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Alexandra Johnson

How to Discover and Track Featured Snippets

Alexandra Johnson
How to Discover and Track Featured Snippets

As digital marketers we’ve become so used to the constantly changing search landscape. Google’s Knowledge Graph is no different.

Just three years ago there was an enormous emphasis on implementing Authorship and linking your online publishing agent to Google+. This was an aim to influence and accompany Google’s Knowledge Graph, which launched in May 2012. Today, this tie between the concepts has unraveled as less emphasis is placed on G+ and Authorship is an all but defunct concept.

But the Knowledge Graph remains, and its evolution is targeting quality and expansion. Given the increasing prevalence of Answer boxes in SERPs over the last six months and the many tests Google is documented as conducting recently, I think it’s fair to say they won’t be disappearing any time soon.

What are Featured Snippets?

Google’s Answer boxes (officially called featured snippets, but also sometimes called a rich answer or a direct answer) are one of the most common elements of the Knowledge Graph.

In June 2015, after much confusion from those working in the industry, Google’s Gary Illyes attempted to clarify the different elements of Knowledge Graph information that appear within search results.

Gary defined featured snippets as an answer Google displays, sourced from a site, as a featured snippet at the top of the search results. Here is an example:

Where do peanuts grow

These differ from Knowledge Cards, which are shown when Google pulls information directly from its own stored data sources, such as in this Abraham Lincoln example:

Abraham Lincoln

A recent study suggested that featured snippets appear for around 19% of search queries, although I would imagine this percentage is likely to increase in the coming years.

How Can I Track Featured Snippets?

At SMX Sydney in May 2015, Gary Illyes said that Google *might* add functionality to Google Search Console to help webmasters measure featured snippets, but it looks like this could be a long way off.

In terms of automatically tracking featured snippets, only a few of the big players in SEO software actually track featured snippets currently. This is likely to change as the knowledge graph appearances becomes an increasingly important metric to measure.

Currently, only Linkdex and Searchmetrics (suite level) allow users to track featured snippets rankings.

Moz, Conductor and Analytics SEO all have this functionality in the pipeline, but with no firm dates attached.

Viewing Featured Snippet Rankings

Let’s take a look at how we can use Linkdex to track our featured snippets. Linkdex allows you to see which results come up for your keywords using the "Universal Search" column.

Linkdex universal search capture

You can track and find an Answer box ranking for your domain or a competitor. It’s always useful to keep an eye on what’s working for your competitors!

Linkdex cambodia snippet

As you can see in the example below, the question has been semantically matched to the blog post in question. The blog does not have the exact query term within it, but the topic has been matched.


As you can see, when the snippet is from a blog post the publish date is included (if Google can find it), so it’s worth making sure these blog posts are up to date. Re-publish the post if the Answer snippet looks outdated.

As we’ve already mentioned, Google seems to be testing, tweaking and constantly evolving this type of snippet content. Just compare the same query’s featured snippet result in May:

Cambodia answer box

The snippet text is different and no image was pulled.

Finding Rich Snippets and Opportunities

In his July 23rd post on Search Engine Land, Glenn Gabe wrote how you can use SEMrush to find any featured snippets that your website may be ranking for and keyword opportunities to target with featured snippets. You should check out his process.

How Will Featured Snippets Impact Your Traffic?

There are mixed views on featured snippets.

The cynics suggest that Google providing answers directly in search results will decrease traffic to the corresponding site. At this stage, I don’t think it’s possible to say definitively what affect featured snippets have on click through rate. There are perhaps too many variables to consider (brand knowledge, images vs. no images, how much information the snippet gives away or simply teases information, publish date given vs. no date given, etc.). You can review these case studies on featured snippets effects.

The best way to approach this is to assess how featured snippets work for your website specifically. There are a couple of ways to do this, but one that is open to all of us is with Google Search Console.

Using Search Console’s Search Analytics feature, filter data by query, search for "Queries containing…" and the keyword you know triggers or has triggered a featured snippet. You will then see 90 days of data for this query and can analyze metrics such as impressions, clicks, click through rate and position.

The best metric to isolate would be clicks and CTR, as this would allow us to understand the real effect in terms of actual traffic of the featured snippet.

CTR - search analytics

If you know or recognize a date where the featured snippet first appeared, you can make use of the tool’s Compare date ranges function in order to measure the true effect between two comparative periods.

Writing for the Knowledge Graph

While I wouldn’t encourage anyone to write directly for search engines (a path to failure for sure) there are criteria we can keep in mind when creating new content for our websites to help us in the Knowledge Graph:

  • Address frequently asked questions comprehensively
  • Provide information that goes beyond the immediate answer
  • Write about topics you’re an expert in
  • Use keyword research to determine questions and long tail terms which are appropriate for question and answer format (the SEMrush process mentioned earlier is good for this)

What Does Being Included in the Knowledge Graph Mean for My Website?

It can mean a variety of things. Of course, Google is experimenting all the time, and being featured one week doesn’t mean you’ll be featured the next. Likewise, how a featured snippet looks this month will, more than likely, be different in three months’ time.

What we can say for sure, is that having content chosen to be presented in a featured snippet by Google is a judgement of your website, but specifically, that page’s value and engagement levels. It is also an acknowledgement that your website is relevant, valuable and informative around the topic that it is featured for. This semantic connection alone is a positive sign for webmasters.

Is Inclusion in the Knowledge Graph Guaranteed?

No. And in a sense, why should it be?

As webmasters, we strive to provide informative content of high quality and a great user experience. So, this should always remain our focus. Featured snippets are the by-product of this.

I’d love to hear about your experiences writing for the Knowledge Graph and tracking your successes. Please feel free to leave me a comment below!

Alexandra Johnson is a Senior Digital Specialist at White.net. Her interests include user experience and CRO. She has worked in digital roles across the travel and not-for-profit sector since 2009. Follow Alexandra on Twitter at @alex_cestrian.

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