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Episode 2: Winning Featured Snippets

Featured snippets are taking over search results and creating new competition to rank in position zero. In this episode, Jorie and Matt explain what featured snippets are, why they matter, and how to create content that’s optimized for them. They also talk about the ripple effect featured snippets have had on how the web works and what it means for the future of SEO.

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Episode Transcription

Matt Howells-Barby Hi. I'm Matthew Howells-Barby.

Jorie Munroe: Hi. I'm Jorie Munroe.

Matt Howells-Barby This is Skill Up. Skill Up is a podcast sponsored by HubSpot Academy that's all about the change in landscape of marketing, sales, and customer service. You've almost definitely seen featured snippets in the wild. They're the little boxes [00:00:30] that show up in Google search results. Like try this out. Type in, "How many miles is a 10k?" You should be looking at a box that says 6.2 miles. This isn't how Google always delivered information though, and that presents a lot of problems for people trying to rank today. In this episode, Jorie and I are going to talk through what featured snippets are, why searchers love them, and how you can start ranking in position zero.

Advertisement: If you could start any business in the world, seriously, any [00:01:00] business, what would it be? In this day and age, it has never been easier to start a business. But it's never been more difficult for that business to succeed. That's where HubSpot Academy can help. HubSpot Academy offers engaging and informative classes that can help you skill up so you can grow your business. Go to hubspot.com/skillup to check out trainings, certifications, community discussions, and much, much more. That's hubspot.com/skillup, and start learning today!

Matt Howells-Barby Hi Jorie. I'm excited to be back. How are you doing?

Jorie Munroe: I'm doing great. And I'm happy to be back too, but to be honest, I'm not sure what to think about this topic, honestly. [00:02:00] I've seen these boxes and it seems so random what gets pulled into them, but let's start with the basics. What in the world is a featured snippet?

Matt Howells-Barby A featured snippets, a lot of people may know it as a quick answer box. Usually appears to basically give the answer to a search query directly within the search engine results page. So you don't even need to go to the webpage in some cases to get the answer.

Jorie Munroe: [00:02:30] What exactly does this look like?

Matt Howells-Barby Let's start with an example. You can try searching for, "How to tie a tie." What you'll see in that result is step-by-step instruction directly at the top of the search results page that shows you how to tie a tie. You'll probably also see a little box which is "People also asked," and this has a few different extra questions on top of that that people [00:03:00] are often asking. Typically you'll find this on a lot of queries where you have how, what, why, when, who at the start of it. There's a lot of different ways that these can be viewed in, or at least presented in, should I say. That's probably the most common way to see them, is this step-by-step guide. Then you also have just some straight-up paragraphs, which we'll come onto probably a little [00:03:30] later.

Jorie Munroe: People don't have to actually click on a link to a webpage to view the information, right?

Matt Howells-Barby No, not necessarily. When featured snippets first came about, everybody was freaking out. It was like, "All right, well so no one's ever going to visit webpages again. Google's going to serve information and just people are going to stay in the search results." Everyone's like, "Ah! It's going to affect traffic, huge, huge amounts," but that wasn't necessarily the case. You can [00:04:00] sometimes get the answer you need and in all honesty, this usually happens for more definitions or queries that start with, "What is a ..." That's where you may just be looking for a very quick answer. You may not need to actually visit them on the webpage themselves.

That said, this type of result is growing a lot. It's like over 30% of searches [00:04:30] now include this kind of result in them, and for different queries, it definitely is affecting, impacting traffic overall to websites. Some have a situation where actually if they were ranking in the featured snippet, they're getting way more traffic than what they were when they were actually ranking number one. But the people that were ranking two and three are seeing much, much smaller shares of that traffic overall. In some case, like I was just mentioning, people are [00:05:00] just getting way less clicks as well.

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Jorie Munroe: This is great and all, but I feel like there would be a pretty big problem here. You can get your answers right in the results, but who's even clicking on those links anymore?

