Editor’s note: Post updated on September 14th, 2022.
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Some of my clients are big federal agencies already ranking in Google’s top 10 for their content but are not displayed in the top-featured snippet. If you, too, are in the same boat, this writing guide is for you.
Looking for a .pdf summary? Grab it here.
Here’s what we are going to cover:
- What is a “Featured Snippet”?
- Here’s an example of a Featured Snippet
- Do you have to be on the first page of Google to qualify?
- Why should you work on getting a featured snippet?
- Featured Snippets don’t always equate to more click-throughs.
- Types of Featured Snippets
- What type of content gets displayed most often?
- How do you get started?
- If you get a Featured Snippet, will you keep it?
- Measuring your Featured Snippet dominance
- Not quite ranking yet, but curious as to how close you are?
- Future of Featured Snippets
What’s a “featured snippet”:
A Featured Snippet is an answer that ranks at the top of the search results (ranking 0) that links back to a website. They appear in just under 20% of the search results, can take up a lot of search engine results real estate (especially on mobile), and are used as voice results about one-third of the time (for Google). Bing also has featured snippets, and they use them for voice results part of the time.
You can also refer to Google’s original announcement about Featured Snippets.
Here’s an example of a Featured Snippet:
Do you 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. So suppose your site is already ranking on Google page one for a query that could trigger a featured snippet. In that case, you should modify your copy to potentially rank in that coveted spot for higher brand recognition and click-through rate.
Note – if you are interested in ranking for a Featured Snippet in Bing, they look at the top 20 URLs ranking when they pull in their answer.
To see if you qualify, you can look in Ahrefs in their “Organic Keywords” report and modify the report to show search engine results pages (SERPs) for your domain that are ranking in the Featured snippet by using the filters. Here’s an example for Climate.gov:
Here’s a similar report from SEMrush:
Why should you work on getting a featured snippet?
Ahref’s research back in August 2020 showed that 12.3% of queries show a Featured Snippet. About ⅓ of the time, that answer is the voice search answer. Data around the click-through rate for these features is a more complicated story (see below). Featured Snippets often get, on average, an 8% click-through rate.
Studies have correlated top-ranking positions with more brand awareness among consumers, making getting the Featured Snippet slot more valuable. Studies correlate top-ranking positions with more brand awareness among consumers, which might make getting the Featured Snippet slot more valuable.
It’s also important to know that Google is now (for some Featured Snippet results) taking the user to relevant copy on the webpage with the search query highlighted with a yellow background.
Featured Snippets don’t always equate to more click-throughs.
Ahrefs has also run a study on CTR and Featured Snippets, showing that Featured Snippets steal clicks from the first result and reduce clicks on the search results overall if they appear.
*Note that if you rank for a Featured snippet, you will not rank on the rest of the SERPs with that URL, so you might see a decreased click-through rate to that URL.
So, you might want to take a testing approach when rolling out your Featured snippet optimization plan.
Also, you will want to only optimize for featured snippets with 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
A Featured Snippet is just one kind of snippet, and there are many kinds of Featured Snippets. You can view a complete list here.
The major ones include:
- Paragraph Featured Snippets
- Numbered List Featured Snippets
- Bulleted List Featured Snippets
- Table Featured Snippets
- Suggested Video Clips Snippets
- Tabbed (Carousel) Featured Snippets
- YouTube Featured Snippets
- Expanded/Double Featured Snippets
Learn more about the different types below and which queries trigger them.
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 images inside.
The following type of questions triggers these (and you need to use these in your copy/answer):
- Who is…
- What is…
- How (do/does something work)…
- Why is…
It’s usually 2-3 sentences of text pulled from an <p> HTML element. That paragraph can also be in a TOC list. And those 2-3 sentences should fully answer the question and provide 2-3 facts about the topic. It should not include your brand name and should not be written in the first person. Make sure the copy makes sense if you were to read it out loud. Here’s an example of a “how” query:
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:
Numbered List Featured Snippets
These tend to be triggered by queries where the answer is a step-by-step list of instructions (like recipes or DIY projects).
The following type of questions triggers these:
- “How do I” (do something)
You’ll need to format your content in a list format. So in your HTML, either using <ol> <li> or with H2 or H3 subheaders.
Here is an example:
Bulleted List Featured Snippets
These are triggered when the answer is a list, but the order isn’t important. These snippets tend to be triggered by ranked items, best-of lists, or feature lists.
