Case studies

SEO Split-Testing Lessons from SearchPilot: Adding User-Centric Content to Target Featured Snippets

Emily Potter

3 min read

Start here: how our SEO split tests work

If you aren't familiar with the fundamentals of how we run controlled SEO experiments that form the basis of all our case studies, then you might find it useful to start by reading the explanation at the end of this article before digesting the details of the case study below. If you'd like to get a new case study by email every two weeks, just enter your email address here.

In this week’s #SPQuiz, we asked our Twitter followers what they thought happened to organic traffic when updating the content on a travel customer’s car rental pages resulted in them winning featured snippets.

Here’s what people thought:

We asked our Twitter followers what they thought the impact of this test was on organic traffic, 63% guessed positive impact, 9% guessed negative impact, 28% guessed no detectable impact.

The majority of our followers believed winning featured snippets would positively impact organic traffic. About 30% believed it would have no detectable impact, and 9% thought the impact would be negative. 

In this case, the majority was correct - although a surprising number of followers thought this would have no measurable impact … maybe you thought we were trying to trick you! Read the full case study below:

The Case Study

Making suggestions on how to update on-page content to improve organic rankings are a common part of life as an SEO, and oftentimes these updates are also expected to target rich results, like featured snippets. This process can be time consuming; it typically requires keyword research to inform what to target, as well as briefing copywriters. If it involves writing extensive new content it can also be expensive, and may mean contracting freelancers. 

But is that time worth it? A travel customer of ours (pre-COVID) wrote new content briefs to update the content on their car rental pages. Content briefs are documents for copy writers that compile the information they need to write a piece of content. The specific content briefs our customer created were aimed at providing more informative content for users and winning featured snippets. 

The new content that was produced from the brief was longer than the existing content on the pages, and the headings were updated to target higher volume informational keywords. It also included information, where available, like the phone numbers of specific car rental companies in a location, tips on driving in the designated country, and recommendations on places to take road trips to in the area:

copy-targeting-featured-snippets

For the first roughly two weeks of this experiment, we didn’t see any real impact. Then we suddenly saw a large jump. When digging into this turn around, we discovered that we had successfully won featured snippets for a number of keywords. 

We also noticed that for the pages where we had included the car companies’ phone numbers, Google began to overwrite our meta descriptions using those instead:

phone-numbers-in-meta-description

This was the ultimate impact:

seo-test-results-featured-snippets

This change resulted in a 25% uplift to organic sessions for our customer’s car rental pages - a huge win! You’ll notice the trend line was flat for the first two weeks, and then a steady upward trend began, becoming statistically significant around mid-January.

The takeaway for us was that implementing user-centric content can have big upsides when the existing content is thin and especially if it leads to winning rich results. These were transactional pages, so by winning featured snippets for informational keywords we were able to bring in more users to the top of the funnel. 

It’s worthwhile to note that this test was run before Google made the decision to stop allowing pages to “double rank” by owning both a featured snippet and a first page ranking position. However, we ran a test with Moz last year where we used the data-nosnippet tag to lose featured snippets in favour of keeping the ranking position. 

The Moz test resulted in an estimated 12% drop in organic traffic. Although no two websites are the same, we think there’s good reason to believe that featured snippets are still a valuable SEO asset. 

If you want to learn more about this test or our split-testing platform more generally, please feel free to get in touch.

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How our SEO split tests work

The most important thing to know is that our case studies are based on controlled experiments with control and variant pages:

  • By detecting changes in performance of the variant pages compared to the control, we know that the measured effect was not caused by seasonality, sitewide changes, Google algorithm updates, competitor changes, or any other external impact.
  • The statistical analysis compares the actual outcome to a forecast, and comes with a confidence interval so we know how certain we are the effect is real.
  • We measure the impact on organic traffic in order to capture changes to rankings and / or changes to clickthrough rate (more here).

Read more about how SEO A/B testing works or get a demo of the SearchPilot platform.

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