Matt Howells-Barby I think that's a fair point, but for a lot of times, there's just many queries need way more than just a few words. Typically the more specific you're going, the more detailed an answer. [00:05:30] A lot of featured snippets started initially showing for things like recipes and stuff like that. Really you would, Google's got a lot better at displaying some of these, because sometimes you just have jumbled-up information on this little featured snippet. I do think for really simple information, featured snippets can be really valuable. Like for example, if you're searching for the age of a well-known celebrity or something, or you're looking for the quick [00:06:00] definition of a word. Those kind of things where you don't need to dig much deeper. You're literally looking for an answer that could be answered within a sentence.

A lot of the time, the classic stuff that would rank for that in the past would just be, you'd go through to a quick Wikipedia article or a wikiHow article. And even then, it would just be a few lines of information. You probably didn't need that click. That said, there is a lot of debate around the fact that should [00:06:30] Google be actually even pulling in this information that they technically don't own, and displaying it without giving that traffic to the people who publish content? Because for a lot of content producers, especially those that really, really care about driving traffic to their site, they're generating advertising revenue. They no longer advertising revenue or any other way of monetizing their traffic if people aren't coming through to their site in the first place. That [00:07:00] is a bit of a challenge there.

Jorie Munroe: Is this even just a traffic problem that's unique to just Google, or is this the way the internet is just going now as it's optimizing for user experience?

Matt Howells-Barby That's a good question. Featured snippets are pretty much isolated to Google. Bing have started testing with some of these things.

Jorie Munroe: Oh, Bing.

Matt Howells-Barby Bing is still a [thing 00:07:25]. It's still alive. I haven't personally used [00:07:30] Bing, probably ever, on a consistent basis. But they have been adding in a bunch more stuff like that. One thing where actually Microsoft have been putting a lot of time into is in voice, and their Cortana voice assistant has a bunch of really good features in that sense. I think when we come back to where you mentioned the overall movement of the web, and is this the way search [00:08:00] is going, we touched on this in the first episode. Where we talked a little bit about how voice is really shaping the user experience for searches. I think that in particular is going to be the way that featured snippets and voice start to become an evolution of one or the other.

We're already starting to see in some respects, a lot of content that ranks in the featured snippet also ranks in voice search in Google Assistant. [00:08:30] There are clear parallels being drawn there. I would imagine that because of the fact that we had initially a huge shift towards mobile, maybe around the 2010 mark, where we started to see that huge inflection point of growth, this is where a lot of the major search engines in particular. The likes of Google were starting to place more of an emphasis on concision in their results, so we're only going to see more of it.

Jorie Munroe: Interesting. [00:09:00] It's definitely just that next stage of search engine evolution, if you will. It's not all doom and gloom. We just got to learn how to shift our thinking. Let's take a quick break to learn how you can future-proof your career!

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Jorie Munroe: [00:10:00] Hi everyone, welcome back. Matt, are featured snippets actually destroying some businesses?

Matt Howells-Barby There's definitely-

Jorie Munroe: You hesitated. Okay, well, let's dig in.

Matt Howells-Barby I was being generous to Google, I think. I think there's definitely arguments to be made that that is the case. Now who is to blame for that? Is that Google to blame? Is that the business for relying too much, solely on one [00:10:30] traffic source? That's a debate that I'm sure a lot of people are going to have a lot of opinions about. That debate is probably not something I'm going to give an opinion about right now, but what I would say is featured snippets are one of many occasions where this has happened.

We talked about, in the previous episode, blended search results. To summarize that, where we're seeing image carousels, video carousels, all of these different features that [00:11:00] are coming into the search results page. The exact same thing and the most traumatic thing, certainly, that we've seen probably in the past 10 years has been how much emphasis Google's put on ads in the search results page. Ads have been taking up more and more and more real estate. I think it was two or three years ago now where what we saw was that there was four ads all above the fold. You search for some popular keywords, especially ones that are around [00:11:30] products and services. A lot of the time you have to scroll down before you see the first organic search results. This is really not anything new.

