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11 Ways to Improve E-commerce Category Pages for SEO

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11 Ways to Improve E-commerce Category Pages for SEO

If you’ve been doing SEO for a while, you’ll understand what I mean when I say category pages are a common area SEO and UX experts disagree on.

And this is for one key reason: SEOs tend to want to add more content and links, and UX experts want to prioritize clicks to products.

However, there is a middle ground where we can retain the commercial nature of categories and include content to help users make their purchase decision.

Throughout this guide, I’ll show how to improve your e-commerce category pages for SEO while ensuring the user remains at the core of your decisions.

But first, why are categories so important?

The importance of great categories cannot be understated.

They’re the site area where you’ll often capture “The Fat Head” and “The Chunky Middle” of search queries—the high-volume, less-specific queries that most bosses/clients want to rank for.

The search demand curve

That’s not to say categories can’t target long-tail keywords. But unless you have a lot of SKUs, sites often target the long-tail with product pages.

In addition to categories being essential for capturing traffic from high-volume terms, they also help:

  • Users discover your products when navigating your site.
  • You effectively distribute PageRank to important subcategories and products via your internal linking.
  • Users and search engines understand your information architecture (IA), i.e., how you’ve organized your content.

Before we move on with some tips, I’ll introduce the two types of category pages you’ll find on e-commerce stores:

  • Category listing pages (CLP) – Categories that predominantly list categories. 
  • Product listing pages (PLP) – Categories that predominantly list products.

You’ll see CLPs across many popular e-commerce stores, and they’re often found in categories higher up within a site’s hierarchy.

For example, here is a CLP on ASOS:

Category listing page from ASOS

And here is ASOS’ PLP:

Product listing page from ASOS

So why is understanding the difference between CLPs and PLPs significant?

CLPs target very broad topics. A site is unlikely to service the user’s requirements by displaying one product type. For example, on ASOS’ men’s clothing CLP, it doesn’t know the specific type of men’s clothing a user wants to see, so it links to a mixture of different types of products.

CLPs exist to help users navigate to a more specific page. Sites do this, as they won’t be sure specifically what the user wants yet—so they show them a selection of all relevant product types.

With PLPs, on the other hand, sites know what a user wants. If a user searches for “men’s black boots,” the intent is clear—so they show them black boots.

While we should still help users navigate to a more specific category (if possible), we know showing a list of black boots for them to purchase will fulfill their requirements.

Key elements for categories

Your typical category page is simple and looks like the PLPs I’ve just described. They’ll likely have:

  • An H1.
  • A section under the H1 with some intro copy.
  • A list of products, likely with pagination.
  • Faceted navigation to help users filter the products.

However, there are far more elements you can include to help users and SEO on both PLPs and CLPs.

Here’s a mockup of the critical elements you should consider for both types of categories that both users and search engines will love.

Critical elements of a category page (mockup)

I’ll now expand on the above points throughout the rest of the article to help you improve your category pages.

In this scenario, helpful content will help the user make a purchasing decision.

If you have an “engagement ring” category, writing about the history of engagement rings isn’t helpful.

Valuable supplementary content in this scenario will be answering questions like:

  • How have you sourced your diamonds/metals?
  • Are your diamonds lab-grown or natural? 
  • Why did you select these? Metals available? What makes yours better?
  • What’s the most popular style?

You can briefly answer key pain points below the H1, usually in around 30–60 words. But then you can also add further information lower down the page, either in a generic content block or an FAQ section.

Where to add helpful content on a category page

Not only is this useful for a user, but it also helps you rank.

In an interview with Marie Haynes, Google Search Advocate John Mueller said:

When the ecommerce category pages don’t have any other content at all, other than links to the products, then it’s really hard for us to rank those pages.

John Mueller

Google needs some content to understand the page’s content, and users who don’t know your brand need something to help them decide whether you’re the best choice.

So we know valuable content helps. However, this is sometimes taken to the extreme, resulting in a large amount of content that nobody will read below the fold.

One of the worst offenders is eBay, with many pages including over 1,000 words of text placed at the bottom of the category.

Too much "helpful content" from eBay

In the same interview, John said this about that practice.

I’m not saying all of that text at the bottom of your page is bad, but maybe 90%, 95% of that text is unnecessary. But some amount of text is useful to have on a page so that we can understand what this page is about.

John Mueller

So it’s likely not helping. But is it harming? The answer is likely—yes.

Our algorithms sometimes get confused when they have a list of products on top and essentially a giant article on the bottom when our algorithms have to figure out the intent of this page.

John Mueller

Still not convinced about removing the content? 

Here’s a case study.

At the end of June 2021, I finished a four-week rollout of new category page content. 

I updated 191 pages with 70 words of content above the fold. Previously, up to 800 words were above the fold, hidden by a “read more” toggle.

Here’s the traffic for the following weeks (“A” marks the point the rollout finished):

Traffic weeks after removing excessive content

Here are some snapshots of the ranking for key terms on the top traffic pages. Each of these moved from 800 words to around 70 words (they previously were instructed more content equals better, so they added more content to their top pages). 

Rankings after removing content

Here’s the fifth-largest, non-brand query: 

Fifth-largest, non-brand query—rankings after removing content

And here’s the sixth-largest, non-brand query:

Sixth-largest, non-brand query—rankings after removing content

And the long-term impact? 

The site has been steadily growing.

Long-term impact of removing content

There is never one single reason for SEO growth—but this change certainly did no harm.

