How to Rank a Featured Snippet (Featured Snippet Volatility)
June 2, 2021 |
When looking for an opportunity to win a Featured Snippet, should you swim upstream like a salmon, or should you just go with the flow?
Well, I’m always a fan of the second option. I love it when I get a push from the outside.
How this relates to Featured Snippets is, when trying to win a Featured Snippet, you should always look for a snippet that Google isn’t ‘happy’ with.
In other words, look for cases where Google is looking for a better alternative and then show up with that perfect solution. An easy way to do this is to look for a volatile Featured Snippet. One where Google is consistently changing URLs.
You can do that one of two ways.
Either you can eyeball the SERPs and look for a snippet that is not showing up consistently day after day or you can simply use Rank Ranger’s advanced rank tracking
In this post, I’ll show you two different types of Featured Snippet volatility through the lens of the Rank Ranger SERP Features Monitor and how you can deal with it.
It’s important to understand, if you don’t have a Rank Ranger account, you can still apply this strategy.
Finding Volatility with the SERP Features Monitor
Let’s look at one particular Featured Snippet as an example.
Here is the Google SERP for the term ‘best texas hold’em’.
Now, the question is can we win this Featured Snippet?
Well, the best way to figure that out is to look at some competitive data.
Let’s jump into the Rank Ranger SERP Features Monitor
As you can see in the screenshot above, the SERP Features Monitor is showing us some volatility for the Featured Snippet for the keyword 'best texas holdem'.
For those of you who’ve never seen this tool before, let me explain what you are looking at. This graph is showing 30 days of Featured Snippet data.
Now, if you look at the bottom of the graph, you’ll see two URLs.
Each URL is represented by a different colored dot. Oddsshark.com is represented by a blue dot and thesportsgeek.com is represented by a green dot.
Now, look at the top of the graph.
There you’ll see a dotted line. Each dot represents a different day in the 30 day period. Sometimes the line is green and other times it’s blue.
When the line is broken like this, it means the Featured Snippet is volatile.
Now when you see this, you’ve uncovered an opportunity.
The reason is simple, if Google was happy with the snippet, there would be no volatility. It would be completely stable.
Before jumping for joy and optimizing your content, let’s first try to figure out what’s causing the volatility. Because you will act differently based on what the cause for the volatility is.
To do that let’s look at the SERP Changes.
Here you can see the SERP Features Monitor showing the two competing URLs.
You can find:
- Title tags
- Period Visibility
If you take a look at the title tags, you’ll find something interesting.
Now, just looking at the title tags you should find a clue as to what’s causing the volatility. Try looking for yourself.
Did you see it?
A little while back I was looking at volatile Featured Snippets and I saw something similar.
What stood out to me was…
The two URLs represent two pieces of content that cover two different subjects.
In other words:
- Thesportsgeek.com is presenting the top Texas Hold’em sites
- Oddsshark.com is presenting the best Hold’em hands
The difference might seem subtle at a first glance, but giving it some thought, I realized these are two completely different user intents.
One is showing a list of sites, the other is showing an ordered list of poker hands (a hand is what poker players call the cards held in a game by a given player.)
Let that sink in.
These are two different results that are satisfying two different user intents. Satisfying two different user intents means two different target audiences.
Now if we understand that many of the Google algorithms are designed to help Google understand user intent, what do you think is happening here?
To figure this out, let’s take a look at the query.
If you recall, this whole analysis happened when I looked at the SERP Features Monitor for the term ‘best texas holdem’.
Let’s do a little thinking and try to imagine how Google sees this query.
The word ‘best’ describes the quality of an item compared to a group of similar things. In other words, there is a group of items and this one is the best item.
But, in our context, it’s describing the quality of the words ‘texas holdem’.
And since there is only one game called Texas Hold’em (to my knowledge), it can’t be better than some other game called Texas Hold’em.
It can’t be the best if there is only one.
This means we have to understand that the word ‘best’ is not referring to the game, but to some secondary aspect of the game.
And this brings us to the two user intents.
Is ‘best’ referring to sites or hands? If we can’t figure it out, how will Google?
This means the snippet is appealing to two different audiences.
Google plays it safe and includes both intents, making sure to give the ‘best sites’ user intent more weight.
As you can see from the screenshot above, the ‘best sites’ content shows up in the snippet 60% of the time and the ‘best hands’ user intent only shows up 40% of the time.
It looks like we have a valid insight. But before we get too confident, we need to verify that this is what’s really happening.