Now featured snippets, for some businesses, this may be the final nail in the coffin. But in other respects, it also presents an opportunity. Now featured snippets offered a way for people to rank for queries where a lot of the time, it was [00:12:00] just very commercial content a lot of the time. Whereas with featured snippets, what we find is actually it's usually less product-driven content that ends up ranking, and more informational content.

Jorie Munroe: Interesting.

Matt Howells-Barby With every threat, there's an equal opportunity there. But the same point, this is something where Google, in the exact same respect as Facebook, wants to keep you in Google, or Facebook wants to keep you within Facebook. We saw that with Facebook's instant articles where they wanted [00:12:30] to host content directly native within Facebook. Google creating AMP and building a whole platform where you would host your content within Google. A lot of the emphasis from Google and Facebook's side has been, "We want to provide a better user experience. We want to deliver things faster and quicker and improve the mobile web experience."

The subtext to that is, "We also want to generate a hell of a lot more ad revenue." I think this is a situation-

Jorie Munroe: Not completely altruistic.

Matt Howells-Barby [00:13:00] I am not the one to judge that, but for sure, that's a big motivating factor here. They're for-profit businesses. Thinking about that and in the context of are they destroying some businesses? Yeah, potentially. They're also probably offering whole new opportunities for other businesses to come in. SEO is notorious for from one moment, giving you this amazing opportunity, and in the next, taking everything from you. It's like a cruel, [00:13:30] bad, Christmas gift. But the whole point of SEO to constantly be managing and staying ahead of risk. Things like featured snippets are another one of those things that you have to stay on top of and adapt to as early as possible.

Jorie Munroe: Should we expect to see a decrease in traffic due to featured snippets overall?

Matt Howells-Barby Not necessarily. This is my favorite and most generic answer in SEO is, it depends.

Jorie Munroe: Nice.

Matt Howells-Barby [00:14:00] This is probably the most-used phrase in SEO, and it's probably the most frustrating answer to get. We did some studies at HubSpot. This was I think the first one we published was back in 2015, 2016, when we really saw our first huge spike in featured snippets entering into the results page. In fact, around that time for our blog in particular, we just started seeing tons and tons of featured snippets appearing. Actually more noticeably, [00:14:30] we started seeing dips in traffic across certain sections. The reason for that was we had not optimized for featured snippets because it was a relatively new thing at the time, and we weren't ranking well in the featured snippets.

Now our worry was, even if we rank in these featured snippets, are we going to see lower returns on traffic? Now what actually transpired is that across the board, overall, we saw more traffic when we ranked in the featured snippet than we did [00:15:00] ranking number one in a search results page that didn't trigger a featured snippet. Now bear in mind, the kind of content that we are ranking for at HubSpot in a lot of those featured snippets, I would class as the more tutorial-driven content. Informational stuff that would be like-

Jorie Munroe: How to write a blog post.

Matt Howells-Barby Exactly. You saved me from really coming up with a terrible idea there. It's very difficult to figure out in a featured snippet in what? Like 50 [00:15:30] characters or whatever it is, like how to write a whole blog post. What you will get from a featured snippet result there is validation that this is probably a relevant thing that you want to look at. Whereas before, you just had to judge on the title of the page, the meta description, and what that meant was you would get a higher distribution of clicks going to results number one, two, three. We call this in SEO, pogo-sticking. This happens a lot within more commercial, product- [00:16:00] driven queries, and you'll do this yourself. You're looking for a new t-shirt, and you search in Google for a relatively broad query, and you open up-

Jorie Munroe: White t-shirt.

Matt Howells-Barby Right, like everyone does. Red t-shirt, please. Maybe Mark Zuckerberg gray t-shirt. You'd open up in new tabs like 10 different results. That happened to a lesser extent for more informational queries, but now you don't need to do that. You've immediately figured out, " [00:16:30] All right, this is definitely what I need to know. I'm just going to go and click into that." We saw a lot of the time, I actually remember off the top of my head a few stats that started standing out for us where we would usually see, for ranking number one for some of these type queries, click-through rates from the results page in the range of, say, 15 to 20 to 23%. We were seeing in excess of 40% click-through rate. Immediately we were getting really [00:17:00] nice, big boost in traffic.