Here’s an example:
Here’s an example of a “features” list:
In these cases, you’re going to want to code your HTML with <ul> (unordered list) and <li> or H2 and H3 subheaders for every item in your list. See the below example:
Additionally, Google can auto-create bulleted Featured Snippets from the text on your page if you have well-structured HTML with nested H1, H2, and H3 tags.
Table Featured Snippets
These are answers given back to the searcher in a table format. They are pulled from an <table> element. They make up 29% of all snippets and are triggered for lists, pricing, rates, and other data. 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. Google jumps the user directly into a video result, which is also a form of a Featured Snippet.
Here is the best guide on the Internet to know how to appear for video-featured snippets. It ultimately requires a coordinated effort between your website landing page and your YouTube video.
Tabbed (Carousel) Featured Snippets
These are triggered when Google thinks the searcher would benefit from more information about subtopics related to their query or where the user might need to refine their query to get a better answer. They were displayed when the answer changed based on the refinement.
Here’s an example from Google’s announcement:
When updating this guide, we had a hard time finding these types of Featured Snippets and instead found that Google is testing query refinement options in the search results along with a Featured Snippet that looks like the following:
Or like this one:
YouTube Featured Snippet
Any type of query where a visual would help provide a better answer. These snippets are pulled from high-performing YouTube videos.
Here’s what the Featured Snippet looks like:
Expanded/Double Featured Snippets
These are related to the tabbed snippets above. It was launched in August 2018, and it shows queries with multiple search intents and provides helpful information on subtopics.
Per Google’s blog post on the subject:
“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:
What type of content gets displayed most often?
Based on GetStat’s studies, the following types of search queries get featured results most often:
- DIY processes
And here are the type of Featured Snippets that get featured the most:
And GetStat has a follow-up study about determining which queries that trigger Featured Snippets might drive the most click-through to a website.
How do you get started?
Google published a guide on Featured Snippets, but it just provides examples of how to opt out of having Google use your web content for Featured Snippets.
Here’s your optimization checklist:
1. Rank on the Top Page of Google
Featured Snippets are only available to pages that rank in Google’s top 10 (or page one). You get there by following good SEO technical practices and being mobile-friendly.
An Ahrefs study highlighted that it’s essential to be ranking in the top 3 results as those get pulled into the Featured Snippet spot the most.
Note this example for epa.gov:
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. Load quickly
Pages loading in the Featured Snippets or the #1 position in Google search results load quickly on average, 1.16 seconds (desktop) or 1.10 seconds (mobile).
Use Google’s Page Speed Insights tool to check your page and get suggestions for improving its load time. By mid-2021, having a good Core Web Vitals score will also be a requirement. If you need more tips on how to improve your page load speed, check out our guide.
3. Answer the searcher’s intent
Answering the searcher’s question is an essential aspect of optimizing any web copy in 2020, but even more critical if you want to be in the Featured Snippet.
First, you need to answer the questions succinctly and thoroughly. To figure that out, you need to look at the SERPs to see the searcher’s intent behind that query. Google has long ago moved from a keyword-matching engine to an intent-matching engine, which is even more evident with its Featured Snippet work.
It’s essential 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 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 that would typically trigger Featured Snippets. You’ll 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 data will allow you to see the queries you’re ranking for in Google that are question queries where you are already getting impressions or click-throughs. You can then cross-reference this with your Featured Snippet tracking in your favorite SEO tool to see if those queries result in Featured Snippets for you or if they would be a good candidate for optimization.
4. Find question queries about your brand and where you should rank.
Beyond looking to see if your brand is currently ranking for Featured Snippets, you could look for question queries (who, what, when, where, and how) in your own data (Google Search Console) or in SEO tools (SEMrush/Ahrefs) that trigger Featured Snippets but where you are not yet ranking. Or you can see where your competitors are ranking for Featured Snippets where you could steal their rankings.
You can use a keyword research approach if you’re looking for additional terms (beyond your data and competitors).
To research relevant questions, here are the tools that help surface those with volume:
You can also use the free tool Also Asked, which creates an exportable report of the results for the People Also Asked boxes displayed for a particular query, and many also rank as Featured Snippets on their own.
