Voices of Search
A Searchmetrics Podcast
Episode 7, Rich and Featured Snippets

Episode Overview

Today we talk about the difference between Rich and Featured Snippets and how to identify Featured Snippet opportunities based on your category needs.

Voices of Search arms SEOs with the latest news and insights they need to navigate the ever changing landscape of Search Engine Optimization and Content Marketing. During this episode, we are joined by Sebastien Edgar, SEO Team Lead at Searchmetrics.

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 Listen to Episode 6, Intro to Position Zero Month

Episode Transcript

Ben:                 Welcome back to position zero week on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and today we’re going to continue our month-long deep dive into one of the hottest topics into the ever-changing world of Search Engine Optimization, Position Zero. But before we get started, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are a team of SEO, content marketers, and data scientists that help enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions using a mix of software and our expertise. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary content diagnostic.

Ben:                 A member of our digital services group will advise you on how you can optimize your content, understand what topics you need to cover and how to ensure that your writers produce effective posts. To schedule your free content diagnostic go to Searchmetrics.com/diagnostic. Okay, joining us today as part of Position Zero week is Sebastian Edgar who is Searchmetrics’ enterprise SEO consulting team lead. According to his boss, his favorite meal is filet mignon, red wide, chocolate lava cake, and ideally with a great view and he is one of Searchmetrics best technical SEOs. Today, Sebastian is going to talk us through some of the final details of his palette and rich and featured snippet and how they are related to ranking in Position Zero. Sebastian, welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.

Sebastien:        Thank you Ben, that was a great introduction and you nailed it on the filet mignon.

Ben:                 I love a good filet as well it’s the most tender part of the steak, it’s delicious, red wine I’m also a good fan and who doesn’t love a good view.

Sebastien:        Medium rare with a skyline view preferably, I’ll take that any day.

Ben:                 Yeah, yeah, it’s not a bad way to spend an evening. That said, you’re one of the SEO team leads for our enterprise SEO consulting services, why don’t you tell us a little bit about the type of work that you do at Searchmetrics.

Sebastien:        Yeah, absolutely. So in the consulting team, our core focus at Searchmetrics and I guess myself, how I grew as an SEO is really catered toward or really focused toward the technical and analytical side of things. So some of the work that we do is just focusing deep down on all the technical aspects of SEO, so even going deep down into email and diagnosing JavaScript and JavaScript issues and how that may impact SEO and kind of a secondary part of it is the analytical piece. One of the focus that I do and I try to have my team also focus on it quite a bit is using data and using analytics and really spending a lot of time in Excel for example and just making sure that you’re able to tell and shape a specific story with that data that kind of fits that SEO hypothesis or that SEO narrative.

Ben:                 Great, okay. So you’re one of our lead technical resources and you’re also a data honk like everybody else at Searchmetrics. I’m excited to talk to you today because we’re covering Position Zero this month and in our introduction to this topic we talked a little bit about what Position Zero is with Jordan, our CEO and he told us it’s the placement above the ads, it’s above the content, it’s what’s used for voice search, it affects the results, it’s the future of search engine optimization. We didn’t really get into the weeds of the technical part about how to get into position zero outside of it uses rich and featured snippets, so let’s just start off with you giving us the definition of what is a rich and featured snippet?

Sebastien:        So, these are actually technically two different things. Rich snippets, that’s basically that’s so 2017, so it’s an ancient thing. It’s basically anything within the cert and anything under the meta description, anything sort of like, or under the URL title tag that sort of enhances the cert either with for example, a star rating or maybe like a little, back in the day you had the alter shift for example and you’d have and just any way to enhance a specific cert box. That would be more of a rich snippet.

Sebastien:        The featured snippet, this is where it gets interesting because that’s something that’s a little bit newer and gives us SEO’s more things to play around with just so we don’t get bored and that’s basically as you mentioned and as Jordan mentioned, that position that answer box or direct answer that’s at the very very top and usually the first thing that users see. What’s interesting is in recent years there’s been some similar optimization techniques or tactics should I even say that both help the feature snippets as well as rich snippets and I’m sure we’ll get into those.

Ben:                 Yeah, so basically what I’m hearing from you is that rich snippets are metadata subtexts, like the fine print that is relevant when you’re trying to understand what a piece of content is about, like your star ratings. And the featured snippets are different formatting of content that are really the body, the main part that people are trying to digest quickly, did I get that right?

