Ever wondered how some search queries have an answer box shown at the top of the results page? That box is called the ‘featured snippet’ and people often misunderstand what it takes to rank in this position.
Are backlinks and great content still important? Sure.
Do you need them to rank for featured snippets? Hell naw.
Getting into the featured snippets is kinda like this:
Imagine jumping from the fifth result to the top of the search results page after quick tiny optimization techniques and without spending a ton of money and effort on backlinks.
In this blog post, I'll demonstrate a system for optimizing your content to rank for featured snippets, consistently.
What is a featured snippet?
Shown at the top of the search results page, the featured snippet is an answer box that contains content sourced from the top 10 results for a particular query. The featured snippet is Google’s way of rewarding succinct and accurate answers to certain queries. Some SEO’s also call this position 0 because of its position.
How are featured snippets chosen?
According to Google's patent on featured snippets, Google (1) chooses which text to feature in your content based on a keyword sequence and, (2) determines where it could be truncated on a featured snippet. It then (3) calculates a snippet score to identify the strength of the content relative to other pages ranking for this query and (4) selects the page with the highest snippet score. Here is a workflow diagram of the whole process:
Why should you optimize for featured snippets?
- It's a shortcut to the top position.
- Google tends to rank the same domains for featured snippets on the same topics. It's no secret that Google rewards topical relevance, so domains that consistently post high-quality content on a select number of topics tend to rank higher than other domains. It's great for brand awareness too, as people who search similar topics repeatedly see your content as featured snippets.
- Gain search results page real estate. On mobile, a featured snippet occupies over 50% of the screen, and on desktop, the amount of space that it has isn't negligible either.
- Ranking as a featured snippet provides better chances of getting clicks than other results. Why? Results with featured snippets tend to have worse clickthrough rates, because the answer is shown on the search results page.
- In my opinion, ranking for featured snippets just requires great content. As you will see in the next sections, content that’s clear, searchable, and concise will generally rank as featured snippets, all of which are elements of good writing.
Types of featured snippets and the queries they appear in
1. Paragraph snippets
Average word count: 42 words or 249 characters
Percentage of occurrence: 70% of featured snippets are paragraphs.
Main keyword type: Question keywords (e.g., 'What is a progress report?'). Question keywords that start with 'why' almost always include featured snippets.
How to target this featured snippet:
- Turn your headings into questions.This indicates to the algo gods that you're directly answering a query and can boost your chances of becoming a featured snippet.
- Your first paragraph should always be a clear and succinct, 42-word answer to the query. The main purpose of this section is to rank as a featured snippet.
- Note that out of queries that have 10 words or more, 55.5% have featured snippets, so the next paragraphs should go deeper into answering more specific queries, without compromising the cohesiveness of that section. A good way to think about this is to chunk your queries into two parts: the main query you're answering and the longer-tail ones you want to cover. For example:
'What is X?' Let us suppose that this is the main query you want to answer.
'What is X for Y?' First longer tail query you want to target.
'What is X when Y happens?' Second long-tail target.
'What is X as opposed to Y?' And so on.
2. Ordered and unordered list snippets
Average number of items and word count: 6 items and 44 words
Percentage of occurrence: 19.1% of featured snippets are lists.
Main keyword type: Listicle keywords (e.g., 'list of beans'). That said, keywords beginning with 'how' have a 52% chance of having a featured snippet that shows a list.
How to target this featured snippet:
The six item average is not a hard-and-fast rule. Your listicle can have more items. In cases where you have to compete against other listicles, you might be able to rank higher just by expanding your list. Focus on providing depth and breadth to your content.
That said, you can make it easier for Google to understand your content by making the list very easy to understand. For example, if you're writing an article about beans, each item on the list should be named with the type of bean you're delving into. Here is an example:
'Here's a rundown of the different types of beans:
1. Black Beans. (One-sentence explanation of what this is).
1. Black-Eyed Peas. (One-sentence explanation of what this is).
2. Cannellini Beans. (One-sentence explanation of what this is).
3. (Item 4). (One-sentence explanation of what this is).
4. (Item 5). (One-sentence explanation of what this is).
5. (Item 6). (One-sentence explanation of what this is)'.
3. Table snippet
Average number of items and word count: 5 rows, 2-3 columns
Percentage of occurrence: 6.4% of featured snippets are tables.
Main keyword type: Listicle keywords (e.g., 'list of beans')
Main keyword type: Multi-data comparison keywords (the query 'top gdp countries' leads to a table with a list of the top-ranking countries and their GDP).
How to target this featured snippet:
There's really no two ways about it: create a table. From my experience, Google tends to favor content that includes tables for certain keywords. These keywords can be often hard to find, as Google alternates between lists and tables on the same types of keywords.
4. Video snippet
Average duration: 6 minutes, 35 seconds
Percentage of occurrence: 4.6% of featured snippets are videos.
Main keyword types: Keywords around music and video (e.g. 'bad romance', ‘planet earth trailer', etc.).
How to target this featured snippet:
It should come as no surprise that this is also a featured snippet format, as Google owns the world's largest video-sharing platform, YouTube. While this currently accounts for a small minority of featured snippets, I reckon that audio and video-based featured snippets will become more prevalent in the future, as voice assistants become more prevalent.
