How to win Google SERP Features With the Rank Ranger's SERP Feature Monitor
August 14, 2019 |
When should you target a Featured Snippet and when is it not worth your while? What queries are open for a serious 'People Also Ask' win? What keywords are more consistent and which are less consistent at bringing up Google's Video Box? Which sites win in the Top Stories carousels and what are the topics and stories that are propelling them?
Learn how you can use our fresh out of the oven SERP Features Monitor
to help propel your SERP feature strategy and gain the deepest feature insights you've ever feasted your eyes on!
Get ready for a whole new set of insights on Featured Snippets, the People Also Ask box, the Video Box, Top Stories carousel, Product carousels Local Pack, and Hotel Pack!
How to Win Google SERP Features (& How to Avoid Wasting Your Time on the Wrong Snippets)
There's so much written on how to best optimize your pages for Featured Snippet wins
. However, a far more important part of Featured Snippet strategy is knowing which keywords to target, which are out of your reach, and which are just not worth your time and effort. In other words, before you can start worrying about optimizing pages, you need a Featured Snippet strategy to tell you which pages to focus on (and even how to best focus on those pages)!
Enter the SERP Feature Monitor.
How to Know Which Featured Snippets You Should Focus Your Energies On
A little while back we did a study about Featured Snippet market share
. There, we found that one URL occupies a given Featured Snippet 75% of the time. While the other 25% is not a lot, that does give sites some room to work with.
However, would it be worth pursuing a Featured Snippet that never shares its URL space with multiple sites? Probably not! The SERP Feature Monitor tells you exactly that:
The Period Visibility
score here tells the entire story for this keyword.... Google strongly prefers the site spendwithpennies.com
for the Featured Snippet brought up by the keyword stew recipes
. The only reason that the Period Visibility
score is not 100% is due to the lack of a Featured Snippet altogether as a result of the unconfirmed July 2019 Google update!
In terms of priorities, this keyword and the optimization and content creation that would go into winning its Featured Snippet falls down the priority list upon seeing the data here!
At the same time, seeing Google throw volatility into a given Featured Snippet could be an opportunity for you to put your URL into play. If substantial stability may preclude you winning a Featured Snippet, increased volatility may be your ticket in. Here again, the SERP Feature Monitor proves itself to be invaluable.
Still, there may be changes made to a Featured Snippet's URL itself that might impact your decision to actively target a specific keyword. Seeing Google move Wikipedia into the zero-position box is not a good sign you're on your way to a Featured Snippet win. The chances of Wikipedia being moved out of the Featured Snippet is far less than even the most authoritative site. At a minimum, it would be prudent to carefully monitor this keyword's Featured Snippet URL performance before investing time and money into winning it. (Here, the SERP Feature Monitor allows you to track the URL inside this Featured Snippet and avoid wasting precious resources in haste.)
The inverse is also true. If the SERP Feature Monitor shows a Wikipedia URL moving out of a Featured Snippet in favor of another URL, that may indicate that Google is opening the market for the keyword. Below is a bit of a rarity, it's Google removing Wikipedia from a Featured Snippet for the keyword low fare airlines
By using the SERP Feature Monitor in this way you can capture the moments Google is searching for new URLs to place within a Featured Snippet. In this particular case, the removal of a site like Wikipedia could mean that Google plans on heavily experimenting with the Featured Snippet and optimizing for it could present you with a rare win!
Evaluating Featured Snippet Wins
Scoring a Featured Snippet is a momentous occasion. But before you uncork the champagne (and make some serious SEO decisions) it's very important to understand how substantial the win really is. Before you move your CTAs and whatnot over to your newly prized page that sits atop the SERP in a zero-position box you may want to gauge the stability of your placement.
Certainly, seeing Google oscillate between various URLs may dampen your spirits. That said, assessing how big a Featured Snippet win is needs to take one other consideration into account... such as how often a SERP goes without a Featured Snippet altogether.
In the above case, while Amazon is the only site to win the Featured Snippet for the keyword new book releases
over a 30-day period, its Period Visibility
score stands at a paltry 35.48%! That's because for the overwhelming majority of the time Google does not show a Featured Snippet for the query. In fact, if you look back to July 9th, Amazon scored this Featured Snippet for over a week consecutively. Despite this, the overall tendency is for Google not
to show a Featured Snippet on this SERP. Making an SEO or content "move" based on this win might be a big mistake.
The bottom line is to properly gauge the advantage of winning a Featured Snippet you need to be aware of all of the trends associated with it. Which, of course, is where the SERP Feature Monitor earns its name!
Get Inside What Makes a Featured Snippet Tick
It's one thing to monitor Featured Snippet trends and performance, it's another thing to crack the shell a bit and peek inside what makes a Featured Snippet tick. Getting a bit creative with the SERP Feature Monitor lets us do just that.
