand the intent behind any questions that are generating snippets, and plan your content around it.
- Answer the questions
- Whether you are repurposing old content or creating it from scratch, craft a better answer than the snippets already appearing for the keywords you want to target, and observe length restrictions. Note: include as many questions and answers as you can on the same page to leverage Google’s “Also covered on this page” feature.
- Feature questions in subheaders
- Using headers (h1), spell out the question you are answering, and put the answer/list item in subheaders (h2, h3, etc). Note that most questions which generate featured snippets include “what” or “why” as opening words.
At this point, many sources advise businesses to use structured data formatting for better chances of generating a featured snippet. But this point is controversial enough that it requires extended discussion.
What About Structured Data?
In the past, Google has given mixed messages about the impact of structured data (SD) on search rankings – but it has settled on the position that SD is NOT a ranking factor: in other words, Google does not consider the presence of SD to be a reason for ranking one website higher than another.
That being said, SD can be indirectly beneficial by helping Google to understand your website better. This correlates with higher rankings, and a better chance at snagging position zero. While using structured data is by no means necessary for generating a featured snippet, it certainly can’t hurt, as 66% of featured snippets are drawn from websites with structured data.
Organic search still accounts for 53.3% of web traffic, with B2B companies generating twice as much revenue from search than from any other channel. Search – and therefore search engine optimization (SEO) – are still important factors for your marketing success, and understanding how to use rich features like search snippets is a crucial competitive advantage. At Conveyance, our diverse team of marketing experts can help you to assess your SEO opportunities and help you to exploit them.
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