TL;DR Google’s Guide to Featured Snippets

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In the unlikely chance you haven’t heard, voice search is the next big thing and it’s got SEOs everywhere scrambling for those coveted featured snippet spots.

SEOs have been noticing the growing prevalence of featured snippets at the top of the SERPs for a few years now, but this January, Google finally released its own guide to featured snippets on its blog. In an uncharacteristically transparent move, Google goes deep into how featured snippets work, why and how they test different formats, and their plans for the future.

To save you the time of reading the guide yourself, we’ve captured everything you need to know here.

What are featured snippets?

If you think back to a few years ago, a Google search result page (SERP) would show you 10 organic search results, known in the industry as “10 blue links,” along with some paid search results on the top or side. Now, the SERPs look much different, in large part due to the rise of featured snippets.

For many searches nowadays, a featured snippet appears above the rest of the traditional plain blue links. It may look something like this:

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Google calls these featured snippets because the answer pulls a “snippet” of information from a website listed on the first page of organic search results, and “features” it above the rest of the search results. It is important to know that a featured snippet will always come from one of the organic results on the first page of search, and that the website still gets a plain blue link further down below (essentially earning an extra, number-one spot).

Why does Google have featured snippets?

Google’s all about giving searchers what they’re looking for as fast as possible. That’s why they try to provide the best results on page one instead of page ten, so searchers don’t have to click through multiple pages of search results to find what they need.

Featured snippets are Google’s attempt to immediately answer a searcher’s question, by pulling out the specific content they’re looking for from a source website and highlighting it at the top of the search results.

For example, in the following search for “cats that look like wildcats,” the featured snippet includes images of the various wildcats along with headers from the website, answering the searcher’s initial question. That might be all they’re looking for, in which case their search is satisfied. If they want to find out more about each cat, they can simply click through to the article.

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Video featured snippets, pulled from YouTube, provide the same immediacy. These featured snippets are particularly helpful, since they fast forward to the specific part of the video relevant to the searcher’s query.

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Google makes a point to call out that two of the biggest use cases for featured snippets are mobile and voice search. It’s simply harder to read on mobile devices due to their smaller screens, so rather than forcing a user to click through and scan an entire web page to find their answer, Google tries to provide it in the featured snippet itself.

The below example of a mobile search demonstrates how the featured snippet text is enlarged for the mobile screen, making it easier to read.

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For voice searchers, their voice search assistant reads out the featured snippet text to them. This enables the user to continue doing what they’re doing hands-free, while also preventing the device from reading an entire page of extra content that’s not necessarily relevant to their search.

As you can see from the examples above, Google always includes credit to the original website by including the title tag and URL, which are both clickable. For voice search, the source page is introduced at the beginning (“According to site.com…”) before the answer is read aloud.

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How do featured snippets affect organic traffic?

Google recognizes that featured snippets are a hot(ly debated) topic in the SEO industry. Because many featured snippets seem to immediately answer a searcher’s question, marketers worry there’s no reason for the user to click through to their website.

In their guide, Google aims to convince and reassure SEOs that featured snippets do indeed drive search traffic, using the fact that there is a preponderance of articles (like the one you’re reading right now) on how to become a featured snippet is proof that they drive traffic. While their logic is faulty, there is much evidence that featured snippets drive traffic (see here, here and here), although there are some studies saying the opposite.

Either way, marketers live in Google’s world, so if they want to use featured snippets, brands need to play along if they want to stay on page one, and earn the brand visibility (and potential traffic) that comes with a featured snippet.

In return, Google recognizes that without brands and publishers, featured snippets wouldn’t be possible: “We recognize that featured snippets have to work in a way that helps support the sources that ultimately makes them possible. That’s why we always take publishers into account when we make updates to this feature.”

How are featured snippets regulated?

Google is constantly working to improve and QA all features of their products and services. They’re proud to report in the guide that they’ve received great feedback as to the usefulness of featured snippets, based on how users interact with them and their own search quality raters (people Google pays to evaluate search results).

An independent study by Stone Temple Consulting also found that featured snippets are 97.4% accurate, which is pretty darn good:

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However, featured snippets have not been without their problems, nor will they ever be completely bug-free – and Google readily admits that. They reveal that on the average day, 15% of the search queries are brand new. That’s a lot of opportunity for misses!

