The Featured Snippet: How One Website Stole #1’s Traffic Overnight

I’m currently working on a research paper that I will be presenting on November 7th and 8th at the Northeastern Association of Business and Technology’s annual conference at Penn State and, while doing so, came across a rather intriguing little piece of SEO gamesmanship.

(Hint, hint: come see me talk, if you are in the area.)

The research I am preparing has to do with the increasingly worrisome trend of decreasing high school graduates in the United States.

Specifically, I make the argument that many colleges and universities are not making use of proper use of digital marketing – with a specific focus on content marketing – to reach those juniors and seniors in high school that are currently debating their educational future.

This Is The Digital-Native Generation

After all, the next generation of high school graduates will be digital natives.

They were practically born with a smartphone in their hand.

And, because of this, traditional forms of marketing are less likely to work in reaching this demographic.

Billboards? Pleeeassee … I don’t consider myself a digital native, and even I do not look at billboards.

Radio spots? Maybe if you want to reach the nontraditional student market.

Placing advertisements on Spotify? Maybe. But you’re more likely to leave a negative impression for interrupting their listening of whatever artist is popular at the time.

… for example: I just learned from students in my Intro class the other day who Travis Scott was. If they thought I was the ‘cool’ professor before, they certainly do not now.

Marketers working within higher education admissions offices need to meet digital natives where they are.

And that means digital marketing. Put content out there that digital natives are looking for and let them come to you.

In their own time.

Under their own terms.

That is why I believe content marketing is so powerful.

Searching for ‘Sports Management’

Let’s take a quick look at the search metrics for the keyword phrase ‘sports management.’

sports management search metrics

You can see that it is a pretty healthy keyword for a college or university that has a Sports Management program to focus on.

It is nearly 10,000 searchers per month and the difficulty level is pretty low.

This is what I would consider low-hanging fruit.

As well, the phrase ‘sports management’ has perfect search intent.

search intent

This falls solidly into the ‘informational’ area of search intent, when lends itself quite well to the content marketing process.

People are searching for ‘sports management’ because they want to know more about it.

Which is why it can be quite powerful for a college or university to rank #1 for us. If they were to receive even a 50% CTR, they’d have upwards of 4,000 potential students visiting the institution and/or department website each and every month.

In the world of higher education admissions, that would be an explosion of qualified leads.

Fortunately, the SERP for ‘sports management’ shows that at least one university is taking advantage of this opportunity.

As you can see, Southern New Hampshire University is the top non-Google feature result.

And it makes total sense if you look at the page.

A quick look at the code shows that the office behind the writing and creation of this page is SEO savoy and was done with the purpose of ranking in mind.

Right away you see the term ‘Sports Management’ included up front and center in the <h1> tags.

And then, if you continue reading, it is sprinkled perfectly – and naturally – throughout the rest of the article. Multiple <h2> tags are used, the alt text on the pictures includes the keyword phrase, etc.

It is a masterful job of content marketing to place Southern New Hampshire University at the top of the Google rankings for ‘sports management.’

But, unfortunately, they were “outgamed” by, who was able to snag the ‘featured snippet.’

Getting The Featured Snippet

If you are unaware of what the Google featured snippet is, they are the “selected search results that are featured on top of Google’s organic results.”

In other words, it is the information that Google believes will most efficiently and completely answer the question of the searcher.

So, for example, here is the featured snipper for the search term “sports management.”

As you can imagine, this is most certainly harming the click-thru rate to Southern New Hampshire University’s content marketing efforts.

In fact, research conducted by Ahrefs found that 26% of all clicks go to the first result on Google if no featured snippet is present. If a snippet is present, that number goes down to 19.6% as 8.6% of those clicks go to the featured snippet.

From Ahref’s study on Featured Snippets

Final Thoughts

I am a firm believer that SEO is a game much like football, baseball, etc.

There is strategy needed to come out on top. The people behind clearly recognized that they did not have the compelling content that SNHU did and decided to go after the featured snippet instead.

What’s next, then? I would argue that SNHU should be going after the featured snippet now.

In fact, Google has outlined pretty clearly what is needed in order for your website to be selected for the featured section.

I am willing to bet that a little bit of reworking on the part of SNHU – mainly to include some bullet points under the <h1> head regarding the definition of sports management – will result in the ol’ snippet switch-a-roo.

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Brad Congelio

An Assistant Professor in the College of Business at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, Brad Congelio uses data science and analytics to investigate the sport industry.

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