UPDATED: MARCH 2020
Looking for ways to improve your rankings and click-through rates on Google?
Featured snippets could be your answer.
What is a featured snippet?
A featured snippet is the short window that presents a relevant answer – or part of an answer – to a search query at the top of page one of a Google search.
It’s different to a usual search result because it features an excerpt from the text of a website before the web link rather than the usual link-first and meta description format of search listings.
Sometimes, you’ll see the snippets referred to as ‘Instant Answers’, ‘Position Zero’ or ‘Answer Boxes’ because – you guessed it – the answer is in a box!
In this guide, we’ll look at how, when, where and why featured snippets are used.
Why does Google use featured snippets?
More and more people are searching via their mobile devices while they’re on the move. They’re also using voice searches through virtual assistants such as Google Home or Alexa.
Think about how you make mobile or voice searches yourself. You might be looking for a local café because you’re killing time in an unfamiliar area or perhaps you’re unpacking your shopping and want to check, “Can dogs eat blueberries?” because your canine friend is sniffing around for a treat.
In each example, the searcher would want a quick answer.
A list of 10+ search results with hyperlinks isn’t always the most appropriate way to deliver information in these scenarios. This way of searching demands immediate, precise answers.
Featured snippets are designed to make Google more user-oriented, giving an instant and relevant answer to a question on page one of the SERPs. Sometimes searchers don’t need to look any further because the featured snippet tells them everything they wanted to know.
In case the searcher does want to know more, the featured snippet includes a link to the source website.
You won’t see a featured snippet in response to every search but they are more likely to show up in response to questions – think who, what, when, why, where and how – or searches that imply a question.
Featured snippets vs Quick Answers: What’s the difference?
Featured snippets sometimes get confused with ‘Quick answers’, which is another Google search feature that appears at the top of listings in a box.
The difference is that a Quick Answer won’t include a link back to a source website containing more information.
Quick Answer boxes are most likely to appear in response to a question where there’s a definitive answer. Here’s an example – a search for the question, How old is the queen:
Featured snippets offer something more because they enable you to read deeper into your search on the source site.
Why featured snippets matter
Featured snippets matter to marketers because they gain more traffic than almost any other link on the search results page!
A case study by Search Engine Land saw one of their clients grow traffic to a key landing page by 516% after acquiring a featured snippet in Google. At the same time, click-through rates grew from 2% to 8% in the four months after the featured snippet appeared.
Stats from other sources back this up. A featured snippets study by Ahrefs found that so-called Position Zero attracts 8.6% of clicks on page one of Google, effectively stealing these clicks from position one, which drops from a 26% share of all clicks to a 19.6% share when a featured snippet is present.
Why 1st isn’t always the best
Featured snippets aren’t solely taken from the highest ranking website on page one, although they will usually come from the top ten listings.
This is because Google looks for readability, clarity and brevity when selecting content for snippets. If the content you have written is the most relevant and easy to understand above any other website on the list, then Google will select yours above the rest.
This is a great way to boost visibility and attract clicks even if you don’t have the top ranking.
Alternative formats for featured snippets
It’s worth noting that Google is constantly tweaking and refining the featured snippets display.
If, for example, your search could have two or more correct answers, you might see two featured snippet boxes side-by-side. Google gives the example of someone searching for ‘How to set up call forwarding’ as the answer will depend on your phone provider.
Increasingly, you may also see a list of alternative topics for featured snippets that you can click on to view if the information you’ve been given doesn’t quite answer your query. Here’s an example taken from the search, Can dogs eat frozen bones? :
If one of the ‘People also ask’ options would be more relevant to your search, you can click on that option to see more.
How can you make your content suitable for a featured snippet?
You need to present you content as simply and clearly as possible to make it worthy of a featured snippet.
If the query is of a “How to” nature, then the content on your website must present the right answer in a concise yet informative paragraph or bullet points.
Searchers are looking for the most relevant and easy answers in the least amount of time and effort. If you can provide such content, then you will stand a higher chance of your content being featured.
Five steps that can land your content in Google Featured Snippets
- Know the user needs
As we’ve mentioned above, Google’s Featured Snippets are mainly hosted for search queries in a question format.
They will have the words “who”, “why”, “what,” “where,” “when,” or “how” at the start of a sentence.
In fact, a study by Stone Temple found that the searches most likely to have featured snippets where question-based queries that included the words:
- How to
- What is
- How do
- How does
As SEO guru Neil Patel says, “If your content doesn’t answer questions, it won’t get into the featured snippet. That’s all there is to it.”
The next time you’re searching for topics for your blog, watch out for keywords that present you with an opportunity to present your content as an answer to a question.
The ‘People also ask’ feature we mentioned above is a good source of questions you could answer in your content. Look out for the ‘Searches related to…’ feature at the bottom of page one of Google when you make a search too as this will give you a list of search terms related to your topic.
You should make sure that the answer is in short sentences.
A good tactic is to encapsulate the key points and information in the opening paragraph of an online article and then go into more depth. Think about the style journalists and news reporters use to precis a story as a way to capture attention. Readers get the gist of the content before they’ve read the article in full.
