Tag Archives: Content Optimization

Google’s Featured Snippets: How to rank at #1 with strategic content writing


I was checking the rankings of my blog posts that I have recently published and I suddenly found one of my links in Google’s Featured Snippets box. Here is the screenshot


What Are Google’s Featured Snippets?

Nobody knows exactly how Google decides to feature a particular piece of content in its “featured snippets” box, but you must have noticed that sometimes when you do a search on Google, one of the links appears at the top with highlighted paragraph, or some portion of the web page or blog post, along with the link.

Some call it ranking #0 because the link that is featured in Google’s Featured Snippets box appears even before the first link on the search results page. But many would be scared with #0 so, in my title I have used #1.

As you can see in the image above, the Google’s Featured Snippets box appears at the top, within the highlighted box, and a description almost as long as a paragraph.

It isn’t always a paragraph that is featured in the snippets area. Even if you represent the information in bullet points, it can appear over there. See for example, this one…

another example of Google snippets

How does Google pick a particular link for the Featured Snippets box?

As I have written above, it is unclear how Google decides which link to feature in the snippets area. Many SEO experts and content marketers have tried to figure out but there is no algorithmic logic to it. Google seems to be picking the information randomly.

Here is a very extensive blog post on how to optimize your content so that it can feature in Google’s Featured Snippets box [HubSpot link].

The author says that whether you get featured in the snippets box or not doesn’t depend on the SEO quality of your link. Your link may not even appear on the first page of search results and still appear in the snippets box.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that even if you throw all SEO benchmarks out the window you are still going to feature in the snippets box. No, that won’t happen. Your content must be of good quality and it must give some indication to Google that it deserves to be featured in the snippets box. Read What is quality content and how does Google recognize it?

Is focusing on the Google Featured Snippets box good for your SEO?

People are sometimes worried that featuring in the Google Featured Snippets box deters people from clicking the link because what they are looking for is given in the box itself. Since they have found a solution to their problem, there is no reason for them to click the link.

The author of the above HubSpot link says:

From a sample of just under 5,000 queries, I found that the CTR to the HubSpot website for high volume keywords increased by over 114%, even when we ranked #1

What he means to say is that even when their link was already appearing at #1 there CTR increased by over 114% once the link started appearing in the Featured Snippets box.

Even I feel that this should actually increase traffic to your website because one, people who know how important search engine rankings are, are quite impressed that you are bang there in front of them, at the top, even above the link at #1, and two, they want more information. A single paragraph may provide a concise view of the solution they are looking for. They can only find a detailed description when they visit the link. Most do.

Here is a Moz link that demonstrates that traffic to your website actually increases if your link features in that box.

How to write content for #1 ranking by Google’s Featured Snippets?

As I have mentioned in this blog post titled 20 Evergreen Characteristics of Quality Content, focus on quality.

Provide to people what they are looking for. Don’t mislead them. Don’t create titles and headlines in such a manner that people are tricked into visiting your website and then when they come there, they are disappointed.

In fact, due to the “Search Task Accomplishment” factor, web pages and blog posts that don’t provide straightforward answers to people’s questions will start ranking lower even when they are decently optimized and even when they have quality back links. It matters what you are providing.

In order to be able to feature in Google’s Featured Snippets box, it has been observed that

  1. Try to create a question out of the main expression and put that question within the <h1> or <h2> tags.
  2. Try to enclose the main quarry by the user in the above tags.
  3. Just beneath the question, provide an answer. Try to provide the answer within 50-60 words.
  4. Use the language as if you are providing an answer to a question. Your answer should follow the question naturally.
  5. For question-oriented keywords, Google prefers bullet points but if you are searching for something like “content writing services”, Google prefers to pick a paragraph.

Focus on answering questions when writing content keeping Featured Snippets in mind. Ask a question, and then immediately provide an answer, preferably in 50-60 words.

Does this guarantee that your link will appear in the Featured Snippets box? No.

It is quite random.

Then how can you get your link featured in this coveted section?

