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How to Optimize for Featured Snippets

Featured snippets pose big opportunities for website traffic and prestige. Some marketing leaders and content managers think that landing one of these featured snippets is nearly impossible, but that's not always the case. With the right optimization strategies, getting content into the featured snippet box doesn't have to be tough.

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Online marketers have long thought of landing the first organic result on a search engine results page (SERP) as a primary target. Getting as many consumers to a given website or page as possible is generally the goal behind optimizing for a high SERP ranking. The first result that many consumers rely on, though, isn’t actually the first organic result in the search. It’s a featured snippet, which occupies “position 0” on the search page. These snippets can boost marketing success for a variety of search types, making them a valuable tool for content managers and marketers.

What are Featured Snippets?

 
If you’ve ever asked Google a how-to question or searched for a recipe, you’re familiar with the featured snippet box that appears at the top of the results page. Introduced in 2014, Google featured snippets provide quick answers to search questions. Google says that these snippets are displayed when they’re likely to help people find what they’re looking for quickly.

Snippets are displayed in several different formats. Options include paragraph, list and table snippets.

 


  • Paragraphs are the most common type of snippets. These are boxes of text that attempt to answer a search question and are taken directly from a webpage. For example, the featured snippet for the question “Why is the sky blue?” provides a short, scientific answer from NASA.

  • Lists feature information broken down into numbered lists or bullet points. These are commonly used to display recipes, but they can also be used for search queries such as “What are the best vegan lipsticks?”

  • Tables display a variety of data about a given topic. For example, if you search “GDP by country,” you’ll see a featured snippet that consists of a table ranking countries alongside their GDPs.

Featured Snippet: GDP by country 2019

Featured Snippet: GDP by country 2019; source: google.com

 

Knowing what type of featured snippet you want to land is key to optimization. Decide which type of snippet you’re aiming for, and use proper HTML code to format your text.

Why Should You Care About Featured Snippets?

 
It’s essential for your brand to make a strong impression. Much effort goes into designing webpages, mobile apps and online marketing campaigns that grow brand awareness. Featured snippets are another tool that can be used to increase brand loyalty. Consumers who find helpful content on a website through a snippet are more likely to seek out that site for quick answers to future questions.

Some critics argue that featured snippets have a negative effect on the click-through rate (CTR) for the first few organic search results on a page. While that might seem discouraging, it’s important to keep the purpose of featured snippets in mind. These easy-to-read snippets improve the search experience for consumers and make it simpler for marketers to see the types of information that consumers are searching for. Featured snippets aren’t a drain on CTR. They’ve simply replaced what has long been thought of as the first organic result in searches.

Instead of working to land the first traditional search result and stopping there, work to land the featured snippet for a given search term too. This will help balance out any loss in CTR you’ve seen since Google introduced featured snippets. Also keep in mind that increased traffic isn’t as good as high-quality traffic. The goal should be winning long-term customers, not getting thousands of people to visit a site one time.

How Do You Find Opportunities for Featured Snippets?

 
Owning the first organic search result for a keyword query is a good SEO goal. However, featured snippets aren’t always drawn from the top result. As a rule of thumb, your page should rank in the top 10 organic results for a given query in order to be used as a featured snippet. If your page isn’t already in the top 10, work on improving your position with on-page SEO.

Once you’ve ranked in the top 10, start looking for opportunities for featured snippets to be drawn from your pages. Discovering such opportunities is a three-step process.

 

  1. Identify your ranking.
    Use the research tool SEMRush to determine if your website currently has any featured snippets. Plug your URL into the search bar, go to “Domain Analytics,” choose “Organic Research” and then click on “Positions.” If you look to the right on the page, you’ll see an area that says “SERP Features.” This is where you can see how many times your website is used for a featured snippet or image. Once you’ve researched your rankings, research your competitors to see how they’re doing in this area.
  2.  

  3. Do keyword research.
    Use SEMRush, Ahrefs or Moz Pro to do basic keyword research for your line of business or industry. Take note of which keywords have featured snippets. Record what websites those snippets are coming from too.
  4.  

  5. Organize your data.
    Record all of the data you’ve collected in a spreadsheet so that you can find the best opportunities for featured snippets.

 

Keyword List with Featured Snippets Opportunities

Keyword List with Featured Snippets Opportunities


 

As you evaluate your data, look for keywords without featured snippets. If your site ranks in the top 10 for a keyword, consider restructuring the corresponding page so that it is likely to be selected for a snippet. Even if a page doesn’t rank in the top 10 for a keyword, aim to improve SEO for page ranking while structuring your data so that a snippet is likely to be chosen from the page as well. After you’ve accomplished this, you can try to steal a snippet from a competitor. Take note that it’s very hard to replace Wikipedia if it owns the featured snippet for a given keyword.

If you’re coming up short on opportunities, evaluate the categories that your keyword queries fall under. Some search categories simply have more snippets than others. The categories for which such snippets are often displayed include:

 

  • health,
  • mathematics,
  • science,
  • do-it-yourself (DIY) topics,
  • finance,
  • recipes,
  • statuses and
  • requirements.

