Featured snippets and rich results are two common search features that go beyond the standard blue link and provide key information to the user within the SERP.
Both featured snippets and rich results show more content than a regular snippet and target specific user intent, making the results more query-oriented.
But there are essential differences between featured snippets and rich results:
- Their appearance and characteristics,
- What type of content they apply to,
- What sites they will work for,
- How they are generated,
- The benefits they offer,
- What steps you need to take to obtain them.
Here’s a summary that should help you understand how featured snippets and rich results differ.
|Featured snippets||Rich results|
|What are they?||Content is taken from a page that is extracted and placed in a highlighted box.||Page listing enriched with additional visual or interactive elements that make it stand out.|
|Where are they located?||Usually in position 0 above the first organic listing. The page should already rank in the Top 10 results for the specific query.||Located within SERPs. Ranking high is not a prerequisite for acquiring a rich result.|
|How industry-specific are they?||Types are not assigned to specific industries. Most sites can provide a meaningful response or accurate data that answers a relevant query.||Many types will work only for specific content or websites (Recipe, Local Pack, Critic Review, Product).|
|How are they generated?||Analysis of content – both technical and on-page aspects are considered.||Pulled using the page’s structured data.|
|What impact do they have on the CTR?||They can increase the CTR but might also sufficiently answer the query in SERPs without users needing to click.||They increase the CTR because of the enhanced visibility and targeted results.|
But this is just scratching the surface. Let’s go into detail.
What are featured snippets?
A picture speaks a thousand words.
Featured snippets generally appear before the first organic result on Google and are sometimes treated as result 0.
Featured snippets consist of:
- A short text fragment extracted from the content of a target page that attempts to answer the user’s query directly.
- The page’s meta title that the users can click to visit the page.
- The URL of the page.
Featured snippets most often show up in response to question-based queries. Google’s goal is to directly answer the question by algorithmically looking up the indexed pages for the most accurate answer.
When choosing the content shown in the featured snippet, Google favors answers that are direct, detailed, and informative.
Featured snippet types
As in the example above, featured snippets can be structured as a list and outline the necessary steps or contain compilations, rankings, and features. But there are more featured snippet types:
In paragraphs, Google extracts an excerpt from a page to answer the searcher’s question. Ideally, it should answer the question immediately and follow with extra information on the topic.
Tables work best to show data, like lists, pricing, and rates.
Google either pulls these tables from websites or forms its own tables using the information found on a website. Any data can be formatted into a table, as long as Google can turn it into rows and columns.
According to Semrush, paragraphs are the most popular featured snippet type – they make up 70% of featured snippets.
These snippets typically show Youtube videos. They show a short clip from the video that illustrates the answer to the searched query. Video snippets can also answer a question using text transcribed from what is said in the video. In other cases, it could be the text pulled from the video description.
Video snippets appear the least frequently, appearing in only 4.6% of snippets.
What are rich results?
Here is a rich result for a recipe:
Rich results are displayed within organic search results. They contain more details than a regular snippet, with added visuals or interactive features, all depending on the result.
A rich result can contain additional product information, like prices, availability or reviews, or extended navigational tools, like breadcrumbs or site search.
As shown above, a rich result for a recipe may include cooking time, calories, or a rating and reviews given by other users and site links – in this case, to related pages on the site.
All the additional information needed to enrich search results are pulled from the page’s structured data (a standardized format for providing information about a page).
You may have heard terms like rich snippets, rich cards, or enriched results – they were used instead of rich results in the past. Google announced that rich results is the preferred term.
Rich results types
There are many types of rich results, and Google is constantly adding more.
Let’s look at a few of them.
The following rich result for a product contains the rating, reviews, price, and availability details:
Including structured data in your article can boost it to be displayed in the Top stories carousel within the results. It can show the headline, author, date published, and a larger image.
The course rich result includes a course’s name, a short description, and details on the organization or creator providing it.
Carousel results appear in a list or gallery taken from one site. They show up when connected with one of the other types: Recipe, Course, Restaurant, or Movie.
Here is a Recipe host carousel:
Carousel results are especially prevalent on mobile.
Check out Google’s Search Gallery to see a complete list of currently available rich results.
What are the characteristics of featured snippets and rich results?
- A study conducted by Ahrefs shows that around 12.29% of search queries have featured snippets, though this number seems to be even higher in other reports, reaching nearly 20%.
- According to Ahrefs, in 99.58% of cases, Google only features pages that already rank in the Top 10 results. Of them, almost all are in the Top 5.
- Semrush’s research study of mobile data gives us valuable details on the characteristics of featured snippets.
- The percentage of featured snippets varies between keywords for different industries.
- The study tells us that around 62% of SERPs in Travel and Computer & Electronics have a featured snippet. It is also roughly 59% in Art & Entertainment, 54% in Science, and 47% in Reference (like Wikipedia). This number is significantly lower for other industries. For example, it’s only 11% in Real Estate.
