What are Featured Snippets?
Featured snippets are the first small summary of information that appears in a box below the search box and above the top ranking organic search results. In other words, it is a direct answer to your question that appears in a little box above the Google Snack Pack. It is another way Google is working towards improving the user’s search experience.
For example, when users want to know what the top review websites are, they simply have to type in “top review sites” and Google will find a direct answer, if possible, as in the example below.
If Google’s Snack Pack area contains the most relevant web pages based on the user’s query in position one, two and three, then the featured snippet is placed at what some refer to as position zero.
In this case, zero is definitely a good thing if you can get your web page to place in that featured snippet area. It’s like a little billboard that sits at the top of the page that reads “click me!”
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 a number one ranking web page to appear in the snippet box (although it certainly helps). It is possible for pages that aren’t number one to appear in the snippet area by optimizing the post for snippets, however, those in the top five organic positions are more likely to appear in the featured snippet areas.
Show Me Another Example of a Featured Snippet
Your wish is our command. In the example below, our blog post, Top 10 Customer Review Websites to Get More Customer Reviews On, isn’t the top result in the Snack Pack area and results in a featured snippet in position zero (note that we optimized for the keywords “site” and “website” in the post and are now featured snippets that appear for both terms).
How Do Featured Snippets Work?
Google’s search engine recognizes a user’s question and then detects pages that best answer the user’s 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.
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, I 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 Rank for a Featured Snippet
- Step 1: Come up with a common yet simple question that relates to your market (something that your consumers would ask, in simple language).
- Step 2: Provide a direct answer to the question that is clear (no fluff).
- Step 3: Offer some extra value beyond the direct answer (could be a diagram, image, etc).
- Step 4: Make it as easy as possible for users to find on your page (don’t bury it).
In other words:
For the rest of us, let’s break it down and explain it in more digestible steps.
Step 1: Find Your Pages That Rank (or Can Rank) in The Top Five
Google favors websites that rank in the first five positions to use for featured snippets (Hubspot). Using your SEO tool of choice, find out which pages of yours either rank in the top five, or could rank in the top five if you optimize them. Depending on what you already use, be it SEMrush, Ahrefs, Majestic, etc, find out which of your pages rank in the top five. 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 five and you want to make some, that is great! Start with some keyword research and follow these steps to format your content in a way that will help you rank for snippets while keeping in mind your regular best SEO practices that will help you get featured in the top five or even the Snack Pack.
Luckily for us, we had a great post that was ranked atop the Snack Pack. We tested this theory to see if we could indeed, place our snack pack-able content in the snippet box.
Before, the snippet was featured by another article.
But, our article was ranking right there in the number one spot in the snack pack underneath the snippet box. As you can see below, the content was already pretty clear and succinct.
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 “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.
Step 2: Look for Simple Questions from These Topics
Okay, back to the steps. Now that you have an idea of which of your content topics are ranking well, look online through forums or gauge from experience,some basic questions that users search. These are the questions you are going to answer in simple terms. Just to be sure, you can conduct some keyword research in Keyword Planner or the keyword tool of your choice to see which keywords or long tail keywords you are ranking for and how much monthly traffic each keyword gets.
Step 3: Place Your Keyword in Your Heading Tag of Your Webpage
Whatever heading tag you typically use (be it H1, H2, or H3), make sure your keyword is included in a heading tag. If the question is “How to Rank for Featured Snippets”, make sure that “How to Rank for Featured Snippets” is in the H1, H2, or H3 tag.
Step 4: Provide a Direct Answer
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 54 to 58 words long (Hubspot). 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 stay away from passive voice. If an answer is a bit more complex, try to break the answer into digestible steps in a bullet form format or numbered list.
A great test to look at how comprehensible or easy to read your content is, is to step back, look at it and ask 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. Here are some free writing tools that can help you make sure your content is up to snuff.
Step 5: Keep Your HTML In Check
Depending on the formatting of the answer you use, your HTML codes should match up. If you have WordPress or a CMS system that automatically generate the codes, great, but double check to make sure the formatting is correct. It’s good to learn some basic HTML if you have never done this before.
If your answer underneath is a:
- Paragraph: make sure your answer uses <p> tags.
- Bullet List: make sure your answer uses <ol> tags.
- Numbered List: make sure your answer uses <ol class=”list”> tags.
- Table: make sure your answer uses <table> tags.
If you use a paragraph as your answer, make sure you use <p> tags.
Need some help? Here’s some really helpful shortcode tips for the rest of us.
Step 5: Offer Value Added Information
Aside from your great answer, add really relevant, helpful information to the page. This 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.
Step 6: Make It Easy for Users to Find
Keeping your direct answer near the top of the page makes it easy for users to find. Not only should your page be optimized for Google and other search engines, but the more user friendly you page is, the better. If users can find the information easily, Google will too.
Step 7: Maintain Your SERP
In order for your page to show up in the featured snippet area, it needs to maintain first page results rankings. Keep checking your pages to ensure they are staying on the first page of the SERP results. If they are not, keep optimizing it, get more backlinks and do what you can to maintain a spot within the top five results position or if not, at least first page SERP status.