Now if you are someone like wikiHow who produces a lot of content that's more definition-based, very short tutorials where you literally only need like How To Retweet, it's like you can find that out in a very short amount of characters. I would imagine for a decent section of their site, they would see a reduction in what they had before. Whereas the probably the biggest winner [00:17:30] of the whole featured snippet implementation has probably been Wikipedia, who I remember at one point, a stat I read, and definitely from our datasets, they owned something crazy like 28 or 30% of all featured snippets.

Jorie Munroe: Wow.

Matt Howells-Barby Which is crazy. That distribution I think has definitely diluted out a little bit, but if you look on any blog post that's done a featured snippet study, nearly every single one has an asterisk and it's like an omission. "We've taken Wikipedia [00:18:00] out because it's just all Wikipedia otherwise." That's another big piece in amongst all this.

Jorie Munroe: Position zero, or the featured snippet, might mean more traffic, while ranking in any other spot might mean less traffic. What are some ways you can get your content to rank as a featured snippet?

Matt Howells-Barby All right, we're into the good stuff.

Jorie Munroe: Let's go.

Matt Howells-Barby Good stuff now, all right.

Jorie Munroe: Into the trenches.

Matt Howells-Barby This is what everyone's been waiting for. We've been doing a ton of testing here. I remember myself and Victor Pan, [00:18:30] I had [Evesio 00:18:31] here at HubSpot. We were scratching our brains for far too long, trying to figure out what are the factors behind featured snippets? We initially thought, "Well this is just all going to be based around backlinks." Like pretty much the rest of Google search, backlinks are the biggest ranking factor of anything. One thing that we then found surprising was actually, [00:19:00] you usually need to be ranking on page one to begin with to get the featured snippet. Albeit not even in the top three. We found a lot of times that our organic listing would be five or six on page one, and we were still ranking in the featured snippet. But, what we did find is that actually just firing a ton more backlinks from other websites into the page was not helping us rank in the snippet.

So then we moved on to some other things and we were like, " [00:19:30] Okay, well, in eCommerce, having schema data," so this is a type of markup code where you'll sometimes see when you search for products like the red t-shit, or the Zuckerberg gray t-shirt. It's like you have review stars showing in. Sometimes you'll see the price. These things are specific bits of code that are put onto the product pages that tell Google how many reviews you have, how many price. We were thinking, "Hmm, maybe there is like it's pulling in schema data." So we tried a load [00:20:00] of stuff, this market code. Nope. Complete waste of our time. Well not a complete waste, because we found out, like we often do, how not to do it. That brought us down a path of how we could do things.

The first thing that we did find was how many different formats there were. That was the starting point with featured snippets, is knowing what are the different types.

Jorie Munroe: What are the different formats for featured snippets?

Matt Howells-Barby I really teed you up [00:20:30] there, didn't I?

Jorie Munroe: Yes you did, brilliant.

Matt Howells-Barby Sometimes there's these random outliers that you see, but I would pretty much say there is four different types that you'll see usually in the wild. The first one is the numbered list. This will just be, as you can imagine, a list from one to I think I've seen probably [00:21:00] the most is one to seven or one to eight. Usually it's one to five, a list of just steps. It'll be single sentence for each step.

Jorie Munroe: That aligns with those how-to articles?

Matt Howells-Barby Absolutely.

Jorie Munroe: Got you.

Matt Howells-Barby Then a very similar one for this is a bullet point list. Pretty much the exact same, but instead of one, two, three, four, you just got sets of bullet points.

Jorie Munroe: Almost like a listicle.

Matt Howells-Barby Exactly. And in that respect, [00:21:30] I think one query, if you type for different types of workouts, you'd see a bullet point list.

Jorie Munroe: I'll take your word for that one.

Matt Howells-Barby I haven't searched this. People tell me these things that go to the gym. Then we have the table format. This one is a lot rarer, and it's for very specific types of content. This is usually like a data table, and will often pull in from existing tables [00:22:00] on a page. Sometimes Google is really good with this actually, and they can determine just non-formatted content and pulling that information into a table. An example query is, "interest rates per state." As we're saying now, that currently pulls in a featured snippet. Another thing that we'll come onto, which you will find is, featured snippets change all the time.