As always, do your own testing. But my experience and comments from John have shown that filler content on categories doesn’t help.

To summarize category content: 

  • Answer questions that help users make purchase decisions
  • Answer questions succinctly
  • Don’t stuff content

2. Organize categories logically

Most e-commerce solutions provide a way for you to set parent/child relationships between categories.

Here’s an example of that functionality for a WooCommerce product category:

Parent category function in WooCommerce

Organizing your categories into a logical hierarchy results in your site outputting breadcrumbs correctly; here is an example on my SEO Toolbelt resource:

Organizing your categories into a logical hierarchy results in your site outputting breadcrumbs correctly

Breadcrumbs help users by indicating where they are on your site, and they aid SEO by distributing PageRank to the categories within the breadcrumbs.

They also help Google, as it uses internal links to understand site structure.

We do use the internal links to better understand the structure of a page.

John Mueller

However, breadcrumbs are something a lot of UX professionals are reluctant to introduce, usually because they:

  • Take up lots of room.
  • Tend to be quite ugly.
  • Promote users to navigate to categories rather than products where they’ll convert.

The good news is that breadcrumb placement doesn’t matter for SEO.

I’m always cautious about introducing breadcrumbs, as experience has shown UX experts are right. Whenever I’ve clients run an A/B test, breadcrumbs have negatively impacted conversion rates.

However, the workaround is simple: move breadcrumbs lower down the page.

3. Internally link categories

On both CLP and PLP pages, you should ensure you’re linking to other relevant categories the user may find helpful. On e-commerce sites, I advocate for a mixture of automated internal linking and manually placed links.

Automate links to parent/child categories

For large e-commerce stores, without automation, managing links will be an admin nightmare.

Take GetYourGuide, for example. On its “things to do” on the U.S. page, it has a block of internal links lower down the page to different regions in the U.S.

Regions in the U.S.—automated internal links

If we head to Colorado, scroll down to the same area. Now, it displays cities.

Cities in Colorado— automated internal links

Once you go to Boulder, you’ll see links to activity categories.

Things to do in Boulder—automated internal links

It most undoubtedly automates these links.

How? The site understands the parent/child relationship between categories. That’s how it can also display static breadcrumbs above the footer.

Static breadcrumbs above the footer generated automatically

It’ll be dynamically querying a database for the child pages of the current page and then displaying those to users.

Site structure: source of automatically generated breadcrumbs

The reason why this is so useful is that:

  • You know you won’t get orphan categories due to a human error.
  • If you create a new subcategory and set the parent category, the parent category will link to the subcategory automatically.
  • Your internal links will always indicate your site structure, e.g., Google will understand that Louisiana is a subcategory of the U.S. category, as you link to Louisiana on your U.S. page.

Another considerable benefit is that you’ll automatically create a pyramid site structure, where broader pages link to more specific ones.

Pyramid site structure

We know this helps Google understand site structure, as confirmed by John.

The top-down approach or pyramid structure helps us a lot more to understand the context of individual pages within the site.

John Mueller

Automate links to similar categories

Similar to the above, you’ll also want to link similar categories. You can automate this, but it doesn’t suit every site.

Back to the Boulder page on GetYourGuide, it also links to other popular cities.

Automated links to similar categories

For these links, it will be querying a database, getting the parent category of the current page, and then listing the parents’ child pages.

Two-step process of querying a database for parents' child pages

Subcategories of the parent are likely relevant to the current page, which will help users find other pertinent categories and help SEO by sharing PageRank between them.

Manually link popular categories

You’ll now have a good baseline for internal linking. But it’s also essential to take editorial control of links, especially on CLP pages.

Sometimes, you can have a high search opportunity page deep within the site hierarchy, so relying on parent categories linking to child categories can result in “high opportunity” categories being too deep.

Therefore, you must also ensure you manually add links to popular/important categories to pages closer to the homepage, such as your CLP pages.

Manually add links to popular/important categories to pages closer to the homepage, like your CLP pages

4. Pagination and linking to products

A fundamental purpose of categories is to link to products, but there are a few nuances on how to do this best.

Link to popular products

For larger stores, prioritizing linking to popular products is often better than linking to all products with pagination.

Take Sports Direct in the U.K., for example. On its broad CLP pages, rather than linking lots of products, it includes links to only its best sellers.

Links to popular products

This is helpful for users and also consolidates PageRank into those URLs, improving how well they rank.

PageRank of one distributed to four pages

Doing this is a much better option than linking to more products (but ones that are less popular), which results in the popular traffic-driving products receiving less PageRank and ranking worse.

PageRank of one distributed to 10 pages

Consider view-all pages

While you should aim to link to popular products for pages higher up in your category hierarchy, as you get deeper into the site, users tend to want to see as many products as possible.

Often, the best way to achieve this is by using view-all pages, which is something Google found users prefer (albeit back in 2011).

Google prefers view-all pages

The main caveat with a view-all page is that users want fast load times (as mentioned in Google’s view-all article), and Core Web Vitals can impact rankings.

View-all pages can impact site speed

If you’re going to implement view-all pages, consider that it will cause PageRank to be diluted between all the pages you link to from that category.

Don’t go overboard with pagination

You don’t need to show all your products within your pagination.

Instead, link to more specific variants of the current category, especially if you can match that to search demand (more on that shortly).

For example, on ASOS, its “women’s dresses” category has 176 pagination component pages.

Long pagination on ASOS website

Every time it links to a “women’s dress” component page, it dilutes PageRank. This effectively causes ASOS to lose some PageRank to deep component pages that are very unlikely to rank.