Sebastien:        Yes. And so the rich snippet, you used to use to use the structured data schema quite a bit. I think a few years ago that was all the rage, every SEO was like oh my god you have to use schema right now, you have to implement schema and the reason why was SEOs were trying to get as much of that rich snippet, as much of that sort of enhanced cert listing.

Ben:                 They were trying to take up as much real estate as they could, right?

Sebastien:        Exactly, exactly. And these days what’s interesting and not to go into the rabbit hole here but there’s a few tactics that now you could essentially get a rich snippet without using schema where Google uses part of that body content, very similar to the feature snippet. So it’s a little bit less ubiquitous but it’s still there, so it’s very interesting the relationship between both. But the featured snippet is really like the new kid on the block that’s making all SEO’s lose their mind.

Ben:                 Right, so it sounds like with rich snippets, the original iteration of it was using the schema to submit your content in a formatted way and using structured data and now Google is advanced enough where it’s able to comb through your content in some cases, figure it out on its own and featured snippets being the new kid on the block, it probably has its own submission, am I right?

Sebastien:        Yeah, in some ways. And actually one of the things you just mentioned with the schema and Google getting smarter, absolutely. One of the things I’ve always thought and so I personally, I probably shouldn’t say this but I guess I will. I was never personally a fan of schema. I got the point of it but I never liked it because I always thought it was kind of useless because you were essentially telling the search engine what your content was. Google wasn’t smart enough to understand that this is review rating, this is an alter shift, that specific type of content. That this is a location and this is a specific entity. So you had to mark it for Google and then once you mark it, Google kind of shows the feature or not.

Sebastien:        Now we’re entering this sort of interesting phase where you’re not marking it per say with a specific piece of code like schema where there’s a definition in schema. Google is a little bit smarter than a few years ago. Making it harder for SEOs but it’s making it kind of more fun, but Google is a little bit smarter so then it’s able to understand the way you structure the content as well as other variables and it uses some probably machine learning systems in there, extracts it and then it’s able to show it without you really showing it like you used to with schema.

Ben:                 That’s interesting. So I guess what I’m hearing where you’re saying well it makes it harder for SEOs, it makes it harder for SEOs to game the system but probably levels the playing field because the submission process isn’t necessarily required in the same way that it used to be but it also puts more of an emphasis on what the content is.

Sebastien:        Exactly.

Ben:                 Let’s get on a little bit to talking about featured snippets because my feeling is those are probably the ones that are a little bit more related to position zero and getting into voice search, those are sort of the headlines, the main pieces of content that Google is showing to answer questions and put above the search results. Tell me a little bit more about the submission process for featured snippets and are there any specific formats or categories that you’re seeing the featured snippets in?

Sebastien:        One quick thing, to make sure that people don’t get confused. There’s no actual sort of submission process, it’s something that Google chooses to show or not. So you don’t go in like search console and be like, oh I want this hopefully to be a feature snippet. The way that you go about it is it’s all about how well, maybe how SEO optimized your content is and once your content is relevant, it’s well written content, and it’s also relevant, you’re showing a lot, you’re using hopefully a little bit of TFIDF and a few of these semantic content optimization techniques, and then you want to make sure your content is structured.

Sebastien:        So, you want to structure it through different ways. Not sure if you want me to go into these right now?

Ben:                 Yeah, I think that. So, you used an acronym, before we go on to the structures of the different types of content, you used an acronym there that I’m not familiar with. For the content marketers and the general marketers listening, you said TLIDF? TFIDF? What’s TFIDF?

Sebastien:        Oh yeah, TFIDF. This is just something, this is just an algorithm that a lot of content optimization tools, it’s kind of the framework of a lot of these semantic content optimization systems and it’s able to understand the weight and relevance of each of the keywords on your page. So if you have a specific tool or platform that uses that system as a benchmark then you’re just, you know you’re working with a high quality tool that is able to understand the content relevance. Really just the content relevance there. So then if you know from the start that you have highly relevant content you can hopefully rank better and then once you have that box ticked then you can get into the next steps, which is essentially structuring new content through for example paragraphs. That’s probably the easiest, most down and dirty way that doesn’t take a lot of effort, just making your text content into just readable and spaced out paragraphs. Because more than likely, Google is going to grab one of these paragraphs if it thinks that your content is relevant.

Ben:                 So let me ask a question there were you’re saying, hey make your content into paragraphs so Google can grab one. Is there a specific size of the paragraph, are they looking for short form content, is there a character limit, words, is there a rule of thumb there for how to break content into paragraphs?