Jorie Munroe: All the time.

Matt Howells-Barby Then there are paragraph snippets. This one is probably where everything started with featured snippets. [00:22:30] I think this is the first and most popular featured snippet I saw at the beginning, was just single paragraphs. They usually about three sentence. I think it's something like 150 characters or so, it's in and around that ballpark. But I'll just be a straight-up paragraph, and that's usually when it's a, "What is a ..." Insert keyword there. Then you'll get a definition of something.

There are a bunch of other stuff. We actually talked about this in the previous episode, when I [00:23:00] was mentioning how there's calculators and dropdown boxes, definition box, wherein there's blended searches. We also are even starting to see product and service carousels, but I want to separate those away from featured snippets because that's really not what we're talking about.

Jorie Munroe: Are the translation services that you'll also see sometimes considered a featured snippet? Or is that a little bit different?

Matt Howells-Barby That would be different. It sits in the same spot. Really there's a lot of [00:23:30] different information, so technically if you search the word "define:" and then write a word, that is technically not a featured snippet. That actually had been around long before featured snippets, and was probably the first time that we started seeing things being searched for. That was part of Google's knowledge graph, but this is much more just Google taking existing web content and just pulling information out of it and throwing [00:24:00] it into that box.

Jorie Munroe: It's really important to know what you're looking at, so let's say I have a bunch of pages ranking on the first page, because I'm an SEO fiend. And I haven't got a single featured snippet. What am I doing wrong most likely?

Matt Howells-Barby Well first of all, that means you're not an SEO fiend.

Jorie Munroe: Okay, I took step one.

Matt Howells-Barby You're a fraud.

Jorie Munroe: Okay, whoa.

Matt Howells-Barby I think the biggest thing, and this comes into what we've found out about ranking in the featured snippet. [00:24:30] I still haven't made my mind up whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. But it's actually quite basic, the way Google determines what goes in the featured snippet. It means it does level the playing field a little bit, but at the same time, the SEO inside me wants there to be a way that can be manipulated in some way that we can gain an advantage. But really it comes down to two things, and they're quite intertwined.

First of all, [00:25:00] you need to, and this is really the most important piece, is having the content on the page that you want ranking in the featured snippet, formatted in a way that aligns with the existing featured snippet that's showing. By that what I mean is if we have a paragraph snippet, you should have a short paragraph in your text. We'll come into this in a bit more detail shortly. But [00:25:30] for a bullet point featured snippet, we would have bullet points or at least step-by-steps in the headers, which again we'll come onto.

Now the other thing in amongst all of this, because we're going to come on, dig into some of the formatting pieces shortly. But the biggest piece to understand about all this is is all about matching intent, and having really positive user signals from Google. By this what I mean is, you may find [00:26:00] that when you update your content and reformat it, or if you were ranking already pretty highly on page one, you may find that you may flip into the featured snippet result, and you'll be like, "Great!" And then a week later you drop out, and you're like, "Ah."

Jorie Munroe: Not so great.

Matt Howells-Barby Not so great! The reason why that would happen, because you haven't changed your content. You formatted it in the exact same way. The reason is that people might be looking through at what's coming through in the featured snippet and [00:26:30] they actually may look at it and go, "Actually, that's not answering my query, so I'm not going to click on the featured snippet." The positions one, two, three, and four, if they're getting quite a large proportional click-through rate, that's data that's going to go straight back to Google. And then algorithmically they would say, "Well clearly this is not hitting the spot for people. We should move something else in there." If that has a better click-through rate, that's going to do a better job at ranking in the featured snippet.

Similarly, if people say, "Oh, [00:27:00] look, what's pulling through in this featured snippet is definitely going to be the right thing that I want." I'm going to click this link, I'm going to come through it, and then all of a sudden I'm like, "Wait. This is all completely rubbish." There's this one little paragraph that makes sense, but this is all completely irrelevant afterwards. Then they click back to the search engines.