The best way to occupy this type of featured snippet is to create an authoritative, high-quality video on relevant topics that are better suited to be explained via video. If you also have a blog post on the topic, make sure to embed the video in it.
That said, making videos can often be time-consuming. As this featured snippet is the least common one, for most startups, I'd prioritize my efforts into targeting the other snippets.
A strategy to rank for featured snippets, consistently
Now that we've seen the different types of featured snippets and how to rank for each one of them, it's now time to integrate our learnings into a strategy to help you rank for them, consistently.
Keyword research tools for finding featured snippets:
- Featured snippets tool. This free tool allows you to figure out which keywords and related ones have featured snippets in them.
- Ahrefs. This all-in-one SEO platform allows you to see which keywords contain featured snippets in one simple click.
- SEMrush. This tool is similar to Ahrefs.
1. Choose the right keywords
After reading the previous section on which types of keywords trigger featured snippets, you should already know which ones to target for your content.
However, another important element to remember is
to prioritize targeting long-tail over short-tail keywords in your strategy.
According to the study done by SEMrush and Brado, long-tail keywords have higher chances of including featured snippets than short-tail ones.
Therefore, it's best to focus on answering long-tail queries in your featured snippets strategy. The main purpose of having a blog for your startup is to provide informative and helpful content and convince readers that your offering is worth trying. Most of the time, when people have a question for Google Search, they normally ask it in the form of long-tail search terms.
2. Turn your headings into questions
Questions are 480% more likely to have featured snippets than other types of keywords.
Within a piece of content, you want to have one primary long-tail keyword to target, alongside four other secondary ones. At the same time, each section should have one specific keyword term.
That being said, you will almost always unexpectedly rank for other keywords. If you want to be more systematic about ranking for featured snippets, turn your heading sections into long-tail queries. For instance, one of my clients is ranking for career coaching services and has some featured snippets relating to career coaching just by employing this outline:
What is career coaching?
How can career coaching services help me?
What to look for in a career coaching services platform?
Career coaching services and platforms to try out
Try to make your headings question-based, clear, and searchable. This article started ranking for queries related to the three question-based headings and garnered significantly more traffic than if it had unfindable headings.
3. Take note of the content format specifications behind each featured snippet format
These were mentioned in the previous section, but if you need a refresher, these include:
- Average word count. For instance, if you're targeting the paragraph featured snippet, always write a clear and succinct one-paragraph summary that is under 50 words.
- Content format. For instance, while paragraph featured snippets only require text to rank, featured snippets with tables source from results that already have tables in them.
- Make sure that your content can be found by Google. For example, the paragraph targeting the featured snippet should always be nested directly under the section heading. If it's a list featured snippet, try to have a section summarizing the whole list with each item on the list clearly defined.
4. Using short slugs
There are two aspects to this: the slug and the subfolder.
Keep the slug simple, short, and representative of the topic you're primarily targeting. For example, let's say you're finishing a listicle on remote job boards.
- Don't do this: Website.com/what-remote-job-boards-are-there-for-you
- Do this instead: Website.com/remote-job-boards
The first one is too specific, while the second one allows for more wiggle room on what the page can be about. If your content starts to unexpectedly rank for tangentially related keywords, you can steer the content towards a new direction without the slug looking weird. And in any case, pages with short URL slugs tend to become featured snippets more prevalently than those with longer URLs.
Secondly, keep your subfolders between 1-3 folders. As a primer,
- Website.com. This is the root domain and has no subfolders.
- Website.com/folder1. This has one subfolder.
- Website.com/folder1/folder2. This has two subfolders.
Why? Subfolders can make your URL very long. Articles that are deeply nested within subfolders may have an internal linking structure, meaning that it may take a longer time to rank on the first page. In fact, according to SEMrush and Brado, pages with 1-3 subfolders get into the featured snippets better than others.
5. Once you rank in the top ten search results, beat your competitor's content
As you've seen in the previous sections, Google chooses the 'best' content among the top ten pages to rank as a featured snippet.
If you really want to capture this position, you'll have to analyze these results' featured snippet content and make sure that your content is both more informative and to the point than theirs.
6. Continue standard search engine optimization techniques
Finally, it's worth doing standard SEO techniques to provide that final push to help turn your content into featured snippets. Here are two main things you need to do:
- Provide more depth to the section. This will help you rank higher for the target keyword and for more specific longer-tail queries. Remember that Google itself specifically stated that it rewards content that is rich in depth and breadth.
- Provide more internal links pointing to the piece of content. This way, Google will see that this page is relevant to what you currently produce.
- Conversion rate optimization. From making your content more engaging to implementing email forms, make sure that your search traffic becomes part of your customer base.
What should I do once my pages start to rank as featured snippets?
Celebrate with champagne! 🍾 Partly joking. Once this happens, check your search traffic, closely examine the change in search traffic, and see how well this page converts. If:
- there is an extended period at which search traffic decreases, it's time to update your content and add backlinks and internal links to it.
- the conversion is not as high as you'd like, make the content more engaging and introduce email forms to encourage signups.
- they are not clicking on your result, it may be time to improve your answers to be more comprehensive and make the title more relevant to the target phrase.