Create lots of content. Create many webpages and blog posts providing high-quality content.

You have to establish your authority. Many of your links should already be ranking well before Google begins to notice useful chunks of information on your web pages and blog posts. You cannot suddenly start publishing blog posts and then expect that your links will be featured in the snippets section.

Follow the pattern. Follow the SEO format that includes

  1. Use the main search term or the keyword at least once within <h1>, <h2> and <h3> tags.
  2. Write shorter paragraphs under the headings and try to provide as complete an answer as possible to the main quarry within 40-60 words in a paragraph.
  3. Use bullet points wherever possible to present stepwise information.

I would like to stress again that there is no set formula for appearing in Google’s Featured Snippet box. All you can do is, keep publishing great content.

Can you optimize your web content writing for search engines as well as users?

Is it possible to optimize your web content for search engines and at the same time for human users? This is a perennial question for people constantly worrying about how to write web content. No matter how much you deny, you need content from both ends of the spectrum – you want your content to convert and you also want your content to rank well on search engine result pages.

This blog post by Umair Qureshi rightly says that both can be achieved, and I personally believe it is not even a big deal as long as you stick to your topic. Nonetheless, he has included in the blog post a nice template that you can use in order to optimize your web content both for search engines as well as human visitors or users. This is how the template looks:

Template for creating search engine optimized as well as user-friendly web content

In the image he has taken an example of chocolate donuts from Mary’s bakery. He has shown how to create your headline and where strategically to use the key phrase “chocolate donuts” and its various combinations at strategic locations.

This is a standard procedure to write an optimized webpage without spamming the hell out of your content. The basic idea is to use your keyword or expression in such a manner that it is fairly represented from within your content without over-using it. You can also use its various versions. For example, if I want to optimize this particular blog post for “web content optimization” I can use various combinations such as the whole thing, then “web content”, then “content optimization” and then somewhere “web”, somewhere “content” and somewhere “optimization”. The above-mentioned template is a nice starting point. You can create your own by referring to this one.

Image source

It’s not Google’s fault that your business entirely depends on the search engine

Don't depend just on Google

When people feel bad about their rankings suddenly changing due to erratic algorithmic changes at Google it is understandable because businesses incur losses. Something that might be inane and simple organizational restructuring for the search giant might be a matter of life and death for a particular business. I have personally experienced total disappearance of my website from the search engine listings around three years ago (April-end 2011 to be precise) and I can totally relate to what must people feel when their links suddenly disappear from the first page or the second page for no fault of theirs.

First, Google never advises people to base their businesses solely on the search engine. The search engine is a good way of getting qualified traffic but it is a search engine after all run by a private company that is only going to worry about its own bottom line. People at Google will never make changes that bring them losses. In fact search engineers and information architects at Google must be working round-the-clock trying to figure out how to maximize the company’s profits. If in the pursuit of this maximization someone’s business is ruined, well, too bad.

But you know what? Google is not a natural phenomenon. It’s not that your business was hit by an earthquake or a flash flood or a lightning and you couldn’t do anything about it. Yes, if it is a major source of traffic you might be hit initially but if you have already been trying to build other resources for qualified traffic then there is no reason to worry. The problem is, sometimes we focus just on a single thing, like put all the eggs in a single basket and if you’re doing that, then even if your business does not depend on Internet traffic, it is operating on shaky ground because you never know when circumstances change.

Take for instance guest blogging. In a recent blog post I explained how to pitch for a guest blogging assignment and I also mentioned how guest blogging is being frowned upon by the search experts at Google for obvious reasons. There is a thriving community called MyBlogGuest for guest bloggers and suddenly Google has decided to penalize not just the website but also all the participants. And this is exactly the sort of response from Ann Smarty, the founder of MyBlogGuest, that should instil confidence among those who don’t want to allow Google to arm twist them into following its every single guideline. The people who are complaining are mostly the ones who had completely left it up to Google to decide how much traffic they should get.