Having someone click on your result from Google and then pressing the back button is probably the worst outcome for any SEO. It's like the strongest negative signal [00:27:30] that can be pushed back to Google, and they track this directly. Get enough of that, and what you'll start seeing is you will very quickly start not only dropping out of featured snippets, but lower and lower down page one. Making sure that you're matching the expectation that the user has, or the searcher has should I say, with the content on the page is really, really important.

Jorie Munroe: That makes a lot of sense. Quickly or maybe not so quickly, let's dig into the paragraph snippet specifically. Say [00:28:00] I'm trying to rank for, "What is conversion rate optimization?" Or something crazy like that, that might be related to my job. Are there any best practices I should know about?

Matt Howells-Barby Yeah. I would say bearing in mind what I just said around intent, you really want to validate that as soon as someone comes onto your webpage, they're seeing the thing that they saw in the featured snippet as quickly as possible. This also coincides with ranking more effectively in the featured [00:28:30] snippet. Having this piece of information that you want to be in the featured snippet, placing it high up on the page.

The first thing that I would recommend doing is basically structuring a small section of the page where you have a H2, an HTML header, that actually has the query. Let's say it's, "What is conversation rate optimization?" I would literally have that as my H2, and then directly underneath it, I'd just have a simple paragraph [00:29:00] tag and between 50 to 58 words I think we usually stick to, have that short description directly underneath it. This is basically your featured snippet that's living within your page that you're hoping Google pulls in. You want to make it so easy and simple for Google to find right near the top of the page, and then that should serve as almost an introduction or summary to your page. How you would think [00:29:30] about writing a meta description almost in a way for the paragraphs.

Then underneath it is when you can go through and start writing the rest of the article, really thinking about, "If someone's coming through, they've searched for 'What is conversation rate optimization?', they've read the snippet, why would they read on"? You want to keep them on that page and push more positive signals through on to Google as a result.

Jorie Munroe: Awesome. That's actually really helpful. I'm writing a blog post today so I will keep that in mind. What about lists specifically?

Matt Howells-Barby [00:30:00] For lists, this is slightly different beast. There's two ways that you can do this. One, and we've seen Google tend to favor one over the other in a relatively inconsistent way. I think what I would say is Google's getting much better at being able to pull in these list-based featured snippets without you having to specifically call it out on the page. But one of the things that you can do to begin with [00:30:30] is, if you have your article already broken down into step one, step two, step three, is making sure that you have these identifiers at the start of each of your ... Whether it's like your H2 or your H3s, that break down the steps. Literally at the start of them, write, "Step one." And then you could have colon and then the heading title. Google will pull in those heading titles one after the other, so step one, step two, step three, step four. You can have that broken down.

[00:31:00] The other way that you can do that is you can just in a similar way that you would do with the paragraph type snippet is near the top you have the overall query that's being asked. That might be, "How to tie a tie." Then you literally put bullet points directly under it, one after the other, and they're just concise, quick, step one, step two, step three, step four. Can't remember the last time I tied up a tie, so I'm not going to even attempt to do that one. Then have everything in more detail [00:31:30] broken down afterwards.

So there's two ways that you can approach that. I would test out both of those. If you don't see success with one, try it slightly differently, and you may see success with the other.

Jorie Munroe: It's also about iteration over time. That's great. It sounds like I need to go back and optimize my content, but this is a pretty big job. Will it really make a difference when it comes to traffic?

Matt Howells-Barby I would almost guarantee that it will. If you have a lot of informational [00:32:00] content and that is that you have a lot of topics that you're trying to rank for where people are searching for detailed questions about that topic. Anything marketing-related for HubSpot, people are searching for the why, the what, the who, the when, the how of a whole topic, those are the types or queries that if you just see a percentage of the featured snippets that you go after increase, you're going to see [00:32:30] huge gains in your overall organic traffic as a result. We've really doubled down at HubSpot on featured snippets, and what we've started to see is with having a set process in place that we can bake into content from the beginning, as opposed to consistently pushing out content then reworking it, the results are so much better for us. We've seen huge amounts of traffic being gained, especially on our blog, that's been largely in part due to [00:33:00] gaining featured snippet placements.

