Case Study: How to Boost Your SERP Visibility with HowTo Rich Snippets

Note: Google stopped showing HowTo rich snippets in September 2023, so the results of this case study are no longer applicable.

Google introduced how-to rich snippets in 2019.

And they’re probably the shiniest of all shiny SERP features. They look like this…

HowTo rich snippet

And this…

HowTo rich snippet - hair braiding

That’s some serious SERP real estate!

But when I analyzed 100 “how to” keywords in April 2020 I made two interesting discoveries:

  1. They’re not widely used (opportunity)
  2. Google won’t always show them (bummer)

It seemed there was a huge opportunity for sites targeting how-to keywords to boost their SERP visibility.

So one year down the line (give or take), I decided to re-test the same keywords, and see if there had been any change in:

  • the adoption of HowTo schema
  • the prevalence of How-to rich snippets in search

Here’s what I discovered.

The keywords

I randomly selected 100 “how-to” keywords, with a mixture of search volumes and difficulties.

Examples include:

  • “how to address a letter” (49,000 monthly searches)
  • “how to post on instagram” (27,000 monthly searches)
  • “How to cut roses” (500 monthly searches)

Across the 100 keywords, there were a total of 793 individual pages ranking on page one of the SERPs.

The same set of keywords was used in April 2020 and February 2021.

The headlines

1. Adoption of HowTo schema markup remains remarkably low

  • In 2020, just 18.8% of first page results included HowTo schema
  • But in 2021, the number of pages with HowTo schema actually dropped slightly to 18.2%

2. Prevalence of HowTo rich snippets in the SERPs has nosedived (kind of…)

  • In 2020, around 80% of pages with HowTo schema correctly implemented were rewarded with the How-to rich snippet
  • But in 2021, just 26% of eligible pages got the snippet (see #3)

3. wikiHow have currently lost ALL their How-to snippets

The headline figure of 26% of eligible pages getting the snippet is incredibly low, and a big drop from 2020. But it’s somewhat distorted by wikiHow, who at the time of the recent study had lost all of their HowTo snippets.

wikihow lost rich snippets

WikiHow currently rank on page one for around 80% of the how-to keywords we looked at. In fact, over 54% of all individual pages with HowTo schema in place are from wikiHow.

So if they were to get their How-to snippets back, prevalence (i.e. the number of eligible pages getting the snippet) would jump back up to a similar level as it was in 2020 (above 80%).

4. When you get the mobile How-to snippet, you’ll also get the desktop snippet (almost all of the time)

When first introduced, How-to snippets were only displayed on mobile. But in May 2020, Google started showing them for desktop queries too.

The good news? Almost every page in our study which had a mobile How-to snippet also had the desktop snippet. But there was one exception.

Family Handy Man got the mobile HowTo snippet for the query “how to unclog a toilet”…

mobile How-to rich snippet

But didn’t get the desktop snippet.

desktop search snippet

I couldn’t see any reason why this was the case. But if you spot anything, let me know in the comments!

Regardless, we can probably chalk this up as an anomaly and say that in 2021 if you get the mobile How-to rich snippet, you’ll also get the desktop snippet.

Why does Google ignore some How-to rich snippets?

1. Is it based on search position?

Could it be the case that Google only shows How-to rich snippets for pages ranking above a certain position on page 1?

Doesn’t seem like it.

Plenty of pages ranking near the bottom of the first page got the How-to snippet, while others higher up the page missed out.

2. Are there a maximum number of How-to rich snippets on each search result?

Since the number of sites implementing HowTo schema is so low, it’s difficult to make a full assessment here.

But for comparison:

In 2021, the maximum number of pages with HowTo schema implemented in an individual search was 3, and the most How-to snippets actually displayed on a search result was 2.

Last year I observed 3 How-to snippets displaying in some searches.

So the maximum may have gone down, or there may be no maximum. Saying otherwise would just be guessing.

But what I will say is that there is a lot more SERP real estate taken up this year by other features.

Almost 83% of mobile searches had a “video wall of death”…

video wall of death

While around 45% had an “interesting finds” block…

google interesting finds

38% of searches had both.

Does this give less room for additional SERP features like How-to snippets? Possibly.

3. Is it based on domain authority/trust?

Last year I postulated that domain authority (or trust) might be a big factor in deciding whether Google shows How-to snippets for an individual site.

It made sense. And was backed up by the fact that large sites such as DA89 Ifixit got snippets for pretty much every page where they added the relevant schema.

ifixit snippet

In fact, there wasn’t a single site below DA70 that managed to grab a How-to snippet.

To further test the theory, I added How-to schema to a mid authority site…

snippet test

Did Google display the How-to rich snippet? Nope.

So domain authority as a factor in deciding which sites get the snippet seemed a reasonable assumption.

But that theory has been somewhat blown out the water by wikiHow losing their snippets.

Their traffic has dipped a bit in the last year…

wikihow traffic

…but it’s safe to say they are still a highly trusted site, getting tens of millions of organic visits every month.

So there’s definitely something other than domain authority in the mix.

4. Is it based on user behavior?

Last year I revealed how Stylecraze — a DA88 site with millions of monthly search visits — had lost their How-to snippets.

This was interesting, as Stylecraze had previously been the subject of a case study on the Google Developers blog.

But guess what? At least for some queries, their snippets are now back.

stylecraze 2021 rich snippet

While wikiHow has been wiped off the map.

This suggests three things:

  1. If you lose How-to snippets they can come back
  2. If you have How-to snippets you can lose them
  3. Google may be using user behavior signals (and A/B testing) to figure out which site’s snippets give the best experience for searchers

Since Google is always testing and optimizing SERP layouts, point 3 doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch.

Regardless, optimizing your snippets for CTR, and taking care of your users when they’re on your site (reducing bounce, increasing time on site) is definitely something you should be focusing on in 2021.

Should you implement HowTo schema?

If you have how-to guides on your site, then the answer is an emphatic…


At the very least you should test HowTo schema on one or two of your most popular pages.

Because if Google does display a HowTo rich snippet for your site, the benefits are HUGE.

According to Stylecraze’s SEO Manager Ravi Datti, when they first implemented HowTo schema they saw a 111% uptick in CTR to their top page.

That’s some SERIOUS extra traffic.

And by rolling out on one or two top pages only, the worst you’ll lose is a few hours of time.

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David McSweeney

David combines 20+ years of experience in SEO with the passion for teaching people how to optimize their websites the right way. Unsurprisingly he loves SEO and writing. That's why David focuses on the particularly advanced SEO topics on the Seobility blog.

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