- SEO comes next
According to research by Ahrefs, 99.58% of featured snippets are taken from the first ten Google search results (only 30% come from position one), so you need to prioritise ranking on page one in searches.
Having your site optimised for Google will do wonders for your traffic with or without snippets.
This is because users don’t generally look for answers to their queries beyond the first results page.
Having your website ranking on the first results page will increase your chances of getting your content ranked exponentially.
A good starting point is our on-page SEO – check out our complete guide for lots of actionable advice.
- Make sure the search query has a header tag
Hubspot recommends that the search query for which you want to have a Featured Snippet should appear in a header on the source page and include a header tag (h2, h3, h4, etc.). In their research, they also found that it was best to ensure that there is a <p> tag (specifying a paragraph of text) around the content you want to appear as a featured snippet.
- Presentation matters A LOT
If you are going to present your answer in a large paragraph then you’re killing your chances to get featured in Position Zero.
Google looks for short and easy paragraphs, bullet points or tables to be featured as a snippet – the format Google likes will depend on what makes most sense for the end user.
Redesign or condense your content into a format that’s easier on the eyes and presents the information in the most logical, easy to digest way.
Again, this can be a deciding factor on which content Google curates for the snippet.
- Grow your authority and reputation
Google says that, on a typical day, 15% of search queries have never been asked before. This makes providing an accurate response challenging.
In 2017, Google received what it called ‘deserved criticism’ about featured snippets that said things like “Women are evil” or that President Obama was planning a coup. People had been able to get their low-quality and sometimes offensive content shared, particularly for ‘rare and fringe’ queries.
Google is taking on-going steps to prevent this by prioritising content that is known to demonstrate expertise, authority and trustworthiness (EAT). The more you can build the domain and page authorities of your site, the greater chance you have of getting your content featured in a snippet.
How to generate clicks on Google’s Featured Snippets
If the user has already got the answer to their query from your snippet, surely they won’t need to visit your website?
This is one of the biggest concerns people have about featured snippets and something Google’s Public Liaison, Danny Sullivan says they were aware of when launching the snippets in 2014.
Experience suggests these fears are largely unfounded and that, as we discussed above, featured snippets drive a significant amount of traffic to their source. In fact, one study by Hubspot that the click-through rate for high ranking keywords increased by 114%, even when a page already occupied position one on Google.
Of course, it’s still best not to leave things to chance. The next step towards securing those all-important click-throughs is structuring your content right.
When you’re structuring content, give a brief explanation of the answer in one or two lines but in such a way that doesn’t give the whole answer.
Your aim should be to induce curiosity.
Here’s a good example of a featured snippet from Hubspot:
It answers the question enough to give a definition but leaves enough questions to encourage the searcher to read deeper into the topic.
Reading the snippet must make the user understand that your website will provide the answer if he/she clicks the link.
This is your best method to generate traffic as people will click through to your website because the snippet has given them the assurance they need that you have the answer.
Want to know the best trending topics to tackle?
Use Google’s search bar as a keyword suggestion tool. People will always raise new questions whether it’s about tech, fashion, food or anything that triggers their mind.
Enter phrases like “How to” or “Why does” etc. in the search bar and wait for Google to autocomplete it. There lie the trending questions on the internet.
From there, the whole process begins with content creation. If you want to stay relevant and popular, you should cater to these questions as soon as they come.
Another way to know what’s trending around you is using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to know what people are talking about. People are always sharing their queries and doubts on these sites for you to explore.
If you already have a blog or a website with existing content, then it’s more efficient that you start with the high ranking content. That way you have already saved time on SEO optimization.
Use the Google search bar as a keyword suggestion tool. People will always raise new questions whether it’s about tech, fashion, food or anything that pops into mind.
A quick look at Google Analytics and Google Search Console should highlight your best performing pages. Think about how you can restructure them to include a featured snippet.
Does using Schema Markup give a page a better chance of being listed with a featured snippet?
Surprisingly, research has shown that Schema Markup isn’t necessary to get text in an article listed as a featured snippet.
That being said, it is still useful for helping Google to understand things like event listings or recipes for the purpose of highlighting them in searches.
A quick recap…
To wrap this up here a quick reminder on how to get your content into Google’s featured snippet
Steps to rank on Google’s featured snippets:
- Prepare content for the latest and trending questions.
- Structure the content in easy to understand format.
- Use SEO to rank high on the results page.
- The writing style should not give away the complete answer.
- Induce curiosity
There it is, the ultimate guide on Google’s featured snippets and how to get your content featured in it.
Always remember that everything revolves around the quality of the content you present. If readers can understand what you’ve written in one quick read, then you’re all set to have your content adorn the results page of Google in no time!
Do you want your content to appear in Google’s featured snippets? Has this article inspired you to make that happen?
Let me know in the comments below.
If you found this article helpful, we’d love it if you could share it – thank you.
Hazel Jarrett, director of SEO at SEO+, is well-known in the SEO space, has won many awards during her 20-year career and has been published on various well-known sites. Through her services and training programs, her SEO strategies have generated 10s of millions of sales for her clients, earning her a big reputation for delivering the results that matter.
Want to follow Hazel on social media? You’ll find her via the icons below.