I mentioned that we did a study a little while back at HubSpot. Within this study, we looked at just under 5,000 different search queries, all of which triggering featured snippets. When we analyzed the click-through rate for HubSpot content that went from not having the featured snippet to then gaining the featured snippet, [00:33:30] we saw that some high volume keywords increased by as much as over 114%, which is pretty significant, I would say.

Jorie Munroe: Just a little bit. Just a little. It sounds like snippets are taking over. What do you think the endgame is for Google here?

Matt Howells-Barby Like with a lot of Google's Plays recently, I think that key is two-fold. One [00:34:00] is that they're using featured snippets in particular as a platform for them to develop better and stronger natural language processing. Which ultimately is really going to help their Google Home product. The second thing is-

Jorie Munroe: I swear we're not getting sponsored by Google.

Matt Howells-Barby Yet. Yet!

Jorie Munroe: Yet! Episode three, we come in with Google swag.

Matt Howells-Barby Well Amazon [00:34:30] are going to have to fight it out [with them, right? 00:34:32]

Jorie Munroe: Duke it out.

Matt Howells-Barby And maybe Bing.

Jorie Munroe: Probably not, after what you said.

Matt Howells-Barby Oh, Cortana. I don't think they're going to be that happy. Then the second thing is going to be ad revenue. The longer that you can keep people engaged on Google's page, and also the more that users come to expect the answer being delivered directly in the search results, I think more than anything, I touched [00:35:00] on this a little bit in our previous episode. Is that Google in particular are changing our search behavior as individual searchers. We're getting used to new things. We're getting used to more ads. When you run a search on mobile, a lot of the time you do a single thumb swipe to just basically be like, "Okay, get rid of ads, and now I'm going to look at normal content."

With featured snippets coming in, and then you're seeing a lot of more blended search results, we see a lot more carousels coming in. The lines between [00:35:30] what is an ad, what is not an ad, becomes blurred. I think what we will start to see in the future is more ad content starting to look like featured snippets, which is a very dangerous path to start going down. I also believe with voice, what we may find is that we will start having sponsored results in voice.

Now do I know that for sure? No. But if I've learned anything in the past decade of doing [00:36:00] SEO, it's that Google likes money, and this is going to be one of their main points of leverage for growing that.

Jorie Munroe: Do you think that having ads sneak in and start to resemble pieces that traditionally people could trust as informational content will at all impact the trust users place in Google, or that first page of search results?

Matt Howells-Barby I hope so. Because I think it's actually a pretty tragic trend to start [00:36:30] seeing for the web, where ultimately, what Google has also done a lot over the past five years has been highlighting the fact that things are ads a lot less. It used to be very, very obvious that things were ads. Then we start to see this whole new labeling come in that's a lot more subtle. Especially on mobile devices, it can be difficult to see. When we start seeing this almost blended-in [00:37:00] into patterns of design that we've already come to trust that are not ad content, if we do start to see that, I think it can be incredibly detrimental.

Now Google is also full of a lot of very intelligent people, so I'm sure they'll be approaching anything like this with a lot of caution. I'm really interested to see how things happen with voice, and beyond. Like we haven't talked about where I think a lot of search is going to move towards, which will be [00:37:30] more in AR and VR to a certain extent. I think the traditional way we view search is going to be a lot more of an immersive experience for people. And how that becomes monetized is way more dangerous to me, even in things like voice. Because I think it's a lot more difficult to grasp disclaimers in that respect. It's contrary to a lot of the news stories that we're really hearing a lot about at [00:38:00] the moment around things like GDPR and privacy and-

Jorie Munroe: [crosstalk 00:38:03].

Matt Howells-Barby Cambridge Analytics and everything that's happening in amongst that.

Jorie Munroe: It sounds like dark patterns just inherently.

Matt Howells-Barby Yes! Right.

Jorie Munroe: "Yes!"

Matt Howells-Barby Yes!

Jorie Munroe: It is.