Rather than linking to 176 component URLs, it could limit the pagination and consolidate PageRank into other more specific categories by linking to them instead.

Generally, this will also be beneficial for UX.

If a user reaches page #20 of your pagination, you likely need to help them refine what they’re looking for—maybe by linking to “women’s dress” categories by type or color—as suggested by John.

When creating your pagination strategy, you should consider whether sequential linking like ASOS or linking to multiple component pages is the better choice.

Sequential linking causes the first set of component pages to have stronger signals, which will result in the product pages they link to also having stronger signals, as confirmed by John.

If you link sequentially, what will generally happen is the first page of your site will have a lot stronger signals in the sense that your main content links to the first page, and then it kind of like incrementally drops and drops and drops as it goes through the pagination set.

John Mueller

Therefore, if you want ranking signals to be spread across all products in a category, link to more component pages. If you want to consolidate signals into products earlier within pagination, link to fewer.

Aren’t sure which approach you should take? Do some testing!

5. Create long-tail categories

A well-known tactic to improve your categories is to create long-tail, more specific variations of broader categories.

Here’s my favorite way of doing that using Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

First, enter the query a broader category is targeting, e.g., “engagement rings,” and search for it in the tool.

Keyword research starting from a broad category in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Next, head to the Matching terms report.

KD for "engagement rings"

In the second left sidebar that now appears, click “Parent Topics.” This will group keywords with similar search results into the highest volume keyword.

Long-tail variants for "engagement rings"

We’ve now discovered many long-tail variants of our “engagement rings” pages that we can create on our site.

By creating pages targeting these queries and better covering the topic area of “engagement rings,” we’ll rank better for broad queries within that topic. 

SEOs often refer to this as “topic expertise”—and we did not make this up.

John confirmed it’s part of Google’s algorithms.

It’s something where if we can recognize that this website is really good for this broader topic area, then if someone is searching for that broader topic area, we can try to show that website as well. We don’t have to purely focus on individual pages, but we’ll say oh, like, it looks like you’re looking for a new laptop like this website has a lot of information on various facets around laptops.

John Mueller

Want to know more? Read Ahrefs CMO Tim Soulo’s guide on the long-tail keyword strategy

6. Pick a faceted navigation strategy

A critical element that can go wrong on category pages is how you deal with faceted navigation (often referred to as “filters”).

Here’s an example of one on the Nike store:

Faceted navigation example

I recommend reading my faceted navigation guide for all the details, but the primary SEO considerations are to:

  • Restrict crawling – Do ensure you prevent Google from crawling all facet links (as there can be millions of potential combinations, wasting your crawl budget).
  • Prevent indexing of low-value facets – If you don’t, Google can index hundreds of thousands to millions of essentially duplicate pages that aren’t useful for search.

If you’re going for an ideal implementation, you’re going to want to:

  • Apply facets client-side with AJAX, and don’t include <a href> links.
  • Provide alternate crawl paths to important facets you want to be indexed.

This topic is undoubtedly a technical one—and one you’ll want to get right. So I recommend you read my guide so you don’t just prevent SEO issues with facets but take advantage of the benefits. 

Data from Reevoo suggests positive reviews result in an 18% uplift in revenue on average—so they’re pretty important.

Many sites restrict reviews to product pages, but they’re also great to include in categories.

Fanatical is a great example, an e-commerce store selling Steam Keys for PC games.

Reviews on a category page

It includes recommendations from other gamers throughout its categories.

This adds unique content to categories and helps users find well-reviewed games. Crucially, well-reviewed games (which are more likely to convert) get more PageRank and rank better.

8. Useful guides and tools

As mentioned, one element often missed in categories is that you should provide content to help users make a purchasing decision.

While adding written content to the page helps, it isn’t meant to be overly detailed. This is why you should also link to in-depth guides.

Take Sephora, for example. Its CLPs have links to guides to help users decide on a product.

Guide on a category page

For SEO, this also helps the blog posts rank, as they’ll receive more PageRank. Also, it helps Google better understand your topic expertise, as you have lots of interlinked content.

9. Pick an optimal URL structure

There is plenty of advice on URL structure already available, but the main element to consider is to pick a format you won’t need to change.

John stated that URLs are identifiers for content.

For the most part, we treat URLs as identifiers of content.

John Mueller

Changing URLs (and redirecting them) is often deemed risky activity—you can’t be sure how long it’ll take Google to consolidate signals into the new URL.

Therefore, it’s best not to change URLs unless you have a good reason (like you’re rebranding).

Preventing URL changes for categories comes down to keeping them simple and pre-planning.

For example, you may tell your developers to structure URLs based on the parent/child relationships between categories:

  • www.example.com/mens/
  • www.example.com/mens/trainers/
  • www.example.com/mens/trainers/white/

But what happens if you change your site hierarchy?

Say the business starts selling boots. You’ll likely want to introduce a “Shoes” category into the hierarchy as the parent of the “Trainers” page and the new “Boots” page.

Your URLs will now change to be:

  • www.example.com/mens/
  • www.example.com/mens/shoes/
  • www.example.com/mens/shoes/trainers/
  • www.example.com/mens/shoes/trainers/white/
  • www.example.com/mens/shoes/boots/

We’ve now just caused redirects for the “Trainer” URL and any subcategories it had.

Herein lies the issues with hierarchical structured URLs.

But what’s the solution?

Keep them as simple as possible to reduce the need for changes. 

