Through a search engine, you can look something up, click a link, and get the information you need — but search providers want to save you a step. By showing data from indexed websites directly in search results, they achieve superior convenience and hold your attention for longer.
If you’ve heard of graphs and snippets in the context of SEO, this is what those terms refer to. But what do they mean? Here’s your SEO primer for graphs, snippets, and the future of search:
The Knowledge Graph
To collect and sort data, Google created the Knowledge Graph. It’s a massive database that stores and categorizes structured data from indexed websites so segments of it can be included in results. If you’ve typed a question into Google and had the answer show up in a box at the top of the results page, you’ve seen this in action.
Because of this, it isn’t enough to give your pages titles, descriptions and other such tags. You also need to make your website as searchable as possible with an updated sitemap and no indexing issues.
If you do a good job of optimizing for your site’s crawlability, you’ll give yourself a much better chance of benefiting from the following:
- Enriched search results with snippets of immersive information
- Brand information provided through graph cards
- Breadcrumb links to your site from rich snippets
- Status as an Accelerated Mobile Page (AMP)
Each one of these things has a solid chance of improving your click-through rates. That said, there’s no guarantee that graph information will work in your favor. You have to make sure that you get the implementation right so the data will draw the users in.
Graph Cards vs. Rich Snippets vs. Featured Snippets
Firstly, let’s have a look at these different search features and how they can be used for your business.
answer boxes have come to be known as cards because of their formatting. They’re especially prominent for searches around people, recipes, the weather, locations… the key is the presence of accessible and unambiguous data. The aim of a graph card is to give a lot of data so the user can rapidly get what they need.
Here is one for Barack Obama. You can see that the card has pulled in an official website, a Wikipedia entry, quotes, books, and related searches. It also provides a “Feedback” field in the bottom-right-hand corner so users can tell Google what they think.
Featured snippets are similar to graph cards, but typically draw data segments directly from linked websites. You’ll often see them when you look for information that Google can’t neatly summarize.
In the case of the search pictured below, the search engine has found a relevant page and selected a bulleted list to highlight.
Rich snippets are pieces of extra information about specific results. By tagging different elements of a page, you can offer further context that might be useful for the searcher, and Google may well reward that elaboration with a higher ranking.
Below, you can see an example of a rich snippet in the form of the noted TripAdvisor review.
An Unavoidable Change
In an ideal world, you’d get every searcher to visit your website directly, but that isn’t viable now. Through featured data, you have to accept that Google is going to eat into your traffic no matter what you do. If your data isn’t picked out for a results page, it will be the data of one of your competitors, and they’ll get the plaudits and (when links are provided) better traffic.
For each and every search, Google is set up to prioritize the searcher’s goals. This should be paramount in your mind when considering the search terms you’re targeting. The more closely and succinctly you answer a search query, the more likely Google will be to pick your answer as the most relevant and worthy of inclusion.
Reviewing Your Content
I’m going to cover some general tips here, and then move into directions for the specific types of featured data. The first thing to do is generally review your site to check that the information provided is searchable and digestible.
How do you format your copy? Do you lump it all together, or split it up using paragraphs, headings, lists and tables? If you currently do the former, you should pursue the latter. Keep your layouts very neatly segmented and title everything very clearly so automated crawlers can parse your pages.
For the actual content, think about the audience your content is intended to serve, and anticipate likely questions. If a question gets a lot of search volume, make a point of directly answering it. Do some Google searches for terms from your website and see what kinds of questions are highlighted — you can use that data to your advantage.
Targeting Specific Features
As noted before, being featured in results isn’t inherently valuable. For the following reasons, you should try to adopt a targeted approach:
- Every type of business has different brand priorities in how it appears to its audience. Fashion retailers lean heavily on visual elements, for instance, while analytics firms are all about the appearance of precision. Even if you can achieve it, is there much value in having a carousel appearance at the top of an image search if your visuals don’t play into your business in a significant way?
- Some queries are vastly more difficult to be featured for than others. Just as it’s more sensible to target numerous long-tail search queries than it is to focus on one hotly-contested term, there’s no sense in putting a lot of energy into trying to be featured for terms that are dominated by giant websites with unmatchable authority.
Consider your highest-value content and what your level of competition looks like. Try to identify gaps in the search data. Are there important questions that currently don’t yield any featured data? Maybe no one has thought to provide a structured answer, and you could be the first.
When you come to structure your data, be sure to include any brand elements you want to be included. Since getting a link isn’t guaranteed, add in a high-quality logo and social media links so you’ll have a better chance of getting open recognition.
And bear in mind that it is isn’t merely data featured from your website that can be valuable. If you have a product or service, getting it to appear in featured lists from other sites around search terms like ‘Top’ or ‘Best’ can be very lucrative. To achieve this, try to build awareness through reaching out to influential list-makers with sample or trial offers.
Since graph cards are all about specific data, you’ll need to provide appropriate information and structure it correctly. Tables are perfect for this kind of featured data. Think about how stats and features are typically presented in guides, with row and column titles, specified units of measurement, and citation links where appropriate.
The most important thing for rich snippets is structured data markup, typically of the Schema.org standard. Any information that you wish to be highlighted should be tagged appropriately in the page source. If you sell products and provide up-to-date stock availability, for instance, you should tag it so it can appear in the page listing — this will increase user trust and generate a higher click-through rate.
These are harder to optimize for, since Google can pick out featured snippets very freely. That said, it certainly isn’t arbitrary. You should aim for the following:
- Succinct self-contained sections that answer heading questions in an easy-to-follow way (often using bullet points or numbered steps).
- A reasonable level of keyword density that hits the right terms while maintaining a natural tone and phrasing structure.
- High-quality images with relevant titles, alt text and EXIF data.
- As much domain and brand authority as you can achieve (the more authoritative you are perceived to be, the more weight your information will hold).
Google’s mix-and-match approach means it can draw in data from numerous sources, so it can take 90% of your information but replace the parts not fit for purpose.
As you can see in the snippet to the right, the image and the content are sourced from entirely different sites. Suppose you were creating a structured page all about general fitness: you could fill it with free fitness photos to save time, but their ubiquity and generic metadata would likely mean they’d be swapped out in the event that your data were featured. Invest in unique independently-sourced media and it will pay dividends.
A great overall way to target featured snippets is to create an in-depth FAQ with subheading questions, relevant images, and brief but sharply-written answers. The format of the page will be easy for crawlers to interpret, and the resource will be valuable to your users regardless.
As time goes by, Google’s quest to sort and categorize online data is only going to get more complex, and it isn’t something any business can afford to ignore. By structuring your content to be optimally useful for visitors and searchable for bots, you can maximize the long-term value of your website, working with the Knowledge Graph instead of needlessly trying to fight it.
Kayleigh Toyra: Content Strategist
Half-Finnish, half-British marketer based in Bristol. I love to write and explore themes like storytelling and customer experience marketing. I manage a small team of writers at a boutique agency.