What are Featured Snippets?
Featured snippet is the direct answer to your query that appears in a formatted little box above the organic search results. There are 3 types of snippets that Google shows from the top ranking websites based on the keyword.
It's another way Google is working towards improving the user’s search experience after the knowledge graph, and keeping users on Google to answer their questions.
For example, when users want to know about how to respond to reviews, Google will look into the top ranking result pages to find the most relevant and direct answer to the initial query, then show it below the search box. The location of the box is what some refer to as position zero, as seen in the example below:
What’s in a Featured Snippet?
The featured snippet contains a summary of the answer that a user has searched for, a link to the page, and the page title and URL. The interesting thing about featured snippets is that one doesn’t necessarily need to have the top-ranking position on Google to appear in the snippet box (although it certainly helps). It is possible for other first-page results to appear in the snippet area by optimizing the post for snippets.
However, those in the top 10 organic positions are more likely to get the featured snippet position. According to SearchEngineLand, 99.58% of featured snippets are already in the top 10 position on Google's SERP. The most interesting part is that a featured snippet has very high click-through rate, which can result a session increase of up to 516%. See the study here.
How Do Featured Snippets Work?
Google’s search engine recognizes a user’s question and then detects the pages that best answer the question. Unfortunately, there is no magic button or way to guarantee that your web pages will appear in the snippet area, although it would be nice. Much like the magic of SEO, ranking for featured snippets is a process of optimizing your web page (or making it as easy as possible) for Google to recognize that the information on this page will be the most helpful for this question and also has a summary that Google can plug into that feature box nicely.
3 Types of Featured Snippets
Table: To provide the best-formatted answer, Google sometimes displays a featured snippet as a vertical table. The table generally holds 3 columns and 5 rows including a header. Any color coding, design, or image customization is acceptable as long as it's in plain HTML.
List: If the user query requires a list response, then Google is more likely to show a bulleted list result in the featured snippet. If the source page answers the question in a bulleted list, or with numbered headings, the snippet will display as a bulleted list. Google tends to show 5-8 list items excluding the header.
Paragraph: For a direct question or query that can be answered with a sentence, Google will display a paragraph snippet. The length of the paragraph is roughly 40-55 words. Questions with “why” “when” “what” “was” “which” are mostly answered by a paragraph snippet. Most paragraph snippets are owned by Wikipedia. So do some research on their content formatting!
Rank for Featured Snippets: Best Practices
A study on rich answers (snippets are just one type of rich answer) by Stone Temple Consulting that included featured snippets analyzed over 100,000 examples and 850,000 search queries. Their study found that Google offered some form of a rich answer about 19% of the time. Upon conducting the test again, Stone Temple Consulting found that results containing rich answers had increased to 31.2% in some categories, meaning that feature snippets are increasing in importance (for those wanting to get a deep dive into Rich Answers, we highly suggest their guide).
The practices set forth by Stone Temple Consulting from their tests resulted in a 40% success rate for featured snippet results. The following are their recommended best practices to rank for a featured snippet.
How To Get A Featured Snippet in 4 Steps
- Step 1: Find out the opportunities
- Step 2: Analyze the question format and searcher’s intent
- Step 3: Give a direct answer and optimize it according to the format
- Step 4: Improve the ranking factors
Let’s break it down and explain it in more digestible steps.
Step 1: Find out opportunities
Start with looking at your ranked content
Google favors websites that rank higher in the SERP (search engine result page) to give the featured snippet position. Using your SEO tool of choice, find out which pages of yours either rank in the top 10, or could rank in the top 10 if you optimize them. Depending on what you already use, be it SEMrush, Ahrefs, or something else, find out which of your pages rank in the top 10. Whatsmyserp has some great free features also. SEMrush allows some basic free SEO analysis.
No Content? No Problem. Start With Keyword Research
If you don’t have any content ranking in the top 10 and you want to make some, that's great! Start with some keyword research and find the questions that your readers are asking. Look online through forums, or gauge from your own experiences, and determine some basic questions that users search. Answerthepublic is a great tool to find such questions. When you have the keywords and questions in hand, write compelling content that gives the best answer and enough information to the searcher. Then use the following steps to format your content in a way that will help you to get the featured snippet while keeping in mind your regular best SEO practices.
Luckily for us, we had a great post that was ranked atop the SERP. We tested this theory to see if we could really get the featured snippet position and get our answer in the snippet box.
Before, the snippet was featured by another article.
But, our article was ranking right there in the number one spot underneath the snippet box. Which means we already have one of the best answers for this query. Also, did you notice that google is showing more than 3 line meta description for our page? Which you think is unusual but it’s the hint that Google gives to understand that this page is optimal or has the answer for the featured snippet.
So all we had to do was optimize our answer and make it featured snippet-friendly so it can be caught by the Google’s snippet algorithm.
How did we make our content more featured snippet friendly?
How could we make that even clearer and more succinct to show up in the featured snippet area? Well, we made it even easier for Google to understand that these were steps in a process. This was done by making the content helpful and in an easy to read numbered list format for both the “how to respond to positive reviews” and “how to respond to negative reviews” section of the article, denoting the steps.