Some featured snippets have claimed that Obama was an emperor of the U.S., that dinosaurs are part of a vast conspiracy theory, and that women are evil. For more fun and disturbing examples like these, check out this piece by Search Engine Land.

In response, Google has updated their Search Quality Rater Guidelines (which you can view in full here) to avoid such embarrassments in the future. Quality raters now flag misleading or wrong information, offensive results, or conspiracy theories as inappropriate sources to show in a featured snippet.

Regular users like you and me can also submit feedback on featured snippets, whether we love or hate ‘em. Just click on the grey Feedback link beneath the featured snippet box:

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What’s the future of featured snippets?

Google acknowledges that featured snippets are not perfect, and they’re not designed to be the be-all-end-all answer to a searcher’s query. Some answers are more complex than can be included in a single featured snippet, and sometimes people want to learn more from a variety of resources.

That’s why they still provide the original blue links below featured snippets. They’re also currently testing new types of featured snippets to address the complexities of search.

Related featured snippets

SEOs love to call out Google when they make a mistake. One recent example came from a featured snippet for “how did the Romans tell time at night.” The original featured snippet explained how Romans used sundials to tell time, although obviously sundials would not have been used during the night. However, Google’s algorithm wasn’t totally off, since the featured snippet was relevant to the time-telling portion of the query.

For these “near-match” results, Google is testing a format that shows a featured snippet answering a closely-related question with that new question featured above the answer. This makes clear the answer is for a different, but related question, but it may be a question the searcher would find useful, leading them to click through to the site for more information related to their specific query.

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Featured snippet tags

Google is also testing including “tags” with featured snippets. These allow users to filter the content of a featured snippet to more specifically answer their particular query.

In the sample below for “how to setup call forwarding,” the original answer comes from Verizon, but if the searcher is an AT&T customer, they can just click that tag instead. This is a way for Google to help users find the information they need in instances where they didn’t get it 100% right on the first try.

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Multiple featured snippets

Google also teased a third featured snippet format that would be “coming soon”: multiple featured snippets for a single query (yes, SEOs, this will further push down the rest of those blue links). This format has a similar appearance to the “People also ask” boxes already present in Google, which show related questions to the searcher’s query to help ensure Google delivers what they want.

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Google offers another use case for showing multiple featured snippets. Sometimes the way the searcher phrases their query can deliver radically different information, depending on the perspective of the source website. In the examples below, both searchers are wondering if reptiles serve as suitable pets, but because they used sentiment words like good in one case and bad in the other, they received contradictory answers. image11

Google admits this is due to the tendency of featured snippet algorithm to pick content that mimics the searcher’s own bias, and they are investigating how to resolve this: “There are often legitimate diverse perspectives offered by publishers, and we want to provide users visibility and access into those perspectives from multiple sources.”

What’s next for featured snippets?

The world of SEO is always changing, and that evolving world now includes featured snippets.

Stay up-to-date on the latest changes to featured snippets by following the official Google @searchliaison Twitter account (can’t hurt to follow @dannysullivan, the man behind the scenes, either), and bookmarking the official Google blog.

Michael Quoc is the founder and CEO of Dealspotr and oversees the influencer marketing platform and social shopping community that connects small e-commerce businesses with lifestyle influencers and bloggers to run promotional campaigns at a low cost. Dealspotr’s unique value among other platforms is a focus on exclusive deals and discount codes. On Dealspotr, influencers share compelling discounts with their fans to increase shopper interest and drive greater conversions.”

Ubersuggest is the Keyword Suggestion and Optimization You Need in Your Marketing Arsenal

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An increasing number of site owners are looking to expand their SEO strategy. With Google receiving over 63,000 searchers at any given second, every audience imaginable is using organic search to find answers to their questions.

If you’re running a business, expanding your SEO strategy or like to be kept in-the-loop on new software, we’ve got news for you.

SEO veteran Neil Patel has acquired a tool to help you do just that… And it’s on track to become a SEO staple, if Neil’s history has anything to go by.

Neil Patel started in the world of SEO when he formed Crazy Egg – a tool that shows site owners where their visitors are clicking. Since then, he’s branched out and formed many other successful SEO products (including Kissmetrics!), and has been named as one of the 100 most brilliant companies by Entrepreneur Magazine.

