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Some of my clients are big federal agencies who are already ranking in Google’s top 10 for their content but are not being displayed in the top featured snippet. If you to are in the same boat, this writing guide is for you.
Here’s my attempt to pull it all together in one location.
What’s a “snippet”:
In the SEO world, the term “snippet” is used for any set of text, image, URL, and video that is displayed in Google search. Over the years Google has created a number of ways that it might use data from your site or your social media properties and display it in search for a user.
What’s a “featured snippet”:
This article focuses on just those featured snippets. A featured snippet is an answer that ranks at the top of the search results (ranking 0) that link back to a website.
This is what a featured snippet looks like:
Google has a comprehensive guide now to what Featured Snippets are and how they are triggered that you should check out.
Do you really have to be on the first page of Google to qualify?
According to research by Ahrefs, 99.58% of featured pages already rank on the first page of Google for that term. If your site is already ranking on Google page one for a query that could trigger a featured snippet, you should modify your copy to potentially rank in that coveted spot for higher brand recognition, and click through rate.
You can find that in Ahrefs by using their “Organic Keywords report”, which will show you the keywords that you rank for an if they have a Featured Snippet (even if you’re not the result). Here’s one for Climate.gov:
Why should you work on getting a Featured Snippet?
Feature snippets (with the right search intent) can drive significantly more click-throughs from SERPs to your landing page. Here are some recent studies that show the increase in CTR once you get a Featured Snippet:
- Hubspot’s own research shows that content that has received a featured snippet gets 2 times more click through from SERPs.
- Ben Goodsell has a case study where the CTR to the featured page increased from 2% to 8% once it was placed in a featured snippet box and it drove an increase in revenue from their organic traffic of 677%.
- Eric Enge has a case study showing a 20–30% increase in traffic for a client while they held the featured snippet for the query.
- Ahrefs has also run their own study on CTR and Featured Snippets which also showed an increase in CTR.
Featured Snippets also help with Voice SEO
Did you know the featured snippet is used to provide the answer when a user searches via voice? The head of Baidu search has estimated that voice and image search will be 50% of the search volume by the year 2020 which means that featured snippet carries a lot more weight. You can read my take on voice search (and voice search optimization) here.
Make sure that you’re optimizing for featured snippets that have click-through intent. You don’t want to appear for a featured snippet that decreases the amount of traffic to your site.
Types of featured snippets in 2020
Featured Snippet is just one kind of snippet, and there are many kinds of Featured Snippets. They include:
- Numbered List
- Bulleted List
- Suggested Video
Learn more about different types below as each is set up to answer a specific type of query.
Paragraph Featured Snippets
This snippet includes an answer given in the text. It can be a box with text inside or a box with both text and image inside.
These are triggered by the following type of questions:
- Who is…
- What is…
- How (do/does something work)…
- Why is…
Here’s an example:
Here’s an example of a “do I” query:
Here’s another example with multiple images:
Here is another example triggered by a question that needs a full paragraph answer:
These tend to be triggered by queries where the answer is a step of instructions in order, so if you want to rank for “How do I” (do something) type queries, then you’ll need to format your content in a list format. So in your HTML either with the use of <ol>, <li> or with H2 or H3 subheaders for every time on your list.
Here is an example:
Bulleted List Featured Snippet
These are triggered when the answer is a list, but the order isn’t important. They tend to be triggered by ranked items or best of lists or features lists.
Here’s an example:
And here’s another:
In these cases, you’re going to want to code your HTML with <ul> (unordered list) and <li> (list item) or H2 and H3 subheaders for every item in your list.
Table Featured Snippet
These are answers given back to the searcher in a table format. Here’s an example:
If you have a page where the data needs to be presented in a table format, Google will pull the content through if you have it coded as a table in the HTML, or even better, you can mark it up with their dataset schema markup.
