How to Leapfrog Your Competition By Scoring a Featured Snippet

One of the most frustrating parts of search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing your law firm online is how websites at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) are held in place by the traffic they receive because they are ranked so well. Ranking near the top of the page nets more visitors, and the more visitors a site has, the higher it will get ranked.

For law firms that have secured a top ranking in a targeted keyword, this is great news because all of that web traffic insulates the listing from challengers and keeps it at the top of the page.

For law firms on the outside, however, it creates a terrible cycle that can be difficult to break.

One way to break that cycle is to aim for a featured snippet, rather than the top organic result. While they are overhyped, scoring a featured snippet can help you can leapfrog the other listings to the top of the page, even if your page is not necessarily as relevant or important as the other ones.

What are Featured Snippets?

A featured snippet is a SERP feature that Google started rolling out way back in 2014. Prominently displayed at the top of the results page, featured snippets take a short passage from a website that provide Google users the “one true answer” for their search.

Featured snippet on Google SERP

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Not all search queries produce a featured snippet. In fact, a study from 2017 found that only 12.29% of queries produced a snippet in the SERP. Most of those queries come in the form of a question that can be answered fairly succinctly. This tends to require a very specific question or a search for a very particular answer, and often involves a long-tail keyword.

Featured Snippets Can Leapfrog the Competition

Importantly, that same study found that only 30.9% of the featured snippets out there came from the page ranked at the top of the organic listings. The vast majority of the featured snippets pulled content from lower down in the first page of the rankings to display prominently at the top of the SERP.

Meanwhile, another study found that the sites in the featured snippet captured 35.1% of the web traffic from the query. This is even higher than the average click-through-rate for the top-ranked page in a typical SERP.

You don’t have to be a professional internet marketer to see where this is going: You can get your law firm’s site to the top of the ranking without competing against the entrenched results by aiming for, and then obtaining, a featured snippet in your targeted search query.

Featured snippets leapfrog competition in SEO

How to Target and Snag a Featured Snippet for Your Law Firm’s Site

Scoring a featured snippet in a targeted search query isn’t easy, but it is doable.

The first thing to do is to make sure that your targeted search query is ripe for a snippet, at all. Remember, Google’s featured snippet function is designed to give internet users the “one true answer” to their question. Some searches don’t produce one, like:

  • Criminal defense lawyer in Dallas
  • New immigration laws
  • Statute of frauds

Trying for a featured snippet in one of these queries is likely to be a waste of time because Google is unlikely to ever include one in these searches, because they’re not conducive to a single reliable answer.

Better targets are search queries that are phrased like a question or that seek to compare topics or issues, like:

  • What is the statute of frauds?
  • Differences between PIP and collision insurance
  • Penalties for manslaughter in Wyoming

Unsure? Open an incognito window (so your browser’s cookies won’t interfere with the results) and do the query you’re considering. If there’s a featured snippet, go for it.

Once you’ve isolated a search query to pursue, structure your page to quickly and succinctly answer the question that the query is explicitly asking, or is asking through implication. Use your keywords to make it clear to search engines what question you are answering, and try sticking to a “[targeted query] is…” structure:

  • The statute of frauds is a law that requires certain agreements to be in writing in order for them to be binding…
  • Collision insurance covers the damages to your vehicle in a car accident. PIP insurance covers your medical bills, as well as lost wages and other expenses…
  • In Wyoming, the penalties for manslaughter include a jail sentence of up to 20 years…

If you are comparing topics, consider using a table. If you are naming factors or steps in a process, use a list and make sure the steps are in the right order.

In any case, the goal is to be very brief. One study found that fewer than 3% of featured snippets are 60 words or longer, and only 4% were shorter than 25. Meanwhile, 60% of them had between 40 and 50 words.

Years ago, it was best practice to drop the passage that you wanted to be picked up as a featured snippet right at the top of your page. However, this does not appear to be the case, anymore – plenty of featured snippets are coming from the body of articles, now.

What a Featured Snippet Does, and What It Doesn’t Do

This can make it seem like featured snippets are the future of search engine marketing.

Not so fast.

While pages that score the top rankings in the organic listings tend to hold on to them – or if they do move around, it is slowly, usually by single positions at a time – featured snippets are more fickle. One study discovered that half of the featured snippets displayed at the top of the SERP turned over at least once in four months, with nearly a quarter changing hands twice or more.

Worse, losing a featured snippet tends to be more devastating than just losing a spot or two in the rankings. Sites that lose their featured snippet distinction can drop all the way to the bottom of the page. This can happen in an instant – especially if a competitor notices your status and makes a concerted effort to take the snippet away from you.

Additionally, there is a school of thought that says that any search query that displays a featured snippet in the results page is going to produce far less traffic than a SERP that has no snippet, as users find what they’re looking for in the snippet and leave the results page without visiting a site.

Finally, just because you can leapfrog high quality pages to the top of the SERP by meticulously crafting a passage designed to score a snippet does not mean that your David page will always beat your Goliath competition – creating pages that have little other than a snippet-targeting passage tend to fare poorly in the results.

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