Matt Howells-Barby It is exactly that.

Jorie Munroe: [inaudible 00:38:13].

Matt Howells-Barby I think it is a slippery slope, but it's not all doom and gloom. To bring this back to featured snippets and one of the questions you asked earlier is, "Is it killing businesses?"

Jorie Munroe: Destroying. I said destroying.

Matt Howells-Barby Killing, murdering [00:38:30] businesses and their owners. Google has got blood on their hands. We're definitely not going to get our sponsorship deal. I don't think, in that respect, that it is all doom and gloom in that sense. What I said with HubSpot, albeit we have a fair amount of resource on the content side of things, one of the types of website that's benefit a lot from featured snippets coming in has been blogs and publications. [00:39:00] That's also on the news publication side of things has been one of those that have been suffering the most from some of the ad level stuff, and also Google taking in content and basically serving it directly within the search results.

Also there's been a lot of varying results from this, but honestly, like as a listener to this podcast, I would say the first thing that you're really going to want to start doing is having a look at [00:39:30] how much of the content that you currently have ranking search engines is even triggering a featured snippet. Having a look and seeing, "Okay, is the reason why we're not ranking in the featured snippet because actually we haven't formatted our content correctly?" Were you even on page one to begin with? If not, you also need to still be thinking some of the more classic stuff like link building. Link building in fact is something that we'll touch on later in the series.

[00:40:00] Alongside all of this is testing different content formats and trying to bake in a process to any content that you put forward, moving forward so that you can just do this out the gate and start ranking quicker.

Jorie Munroe: Is there any way that as people are reformatting and paying attention to the featured snippet, that they can easily see if they're breaking into featured snippets? Or is it the Wild West of knowing what people are querying?

Matt Howells-Barby That is one of the biggest pain in the asses actually. It's [00:40:30] really difficult. I could talk about things like keyword rankings for far too long, and it would bore a lot of people. But one of the things we've seen a lot is with keyword rankings as a whole, them becoming less relevant and accurate. We talked about in Episode One, the fact that-

Jorie Munroe: Listen to it if you haven't.

Matt Howells-Barby You should absolutely have listened to it, and subscribed of course! What we've talked about in Episode One [00:41:00] was with keyword rankings for things things like, "Where can I eat?" Right?

Jorie Munroe: Right.

Matt Howells-Barby It's like they're completely different from one location to another. In the same respect, trying to figure out where are you ranking? Are you ranking this featured snippet? Albeit you don't always get that localization factor, but you certainly get it from google.com, .com.uk, mobile search versus desktop search can be a little tricky. In all honesty, [00:41:30] I think that Google and their search console product is probably going to bake in some of this into the analytics that they give. There are a few keyword tools that are starting to support some of this, but it's a bit hacky. I think in all honesty the best way is to just do a quick incognito search for what you're trying to rank for, and have a quick look and see if it's showing up in the featured snippet. It's not the most perfect way to do it, but what you will certainly see is [00:42:00] if you go into Google Search Console, you can track each page, the click-through rate on average that it has from the search results page.

Now if you start ranking in the featured snippet, you'll very quickly start to see that click-through rate percentage rise, and that's your biggest indicator of being able to see. And of course, organic traffic as well. There's those two things that you can check out.

Jorie Munroe: Analytics is the good guy in this scenario?

Matt Howells-Barby Yeah, for now. Don't get me started on all the pain points of Analytics though. That is a whole [00:42:30] rant episode.

Jorie Munroe: Well, so this has been super interesting. Thank you Matt.

Matt Howells-Barby Of course! This has been really, really enjoyable.

Jorie Munroe: Well that's all the time we have for featured snippets. If you like today's lesson, please, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and tell your friends or coworkers about us. You can follow us on Twitter @HubSpotAcademy, and if you want more details on this topic, feel free to check out skilluppodcast.com. I'm Jorie Munroe, thank [00:43:00] you so much for listening, and thank you, Matt, again.

Matt Howells-Barby Of course, see you on the next episode.

Jorie Munroe: Thank you so much to our listeners for listening.

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