Here’s an example: If for the “white trainers” URL above, we instruct developers to take the very top-level category (which is less likely to change) and then include the last category, the URL will be this: www.example.com/mens/white-trainers/

Now, if any of the parent categories of the white trainer’s category change, it won’t impact the URL but will still affect the breadcrumbs.

But wouldn’t it be better to remove the structure and have a flat URL like this: www.example.com/mens-white-trainers/?

My personal experience here is that structured URLs impact rankings, despite what Google said on the topic.

Here’s a recent example: 

Structured URLs impact rankings, as shown in line graph

This uplift only impacted the changed URLs. We altered nothing else but saw an immediate impact.

Test this yourself. But also, as I’ve mentioned, changing URLs is risky.

Thankfully, for my above example, we didn’t need to change too many URLs, and the revenue risk to the business wasn’t significant vs. the reward I’d had doing this for other clients.

I’m not writing a keyword research article, and you need to start there before you decide on H1s and title tags. But the advice here is that you should use H1s and title tags on your site that match the language users use to find your product.

For both H1s and title tags, you should test and learn what works best for your site. But there are some general guides and things you can try out.

Use templates

Generally, you will want to have a templated title tag structure that closely matches your H1. 

Why?

Ahrefs data shows Google will rewrite your title tag in 33.4% of cases after changing how it created page titles in August 2021.

Google was more likely to rewrite titles in September 2021 than in June 2021

When Google rewrites your title tag, Ahrefs data shows Google will change it to your H1 tag 50.76% of the time.

When Google ignores titles, it uses H1s

The best way to ensure you have a title tag that Google won’t rewrite is by templating it so it is generated based on your page’s H1. 

Here’s an example: [Page H1] – [Brand Name].

You may want to add some variety to the page title, but what works best comes down to testing.

Test, test, test

There are many different tests you can run to see what works best for you; here are some examples:

  • Use dashes (-) over pipes (|)
  • Include a price – [Page H1] starting from X – [Brand name]
  • Add “Buy” at the start of your title tag – Buy [Page H1] – [Brand name]
  • Add secondary keywords – [Page H1] – [Secondary Keyword] – [Brand Name]

You’ll also want to consider how templates may vary by length. Google is 57% more likely to rewrite titles over 600 px.

Google was more likely to rewrite title tags over 600 px in September 2021 than in June 2021

According to Google, long titles are also a reason why it’ll rewrite the ones you add to your pages.

Google listing length as one of the reasons for rewriting titles

I’ve tackled this before by individually customizing a template for a long category name or using different templates—depending on the length of the generated title tag.

You can add multiple structured data types to your category pages to help Google better understand your content and acquire rich results.

The main applicable types Google recommends in its search gallery are:

Adding these will directly impact your SERP snippet.

For FAQs, it enhances them by displaying the FAQs on the SERPs, which is the strategy Trip Advisor takes.

FAQs coming from schema markup

For breadcrumb structured data, Google shows the breadcrumbs on the SERPs. Here’s an example of Google doing that for Currys in the U.K.

Breadcrumbs coming from schema markup

You can see the structured data it’s added in the Schema Markup validator:

Schema code via Schema Markup validator

Outside of those two types, Google has no recommendations for product category structured data.

But you don’t have to stop there.

On a “Search Off the Record” podcast, Ryan Levering (staff software engineer working on structured data at Google) answered whether structured data beyond what Google recommends is valuable (like what you can find on schema.org).

So it’s hard to convey that in some of our reporting and stuff that we actually find this [structured data] useful because it’s a nuanced calculation.

But when there is problems detecting it [what the page’s content is about], we can use it as an extra signal.

So it’s usually on the edge cases where we find that stuff useful.

Ryan Levering

While adding further structured data should be a secondary focus, I tend to take the approach of leaving as little for Google to figure out as possible.

The two main additional things I’d consider adding are:

In addition, you can also add mainEntity to CollectionPage and add the ItemList within that. By doing this, you tell Google the main part of the page is the list of products, helping it better understand that this is a category page.

Here’s a simple example of what that can look like:

{

  "@context": "http://schema.org",

  "@type": "CollectionPage",

  "mainEntity": {

    "@type": "ItemList",

    "numberOfItems": "[number of products]",

    "itemListElement": [

      {

        "@type": "ListItem",

        "position": 1,

        "url": "[Item URL]",

        "name": "[Item Name]"

      },

      {

        "@type": "ListItem",

        "position": 2,

        "url": "[Item URL]",

        "name": "[Item Name]"

      },

      {

        "@type": "ListItem",

        "position": 3,

        "url": "[Item URL]",

        "name": "[Item Name]"

      }

    ]

  }

}

PRO TIP

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned review or product markup. E-commerce stores often add this markup to category pages—and you shouldn’t.

For reviews, Google mentions explicitly in the technical guidelines not to add review markup if the main content is a category listing items.

Google advises not to use review markup on product category pages

It provides the same instruction for product structured data.

Google advises to use markup for specific products rather than categories or lists

Final thoughts

There’s a lot to consider to make excellent category pages for SEO. But hopefully, this guide has made that process more painless.

Got a question about optimizing e-commerce categories? Tweet me.



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Chrome 110 Changes How Web Share API Embeds Third Party Content

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Chrome 110 Changes How Web Share API Embeds Third Party Content

Chrome 110, scheduled to roll out on February 7, 2023, contains a change to how it handles the Web Share API that improves privacy and security by requiring a the Web Share API to explicitly allow third-party content.