- Semrush also found that the vast majority of keywords that trigger featured snippets are long-tail keywords – 17% of keywords made up of 5 words, and 55.5% of keywords made up of 10 words had a featured snippet.
- 29% of featured snippets on mobile start with one of the question-based words, like “why,” “do,” or “can.” Moreover, 77.6% of questions that start with “why” and 72.4% of queries that begin with “can” result in a featured snippet.
- The average list contains six items, while a table consists of five rows. However, Google will generally display a ‘More Items’ or ‘More rows’ link when some content in lists or rows does not fit, and users may be more inclined to click to see more and visit your site.
- All featured snippets can contain an image or video to illustrate the content. Interestingly, sometimes the image in the snippet is not taken from the page originally containing the snippet.
- Featured snippets are more prominent on mobile devices, as they take up around 50% of the mobile screen, helping attract even more user attention than on desktop.
- Many rich results types mainly work for specific sites and industries, like Books, Movies, Organizations, Events, Restaurants, or Local Businesses. In this sense, rich results have more restrictions than featured snippets.
- Some types of markup can be used by nearly all websites, such as the Reviews and Rating schema.
- You can implement markup for multiple types of rich results depending on your industry. For example, if you operate in e-commerce, you could benefit from the following rich results: Product, Review, Video, or FAQ.
- It’s not required for sites to rank high to appear as a rich result.
- There are no limits on how many rich results can show up on a single SERP.
- Similar to featured snippets, rich results are especially prominent on mobile. They are presented in a more actionable, mobile-friendly way so users can see crucial information and options faster. For example, they tend to be shown as a carousel that the user can swipe through.
How are featured snippets and rich results generated?
Featured snippets are taken from web search listings. Google analyzes pages’ content to determine whether they would make accurate featured snippets highlighting the information for a specific search query.
Bill Slawski wrote about Google’s patent called Candidate Answer Passages which describes the way content is extracted to be included in a featured snippet:
Answers to questions in queries may be ranked based on a combination of query dependant and query independent signals, which could determine a featured snippet answer score.source: Bill Slawski
Slawski explains those in detail when discussing the following patent that provided more detail on the scoring signals – Scoring Candidate Answer Passages.
Query-dependent signals are based on the similarity of terms used in the query and the answer passage analyzed. For instance, it measures how many times a specific term appears in the answer passage or identifies the entity type that will be appropriate.
Query-independent signals are generally external. For example, they analyze the site’s quality, reputation, ranking, how trustworthy it is, or the language structure that it uses.
According to Bill Slawski, both structured and unstructured content is needed and considered by Google to generate featured snippets:
By requiring both, Google tells us that the unstructured content allows the searcher to receives “prose-type explanations,” and the Structured Content enables factual information to be returned, which means that an answer can be a combination of prose and facts, which can be very relevant to what the searcher was trying to find.source: Bill Slawski
The additional elements that make up rich results are pulled from structured data. Occasionally, rich results can be taken from sites that don’t have structured data if Google can extract the details. However, if you want to have a higher chance of getting rich results, you should implement the markup instead of hoping Google will identify your page’s elements without it.
Structured data is a markup used for tagging pages that helps search engines read and identify your site’s elements and better understand your content.
Schema is a universal vocabulary of tags created by the biggest search engines that consists of standardized definitions for marking up pages so that robots can easily categorize their content.
It contains different types of markup depending on the page’s content, like Organization or Review. Schema’s documentation provides tags and properties for marking specific details of your products, articles, reviews, listings, and so on.
There are a few formats to implement structured data – Microdata, RDFa, and JSON-LD. The recommended format is JSON-LD. It’s easier to implement, add and remove it. It doesn’t alter the HTML code and is endorsed by Google.
Using structured data enables and maximizes your chances of getting rich results. However, Google clarifies that having structured data does not guarantee that it will show up in search results.
How can featured snippets and rich results be beneficial for your site?
Featured snippets occupy more space than regular search results – particularly on mobile – and are more likely to catch people’s attention.
However, Ahrefs’ data shows that featured snippets can increase the number of no-click searches. As they already display some information that should answer the searcher’s query, clicking to read further isn’t always necessary.
This can differ depending on the type of query, response, and industry.
Ben Goodsell presented a case study of a page that experienced a 516% increase in organic sessions after acquiring a featured snippet, and its CTR went from 2% to 8%.
Ahrefs’ study found that when there is a featured snippet, it gets around 8.6% of clicks, while the result under it receives about 19.6% of clicks. When there is no featured snippet, the first result gets approx. 26% of clicks.
Featured snippets don’t necessarily give your page a higher CTR, but they take clicks away from organic search results.
In January 2020, Google posted an announcement on deduplication – if a web page result already appears in a featured snippet, Google will no longer consider showing this result on the first page of SERPs. Instead, this page can appear at the beginning of the second page.
Since the CTR is higher for the 1st result than for a featured snippet, a page that can rank on the 1st position might benefit from it more than from a featured snippet in position 0. In this situation, you may consider opting out of featured snippets.