Why is Google penalizing every method of getting back links from other websites? Guest blogging after all is a perfectly legitimate way of getting qualified links to your website or blog. You write for another blog and as a gesture of appreciation, they include a small bio of yours that contains your link; what’s wrong in that? There is nothing wrong in that. You need to remember that Google’s revenue comes from AdWords – it’s a PPC (pay per click) program. If you’re not good at improving your search engine rankings and if you have money to spend on marketing, this is a good way of getting immediate traffic. So naturally, if you don’t have other sources of traffic, you need to depend on Google, and if Google doesn’t allow you to naturally get those links from other websites, the only option left for you is to invest in its AdWords program. Obviously it is going to penalize those businesses that try to get traffic from other links.

Attaching the search engine rankings to the way you get links is just a ruse. Google cannot directly tell you that don’t get links from other websites because the only way to get links is through AdWords. It does that through downgrading your natural search engine rankings, something every business aspires for. So either improve your natural search engine rankings by strictly following Google’s recommendations and guidelines, or invest in the AdWords program if the only thing that matters to you is traffic from Google.

What can be other options? Of course I don’t advise you to go against Google’s guidelines because you can generate massive traffic once you have cracked the ranking problem and gotten your website to the first page or even the second page on Google. This is something that works for me:

  • When it comes to creating content, make your own website or blog the priority. Create as much high-quality content for your own website or blog as possible. The more high-quality content you have, the better are your prospects at improving your search engine rankings naturally.
  • When you get links from other websites (and you don’t want those links to adversely affect your Google search engine rankings) request the owners of that website to use the rel=”nofollow” tag (this tells Google that you are not using the link to improve your search engine rankings). Google does not penalize you for incoming links if these links have this tag. It also doesn’t penalize your ranking if these links are coming from well-reputed websites like New York Times, Washington Post or the Huffington Post whether the use the “nofollow” tag or not.
  • Focus on networking, equally. As a small business word of mouth matters. Getting random traffic from search engines may give you a psychological boost, but it isn’t necessary that it will translate into good business. On the other hand if you establish personal contacts with different people it will fetch you more business. Establish a good presence over LinkedIn, Twitter and if possible, also Facebook. In the past year 20% of my business has come from LinkedIn and Facebook (strangely, there have been queries from Twitter, but so far, no project).
  • Spend some money on marketing. A great number of things on the Internet are available for free, and this has given rise to a negative mentality that you can do well without spending much money. Invest money getting a good website and hiring a good content writer – regarding hiring a good content writer, I’m not just saying this because I’m a professional content writer, the way you express yourself on your website really makes a big difference. Even PPC programs like AdWords can give you the much-needed initial push. I’m not saying start spending money senselessly, I’m just saying get out of that mentality that on the Internet you don’t need to spend money and everything can be achieved pretty much free of cost. It’s an illusion. Even people promoting open source software applications make money by providing support for those applications.
  • Develop your own mailing list. Email still rules the roost when it comes to promoting your services although spammers throughout the world have totally tarnished its image. But it really works. These days, aside from providing professional content, I have also started writing for a few news publications and for that I started a new mailing list for people who would like to get notified whenever I publish a new article. The click rate is 16-20%. This is very impressive. It means if I have 100 subscribers, 16 people are reading my articles from that mailing list and if I have 1000 subscribers – on the Internet this is not a stretch – then 160 are reading my articles straight out of that mailing list. 16-20% is not easily achievable, but even if you can achieve 4-5% you no longer have to depend on Google traffic.

I may have not covered everything above, but what I’m trying to say is, don’t just solely depend on Google because this strategy is dangerous in any environment. Work on building multiple streams even if you feel that you are diluting your effort.

Optimizing your content for search engines? Where do you draw the line?

