Forget ranking first — we want position zero
by Tiffany Markman (@tiffanymarkman) Google’s getting increasingly clever. But the internet’s getting increasingly crowded, with a million websites, brands and urgent calls to action competing with our own. Can we better leverage conversational copywriting, rooted in search intent, to score Google’s coveted position zero spot: the featured snippet? I believe so.
Unveiling the holy grail
Here it is: the holy grail. Its fancy name is search engine results pages (SERP) Position Zero (P0). But you may call it the featured snippet. This is the result that sits in the high-brow spot at the top of Google’s search engine results page, above the plebeian search results descending from #1. Containing the URL (hyperlink) and page title, the featured snippet also offers a mini-preview of the target page’s content in an attempt to answer the searcher’s query.
This is part of what CoreDNA (2019) calls “Google’s ability to sniff out intent for a given search term, and deliver ultra-relevant pages and content accordingly”. It exists because, for years, Google’s been evolving from a search engine into an answers engine in response to how users phrase their search terms.
Users either type in specific questions, eg “how to create a social media plan”, or implied questions, eg “graphic design skills” (abbreviated from “what skills do graphic designers need?”) to get results. Google finds the most-relevant, -useful and -specific answer and plops it atop the page, in prime position.
For the searcher, this means less searching. Nice. But for us copywriters, jeepers. We need Google to select our content, and our clients’ content, for the noble P0. Let’s get back to the ol’ basics.
The faithful 5 Ws & H
When crafting content for P0, consider how the searcher would phrase the question if it were coming out of their mouths. Use the old faithfuls: the 5 Ws and the H. This may feel a bit like high school — but there’s a reason some things don’t change. In this case, answering who, what, when, where, why and how most closely echoes a real-life conversation with your searcher.
Remember: Searchers do it in one of two ways: in full (“What’s the name of the new Jennifer Aniston series on Apple TV+?”) or implicitly (“new Aniston series”)*.
The inverted pyramid
Once you’ve done that, structure the rest of the webpage and all of the website content using another journalistic classic: the inverted pyramid. Here you start with the critical info (that answers the main question), move into more detail, and end with the stuff you could feasibly omit if you were short on space.
There’s a risk, though, and it’s built-in: when you present the 5 Ws & H upfront, and your searcher can get the answer they need from the snippet, why click through? To give instant gratification and boost time-on-site, you must draw searchers in by combining content that answers their questions with relentless user engagement.
- First, prominently repeat the key (or implied) question in the copy
- Then provide a short and direct answer to that question
- Give more information, data, and images to support the answer
- Create a clear, descriptive headline for each individual webpage
But what does the searcher actually want? What’s the best starting point? Read on.
Mapping search intent
Stephan Spencer of Search Engine Land, as far back as 2017, motivated for the use of search intent as a driver for creating content: “…be much smarter about what readers are looking for. This means using more long-tail keywords to target specific how do I… questions, with the content being more focused on solutions.” This is news to no-one but it’s something we need to convince our own clients to do, even when they’re reluctant, ie opt for meaningful copy over sexy copy.
There are markets where search intent works particularly well as a driver:
- Those where there’s a need for clear answers to frequently asked questions (ooking, retail banking, gardening etc)
- Those with terms that need explanation (such healthcare, self-medication, SEO/SEM, content marketing etc), and/or
- Those that generate and then present data (research, technology etc)
And the actual words?
Are there specific words and phrases — I’m reluctant to even type this — or generic ones that we should be using in our website copy? Yup. Since the objective of the featured snippet is to answer questions, it makes sense to use question words in your copy. But don’t forget implied questions! Use words like “does”, “cause”, “costs”, “prices”, “best”, “reviews”, “new” etc, as well as present participles like “becoming”, “doing”, “getting”, “creating”, “making”, “forming”, and “building”.
And if you, or your clients, get to the highly sought-after P0? Please let me know.
*It’s The Morning Show. You’re welcome.
Tiffany Markman is a freelance copywriter, writing trainer and keynote speaker who’s worked with over 400 top brands in the last 15 years. She’s most proud of knowing the true meaning of the verb “revert”, though. She loves art and black coffee. If you’ve seen Tiffany on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, you may know that she hates the phrase “I hope you are well”.
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