Getting traffic from Google means one thing – trying to keep up with what Google is doing. In some ways, this is impossible as they make hundreds of little changes every year. Added to that, you are watching your competitors and trying to out-do their efforts. One area to focus on to help push you above the competition and make your posts stand out is through featured snippets.
Featured snippets have quickly become a favourite with both users and marketers. They offer a quick answer to a question that is easy to read and don’t need a single further click to provide information.
And for marketers, they offer a way to boost conversions, beat your competitors and get traffic to the site. Research from HubSpot has shown that content with a featured snippet gets twice the click-through rate as that without it.
What is a featured snippet?
Most of us will have seen featured snippets, even if we didn’t realise what we were looking at. They are often given what is known as the ‘position zero’ in search results.
They take up the most space at the very top of the search results page and can’t be missed.
Let’s say you were researching how to wallpaper your living room. Google with an answer the question with a snippet that contains information directly relating to your question.
Often this will be from content that already ranks on the first page of the search results. But also from lower ranked pages.
These snippets mean you can get a quick answer to the question. Without needing to click any links or visit a website.
Often, they come in the form of a list of bullet points or numbered steps. Sometimes there is a paragraph answer as well.
Below the snippet is a list of additional questions that people ask relating to that search.
Featured snippets take up the prime position on the search results page and if you can get your content into it, you will get the maximum possible exposure for it. It boosts the credibility of your company and often this can be done without paying for advertising.
You don’t even need to be the top-rated website in your industry either.
Being the featured snippet
Because anyone can be the featured snippet, there’s no exact formula to follow to achieve this position. And even if you get it, there’s no guarantee you stay there. Google may decide that another site now offers a better answer than yours.
Top of the list of ways to feature is to produce quality content and format it in a way that Google loves.
This means making the content ‘snippable’ so that Google recognise the link.
Having a high rated post in the first place helps – Ahrefs say that 99.58% of featured snippets come from pages already in the top 10 results.
Yet there is hope for those lower in the results – Getstat says that 70% of snippets come from websites that aren’t in those top positions so even if you are down the list, so there is hope for everyone.
There are also some terms that get more attention than others in those results. If you have the following words in your snippets, you have a better chance of being featured:
Types of snippet
There are three main types of snippet – paragraph, list and table.
The paragraph snippet, as the name suggests, provides a paragraph of information to answer the question the user has asked.
A list snippet will often feather either bullets or a numbered list of steps to take to do what the user has asked. A table offers information in the horizontal table to compare data.
Getstat says that the paragraph is the most commonly seen type of snippet. When you are looking to rank a snippet, it is worth considering which of these types best suits the kind of post you have created, and the kind of information people will want from it.
But how do you rank your snippet? Here are nine different ideas to help.
Find your competitor’s snippets
There are various tools you can use to do some spying on your competitors with SEMrush being a great example. This site is used to find lots of information about your competitors and can also be used to find snippets as well as check your own to see if any of yours are ranking.
Run a normal domain search then select ‘organic research’ in the left-hand menu. There’s a link to click on featured snippets and you can even filter keywords with the advanced filters to include feature snippets.
Once you have information about what snippets your competitors are ranking for, you can optimise your content around the same topics and keywords. Also, use it to find variations of the keywords that you might also be able to rank for.
Look for snippet opportunities
Google itself can help you find opportunities to feature for rich snippets when you think about what your audience is searching for. What question do they have that you can answer?
Take your topic back to the basics and think from the view of someone who is new to it, doesn’t have experience or knowledge and is wanting to research it.
For example, in marketing, there are lots of different acronyms and terms that people don’t understand so you could break down some of the terms and offer an explanation.
Let’s say you google ‘what is call to action marketing’ – you will likely see a paragraph snippet from a website such as Wikipedia that offers a quick answer to the question.
Or there might be a series of quick steps that tell's you how to use something.
Below it is the section that says, ‘People Also Ask’ which tells you more questions relating to this one that people have asked. These might be things like ‘what is a call to action statement’ and ‘what is a CTA button’. Click on the expand arrow and you will see more snippets containing the answers.
This is a good way to find the kind of questions being asked and see what you can do to better answer them.
Look at Answer the Public
Another useful tool to research potential snippets is called Answer the Public. This is a site where you put on a topic and find the questions that people ask about that topic. They are broken down into various types of questions such as what, why, who, which, can and you can select one of these for more detailed answers.
This provides you with a set of questions to work towards answering and have a stronger chance of being a featured snippet with them.
Use keyword research
Keyword research is a core part of choosing your topics and can also help with featured snippets too. Make use of at least two different tools to get plenty of information.
Serpstat, Ahref & SEMrush, are good options, as you can add a domain, keyword or link to find out more information.
You can then hover over each of the results to see if there is a featured snippet of it.
This is a great way to see the featured snippets for a keyword and lets you see if you can better it.
If you are already ranking well for particular keywords, you can also see what the current snippets are for these.
You can then try to rank for it by identifying and answering questions that people have around that topic. Just remember to format it for snippets and answer more than one question per post.
Answer more than one question
Another interesting fact from that Ahrefs study mentioned earlier was that once you have one featured snippet you have a better chance of ranking for other featured snippets.
That’s why it can help to answer more than one question in each article.
Rather than having an article that answers every question, have one good quality article that covers a number of questions around a single topic.
Remember, Google does like longer length content and so do a lot of readers as they get a comprehensive view on a topic with lots of usable information in it.