And what better way to do that than by looking at the Google SERP itself.
Verify With SERP Analysis
If we take a look at the actual SERP we see something striking. The SERP itself is showing these two user intents.
In the screenshot above, you’ll see that the URLs in the purple boxes are all for the ‘best sites’ intent, while the ones in the red boxes are all satisfying the ‘best hands’ user intent.
Seeing the same two user intents in the SERPs indicates to me that Google is grappling with these user intents in general and is simply showing both.
Now that we’ve confirmed that what’s happening in the Featured Snippet is based on Google’s identifying two different search intents, the question is what should you do about it?
The Actionable Takeaway
Since we are seeing Google grappling to understand the search term, I’d like to suggest it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to win a Featured Snippet that would stabilize this SERP.
In other words, no matter how good your content is, Google is always likely to feature URLs that will satisfy both user intents. This means at best your content will feature in the snippet only some of the time.
The question is, is it worth the effort or should you invest your precious time somewhere else?
I’ll leave that question to you.
Alternatively, you can try to find a term with a clear user intent such as:
- Best texas holdem sites
- Best texas holdem hands
Now that we’ve understood the snippet for the term ‘best texas holdem’, let’s look at a contrasting example.
SERP Feature Volatility Analysis - Cooking Times For Roast Beef
When you type ‘cooking times for roast beef’ into Google, you see a Featured Snippet.
Let’s jump back to the SERP Features Monitor to try to understand how competitive it is.
Now, before looking at the data it’s interesting to note that the user intent here is crystal clear.
Therefore, what we should expect to see is a stable Featured Snippet.
But, since not everything pans out the way you would expect, we are instead seeing four different URLs in the Featured Snippet!
The URLs are:
So to begin to understand what’s going on, let’s see what Google considers to be the best URLs for the snippet.
When we look at the period visibility, we see that parade.com and allrecipes.com together occupied the Featured Snippet spot for 76.67% of the time over the period of 30 days.
Since these URLs dominate the Featured Snippet, I’ll call them the primary URLs and the other two secondary URLs.
This shows us that Google clearly considers the content on the primary sites more satisfying to the user intent than the other two.
Now before we think about this, it’s interesting to note that Google is looking for content for a snippet that will present cooking times.
Simple. The intent is clear.
Unlike the term ‘best texas holdem’, here, there is but one user intent.
This begs the question, why are there any fluctuations at all?
To understand what’s going on here, we have to click through to the actual content.
Looking at the Actual Content
The content on the pages tells an interesting story. Both of the primary URLs are long-form recipe posts that show you how to make roast beef. They speak out both ingredients and directions.
Recipe content on parade.com
The secondary URLs on the other hand are blog posts presenting tables of cooking times and other information. There is no mention of the actual recipes or any other information. Just a table.
Content on the beefitswhatsfordinner.com
We see that Google is clearly favoring sites that explain more.
On the other hand, Google is still presenting cooking times from sites that are focused on cooking times in table form, but these sites are only showing up around 30% of the time.
Now, if I was to take a guess, I’d say that since a Featured Snippet includes a URL, Google is not just expecting the user to read the snippet. Google expects the user to click through to the content.
This is just an educated guess. I really have no idea if I’m right about this.
It does give us an explanation as to why Google is preferring pages that present actual recipes.
In other words, surely the site that presents the cooking times in table form would present clearer data?
This leads me to believe that the volatility is caused here by Google thinking the site that the URL is pointing at is a better fit for the user intent.
If that is the case, what should you do about it?
The Actionable Takeaway
If this analysis is correct, the way to win here is to create long-form content that goes into more details, instead of creating data in table form.
In other words, I’m suggesting that the volatility is being caused by the quality of the content.
This is your best-case scenario.
Since you’re in control of the quality of your content, you’re in the driver’s seat. You can simply create something better than your competitor’s content.
Featured Snippet Volatility - A Tale of Two Causes
What you’ve seen in this post is that there can be more than one reason for Featured Snippet volatility.
Understanding that there could be more than one reason for the volatility means you should deal with each case separately.
Is the volatility something that’s intrinsically part of the search term, or is it something that is being caused by the quality of the content Google is taking the snippet from?
If it’s a quality issue, the key is to show up as the best piece of Featured Snippet content. Look for where the other content misses the mark and create something superior. If you do that effectively, you might hold the Featured Snippet for the long term.
If, on the other hand, the volatility is baked into the search term itself, there is not much you can do about the volatility.