This might not be something that an individual publisher needs to act on.

It’s probably more relevant on the developer side where they are making things like web apps that use the Web Share API.

Nevertheless, it’s good to know what it is for the rare situation when it might be useful for diagnosing why a webpage doesn’t work.

The Mozilla developer page describes the Web Share API:

“The Web Share API allows a site to share text, links, files, and other content to user-selected share targets, utilizing the sharing mechanisms of the underlying operating system.

These share targets typically include the system clipboard, email, contacts or messaging applications, and Bluetooth or Wi-Fi channels.

…Note: This API should not be confused with the Web Share Target API, which allows a website to specify itself as a share target”

allow=”web-share” Attribute

An attribute is an HTML markup that modifies an HTML element in some way.

For example, the nofollow attribute modifies the <a> anchor element, by signaling the search engines that the link is not trusted.

The <iframe> is an HTML element and it can be modified with the allow=”web-share” attribute

An <iframe> allows a webpage to embed HTML, usually from another website.

Iframes are everywhere, such as in advertisements and embedded videos.

The problem with an iframe that contains content from another site is that it creates the possibility of showing unwanted content or allow malicious activities.

And that’s the problem that the allow=”web-share” attribute solves by setting a permission policy for the iframe.

This specific permission policy (allow=”web-share”) tells the browser that it’s okay to display 3rd party content from within an iframe.

Google’s announcement uses this example of the attribute in use:

<iframe allow="web-share" src="https://third-party.example.com/iframe.html"></iframe>

Google calls this a “a potentially breaking change in the Web Share API.

The announcement warns:

“If a sharing action needs to happen in a third-party iframe, a recent spec change requires you to explicitly allow the operation.

Do this by adding an allow attribute to the <iframe> tag with a value of web-share.

This tells the browser that the embedding site allows the embedded third-party iframe to trigger the share action.”

Read the announcement at Google’s Chrome webpage:

New requirements for the Web Share API in third-party iframes

Featured image by Shutterstock/Krakenimages.com



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All You Need to Know to Get Them

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All You Need to Know to Get Them

Do you want to jump to the first position in Google without building links or significantly updating your content? Featured snippets can help you with that.

Featured snippets are a special type of search result showing a quick answer to the search query at the top of Google’s results page. Google pulls this information from one of the top-ranking pages that then gets elevated to the top of the organic search results this way.

You may be wondering how that’s a good thing for the website that owns the featured snippet. Users see your content on the SERP, and that may mean losing clicks, right?

Well, yes and no. Check this example:

Featured snippet example

If this question were possible to answer thoroughly in a few sentences, most of us would be out of work. So while the snippet tells you the absolute basics, you still have to click to learn more.

That’s just one example. Featured snippets are one of the most prominent SERP features—and they’re evolving all the time.

Follow this guide to learn everything you need to know about featured snippets and what it takes to optimize for them. 

What types of featured snippets are there?

There are five types of featured snippets that Google shows depending on the intent behind the search query: 

  1. Paragraph
  2. Numbered list
  3. Bullet list
  4. Table
  5. Video

Let’s check an example for each type. 

1. Paragraph

Paragraph featured snippet

This one is a bit special because Google sometimes combines featured snippets with People Also Ask (PAA) boxes. You can see additional questions related to the search query there and click on them to see more information. That often comes from a different source than the featured snippet itself, as you can see in this case:

Featured snippet with PAA box

2. Numbered list

Numbered list featured snippet
This is an interesting case of a featured snippet where Google shows only the first point along with its own numbered list.

3. Bullet list

Bullet list featured snippet

4. Table

Table featured snippet

5. Video

Video featured snippet

It’s also important to note that there are other “snippet-like” results. You need to know about these to avoid any confusion:

Knowledge panel

Knowledge panel example

Knowledge card

Knowledge card example

Entity carousel

Entity carousel example

These three SERP features have one thing in common. They don’t pull answers from just one of the top-ranking search results, as they’re based on entities in the knowledge graph. While they may contain a link to the source of information (song lyrics, for example), it’s never in the form of a clickable title as we have in featured snippets.

How featured snippets influence search and SEO

Google introduced featured snippets in 2014, and I would say that they’re one of the most prominent SERP changes of the past decade. There are quite a few things that featured snippets changed for both users and SEOs.

Shortcut to the top organic position

If your content is ranking on the first SERP for a search query that shows a featured snippet, you can “win” that snippet and shortcut your way to the top position. Let’s break this down.

Our study found that featured snippets come from pages that already rank in the top 10. Moreover, the vast majority of featured snippets pages rank in the top five.

In conclusion, the higher your content ranks, the more likely it is to get a featured snippet.

Getting to the first SERP is a more manageable goal than ranking number #1 for a keyword. But if that keyword triggers a featured snippet, it makes the first position a bit more attainable.

Fewer clicks… sometimes

In the past, the page owning the featured snippet would also be listed in the standard “blue link” search results somewhere on the first SERP. But in January 2020, Google introduced featured snippet deduplication.

Once your page gets elevated to the featured snippet, you lose that “regular” search result.

Besides the little traffic losses back then, some people also think that featured snippets reduce clicks on the search results. After all, if the answer to the query is on the SERP, why would you click on a result?

While this is the case for some queries, it’s certainly not the case for them all. It depends on whether Google can provide a satisfactory answer in the snippet.

For example, take a look at the featured snippet for this query:

Featured snippet with a straightforward answer

The answer is right there for most people. And that’s why there’s only a 19% chance, on average, that the search for this query results in a click.