On his website, Neil offers three free SEO tools:

  • SEO Analyzer – to understand the ranking power of a URL
  • A/B Testing Calculator – to determine which of your split tests is more successful
  • Ubersuggest – to find similar keywords and expand your targeting strategy.

Today, we’re talking about the last one– the latest addition to Neil’s portfolio of products.

The Ubersuggest Takeover

Ubersuggest allows site owners and SEOs to expand their keyword targeting strategy. By entering a primary keyword, this keyword research tool will automatically fetch hundreds (maybe even thousands) of similar keywords to complement your strategy.

But why is Ubersuggest such a necessity for businesses looking to propel their SEO power this year?

Well, because it caters to one of Google’s more complex algorithms: Latent Semantic Indexing. This means search engines will understand that certain phrases mean a similar thing. In a world where relevancy is key, you’re able to consolidate your topic and boost your relevancy for key search terms.

Prior to Neil’s takeover, the Ubersuggest tool was created by a one-trick pony company. They didn’t offer any other products alongside the keyword targeting tool, making it a great investment for Neil.

(That, plus the fact he already owns other SEO tools that can be used in conjunction to really boost the SEO power of a user’s site.)

What’s New?

Since Neil took over the Ubersuggest tool and hosted it on his personal brand’s site, there have been a few changes.The most notable being the complete branding overhaul.

Instead of the red color scheme used by the first owners of Ubersuggest, Neil has added his own spin – in the form of color schemes that match his existing brand exactly.

Now, any visitor to the Ubersuggest landing page will instantly recognize that it’s now owned by Neil Patel. The logo in the left-hand corner makes it obvious, but returning visitors to Neil’s sites are likely to spot the consistency in assets such as fonts and colors.

Using the New Ubersuggest

Although the tool itself hasn’t changed dramatically since Neil’s takeover, I wanted to share the information Ubersuggest allows SEOs and site owners to find, and improve their strategy.

To get started, simply enter the primary keyword you’re looking to expand on. If you’re looking to optimize a site, press “Web” from the dropdown menu. You can also optimize images, Google Shopping campaigns, YouTube videos and news articles by clicking the most relevant option.

Then, Ubersuggest will get to work.

Within a few seconds, you’ll find a detailed list of relevant keywords to be used in your targeting strategy. It’ll also shed some light on the keyword practicality, allowing you to understand which options are best to include – and which may be best left out.

Using my example, we can see my original keyword, “inbound marketing”, has an average monthly search volume of 9,900. However, if I was a small business, it might be almost impossible to rank highly – especially when the competition is ranked at 0.2.

Ubersuggest has recommended a list of other keywords which may be easier (and more successful) for me to target.

The phrase “B2B inbound marketing” has a slightly lower search volume, but it’s more relevant to my business. Plus, it’s ranked as 0.52 for competition, meaning it may be easier for me to hit the organic search jackpot when optimizing my page for this search term.

Ubersuggest vs. Google Keyword Planner

If you’re no stranger to the world of keyword expansion tools, you’ll likely have heard about Google’s Keyword Planner. Although this is a popular alternative, Ubersuggest is much more practical. Here’s why:

  1. Ubersuggest retrieves data from Google Keyword Planner and Google Suggest, offering more keyword variations.
  2. You don’t need an AdWords account to explore keyword options; Ubersuggest is a simple webpage that isn’t hidden behind accounts or gated content.
  3. The interface is much easier to use.

We can see that Neil Patel has already made his impression on Ubersuggest, and we predict that its fame will only rise in the upcoming year.

Which keyword targeting tools do you use? Has Neil’s involvement persuaded you to join Ubersuggest and leave your current software? We’d love to know your opinion on the Neil’s new venture.

SEO Checklist to Optimize Any Website

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SEO Checklist to Optimize Any Website

SEO is all about getting search engine spiders to notice your site and place it into relevant search results. But beyond that, you also want the search engine to recognize the value of your website and give it one of the top-ranking spots on the results page. How can you go about achieving that? Check out the brief SEO checklist below and then use these tips to optimize any website.

