Let’s talk about Google featured snippets again! The topic continues to be at the center of SEO strategies and for several years now, professionals share the best practices used to earn these areas paragraph, list or table results. The latest system developments have affected the selected content and the way fragments appear in search results, so an updated guide to Google’s featured snippets is needed.

A reasoned guide on featured snippets

Leading us toward the optimization of targeting work for featured snippets is an article published on the Search Engine Journal by Lily Ray, Path Interactive Director of SEO, that traces back the recent changes made by Google and offers ideas for the optimization of site contents.

Starting with the data: 24 percent of search results shows a snippet in the foreground, while moving to mobile about 80 percent of the search engine’s voice search results come from featured fragments, and so if it is not our site to emerge, it is going to be the one of a competitor.

Recent developments on featured snippets

To the list of the news of this system must also be added the impact of Google BERT, the neural network technology that can process the natural language launched at the end of last year. BERT allows Google to better understand complex queries, improving the understanding of the text and thus also modifying the answers provided through the contents of the snippet in evidence.

Among the various forms of featured snippets have a prevalent role the bubble refinements or carousels, that debuted back in 2018 and that are displayed in about 9 percent of the queries that produce a result with snippets in evidence. This type offers users the possibility to refine their search based on a series of modifiers commonly searched in association with their original query: they are often names, locations or attributes of competing brand products and allow various Urls to simultaneously own the featured snippet.

A relatively new development is that of the snippets displayed in the right sidebar of the results of the search by desktop, that has a similar appearance to the knowledge panels. However, as part of the deduplication of January 2020, Google announced that it would soon move these snippets from the right sidebar into the main search results panel.

Considerations on the value of featured snippets for the SEO

Since last January the sites with featured snippet no longer have the blue link on the first page of the query SERP: for some search marketers this update has questioned the value of the functionality. Namely, is it more strategic to gain the position zero or try to reach the mythical position number 1 of organic results?

The answer really depends on various factors – as the query, intent and content typologies present in the snippet – because these determine if the featured snippet can produce a zero clicks result or the percentage of clicks could be significantly higher than the normal blue links.

So, the thesis of Lily Ray is, “not being able to place us in both positions (snippet and classic SERP) could result in potential drops in traffic“, but the final decision on choosing as the target of the SEO work the snippets in evidence, too, should be taken on a case-to-case basis, evaluating the placement of the keywords, the CTR, the clicks, the impression and the conversion data.

How to block featured snippets on Google

If the analysis of these factors makes us understand that it is more convenient to abandon the featured snippet, we can use three ways to block the functionality and prevent Google from taking and showing our content:

  • Add the nosnippet meta tag to the page to prevent all page contents from appearing in both foreground snippets and traditional preview snippets (meta description).
  • Use the data-nosnippet tag in line with the span, div or HTML section elements to prevent that specific text from appearing in both types of snippets.
  • To block the featured snippets but not the text snippets of the SERP we can try to set the max-snippet tag, which indeed serves to specify the maximum number of characters that can be viewed on Google. This allows you to set for example a limit of 170 characters that allows Google to show our meta descriptions, but prevents the appearance of larger contents (as in general are the featured snippets).

Featured snippet and YMYL contents

Google has immediately provided guidelines to regulate the unique requirements that a text must comply with in order to appear in the featured fragments, which for example must not be sexually explicit, violent, dangerous, inciting to hatred, malicious or providing a version that contradicts the consent on topics of public interest, penalty the removal from SERPs or reports by users.

Starting from this, the SEO team of Path Interactive has thought to deepen a variety of results of featured snippets, in particular for the queries “Your Money Your Life” (YMYL), to see if there are any ideas on the relationship between the nature of the snippet content, content quality and Google’s EAT parameters.

The analysis of controversial topics

The first step of this study focused on controversial topics was useful to understand whether Google generates featured snippets for highly controversial topics, in comparison to Bing‘s feature that handles such topics with “multi-perspective answers”. The Microsoft search engine tries to show different views for topics that do not have a single correct answer in various fields.

The first example given concerns a health issue, the question “is cholesterol good?”: while Bing offers an analytical answer from multiple sources (which speak of good and bad cholesterol from a scientific perspective), Google selects content from just one site and seems to leave out pieces of information that could help the user to better understand why cholesterol can be both good and bad at the same time.

The images, also from Searchenginejournal.com, allow us to better understand the two approaches.

La funzione di Bing

Featured snippet di Google

The differences are exacerbated for more controversial queries, such as “is the climate change real?” or “is abortion homicide?”, for which Google chooses not to show any featured snippet. On the contrary, Bing introduces the problematic theme and leans towards an answer (climate change is real, in the first case, and abortion is not murder, in the second).

Study on readability of contents

In the second stage, the team collected a sample of 419 YMYL queries that generate a featured snippet, extracted the content from those snippets and used the Readable.io tool to analyze their readability, other parameters and the content of the pages from which they were taken.

At the end of this study, it emerged that 78 percent of featured YMYL-themed snippets achieved readability scores between B and E (on a scale where A indicates an extremely readable level and E the unreadability) and an average Flesh-Kinkaid reading level of 10. This seems to indicate that such contents are slightly higher and difficult to read than the complete pages from which they are extracted.

How are the featured snippets for YMYL queries

In addition to that, 13 percent of the content analyzed has obtained a score of “negative” feeling while 23 percent has received a score of “neutral”, significantly differing from the analysis of the content of the whole page, which was almost entirely classified as “positive”. This factor may depend on the nature of the content of the featured snippet itself, which often offers direct advice on stressful medical or financial topics, such as symptom control or seeking help with debt relief.

As for the pages that Google selects to draw on a featured snippet for YMYL queries, the average content is long (over 1,600 words), readable by a wide audience, positive in its feeling and formal in its tone. Features that are not surprising, as they also respond to the wider levels of quality required for ranking on Google (which generally extracts the featured snippets from pages already classified in Top10), which requires a treatment (and therefore longer length) to cover YMYL topics adequately.

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