 

Try targeting for keywords that start with phrases like “how do I,” “what do you need,” “when can I” and so on.

How to Optimize Your Content for Featured Snippets?

 
The foundation needed to get a featured snippet spot is a well-designed website with strong on-page SEO throughout. A good indication that you’re ready to take extra optimization steps is that your website already ranks in the top 10 on Google for your target search queries. The following strategies can help you optimize your site so that it’s more likely to be chosen for a snippet box.

 

Pay Attention to Content Length

If a query has a featured snippet, look at the length of the content on the page from which it is drawn. Google tends to prefer long-form content in ranking pages. Adding content to reach the 1000- to 2000-word mark also gives you opportunities to answer multiple related questions on one page. A single page can be used for a featured snippet for more than one search query.

 

Use the Inverted Pyramid Style for Written Content

Common to journalism, the inverted pyramid is a writing scheme that provides readers with the most important information on the page first. Think of this as the tip of the iceberg. It’s the big point that people focus on and ask about. Once you’ve answered the big question behind a search query in your content, you can go on to discuss the answer and related subtopics in greater detail.

 

Answer Search Questions Concisely

Use question keywords as H2 headings. Immediately following the heading, write one paragraph that answers the question. If the search term already has a featured snippet, look at how many words that snippet is. Many snippets range from 45 to 97 words. If the snippet is a list or table, look at how many items are in the list or table and aim to provide one to two more items on your page.

 

Questions

 

Get Ideas From Answer the Public

The tool Answer the Public helps you find questions that people are asking about popular topics. Plug a topic into the query bar, and you’ll get visual results that offer hundreds of query ideas. Visuals are broken down into queries featuring questions, prepositions and comparisons. If you don’t like visual search results, you can change to a data format and see queries listed out in text blocks.

 

Know If You Should Use Structured Data

In a recent interview, Google exec. John Mueller said that he couldn’t think of an instance where structured data was used to find featured snippets. The type of structured data he is referring to are schema.org markups. These are structural elements used to help search engines find a webpage. The takeaway is that you don’t have to structure data in one specific way to land a featured snippet. However, good schema markup can still help your webpage get a high SERP ranking if you’re suffering in that area.

 

Look at Questions Being Asked on Twitter

Twitter is a great resource when you want to know what questions people are asking about a topic right now. To find tweets that pose questions, put your search term and a “?” in the search bar. There must be a space between the search term and the question mark. Plug variations of the questions you find into a keyword tool to see if there are any snippet opportunities.

 

Use Beautiful Images

No one really knows how Google finds the exact image it uses for a featured snippet. It doesn’t always come from the same page as the snippet text, though. The best strategy to get your images in the featured snippets as well, is to make all of the images on your page beautiful. Use good image SEO practices so that Google can find as much data as possible about the images on your page.

 

Utilize Google to Identify More Opportunities

A “People also ask” box often appears below the featured snippet on a Google search results page. Look at the search queries in this box to find keywords that you haven’t targeted yet. The more questions you look at, the more questions the box will show you. Finding these keyword associations can open up new possibilities.

"People also ask" box for the query "featured snippets"

“People also ask” box for the query “featured snippets”; source: google.com

 

More opportunities can be found through Google Suggest. As you’re typing a query into the search bar, Google displays questions it thinks you may be asking. Pay careful attention to these. It’s easy to find alternative versions of keywords and other popular search queries by looking at these suggestions.

Google Suggest result for the query "featured snippets"

Google Suggest result for the query “featured snippets”; source: google.com

 

Leverage Tables

Tables are a popular format for featured snippets, so you should add tables to your pages when possible. Think in keyword terms when naming your table and its headings. Use a traditionally coded table instead of CSS or tables built with HTML div attributes. Google can’t always recognize these shortcut tables.

 

Talk to Real People

Using SEO research tools is important. Don’t forget to talk to real people too. When you’re speaking with potential customers, ask them what questions they have about your product, service, brand or industry. Ask your employees to find out what kinds of questions their friends or family members would ask. You can also use Seed Keywords to pose a search scenario to your friends and followers. They respond with the search query they’d use to find the answer.

 

Consider Long-Tail Keyword Opportunities

Long-tail keywords aren’t favored by all content managers because they don’t lead to high volumes of traffic. However, long-tail keywords are known for leading more high-quality traffic to a website. If you’re optimizing a site that needs to build a strong repeat customer base, targeting long-tail keywords is a great strategy. Many of these keywords don’t have a featured snippet yet, which increases the likelihood that your site will be chosen.

A Positive Impact on Your SEO Performance

 
Featured snippets put your website front and center on Google. Seeing your content in a snippet box is not just satisfying; it’s also likely to drive more high-quality traffic to your website. Using the optimization strategies that best fit your business is an important step toward landing in that snippet box, but don’t just optimize and move on. Track the success of your optimization efforts and adjust your strategies so that you get the most out of your initial efforts.
 

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