With a featured snippet, it’s unnecessary to get a higher position in the ranking to show up at the top. The way to #1 might be long and complicated, depending on the competition. When competing for a featured snippet, you have a chance to appear in position 0 if a particular query shows a featured snippet and if you make any necessary adjustments to your content.
A large portion of featured snippets comes from the most reliable sources on the Internet that are viewed as sources of knowledge, like Wikipedia, Quora, Amazon, Dictionary, or Mayoclinic.
So if your page is selected for a featured snippet, people might view it as credible and valuable as well. And, if they trust it, they will be more inclined to revisit it.
By having a featured snippet, you can also benefit from voice search that has been growing over the past few years. 40.7% of all voice search answers now come from a featured snippet.
Unlike featured snippets, rich results do not aim to answer a user’s specific query. Rich results contain enhanced features and details compelling users to click on them. Depending on the rich result type, they are more likely to increase the CTR of pages than featured snippets.
Milestone Research analyzed 4,5 million queries and found that users click on rich results in 58% of searches and non-rich results in 41% of situations.
But it’s even more interesting how much this percentage can vary between different types of rich results.
The CTR for branded keywords is a bit higher – 60%. Video rich results get around 62% of clicks. The highest CTR among rich results types is for one of the newest additions, FAQ rich results, and amounts to 87%.
By seeing enhanced elements, users can judge the content better and make an informed decision when deciding to visit the site or skip it. They can determine if the page will give them the information they’re looking for.
This can decrease your bounce rate and improve the time users spend on the page. More qualified content can also increase user engagement and conversions.
Unlike featured snippets, rich results don’t necessarily help with voice search. Schema markup appears on 36.4% of voice search result pages and 31.3% of average pages. The difference is not significant, so using schema markup doesn’t have a large impact on voice search, if any.
Rich results can show your page as trustworthy if you include your rating or a large number of reviews. They give you more room to entice users to visit your page. For example, users may be more likely to click if you display the price and it’s lower than the competition’s, or if you have more positive reviews.
Not to mention that applying structured data is a benefit in itself. Though structured data is not a ranking factor, using it helps search engines and your website.
John Mueller confirmed it on Twitter:
There's no generic ranking boost for SD usage. That's the same as far as I remember. However, SD can make it easier to understand what the page is about, which can make it easier to show where it's relevant (improves targeting, maybe ranking for the right terms). (not new, imo)
— 🧀 John 🧀 (@JohnMu) April 2, 2018
Optimizing for featured snippets and rich results – best practices
Google algorithm considers numerous factors when scanning pages to extract featured snippets, so make sure you audit and optimize your site’s technical and on-page aspects.
Your page should already be ranking on the first page of search results to have a good chance to be featured.
The primary step to having your page appear as a featured snippet is content optimization.
Find out what people are looking for and plan your content. Brainstorm ideas for your target keywords, preferably long-tail and structured as questions, and see which ones contain featured snippets. The “People also ask” section and related searches found in Google results can be helpful here.
Many elements of featured snippets optimization are similar to general SEO guidelines. Ensure the content is always high-quality, original, comprehensive, and focused on the user’s expectations. It should aim to answer the chosen question in an in-depth way and outperform the competition.
You should optimize your page structure, include alt text for images and consider adding structured data, even if it’s not mandatory.
Depending on the type of featured snippet you’re after, it may require different adjustments:
- For a paragraph, you should provide a direct answer to the question, preferably in a single paragraph and close to the top of the piece of content.
- For a table, it’s best to structure your data in a table. Use HTML tags so Google can easily read the data.
- For a numbered list, use the correct structure that is readable for Google. Include relevant and consistent HTML tags, like <h2> or <h3> subheadings.
To obtain a rich result, you need to implement structured data.
You need to determine the right schema type and map the elements of your site.
This is a part of the schema for Product:
The Properties section shows the information that you can include, and next to it, you see the expected type of input and description of what to use it for.
Choose one of the formats – JSON-LD, Microdata, or RDFa – and add the markup to your site.
Here is a sample markup for a product formatted in JSON-LD:
Make sure the marked-up content is not misleading and accurately represents your page. It should be up-to-date and original. Each structured data markup should also adhere to specific policies and guidelines for that type of markup. For example, if you want to get the Event rich result, check out event guidelines.
Your content may qualify for multiple types of rich results, so mark up all elements to make them eligible for more than one type. For example, you may implement Recipe, Video, and Review structured data on one page.
Finally, test whether your structured data is set up correctly – you can use Google’s Rich Results Testing Tool.
Google offers extensive guidelines on structured data, so be sure to follow them.
Featured snippets and rich results, despite some similarities, are pretty different. The list is quite long: their appearance, characteristics, extraction method, steps to acquire them (none of which guarantee results!), and, finally, potential benefits for your site.
I hope this article helped you understand these differences, and you now know where you should focus your efforts to improve your content’s organic visibility.