One of the best things about this tool is that it not only gives you the trends per se on a host of SERP features (I'll get into some of those other features in a bit) but gives you much-needed information about the winning pages themselves.
Here are the Featured Snippet trends for the keyword prevent burglary
Going with the notion that the majority of Featured Snippets see the usage of two URLs
over a 30-day period it's clear that the URL from getsafe.com is by far the dominant URL for the keyword prevent burglary
. But that's not the lesson to learn from this Featured Snippet. By looking at the SERP changes presented by the SERP Feature Monitor we get a bit of insight as to the impact of certain optimization changes on Featured Snippet placement:
Looking above, you can see that getsafe.com
shows a change to the title tag on July 13th by adding the full name of the site into the title that appeared on the SERP (GetSafe Home Security
). And the net impact of the change was? Nothing. Meaning, the insertion of the site's name, while possibly a move that you might think would not be looked upon favorably due to the duplication of it, had no negative effect. Perhaps Google was indeed "displeased" with the change. That said, the net result was not the loss of the Featured Snippet.
Now, it's hard to draw a hard and fast conclusion from this one example, but there is an indication that ancillary changes to a page's title, i.e., those changes that do not add or take away from the main description elements of the title, don't impact Featured Snippet placement. At a minimum, it's something to take note of and to find other examples of so that you can draw that concrete conclusion. Which, as should be noted, is something very much within the scope of the SERP Feature Monitor!
Drafting a Strategy to Target Related Questions (People Also Ask)
Featured Snippets are just one of the SERP features you can hone in on with the SERP Feature Monitor. We've also made it easy to access trends on the 'People Also Ask' feature (sometimes known as Related Questions).
The People Also Ask (PAA) feature is both a great opportunity to increase your site's presence on the SERP and a great way to become befuddled with confusion. Why? Simply because it's hard to gauge and predict the type of content and intents Google wants to target in the PAA box
. When trying to optimize for the PAA box you're also facing another giant unknown.... how predisposed is Google to changing the URLs within the initial four questions traditionally presented in a PAA box?
Enter the SERP Feature Monitor!
Finding the Opportune Way to Enter the 'People Also Ask' Fray
One of the interesting things about the PAA box is its subjection to oscillating waves of stability and volatility. That is, there seem to be moments where Google is content to leave the URLs that appear within the top four questions alone and periods where Google is intent on shaking things up a bit!
Knowing when these moments of volatility arise can be quite useful if you're trying to get your URL into the top spot within the PAA box. For example, look at the PAA box trends for the keyword what are good dinner ideas
From early June through late July the URLs within this keyword's PAA box are a bit static (discounting a few days in mid-June). In fact, from the time of the unconfirmed July 2019 update until July 27th Google is showing just three initial questions in the PAA box. However, as of July 27th, there was a serious shakeup among the URLs Google shows within the initial four PAA questions! (By the way, notice how short that period is as it appears that the URLs have stabilized by August 2nd.)
Knowing this is important for a few reasons:
1) Seeing Google start to swap URLs among the most desired real estate within the PAA box might be a good time to make a final optimization push to try to get your URL to the top of the PAA box. (This is particularly true if your URL is already within the top four boxes shown.)
2) Looking at the changes Google makes to the order of the URLs shown within the top four PAA questions is a great way to get inside Google's head. Notice in our case above, the URL for eatingwell.com
disappeared after June 9th and was replaced with a URL from coupons.com
Using the SERP Feature Monitor we can see exactly what URL/content was replaced.
Here's the result eatingwell.com
used to show within the top PAA questions:
Now here's the coupons.com
result the above was replaced with:
Just looking at the results here alone, it would seem that Google wanted to add an intent into the PAA box that addressed busy folks who don't have time to cook each night and want a way to cook once for the entire week.
If we move forward to the end of July we can see that Google experimented with removing the coupons.com
URL from the top PAA questions. However, this is less about coupons.com
and the intent behind the site's content and more about the cosmopolitan.com
URL was replaced with one from homemaderecipes.com
which targets the exact same intent as the URL from cosmopolitan.com
remained towards the top of the PAA box and homemaderecipes.com
was removed (with coupons.com
also being restored). What was added was a URL from pinterest.com
offering some dinner ideas.
At the same time, you can also get a more micro-level look at the intents Google prefers within the PAA by looking at the meta changes a page has made and the impact on PAA rankings that resulted.
For example, here cosmopolitan.com
made a change to its title on July 31st and simultaneously saw its PAA box ranking fall. Upon changing its title yet again the site saw its PAA box prominence return:
[For the record, while the above shows a correlation, the changes in rank could be the result of the period of increased volatility itself. More examples would be needed to draw a hard and fast conclusion. Of course, you could use the SERP Feature Monitor to do just that!]