Example of a keyword with low Clicks Per Search

Now take a look at the snippet for “how does the stock market work”:

Featured snippet providing only a basic answer

Because it gives a basic answer to the question, most searchers will probably want to know more. 

That is most likely why, on average, 82% of searches for this query result in a click.

Example of a keyword with high Clicks Per Search

The takeaway here is that targeting keywords with a low number of Clicks Per Search (CPS) is rarely a good idea.

Pay attention to this when researching keywords in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

CPS column in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Featured snippets as superb branding opportunities

Clicks aside, featured snippets are the first thing that users see in the search results if there are no search ads. They’re even more prominent on mobile devices where they’re often the only thing people initially see:

Featured snippet on mobile

This is a very compelling argument in favor of featured snippets.

Increasing your share of voice on the SERPs is arguably one of the most important SEO KPIs. That’s because brand-building is proven to be the primary driver of long-term growth.

The more your brand is visible on the SERPs for relevant topics, the more you will be associated as a market leader.

You can opt out of featured snippets (don’t do that, though)

Cyrus Shepard led the way in experimenting with opting out of featured snippets after the SERP deduplication and discovered that it led to a 12% traffic loss.

That said, if you still want to opt out of featured snippets, Google offers various ways to do that. Just be aware that both nosnippet robots meta tags methods also block your content from appearing in traditional “blue link” snippets. I don’t recommend using those because Google could then only use your hard-coded title tag and meta description.

So the best way to remove your page from appearing in featured snippets is to include max-snippet robots meta tag. This tag specifies the maximum number of characters Google can show in the text snippets.

And because featured snippets are longer than descriptions in regular snippets, you can set the character limit to the usual maximum length of descriptions. That’s around 160 characters.

You’ll just have to paste this code snippet into the <head> section of the page that you wish to remove from the featured snippets:

<meta name="robots" content="max-snippet:170">

While this method doesn’t guarantee not appearing in shorter featured snippets, it still outweighs the cons of using the more restrictive methods.

Recommendation

If you’re thinking of opting out, it pays to first check which position your page would rank for the keyword without owning the featured snippet.

For example, here’s a featured snippet that we own:

Featured snippet for the keyword "h1 tag"

If we appended “&num=9” to the URL, preferably in Incognito mode, we can see where we’d rank if we weren’t in the snippet:

Seeing the true position of the featured snippet page

In this case, if we decided to opt out, we would be in the second or third position—depending on the page that would take over the featured snippet (you’ll see how to do that too).

Being in lower positions and opting out can hurt your traffic. You’ve been warned. 

How to find and optimize featured snippets that you already own

Google Search Console doesn’t show any information regarding featured snippets. You’ll have to use third-party tools like Ahrefs’ Site Explorer to dig into them.

Let’s stick with Site Explorer. Paste in your site, then head to the Organic keywords report to see the keywords you rank for, then filter only for those where Google shows your page in the featured snippet:

Filtering for your own featured snippets

As you can see above, Ahrefs’ domain currently ranks for 1,042 keywords with featured snippets in the U.S. 

In the previous version of this article, I recommended filtering for keywords with the highest search volume and checking the most important featured snippets manually. That’s because Google sometimes pulls content that isn’t optimal, and you’d want these important featured snippets to be perfect.

However, Google is still improving. Now, I didn’t find a single keyword where I’d bother editing the section Google pulls it from.

While you may come across featured snippets that can do with a bit of polishing, I don’t recommend editing things unless Google pulls poorly formatted, misleading, or just plain wrong information.

It’s better to own an imperfect featured snippet than to risk losing it to a competitor by revising it.

How to get more featured snippets

Winning more featured snippets is a simple way to potentially increase organic traffic to your site. Below, we’ll discuss a few ways to do that.

Leverage content that you already have and rank for

Here, we’ll be looking at pages that already rank in the top 10 for a particular term yet don’t own the snippet. It’s possible to win the snippet just by making a few tweaks to your page.

How to find these opportunities? It’s easy.

Go to Site Explorer and filter keywords that trigger featured snippets where your website is ranking in positions #2–10.

Checking featured snippet opportunities

This is an easy way to filter out the vast majority if not all the featured snippets that you rank for, since they’re predominantly ranking at the first position. There are cases where they appear at lower positions, but it’s rare these days. In fact, all of our 1,042 featured snippets are ranking at the first position.

In other words, we now have a list of low-hanging opportunities to steal featured snippets from your competitors. Let’s get you prepared for the heist.

We need to prioritize. Stealing 7,064 featured snippets at once is mission impossible.

I reduced the list to just 21 keywords by prioritizing those with higher search volumes where we rank in positions #2–5.

Filtering down featured snippet opportunities

Now things look much more manageable.

The search volume filter is an obvious one, as there’s no point in targeting long-tail keywords at this point. Regarding the positions and referring back to our study, the probability of owning a featured snippet increases with your organic position for that search query.

Again, these filters will be different for you. However, if you don’t rank for a substantial number of keywords already, I’ll suggest focusing on creating more great content and building links.

So we’ve got the list. What’s the battle plan?

In our case, I’ll prioritize further by manually checking for keywords with solid business value. Let’s take a look at some of those keywords:

Keywords with good featured snippet opportunities

For example, the search query “most searched thing on google” at the top is less valuable for us than “seo content” at the bottom even though the first has twice the search volume. People who want to learn about creating search-optimized content are much more likely to become our customers one day.

