How to use ‘content patterns’ to mimic structured data and get list-based featured snippets

Content patterns leverage Google’s ability to parse and structure content without the need for Schema structured data. The result is a better understanding of page content and an increased chance of getting list-based featured snippets.

Schema structured data and the metadata attributes that preceded it (RDFa and Microformats), are all ideal methods to communicate information to Google without ambiguity. However, Google is still quite capable of parsing and comprehending page content without structured data. Even with the inclusion of structured data, the unstructured written content is still the primary source of on-page data that Google uses to discern meaning and relevance.

Semantic HTML has elements like table, ol, ul, and dl that can provide structure for content. For example, the ul list element can present a structured order to content that Google recognizes as a list. Its structure, generally speaking, remains intact if Google’s algorithm decides to present it as a list in a featured snippet.

Tables represent the most structured version of semantic HTML. When tables are coded well and the cell information is clear, Google can use the cell data for both featured snippets and rich results.

Table to Featured Snippet
Example of an HTML table in an article (left) and Google using the table in a Featured Snippet (right)

Even without Schema structured data or HTML tables and lists, Google can still extrapolate free-form content into structured lists. They can then display the content as lists in featured snippets. Google accomplishes this by crawling and detecting content patterns. This article shows you how to create them.

How to create content patterns

As previously stated, semantic HTML doesn’t just provide context, it can also provide structure. The use of headings is a good example of this. Headings provide a content hierarchy for readers and bots, and they also compartmentalize content into blocks.

Contextually, the paragraphs that follow a sub-heading are associated with it. The sub-headings, when combined, are associated with the first heading, which is typically the article’s headline that’s within an <h1> element.

We can take this structure further by using it to create a content pattern. An excellent use case for a content pattern is a best list article. Best list articles typically cover several items and contain similar types of information for each item.

A content pattern can be created with a best list article by structuring the way each item is presented. For example, if you make each item have a sub-heading, two paragraphs, and an image, you’ll create a content pattern that Google can parse into a list.

<h1>

<p>

<h2>

<p>

<img>

<h2>

<p>

<img>

<h2>

<p>

<img>

Boats.com uses a similar content pattern for its “Best Boat Brands” article. They repeat the use of an <h2> sub-heading and a paragraph for each boat.

Example of a site using a content pattern

Then, without the use of any structured data, Google is able to parse the content pattern, build a list, and create a featured snippet from it.

Best Sea Boat Featured Snippet
Featured Snipeet created from a content pattern

Content patterns are useful because any editor can create them, but they do have limitations. For example, a frequently asked questions page can use a content pattern, but it won’t be eligible for Google’s interactive FAQ Page rich result. The only way to achieve that is to also include the FAQPage Schema, which can be accomplished by using Yoast and Gutenberg in WordPress.

A perfectly optimized page is one that uses content patterns, semantic HTML with tables or lists, and relevant Schema structured data. A page with all of those elements has the best chance of taking full advantage of every search result visualization that Google has to offer.

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