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First Steps

When asked, “What is SEO,” you might think of content optimization first, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Start by writing page titles that are keyword based. This will serve to help set the direction for all of the keywords on your site, as well as establish the theme of your webpage. Then write up meta tags and descriptions that could help entice people to click through to your site when your webpage does show up in search engine results. Then it’s time to put keyword phrases strategically throughout your content, weaving them into the material in a natural way, before integrating them into the site’s source code. Finally, to make it even easier for a search engine to index your site, set up an HTML version and an XML version, as an XML sitemap could be submitted through webmaster tools offered by search engines like Google.

SEO is an ongoing process. Every day brings different challenges. Trust me, I understand how overwhelming it can all feel.

You don’t want to get so caught up in the daily challenges that you forget about the larger picture. Every quarter, I perform an SEO audit on all of my sites. Also, I perform an audit whenever I take on a new client.

An SEO audit gives you a complete overview of how your site is currently performing. Obviously, larger sites take a longer time to audit, but this is often time well spent. After all, you can’t plan for the future without a thorough understanding of the present.

Here’s my complete guide to performing an SEO audit, including all the questions you’ll need to ask.

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SEO Audit Explained

SEO campaigns have many moving parts. An SEO audit is a way to identify what’s working and what isn’t. You can then improve on the weak spots and, in turn, improve your position in the search results.

Performing an audit at the start of each quarter is a great way to ensure your site stays on track with your customer engagement goals. Here’s what to do:

Step 1: Set Clear Goals

Specific types of content only work in specific situations. In order to determine the right content format, you need a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish. Some examples of measureable goals include:

  • Increase organic search visibility by at least 40% in the next six months
  • Increase overall lead volume by 25% in the next year

You want to include an actual timetable, percentages and other numbers you can objectively measure.

Step 2: Analyze Your Current Keywords

Once upon a time, you devoted a lot of resources to determining which keywords you needed to include on your site. This doesn’t mean those are the best keywords to use today, however. You’ll want to make sure these keywords still align with your goals.

Step 3: Analyze the Competition

Using Buzzsumo, you’ll want to search for popular blog posts which are similar to your own content. Who is publishing this content? These sites are likely your competition.

You’ll want to analyze your competitors’ sites in the same way you do your own. What keywords are they using? You can find this out by searching through the Meta Tags on their pages. Here are 15 Ways to Check Your Competitors Backlink Profile.

Check out the social media pages of your competition, too. How often do they post content? What’s their level of engagement with visitors? Different social media platforms appeal to different types of audiences.

Step 4: Check for Any Technical Issues

If users have issues accessing or navigating your site, they’re likely to leave and never come back. On the other hand, a smooth experience on your website encourages user action and creates a sense of trust in your brand.

You can check the speed of your site with Google’s website speed tool. Ideally, you want your site to load in under a second. This can be a tall order at times, however. At the very least, you want your site to load in under three seconds.

Check on various mobile devices, too. Your site should be optimized for mobile already. This means shorter content, clear images and nothing which slows down loading times.

Step 5: Compare Your Current Audit to Previous Audits

Did you have any success in correcting any mistakes you discovered in the previous quarter? Use the current audit as a way to measure your progress.

Audits grow even more valuable the more of them you perform over time. You can spot trends both good and bad. Quarterly audits are a great way to get an expansive picture of how your site is performing as a whole.

After implementing technical SEO into your website, you will want to determine just how effective those strategies are. Tracking the progress will allow you to see what is working and what isn’t, and then you could make the appropriate adjustments to improve your ranking. A great tool is Google Analytics, as one example. You could use the free version to track how your site is performing overall, and when it comes to SEO in particular, you could track things like which pages are getting the highest amount of traffic, as well as bounce rates and other metrics.

On top of tracking the effectiveness of your SEO strategy, it is also important to check your website on a regular basis in order to look for things like errors and broken links that would make it more difficult for a search engine to locate the content on your site, index your site, and bring more traffic to it.

With this SEO checklist at your fingertips, hopefully SEO will become less mysterious and easier to tackle. Remember that implementing SEO tools and strategies into your website isn’t a one-time thing; instead, you will need to continually revisit your SEO tactics in order to make the most of them and ensure that your site will consistently rank above your competition in search engine results.