Taking that “seo content” query into account, this is what I see:

Competing featured snippet example

First thing I’ll do here is to check whether our page even qualifies for the featured snippet at the moment. That can dictate how big of a change we need to make. You do that by excluding the domain that ranks for the current featured snippet using the - search operator.

Checking the featured snippet queue

In this case, there’s no other page in the featured snippet “queue,” which is an indicator that we currently don’t provide a good, short answer to the search query in the eyes of Google.

Just so you know, here’s an example of a featured snippet that has other eligible pages in line:

Example of a featured snippet with a queue

After excluding the Coursera domain, we can see what Google considers as the second-best option:

Second featured snippet in line

And you can go on to even see the third domain in line, and so on. But back to optimizing for the “seo content” featured snippet.

Competing featured snippet

We can clearly tell that a short, definition-style paragraph is the way to go here. Let’s check what we have in our content:

Featured snippet content section to be optimized

So the appropriate section exists; that’s a check. An interesting thing here is that Google ranks a page that targets the keyword in reverse order. Let’s see if other pages qualified for ranking there in the past by opening that keyword in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer and scrolling down to the Position history:

Position history in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

I only filtered for URLs that had the featured snippet at one point in the past two years. We can see that the rest targets “seo content” in the original order, and Backlinko claimed the first position for a long time. But we need to check whether Google was even showing the featured snippet back then.

You do that by scrolling further down in Keywords Explorer to the SERP overview. Select a date where you want to investigate the SERP for comparison. In this case, I need any SERP between July and September 2021:

Historical SERP overview for the keyword "seo content"

There it is: The featured snippet was there, claimed by another page. The last thing I need here is to check the section that was ranking back then by opening the URL on Archive.org after clicking on the caret:

Checking a page on Archive.org

And selecting a screenshot of that page during the time it was ranking for the featured snippet:

Historically ranking featured snippet section

We see three rather different definitions. There’s definitely room for the featured snippet optimization. I’d make our definition a bit longer, change the second sentence, and fit in the mention of keywords because I think that’s important. I’d change it from:

SEO content is content designed to rank in search engines. It could be a blog post, product or landing page, interactive tool, or something else.

To something like this:

SEO content is content designed to rank high in search engines for a specific keyword. Creating it requires researching and covering what searchers would find valuable.

I can honestly say that I feel this definition is superior to the competing ones. That should be your ultimate goal when it comes to optimizing for featured snippets regardless of the format.

This was quite an interesting example. One last thing to note here is that your snippet-worthy information needs to be formatted in a way that Google can easily parse, understand, and interpret. A good rule of thumb is that if the reader comes across that information easily, then Google should be able to as well.

Create new content with featured snippets in mind

Let’s make one thing clear from the start: Scoring a featured snippet should be just the icing on the cake, not the main purpose of why and how you cover a certain topic.

The prerequisite for winning the featured snippet is ranking well, so that should still be the focus. For this reason, I investigate potential featured snippet opportunities only after selecting a topic.

Since the major factor of being successful in SEO is aligning with the search intent, you should always analyze the competing pages on the SERP. Let’s take our main topic here as an example because it doesn’t get better than optimizing content to win featured snippets for “featured snippets” keywords.

I have my “featured snippets” topic, and you should select yours based on your keyword research. Look it up in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer and scroll down to the SERP overview:

SERP overview for the keyword "featured snippet"

I see that the main keyword triggers a featured snippet, so I’m in the difficult position of trying to dethrone Google there:

Featured snippet for the keyword "featured snippets"

Honestly, this is a case of a bad featured snippet. It doesn’t really provide value to the searcher. I don’t learn what it is or how it works. Google has a clear advantage of coining the term, so it’s kind of a branded search. But I’ll try my best to create a definition-type paragraph that I think searchers likely want to see.

We already went through the process of creating content for the “seo content” featured snippet, so this is just a rinse-and-repeat process—provide the best answer possible using a suitable format.

Since pages can rank for thousands of keywords, there are naturally many more featured snippet opportunities than just the one for the main keyword. The easiest way to check these is to click through a few top-ranking pages to see all the keywords they rank for: 

Checking organic keywords of the top-ranking page

And filter the report for keywords that trigger featured snippets and have a certain minimum search volume to make it worthwhile (as we’ve already shown earlier). I also included a “1–20” Position filter to make the list as relevant as possible:

Checking other featured snippets opportunities

Some of those keywords will be almost the same, having the same search intent and featured snippet. I don’t need to check the featured snippets for keywords like “snippet google” or “what is a featured snippet” because the answer and optimizing your content for them remain the same.

We’re looking for keywords that can trigger different featured snippets and are aligned with sections we cover in the article. There are a bunch of these opportunities around optimizing and getting featured snippets:

Other featured snippet opportunities

Look them up and see what Google shows there:

Featured snippet for the keyword "how to get featured snippet"

So if I want to have a chance to rank for this, I should include a straight-to-the-point paragraph on how to get a featured snippet instead of explaining the whole process across many pages. This looks like something that can fit nicely into the “Final thoughts” section to sum it up, so I’ll do that.

And since different pages rank for different keywords, it pays off to repeat this process for one to two more top-ranking pages. I found that I should also optimize for the “types of featured snippets” keyword here.

Even if you don’t end up winning the featured snippets, we’re still trying to answer searchers’ questions in the best way possible. That in itself is critical to your content’s success on the SERPs.