Keep the snippet to the right length
One of the key ways to get a snippet to be featured is to make sure it is in the right format. Featured snippets only have 52 words worth of space to provide the answer to a question so if your information exceeds this, you don’t have a chance.
This doesn’t mean writing small posts – it just means formatting within the post to make it easier for Google to pull out the answer to one of the multiple questions you are answering per post.
The most common length for featured snippets is between 40-50 words with 52 the seeming maximum. So, the ideal length is more than 40 but less than 52.
Key to achieving this snippet style is the use of headers.
The use of headers is good SEO practice and makes for a more pleasant reading experience for users. They can scan headers to see what the content contains and read the sections that are relevant to them. Headers are also a good way of getting more keywords into the piece and telling Google exactly what it is all about.
You should use a standard approach to headers with only one H1 header (your title) followed by H2 for most of the headings, H3 for subheadings and so on is needed.
So, if you have an H2 heading, then need another within it, make sure it is an H3, not an H4. Only use an H4 after an H3 if you need to further divide the content.
If you use ‘step 1, step 2, as your headings, Google will know to put them in chronological order.
And if you follow this preferred layout, there is a better chance that Google will use one of those headed sections as a featured snippet when it contains the information people are looking for.
Include a ‘how to’ section
Featured snippets work closely with ‘how to’ type content – people are often asking how to do something, find something, learn something or understand something.
That’s why adding how-to content to your site will increase the chance of being a featured snippet.
Some websites create whole sections specifically aimed at answering those how-to questions such as a How To Library. This makes for a single place where a multitude of common questions are answered and frequently asked pain points are covered.
Another variation is the ‘questions and answers’ section that works in a similar way.
This can cover frequently asked questions about your product or service, your industry or any other topic that you cover. However, you do it, make sure you use high-quality images to complement the content.
Use high-quality media
Humans are a very visual species, and this means media of all kinds is a crucial part of your website. For starters, adding images to your posts is very easy and makes for a more pleasant looking post.
One tool to use for this is Canva, with its range of free stock photos and ability to upload other images easily you have downloaded elsewhere. It is also useful for creating social media images to work alongside these as there are plenty of pre-set sizes.
The video is another huge area to consider adding to your content. 65% of people watch at least three-quarters of a video and nearly 60% of executives think that people will watch a video more if it is combined with text.
A simple way to do this is to create a voice transcript of your videos. There’s even a chance that Google will recognise this text and use it as a featured snippet. Videos need to be high quality and the transcript should be easy to access, usually under the video itself.
Not only does this cater for the video-watching user, it helps rank the content for its keywords and improve its SEO.
Conclusion, Lets Wrap This Up... Thew!
There’s no doubt that trying to keep up with Google can be hard work – the number of changes they make every month is staggering and even the savviest SEO expert doesn’t claim to get them all.
But featured snippets show no sign of going anywhere since they were introduced in 2014. In fact, the numbers of them continue to rise and show that Google is placing greater emphasis on them.
Google wants to provide people with the best information, quickly and these snippets can do this, appearing top of the SERPs ahead of plain links.
The snippets also offer the chance to be in the absolute top spot ins search results without the need for costly advertising.
This can have a dramatic effect on conversions as well as driving more traffic to your website and allowing you to outrank your competition.
In fact, there’s no reason not to have a go at featured snippets for the benefits that they bring.
It is important to do your research before you start with snippets by using the right kinds of tools, like SEMrush.
This allows you to find the snippets that you have a chance of ranking for, rather than wasting time trying to get those hard to reach ones. Let Google help you decide what snippets to go for by studying the existing results for the queries you are considering.
Also, make use of tools like Answer the Public to get the right questions to ask. Having a brilliant snippet will only benefit your business if people are asking that question – if it is too obscure and no-one asks it, then you don’t have a chance of getting those benefits.
Remember the desired length of a snippet – 52 words at a complete maximum.
Ideally, aim for between 40-50 words and make sure you use headers in the right way to help highlight the content that might be suitable for a snippet.
Consider sections on your website that both help users and potentially could be featured snippet materials.
How to libraries and FAQ sections are both great examples of these that can tell people lots of things they need to know. And also providing the right kind of answers to questions that will make great snippets.
Finally, use images that will complement your posts and also give you added SEO benefits.
Make sure you use video and add in that crucial text transcript. Those very transcripts could become featured snippets. If they are formatted in the right way and contain answers to those common questions.
Plus, a video is a gold mine for social media attention. Receiving more reactions and shares than other types of content.
Featured snippets are something any business can aim for. As you don’t need to be the top of the search rankings to have this position.
And while there is some work involved to have a chance, the benefits will definitely make it worthwhile in the long run.
So thanks for reading, if you this, please share.
Update Late 2017
According to recent information published by Brian Patterson and Chris Long, the growth in featured snippets may have been a kind of digital bubble—and that bubble may be bursting. In late October, their personal keywords’ feature appearances dropped from 16 percent to 14 percent, with no known catalyst, after general trends of rising for the past few years.
Interestingly enough, the downward trend was correlated with an upward trend of “knowledge boxes,” which are similar to, but distinct from featured snippets. Knowledge boxes are entries drawn from Google’s Knowledge Graph, which gathers and collates data from all over the web as a kind of self-contained encyclopedia. The boxes themselves usually rest to the side of search results, rather than at the very top, and contain encyclopedic entries about whatever subject is being searched for.
So Google perhaps is shifting results, from displaying featured snippets to displaying knowledge boxes.
I'm Paul Gordon an SEO freelancer who has spent the last 16 years helping businesses expand and grow through effective SEO strategies.