Sebastien:        So, not necessarily. The rule of thumb is however it makes sense.

Ben:                 Just write great content.

Sebastien:        Yeah, because Google’s machine learning algorithm is gonna grab whichever words it thinks are relevant in that paragraph, it’s gonna grab, it might even just grab a portion of that paragraph but you know you’ll feel better that you can grab more of it. So I guess kind of on that notion there the secondary thing that you can do very similar to the paragraph and this is where it gets … it doesn’t get technical but it gets a bit fun is using lists. But you want to make sure that in the code as well you’re using what we call, so the LI or UL tags to make sure that in the code it really does show a piece of content as lists.

Ben:                 So I’ve heard from different interviews that we’ve conducted for position zero week that for some forms of content, it’s better to have bulleted lists and for other forms it’s better to have numbered lists. I know that recipes are formatted one way and educational sites are formatted another. What are the rules of thumb or what are the back of the envelope things that Searchmetrics and you’ve been able to figure out in terms of categories and formatting?

Sebastien:        That’s a great question. So first of all in terms of categories. We’ve noticed at Searchmetrics that the health and finance in general are some of the higher categories where you can expect these feature snippets to appear. Now whether these are come more often due to lists, numbered or bulleted, that I’m unsure about. However, health and finance is a huge one then the food, the recipes one is pretty massive and just anything really that has to do with DIY for example. If you’re trying to make something or even if you’re comparing.

Sebastien:        For example, I was just playing around and something like BMW versus Mercedes. Believe it or not, that’s going to return some sort of feature snippet. You can even go very long tale into the borderline nonsensical but a little bit health. So I would type in my best, like can I play tennis with a broken arm? That actually returns a featured snippet because, it’s a bit long tale but Google is able to understand something from it and it returns…..

Ben:                 Does the featured snippet say it depends which arm you broke?

Sebastien:        That’s a good question. It doesn’t.

Ben:                 Because that would have been my answer. So that’s interesting that the health and the finance categories tend to return a lot of featured snippets. I would make an assumption there that the reason for that is people are primarily looking, asking questions, right? Health questions, for the health the queries are gonna be what’s the symptom I’m having and can you help me with a diagnosis or where do I find this type of doctor, like very simple Q and A type questions.

Sebastien:        Almost like a conversation with Google, right? Like you want to know what are the best whatever? More than likely in your query, what’s in that whatever is going to return something or why is something, more than likely that will return something and that’s pretty easy for Google for figure that out. To create an algorithm to then make a feature snippet based on that, it’s pretty easy on their end it kind of makes sense that it would create something there.

Ben:                 Right, and you mentioned the other category was finance, I guess maybe people are looking up mortgage calculators or, there’s assets that people are building that are easy for people to use which doesn’t require you to go to a website.

Sebastien:        That’s correct. A lot with salary for example, I link SEO salary that also returns feature snippets so you’re right, absolutely. A lot of finance questions that people have can be answered pretty succinctly and Google will take advantage of that basically.

Ben:                 Interesting. So talk to more about the details that SEOs need to know about ranking into position zero. You don’t necessarily have to be ranking in the first spot, where are you seeing people gaming the system to get above the top of the list?

Sebastien:        That’s a good segue. There are a lot of things there. So let me start with then actually my third point that I mentioned before, the first one was the paragraph, the second one was the listing ones, the third one that I think less people know and I don’t know if I would call that gaming but it’s pretty cool, it’s a lot of fun and it’s using HTML tables. Now in SEO and in IT or development you can use, you can create tables using two different ways. I don’t want to get into weeds but it is an important kind of process and detail to know that you can do it through CSS, that’s the standard styling method. Not using HTML. That one is responsive but Google most of the time won’t understand it in that case. However, you can also do HTML tables where each row and column is a specific piece of code. TD, TR and what not.

Sebastien:        So if you use HTML tables, Google will use one of the rows or columns from that column and then use that as a featured snippet because the information is very easy for Google to understand and it might also use it within a rich snippet as well. Not just feature snippet but also rich snippet.

Ben:                 Right, could you give me an example of a table that’s used in a position zero circumstance?