Here are a few copywriting tips for winning featured snippets to wrap this section up. You should:

  1. Format and structure your content correctly (H1–H6, etc.).
  2. Try to avoid overcomplicated sentences. Succinct explanations win.
  3. Use the language of your audience. In the end, Google uses featured snippets as answers in voice search.
  4. Use the ”inverted pyramid” method (where it makes sense).

pro tip

If your content includes sections that contain a sequence of steps to achieve a certain result or you have FAQ sections, use appropriate schema markup to highlight these structured sections for Google.

First, it’s a good idea to do so regardless of featured snippets because it can enhance your plain search result into a rich snippet. But I’ve also seen such pages dominate the combined featured snippets with PAA boxes where everything was from a single source. 

How to keep track of your featured snippets

Getting a featured snippet is equal to ranking first for a keyword. You may already be tracking keyword ranking positions, so let me help you expand it to tracking featured snippets.

Enter Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker.

First of all, I track all important keywords regardless of their SERP features. But we can begin by adding the most important keywords that also trigger featured snippets.

You can do that in a few clicks through the Organic keywords report we’ve already shown multiple times here. You just have to create a Rank Tracking project first for it to appear here:

Adding keywords triggering featured snippets to Ahrefs' Rank Tracker

You’re all set to see when you win or lose a featured snippet. Go to the Rank Tracker’s Overview report, click on the “SERP features” tab, and check the “Featured snippet” row:

Checking SERP featured in Rank Tracker

As you can see, from the keywords I’m tracking, the project lost eight featured snippets, while 12 new ones appeared on the SERP over the tracked time period (last 30 days). 

Here are the key parts to keep an eye on:

  1. Number of featured snippets you currently own (plus the +/- change in the selected period)
  2. Number of featured snippets in total for the keywords you’re tracking (plus the +/- change for the period)
  3. Percentage of all the featured snippets among the tracked keywords that you own (9%, in this example)

You can also change the view from “all tracked features” to “featured snippets” to see your progress over time:

Progress of featured snippets in Rank Tracker

To delve deeper into the specifics on the keyword level, select the “Featured snippet” filter:

Filtering for keywords that only trigger featured snippets

And scroll down to the keywords list to see the time comparison data (30 days, in this example):

Featured snippet changes over the past 30 days

We can see that the top keyword is among our new featured snippets. But it is more helpful to isolate the featured snippet movements only.

To isolate the winning cases, we’ll need to apply two filters:

  • Position – Improved (you rank higher than at the start of your selected period).
  • SERP features – You rank for the featured snippet.
Filtering for won featured snippets

Again, scroll down and see the featured snippet winners of the month (or whatever period you choose):

Won featured snippets

To see lost featured snippets, just apply reverse filters -> decline in positions in the top 10 and only show featured snippets that you don’t own. Unfortunately, you can’t currently isolate cases where you lost the snippet, so you’ll see all declines in the top 10.

Look for keywords that dropped from the first position, like these first two:

Lost featured snippets

You may want to consider checking the position drops regardless of featured snippets anyway. Sort the table by traffic and pay attention to huge traffic drops. 

Final thoughts

You should now know everything necessary to win those coveted SERP jumps to the first position. To sum it up:

Optimizing for featured snippets is about providing a brief and valuable answer to the search query in the most suitable format. Getting the featured snippet involves following all the best SEO practices to make the content rank well for the target keyword.

If you have any comments or questions, don’t hesitate to ping me on Twitter.



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Google CEO Confirms AI Features Coming To Search “Soon”

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Google CEO Confirms AI Features Coming To Search "Soon"

Google announced today that it will soon be rolling out AI-powered features in its search results, providing users with a new, more intuitive way to navigate and understand the web.

These new AI features will help users quickly understand the big picture and learn more about a topic by distilling complex information into easy-to-digest formats.

Google has a long history of using AI to improve its search results for billions of people.

The company’s latest AI technologies, such as LaMDA, PaLM, Imagen, and MusicLM, provide users with entirely new ways to engage with information.

Google is working to bring these latest advancements into its products, starting with search.

Statement From Google CEO Sundar Pichai

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, released a statement on Twitter about a conversational AI service that will be available in the coming weeks.

Bard, powered by LaMDA, is Google’s new language model for dialogue applications.

According to Pichai, Bard, which leverages Google’s vast intelligence and knowledge base, can deliver accurate and high-quality answers:

“In 2021, we shared next-gen language + conversation capabilities powered by our Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA). Coming soon: Bard, a new experimental conversational #GoogleAI service powered by LaMDA.

Bard seeks to combine the breadth of the world’s knowledge with the power, intelligence, and creativity of our large language models. It draws on information from the web to provide fresh, high-quality responses. Today we’re opening Bard up to trusted external testers.

We’ll combine their feedback with our own internal testing to make sure Bard’s responses meet our high bar for quality, safety, and groundedness and we will make it more widely available in coming weeks. It’s early, we will launch, iterate and make it better.”

In Summary

Increasingly, people are turning to Google for deeper insights and understanding.

With the help of AI, Google can consolidate insights for questions where there is no one correct answer, making it easier for people to get to the core of what they are searching for.

In addition to the AI features being rolled out in search, Google is also introducing a new experimental conversational AI service called Bard. Powered by LaMDA, Bard will use Google’s vast intelligence and knowledge base to deliver accurate and high-quality answers to users.

Google continues demonstrating its commitment to making search more intuitive and effective for users. As Pichai said in his statement, the company will continue to launch, iterate, and improve these new offerings in the coming weeks and months.

Source: Google



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