Better Evaluate 'People Also Ask' Opportunities
One way to determine which keywords to target for PAA placement is by looking at the overall transiency of the URLs placed among the top four questions.
Take the keyword hot new release
. In this instance, Google only makes use of just four URLs:
Compare that to the keyword hot new toys
where Google has experimented with 11 different URLs over a 30-day period:
Obviously, it's going to be easier to get your URL into the initial four PAA questions for hot new toys
vs. hot new release
(of course, remaining in the top four is another question entirely).
The point is, using the SERP Feature Monitor to gauge PAA box volatility is a great way to focus your efforts on the right keyword (especially when the keywords are similar as they are here).
As an aside, have a look at the URL changes Google made with regards to the site gearhungry.com
(one of the sites ranking within the PAA box for the keyword hot new toys)
You can see that Google had been oscillating between showing two URLs for the site within the top four PAA questions. Notice though, that the more general title What are the best toys for boys
ranks better than the more specific title that hones on one age group specifically (i.e., 6-year-olds).
Bottom line, the SERP Feature Monitor goes beyond a skin-deep analysis to offer some substantial SERP feature insights!
Know What Google Is Looking for Inside the SERP's Video Box
When using the SERP Feature Monitor to gain insights into Google's Video Box you could certainly make use of some of the methods we discussed earlier. To that extent, seeing how volatile URL placement within the cards that make up the Video Box is a major asset. The tool even shows you which keywords are and are not entirely applicable to the Video Box altogether... as it does for the keyword cabernet sauvignon
But like with Featured Snippets and the PAA box, the SERP Feature Monitor helps you dig in a bit deeper!
URL volatility and keyword applicability aside, the SERP Feature Monitor gives you a front-row view of how Google understands the keyword and what video topics are relevant to it. Moreover, it tells you why certain keywords score a Video Box while similar keywords do not!
In other words, a keyword can be understood in various ways according to multiple user intents
. The question is, does Google's understanding of a keyword align to the content you created (even when the keyword would generally be considered highly relevant to your site)?
Enter the SERP Feature Monitor!
Using the SERP Feature Monitor to Understand Video Box Applicability
Like the trends chart shown earlier, let's stick with wine.
As with the keyword cabernet sauvignon
, most other wine types don't produce SERPs that consistently show a Video Box on them. Yet, despite this trend, the keyword spicy wine
does regularly produce a Video Box:
This might seem odd at first glance. Is there really that much of a difference between the keyword cabernet sauvignon
and spicy wine
? No, not from a product perspective. However, when it comes to user intent the two keywords are lightyears apart.
For the keyword cabernet sauvignon,
Google, when it did show videos on the SERP, displayed content related to wine tasting and the like. In other words, the content was geared more towards wine connoisseurs.
Have a look at the content Google shows for spicy wine
The video content Google chooses to show here is far more focused on using the wine as a cooking ingredient or as being a part of a meal rather than being an exquisite treat all unto itself.
In other words, when dealing with a keyword like a cabernet sauvignon
Google sees user intent as being related to wine expertise and so forth. Dial things back a bit and use a more descriptive keyword like spicy wine
and Google understands it to be part of an overall culinary experience which deserves a constant Video Box.
Seeing this, a fine wine site may conclude that there's no point in targeting a keyword like spicy wine
. Or, if they do choose to do so, they at least now know what sort of video content will rank on the SERP!
Bottom line, by using the SERP Feature Monitor you're better able to know which of your keywords are deserving of video content and in what context.
Discover What's Hot, What's Not, & What Works Inside Google's Top Stories Carousel
Google's News Box, aka Top Stories carousel, is one seriously dynamic SERP feature. This, of course, makes sense since "the news" is an ever-changing arena. Due to this, the insights provided by the SERP Feature Monitor are also more dynamic when it comes to Google's Top Stories. When dealing with Google's news carousel, how do you know which keywords work, what topics are current, which news items are coming into focus, and what type of stories win out?
Enter the SERP Feature Monitor!
Which News Content Is Coming Into Focus & Which Never Has to Begin With?
When it comes to the news there are certain topics that are always newsworthy, as you can see below for the keyword democrat
At the same time, there are keywords out there that you may think to optimize for without doing a thorough investigation beforehand. How could you lose with the keyword US news
? Well, have a look:
The SERP Feature Monitor, like it does with Featured Snippets, PAA Boxes, and the Video Box, can save you from wasting precious time and resources on keyword optimization when the keyword is a total loss.