Sebastien:        So I don’t know if the example is still out there but I guess I’ll give two examples: One with a feature snippet and one with a rich snippet. So the first one is when there’s a website, so you would type into a query MacBook Pro prices and the website who ranked number one was Apple, however who ranked in position zero was MacPrices.net and the reason why is because their entire page was essentially structured using an HTML table and you had in the table header was the different MacBooks, MacBook types and then underneath you had the different specs and different prices based on the specs. Something super super easy and Google could just simply extract it and it did, it just extracted it and put it as a featured snippet. And very very similar we had a client, and so their competitors worked in the gaming space and their competitors were using an HTML table to display the types of specs for their different gaming systems.

Sebastien:        And they ended up getting a few rows and columns of that HTML table as a rich snippet. So it enhanced snippet, enhanced their feature and it looked pretty great, it was pretty surprising, with no schema or anything like that, just pure HTML.

Ben:                 Yeah, I’m looking at the MacBook pro prices and I’m seeing a table from Apple insider that shows the various different specs for MacBook pros 13, the prices and then how much you save with a headline that says lowest prices anywhere. I see what you mean and it makes sense that people are grabbing tables, or that Google is grabbing tables to show a lot of formatted information in a small amount of space.

Sebastien:        So it looks like it’s grabbing the table from that right hand sidebar, that’s very interesting. Yeah, so it used to be Macprices.net. So they’re ranking number three but these guys used to have the table, so I guess that’s an interesting kind of segue here is these feature snippets are extremely volatile, so it’s not because one person ranks there now that they’re gonna rank there next month. More than likely it’s gonna be someone different. Incredibly high volatility. So I’m not even surprised that now these guys rank versus Macprices.net.

Ben:                 So the last question that I have for you before we let you go is, it seems like rich and featured snippets, it’s about having formatting, it’s about sending your content to Google in a way that they can easily digest it and understand it but these placements are very volatile. So how can you understand or what can you do to sort of optimize the likelihood that Google places you in position zero?

Sebastien:        So first of all, you have to get more knowledge behind a lot of the keyword queries that you’re trying to optimize for. So, other piece of information that’s very crucial to know is featured snippets are mostly desktop even though everyone is again talking about mobile first, mobile friendly, so and so and so forth, feature snippets happen more frequently on desktop than mobile. So that’s the number one thing. If you’re really focusing on mobile and you’re hoping to get a feature snippet, there is less of a likelihood there. And then the second piece is hopefully you’re using Searchmetrics, but if you’re not, that’s okay. Whichever tool, platform you’re using, you want to make sure that you have visibility into which of your queries are returning a featured snippet. So if you’re not ranking there you want to first of all know if there is even a possibility, if Google has put one of your competitors ranking as position zero, because if there’s no one, if it’s not returning at position zero, more than likely you won’t rank there just by default.

Sebastien:        So you want to make sure that you have that visibility, for example, you have your whole keywords set and you’re like okay, bake on my keyword set, these are the 40% of my keyword set that are informational queries. Based on that 30% that are informational queries around 20% return a featured snippet and then you want to make sure that you wanna analyze those whatever number I just said, 20% that return a featured snippet and just understand are they mostly like best of or comparison or how to’s and so on so forth and then you want to make sure that you want to apply the sort of techniques that I mentioned before of first of all make sure your content is optimized and then make sure your content is structured using those various methods. These are really the main ways to maximize the likelihood of getting there. And it’s not because you’re not ranking number one organically that you can’t be as a featured snippet. You could be ranking number three and four and still be in the featured snippet.

Sebastien:        So don’t honestly get your hopes down there.

Ben:                 Okay. I think that’s great advice and I also think it’s a good stopping place for us. So just to recap, there’s rich snippets, there’s featured snippets, there is a difference between the two of them. There’s some categories that we know have very clear needs a lot of them are informational and question based. In terms of the technical details we’re looking at different ways to format our content using tables, lists, bulleted, numbered, you have to run some experiments and really more than anything understand where there is an opportunity to have a featured snippet and try to add those formats of content in those places and that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Sebastian Edgar, Searchmetrics’ enterprise SEO consulting team lead. We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Sebastian you can find links to his bio in our show notes, or if you have any general marketing questions or if you want to talk about this podcast, you can find my contact information under the show notes or you can tweet me at BenJShap, that’s BenJShap.

Ben:                 If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility or to gain competitive insights, head over to Searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team. If you liked this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and lastly if you’ve enjoyed the show and you’re feeling generous, we’d be honored if you’d leave us a review in the iTunes store or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Ben:                 Okay, that’s it for today but until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.