Robin Williams

The world was recently shocked at Robin Williams’ sudden death. As the news spread over the web everybody was searching for it. People wanted to know more about the actor, his depression, all his work and actually what led him to commit suicide, if at all he committed suicide. There was news of his daughter Zelda Williams quitting Twitter and Instagram because of the horrible treatment meted out to her by the notorious Internet trolls. Web-based newspapers and blogs were vying for the top search engine positions for terms like “Robin Williams dead at 63”. One of the news editors at New York Daily actually sent advisory to its writers and editors on which words and expressions to use in the headlines and when to scale up and scale down these words and expressions like “Robin Williams”, “dead”, “suicide”, etc. Here is how the internal email goes (the link above is the source):

From: Everett, Cristina

Date: August 12, 2014 at 5:33:00 PM EDT

To: WebEditors

Subject: ENTERTAINMENT handoff!


Thank you to everyone who did a great story [sic] with keeping our stories SEO strong with the * Robin Williams dead at 63 * header for the first 24 hours. Starting tomorrow morning, we can scale back on the robot talk (meaning no death header) just as long as the stories continue to *start* with his full name and include buzzy search words like *death, dead, suicide, etc.*

If you look at the comment thread in the above-linked short blog entry, you will get some interesting perspectives. Some people are cynical, and some say, well, what’s the choice? Aren’t people searching for these terms? If a renowned celebrity dies, and people are going to search about his or her death, the circumstances and other such bits of information and if you want to be found for such information, why not optimize your titles and content accordingly? What if your entire business model depends on such optimization?

Providing optimized content is my business. If one of my clients were running such an online news portal, would I indulge in such “tactics”? Yes I will. Of course I won’t advise my client to use SEO spam and create scores of meaningless pages talking on and on about the same thing (why Robin Williams committed suicide, for instance), but if a major news is breaking and if it matters that this news be found on the search engines, and considering the fact that many people are going to use “tactics” to make sure that their webpages and blog posts appear at the top, if expressions like “Robin Williams” and “suicide” are relevant to my story, I won’t shy away from using them. Yes, a death has occurred, yes, it is a terrible tragedy, but if covering that tragedy is my business, I need to SEO my content accordingly, too bad. Someone gives a nice example in the comments section that it’s like accusing a coffin seller of making a profit if lots of people suddenly die. What’s the attitude behind the above-mentioned advisory? Nobody knows, and that’s a different issue.

If content creators and publishers have to use SEO “tactics” like these, there is some problem in the way search engine rankings work and people who create truly high-quality content often worry about this. Content that truly deserves to get higher rankings never shows up on the first page just because the people who can follow the “tactics” have an edge even while creating lousy content.

How to optimize your content for Facebook’s Paper newsfeed app

Facebook Paper

OK, you must be wondering Facebook has just launched its new newsfeed app called Paper, it hasn’t even been used by many people, not many reviews are available online, and I’m already talking about optimizing your content for it. In case you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about and what is this new newsfeed, head to this nice review on ReadWrite.com that says that this app is more about looks and less about the content it plans to broadcast.

Anyway, there is a great buzz all over the Internet and you may have already seen people fervently tweeting about the release. Sadly the app is only available for the iPhone users (well, it remains to be seen whether it is a good thing or a bad thing) and as iPhone users are prone to doing, they are blowing this thing out of proportion.

When you talk of optimizing your content what is the first thing that comes to your mind? What exactly is content optimization? To me it is

  • Creating as relevant and useful content as possible
  • Writing in a language that appeals to your target audience
  • Creating a captivating headline that draws people to the main article
  • Making your content shareable
  • Organizing your content – text – under appropriate headlines, sub headlines and bulleted points
  • Hyperlinking to further bits of useful and related information
  • Avoiding excessive use of images and videos (unless your content merely constitutes of such media)
  • Using the correct structured data markup

The last point is very important especially for the apps like Facebook’s Paper newsfeed app. Such apps use the structured data markup to identify the nature of your content and then adjust it in the feed accordingly.

The points mentioned above are the universal traits of content that is optimized for practically every medium whether you are writing for your blog/website or for social networking websites. The same goes for Facebook Paper. Use the right markup so that your content appears under the right section, create captivating headlines so that your content can grab people’s attention, write smaller sentences so that it’s easier to read them on smaller devices and as always, stick to the point.