Whilst looking through my Google Search Console, which I do every Monday morning (and why not) I noticed that the highest keyword referrals came from phrases related to Grey Hat SEO. So out of interest I tried googling the phrase and noticed something rather interesting.
At the top of the search results, was my site, which was unsurprising since I normally come near the top for grey hat SEO related phrases, and also negative SEO related phrases, but this is the first time that I've seen my site appearing in the guise of what google calls a 'featured search snippet'. According to google, a search snippet as follows:
When a user asks a question in Google Search, we might show a summary of the answer in a special featured snippet block at the top of the search results page. This featured snippet block includes a summary of the answer, extracted from a webpage, plus a link to the page, the page title and URL
In my case, the search snippet looks like this:
As you can see, the result at the top (which is duplicated beneath also) includes a small 'snippet' of information that concisely answers questions like'what is grey hat seo', 'how does grey hat seo work' or just simple 'grey hat seo'.
How do you make a featured search snippet?
The quick answer is "you can't" - google use an automated algorithm to generate featured search snippets, but you can improve the chances of being featured by making sure that there is a definition of the topic on your page, preferably near the top of the content. Note that the text in the search snippet does not appear either in the meta description or the first paragraph of the page. - although the title of the page is included in the link for the snippet.
Is featured search snippets beneficial for SEO?
Well, actually featured search snippets are a double edged sword. It makes your result stand out from the others, and so in theory will increase click through rates because of that, but there is also a downside. For example, search for 'what is the definition of SEO' you'll get the answer right at the top of the SERPs, so the user might not bother to click through to the site if they already have their answer. For some types of search query, this filters traffic to your site if your answer is in the page. In 2012, google started adding smart results to their serps, so if you type in 'what is my ip address' it shows you what your ip address is. Because of this change, the previous top ranking site, which was whatismyipaddress.com, lost traffic, although the amount of traffic lost has not been revealed by the site. All I can say is that I used to use WIMIA quite regularly to get my external IP address (much faster than using ipconfig /all in a dos box) and now I never use it because google's search results give me the answer in one less click.