Suggested Video Clips Snippets
These are triggered when the query is instructional and would benefit from a video tutorial. They jump directly into a video result, are also a form of featured snippets.
The best guide on the Internet to know how to appear for video featured snippets is here. It ultimately requires a coordinated effort between your website landing page and your YouTube video.
Tabbed Featured Snippets
This was announced by Google, though I haven’t seen many of these in the wild. They are triggered when Google thinks that the searcher would benefit from more information about subtopics related to their query:
Here’s Google’s example:
Expanded Feature Snippets
These are related to the tabbed snippets above it was launched in August 2018, and it shows for queries where there are multiple search intents, and to provided useful information on subtopics.
Per Google’s blog post on the subject, published August 16, 2018:
“These new panels are automatically generated based on our understanding of these topics from content on the web, and we hope you find them useful as they roll out over the next few days. This update is the latest in a series of improvements we’ve been making to help you get information quickly with Search. As always, if you have any feedback on the information you see, please let us know via the feedback link at the bottom of the search results page”.
Here’s an example:
Double Featured Snippets
These are relatively new, and there’s a great analysis of their impact from a Stat report. It seems to be a format that Google is testing.
They seem to be triggered by noun heavy queries, and they look like this:
What type of content gets displayed most often?
Based on GetStat’s 2016 study, the following types of search queries get featured results most often:
- DIY processes
And GetStat even has a follow-up study about how to determine which queries that trigger featured snippets might drive the most click through to a website.
How do you get started?
Google has published a guide on featured snippets, but it just provides you with examples of how to opt-out of having Google using your web content for featured snippets.
If you are looking for tips on how to optimize your content for being displayed as a Featured Snippet, here’s your checklist:
1. Rank in the Top Page of Google
As I mentioned in the intro, featured snippets are only available to pages that already rank in the top 10 in Google (or page one). You get there by following good SEO technical practices, being mobile-friendly and load quickly, on HTTPs, with good, high-quality inbound links, good EAT signals and happy website visitors. No small task.
If you’re not sure you meet some of those elements, here are some tips to check your technical status:
- Google’s Mobile-Friendly test
- Chrome’s Lighthouse SEO audit tool
- And a good old fashioned SEO audit.
2. Answer the searcher’s intent
This is an important aspect of optimizing any web copy in 2020, but even more important if you want to be in the featured snippet. You need to answer the questions succinctly and completely. To figure that out, you need to look at the SERPs to see what the searcher’s intent is behind that query. Google has long ago moved from a keyword matching engine to an intent matching engine, and that’s even more clear with its featured snippet work.
It’s important to understand what type of content Google wants to show in the snippet. Looking at their Human Rater Guidelines, Google has indicated that a featured snippet would “fully meet” the criteria if:
“The user is looking for a very specific fact or piece of information and the result block provides the information immediately, thoroughly, accurately, and clearly. No other results would be needed.”
3. Evaluate if you are currently ranking for featured snippets
There’s another way to see if you’re ranking for queries with volume. You need to use a bit of RegEx in your Google Analytics account (in the Google Search Console report for Queries). You set the search query matching RegEx ^why|^how^should^best:
This will allow you to see the queries you’re ranking for in Google that are question-related queries where you are already getting impressions or click through.
4. Find queries related to your service offering / products / organization where you should be ranking.
This is where good old fashioned keyword research comes in. For questions in particular, here are the places that are best to surface those:
Look at forums at the real questions your searchers are asking related to their issue/burning questions behind their query:
Look at the People Also Ask:
Also, consider places like Reddit:
This tool allows you to discover related keywords by having your friends and followers help. You simply create a search scenario. Then share it on social media and ask your followers to type in the keywords they would use to solve it.
5. Finding Supportive Keywords
There are a couple of ways to do research around the additional keywords that Google expects to find on your page if you’re covering the topic well.
You’re going to be using tools that help you find the semantics of the words – the meaning behind them and the additional words that will give the search engines clues to what exactly you mean in your copy.