So rather than just “1, 2, 3, 4” in the numbered list steps, we changed it to “Step 1, Step 2, Step 3” in the list format. Below is what the two sections looked like after we optimized them.
And wouldn’t you know it! Quicker than you can say “Bob’s your uncle” (where did that saying come from, anyways?), our featured snippet appeared for the keyword! Don’t believe us? Even if you do, here’s the new featured snippet with the optimized answer showing up. It picked up the answer for the responding to positive reviews section for the keyword “how to respond to reviews”.
How long does it take for a featured snippet to appear?
In our case, the process took about a day to show our page as the featured snippet. If you want to be extra sure that Google picks it up ASAP, you can submit the site via Google’s search console. But wait for a bit as any snippet changes take 18-36 hours to show up.
Step 2: Analyze the question format and searcher’s intent
Before you start writing the answer, learn as much as you can about the topic so you can give the best answer possible. Remember, a featured snippet is not just about a direct answer, it's about properly answering the question the searcher is asking in a well-formatted way. It becomes a lot easier if there's already a snippet showing for the keyword. Study that featured snippet carefully and find out why Google has decided to give them that coveted number (0) position on the first page.
The only way you can overtake that snippet is to understand what the current ranked content is doing right, and do it better. The key is to look at how they're answering the user query through that snippet, then return to the drawing board and map out strategies to provide superior content.
Don’t forget to look at their SEO techniques, backlinks, and other metrics. Look at their content keyword usage, alt-tags, internal linking, and every single other minor technical piece and tactic.
Step 3: Give a direct answer and optimize it according to the format
Include your direct answer underneath the heading tag in a single paragraph—and be direct. Keep your answer near the top of the page to indicate its importance. Aim for your answer to be about 40 to 50 words long (Moz). Make sure your answer is descriptive, clear, thorough, and answers the question in a way that makes sense logically. Keep the language simple: sentences should not be too long and should avoid passive voice. If an answer is a bit more complex, try to break the answer into digestible steps in a bulleted or numbered list format.
To test how comprehensible or easy-to-read your content is, try stepping back, looking at it and asking yourself: would someone who is not in the industry be able to read this and understand it? Am I using jargon and lingo that is confusing? Try to put yourself in your reader's shoes and view things from their perspective.
Also you should give the answer clearly in a formatted way. You can give the answer with a video, but that won’t help you in snippet war. It has to be one of the 3 main methods.
Here’s how you can format your answer in 3 snippet friendly ways.
Image Source: SEMRush
- Include the exact keyword in snippet heading section
- Main answer should be in first 40-55 words
- Add keywords in heading and paragraph as well
- Explain the abbreviation like Wikipedia does
- I.e. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Place the snippet paragraph higher on your post
- Use the main keyword in your snippet heading
- Recommended to use “bullet points” for creating a list
- You can also use numbers (1, 2, 3 etc) OR
- Use the same headings for steps. Like we used H4 for our steps
- Add the most important rows on the upper part of the table
- Feel free to use more columns and rows if necessary
- (Don’t need to hold yourself with 3 columns and 5 rows)
- Bold the table header and use a different color. Make it attractive
- Don’t forget to use keyword in your table heading
Always have a useful image along with your snippet paragraph, list, or table. Additionally, make sure you make use of the alt tag in that image. Google is now showing images with their snippets, and if you don’t have a proper image, Google might show one from another website. We bet you won’t like someone else’s image on your snippet.
Step 4: Improve the ranking factors
There are several factors Google count before giving a featured snippet position. Some of them are:
- Organic click through rate (CTR) of that page
- Bounce Rate
- Page speed
- Overall user engagement
So, after setting up your great featured snippet answer, you should add really relevant and helpful information to the page. Make it user focused, entertaining, engaging, comprehensive and a high quality piece. User engagement plays a vital role in here. This is what Google pays attention to when testing your site. An entertainment and user friendly content will help drive traffic to the page and maintain the page’s SERP position.
If you can provide a diagram, a video or go more in-depth into the topic down the page, do so. You want to make sure your page is as helpful as possible to readers. The point of your content is to help users and to stand out from your competition, so hopefully users will eventually buy from you, link to you, share your page, or even just remember you and ultimately Google will reward you the snippet position.
Ranking for a featured snippet requires a concerted effort of researching and studying searcher’s intent and snippet format. Continue to test, review and repeat—add better markup, improve your answer, speed up your site, document your changes, wait for any snippet changes (18-36 hours), refresh and repeat.
The journey to rank for a featured snippet doesn’t end with just tactic identification and content optimization. You need to keep testing, reviewing and repeating the process for as long as it takes to get what you want (and not give it up again!). Always be on alert to identify any search engine result page (SERP) changes.
Once you see any major changes in the SERP, review and update your content as well. As we mentioned before, strive to make your snippet stand out even as you follow the main formatting guidelines.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask me in the comment section below. And we would love to hear on how you’re doing in your featured snippet war!