While looking for your customer’s questions, you should also look at forums for the actual questions your searchers are asking related to their issue/burning questions behind their query:
One can also consider places like Reddit, and you can use this free Reddit search tool.
Or you can look for all the Reddit submissions from your domain using the following URL format: https://www.reddit.com/domain/yourdomain.com/.
Or you can use Seed Keywords, which 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 share the keywords they would use to solve the scenario.
A final reminder.
Before you finalize your list, look at the SERPs and pick queries that show Featured Snippets with click-through intent. You don’t want to appear for a Featured Snippet that decreases the amount of traffic to your site.
5. Determine how you can provide better information
For the areas where you have Featured Snippet opportunities but are not already ranking:
- Look at the Featured Snippet currently appearing. Note the content and type of Featured Snippet.
- Do you have content you could leverage to answer those questions with better information than what is already ranking? If not, create a writing plan.
6. Answer the question completely
Make sure your answer is short and straightforward, but the content is comprehensive and answers the associated “people also ask questions” and supportive keywords. You need to ask yourself:
“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?
Create the BEST answer
The best answers:
- 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.
There are several ways to research the additional keywords that Google expects to find on your page if you cover the topic well. In addition, well-covered topics have a better shot of ranking as a Featured Snippet (and on Google page one in general).
You will be using tools that help you find the additional terms that will give the search engines clues to what exactly you mean in your copy.
Google Search Suggest (free)
One easy way to do that is to use Google’s search suggestions – found at the bottom of each search result page.
You can also use SEMrush’s SEO Content Template (paid):
Or Moz’s Keyword Explorer tool (paid):
This Keyword Explorer tool lets you switch to “broadly related topics and synonyms, like this:
Moz Chrome plugin (free):
It allows you to input a keyword for a page and see free content suggestions. Instructions are here under “page optimization.”
People Also Ask (Free)
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. If a user stops searching for that query based on your content, you’re more likely to provide 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 answer the question in 40-60 words. SEMrush analyzed nearly 7 million Featured Snippets. They found that most Featured Snippets are 40-60 words long.
Make sure that the content you create matches the type of Featured Snippet box for which you want to rank. For example, you can add TLDR/“too long, didn’t read” to popular blog posts or a summary at the bottom.
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.
Add Question Keywords In your Heading Tags
Often, the questions in headers are ALSO pulled through in their own Featured Snippet or People Also Ask result. In addition, many of the Featured Snippets you can see on Google are pulled from optimizing page headers.
8. Leave the user wanting more (so that they click through)
When possible (especially when working on a list Featured Snippet), add more list items than will be shown – it creates a “more items” option at the bottom. Play around with the character count so that the full answer is *not* shown, and they will have to click through to get the whole answer.
9. Include an optimized image or video
Most of the time, Google includes an image in a Featured Snippet. However, the image can come from a site that is not yours. Here’s what you can do to see if you can get Google to pick YOUR image for the Featured Snippet:
Upload a more relevant image to the top of the ranking page. Make sure that the image and text together provide the best answer.
- Do a Google image search for the target term, and note the first suggested subtopic. Then, use that subtopic in your optimization.
- Make sure to use an image that is not a stock photo and is topically relevant.
- Place the image at the top of the page near relevant text.
- Less than 600px, compressed.
- Have a 4:3 aspect ratio.
- They are compressed, fast, and responsive. Ensure you’re using the scrset= and providing a fallback URL via the scr= attribute.
- Have an optimized filename of the image, the alt text image title: attribute, and the captions.
- Make sure to use the schema.org image property near the article schema type. And use that markup only on the one image you want to be featured.
- Submit it in various size formats.
- Follow Google image best practices.
10. Request re-indexing. Wait & potentially try again
Now you wait for Google to re-index the page (using the URL inspection tool in Google Search Console). If you don’t get the Featured Snippet on the first try, you may need to iterate and tests different language. Sometimes it might take a few rounds.
If you get a Featured Snippet, will you keep it?
Featured Snippet rankings frequently change as Google uses its RankBrain algorithm to determine if they are genuinely 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 the 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
- SEMrush has a complete 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 query? You just need to type your target query into Google 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. During Google’s 20th anniversary, they announced that they are focused on providing search journeys (directing a user’s search behavior) and visual Featured Snippets (with images/video) are a part of that effort.
Need help getting started?
If you need assistance auditing your Featured Snippets efforts or determining your search strategy, get in touch with us.