Google Search Suggest
One easy way to do that is to use Google’s search suggestions on the bottom of each search page.
Or, check out Niche Laboratory (free):
This might be one of my favorite tools as it will help you find associated phrases, but will also pull popular forums on your topic.
You can also use SEMRush’s SEO Content Template:
Or Moz’s Keyword Explorer tool:
This Keyword Explorer tool lets you switch to “broadly related topics and synonyms, like this:
6. Find Supportive Topics
Make sure to look at the questions featured in the People Also Ask Boxes like this:
Often they provide great insight into that second question that the searcher has related to their query. Often if a user is answering that on your post, you’re more likely to be providing a comprehensive answer that Google will want to show as a featured snippet.
7. Change how you format your writing
As you’re editing the pages you’d like to have ranked for a featured snippet, you need to do the following:
Create text at the top of the page for the snippet
That text needs to clearly answer the question in 40-60 words. SEMrush analyzed nearly 7 million Featured Snippets. And they found that the most Featured Snippets are 40-60 words long. 2.
HTML is your friend. Make sure to use it
Format your text with clear headers and subheaders (using H1s and H2s, etc), or bulleted lists if that’s the type of snippet you’re going after.
Answer the question completely
Make sure that the page comprehensively answers the question and associated “people also ask questions” and supportive keywords. I love this question from Briggsby:
“Does this article answer all the subjects and questions a searcher might have when they search?”
Think about where Google is going with a focus on searcher’s journeys – if your page provides a complete answer to the searcher’s first query and second and third, do you think that Google will reward you with that top spot? You bet! If it makes sense to write a comprehensive answer on one landing page, do. If not, consider adding links to supportive content that answers that second and third natural question that comes out of the first query.
Create the BEST answer
The best answers should:
- Demonstrate that you’re an expert and highlight that you’re presenting factual data.
- Make sure to provide supporting references and sources.
- Use short and punchy sentences that provide direct answers.
Leave the user wanting more (so that they click through)
When possible, (especially when working on a list featured snippet) add more list items then will be shown – it creates a “more item” option at the bottom.
Include an optimized image or video
Most of the time, Google includes an image in a featured snippet. However, the image source can be pulled from a site that is not yours, so its best practice to include an optimized image that Google can use from your landing page.
The image needs to be:
- original (not a stock photo)
- topically relevant
- on the upper part of the page
- less than 600px, compressed
- have a 4:3 aspect ratio
- optimize the filename of the image, the alt text and the captions
Here’s more from Google about image optimization.
Format the content properly
The content should match the type of featured snippet box you want to rank for.
If you get a Featured Snippet, will you keep it?
Featured Snippets have a lot of churn as Google is using its RankBrain algorithm to determine if they are truly solving the searcher’s intent over time. Stone Temple found that there is quite a bit of volatility.
Here’s a chart from Izzy Smith, SEO Manager at Sixt related to keywords she is tracking:
Measuring your Featured Snippet dominance
Unfortunately, there’s no way to identify Featured Snippets in Search Console. You’re going to have to track your efforts with an SEO tool.
- Here’s how to set up that tracking in Ahrefs:
- And SEMRush has a full guide to setting up tracking in their tool.
Not quite ranking yet, but curious as to how close you are?
Curious about where you are in the featured snippet queue? You just need to type in your target query and remove the site that appears (-featuredsnippetdomain.com). Then add the second domain as well:
Keyword -featuredsnippetdomain.com AND -secondfeaturedsnippetdomain.com etc. H/T Izzi Smith (@izzionfire) via Source.
Future of Featured Snippets
They are not going away, Google during their 20th anniversary birthday announced that they are focused on providing search journeys (directing a user’s search behavior) and featured snippets are a part of that effort. And Bing is also now getting into the effort with their own testing of Featured Snippets with tabs.
What has your success been in getting Featured Snippets? Share in the comments below.
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