At the same time, when it comes to the news what was once a dead topic can receive new life. Elections are a great example of this. Topics that have not been relevant for years are suddenly hot again. And, of course, the SERP Feature Monitor lets you know when this is happening... just see below:
Learn What Stories Win Inside of Google's Top Stories Carousel
Beyond top-level insights, the SERP Feature Monitor can help you discover which facets of an overall news topic are winning on the SERP. In other words, a new story is generally multifaceted with certain sub-topics being more and less essential to the overall story. By showing you the titles for the news articles Google is placing within the Top Stories carousel, you now have easy access towards knowing which facets of a news topic Google considers to be highly relevant.
With the US presidential election again coming into focus, the keyword debate
(as in candidate debates) is a hot news topic. However, not all takes on the presidential debates are equal. Here's a look at the actual stories and their Top Stories ranking:
Overall, the above shows a clear preference for the first slot in the Top Stories carousel... winners and losers. News content that focused on who stood to gain or lose the most from the debates and subsequently who ended up gaining and losing the most as a result of the debates ranked a bit higher than other related topics.
This is particularly pertinent when the news topic is a bit cyclical, as it is here. With more debates coming as the US election kicks into full gear publishers who did not rank well in the Top Stories carousel this time around will get another crack at it. Now armed with information from the SERP Feature Monitor, they stand a real shot at dominating Google's news carousel.
Bottom line, the SERP Feature Monitor offers you both macro and micro level news topic insights to help you improve your Top Stories rankings!
Get a Grip on Local Pack (and Hotel Pack) Consistency to Find New Opportunities
The Local Pack is probably one of the most important features on the SERP as it has a direct effect on sales and revenue. The same holds true for its cousin, the Hotel Pack (which unlike the Local Pack sports four listings and a heap of ancillary information).
Knowing where your listing ranks on average within a Local Pack
or Hotel Pack
goes without saying. However, going beyond a skin-deep analysis can yield a tremendous advantage. How consistent are listings shown? How volatile is a Local Pack (or Hotel Pack) overall? Where is there room to enter the fray? Where are you just wasting your time banking on Local Pack rankings?
Enter the SERP Feature Monitor!
Which Local Listings Do You Optimize First
If you’re anything like me, your day is filled to the brim and prioritization is the key to survival. If you’re facing a boatload of local listings to work on where do you start? Well, you might start with the listings where optimization has the highest ceiling while avoiding listing optimization that has little to no immediate purpose (all things being equal as that’s a very complex equation with more than one consideration).
For example, the keyword bbq pizza
is definitely relevant for Local Pack consideration in Orlando:
This is not the case for the same keyword in Miami, as odd as that sounds:
This is powerful knowledge as it may mean focusing on different aspects of a business’s online presence in the various markets it services.
Where Local Packs and Hotel Packs are consistent, the question still remains a good one… which listings should take priority?
Have a look at the keyword beach resorts in san diego ca
. The listings in the Hotel Pack are incredibly stable. Nothing much is moving as of late compared to how volatile a Hotel Pack usually is. You might want to consider other channels to drive traffic in such a case if you’re not one of the four listings Google shows.
Compare that to the keyword ice cream in st. louis
. Here you can see that Google now tends to experiment with what is shown inside the Local Pack. If you have a listing that needs some TLC, a keyword like this might be a good place to start as there’s a tremendous upside in optimizing a GMB listing that can rank here!
In the above example, you can see that Google is toying with the notion of ranking Gelato Di Riso. Pushing the button on optimization for this listing might just move the needle. At a minimum, starting with particular this listing makes serious sense.
Harness the Power of Reviews
Because the SERP Feature Monitor catches more than just ranking trends, you can see where a campaign to shore up solid reviews will be most profitable. The tool records the ratings of a listing at each position change.
Take the below for instance. When the listing had a rating of 4 it was the first business listed in the Local Pack. When that rating dropped to 3.6 Google demoted it to be #3. A day later when the rating went back up to 4 the listing’s top spot in the Local Pack was returned to it.
The SERP Feature Monitor tracking a change in Local Pack rank that correlates to a change in the listing's rating
Now, that could just be a correlation and a more thorough analysis is needed. The point though remains the same. You can use the SERP Feature Monitor to see how impactful increases/decreases to a listing’s rating are and work to capitalize on that knowledge!
Just a Tip of the SERP Feature Analysis Iceberg
There are so many considerations when trying to crack the nut that is SERP feature success. At risk of stating the obvious, what I've shown here with the SERP Feature Monitor are just a few ways you can get real SERP feature insights
. The point of the SERP Feature Monitor goes well beyond any example I could offer you. The tool was developed to make it easy to isolate SERP feature trends while giving you a deep look into what is driving those trends. With that fundamental goal in mind, the actual way you can use the tool and the insights you glean from it are as individualized as your very SEO practices!
Let us know how you've used the tool and any other suggestions
you may have!
You can find the SERP Feature Monitor inside the Rank Ranger UI under: Reports>SEO>Campaign Reports