How to optimize for featured snippets and outrank your competition

Posted by Maria Camanes on 31 Aug, 2017
View comments SEO
Featured snippets are a great opportunity for marketers to appear at the top of the SERPs and boost brand visibility. Read on for how to optimize for this feature.

Google’s continuous efforts to provide consumers with a better search experience means the search engine is continuously changing the layout of their search result pages. With the steady increase of Google’s featured snippets, your strategies for being on the first page of results (or even in the top #3 positions) might not work any more.

A study published by STAT in 2017 updating their previous studies, showed that 23.25 9.28% out of one million queries analysed triggered a featured snippet, demonstrating a strong and continuing increase.

snippets

Source: STAT

With no sign of a decline in popularity, featured snippets continue to be  an amazing opportunity for marketers to increase their brand visibility in the SERPs (search engine results pages) for selected terms.

What are Google’s featured snippets?

Featured snippets are the answers to users’ questions, showcased in a featured box often at the very top of the results (sometimes referred to as position #0). They are pulled from third party sites and are mostly triggered when a question-based phrase is searched for. They are also used for Google Voice search results in Google Assistant or Google Home.

The answer boxes include a summary of the answer (extracted from the web page) along with a link to the page and the title and URL of the page.

Here’s an example of a featured snippet for the query ‘How do you play chess?’

how to play chess

The organic search result for Wikihow’s URL was only positioned #4. However, the featured snippet allowed it to surpass positions 1-3 and rank in position #0. This is a clear example of how featured snippets can help you get to the top of the SERPs reasonably easily.

Why should I optimize for featured snippets?

Appearing on a featured snippet also means dominating the results page by ranking highly, often above the #1 organic listing. This will not only contribute to boosting your brand’s search visibility, but also increase your CTR and traffic to your site (and ultimately conversions). Additionally, it will enhance the credibility of your brand - after all Google chose your page over others as the most useful one for that query.

According to STAT’s research, higher volume queries are more likely to generate answer boxes, so the opportunity increases as the term in questions becomes more popular.

Before looking at how you can rank in the featured snippet section, let’s have a look at what types of snippets you can optimize for.

Types of snippets

There are three different types of snippets, depending on the query searched for: paragraph, list and table.

1. Paragraph

paragraph snippet

2. Numbered or bulleted list

list snippet

3. Table

table

While Paragraphs remain the type of snippet most commonly shown on Google, the gap between it and Lists and Tables has narrowed.

types of snippet frequency

Source: STAT

What do I need to do to rank in the featured snippet section?

Many studies and tests have been conducted to investigate what factors determine whether a piece of content qualifies for ranking in the featured snippet section. While nobody has a definite answer to this question, it has been demonstrated that once you are already ranking in the top 5 positions, semantic relevance to the keyword and an optimized page structure seem to be much more important than strong backlink profiles and other authority signals.

So how can you optimize your content to rank in the featured snippet section? Here are some tactics:

FAQ content to answer your persona’s queries

Featured snippets are triggered mostly for query-based searches. Google itself has said it before: “When we recognise that a query asks a question, we programmatically detect pages that answer the user’s question, and display a top result as a featured snippet in the search results”.

So, the first step to optimize for featured snippets will be identifying which questions your audience is searching for and then making sure your content is answering these queries effectively.

There are many tools you can use to identify the questions people are asking. Wordtracker’s keyword tool allows you to filter results to show those which are questions.

wordtracker questions

Tools like Answer the Public or Google related searches can also help you build your Q&A list. For example, if you type a question into Google’s search box, you'lll see some related ideas pop up:

Google questions

Snippets themselves also often have the People Also Ask section below them:

people also ask
Or you can also check related keywords at the bottom of any results page.

When building your Q&A list, think about queries starting with How, What, When, Where and Why. For example, instead of targeting a generic term like featured snippets, aim for a longer-tail variant such as how to optimize for featured snippets.

Once you have the list of potential terms to target, you will need to check their search volumes to identify your biggest opportunities and prioritise your work accordingly.

Q&A formatting

The next step will be finding the best way to create your content to answer these queries. Every site is different, and what is a good approach for one vertical may be entirely inappropriate for another. However, a common strategy for many sites is to build certain content into an FAQ format, creating articles targeting specific questions and making sure your content answers them effectively.

For example, instead of having all your content in an overlong FAQ page, you could create a page for each question and then link to all of them through a FAQ glossary.

FAQ glossary

Source: British Airways

Remember to prioritise this task based on search volume, to avoid expending resource in the creation of content that users won’t be searching for.

Headers

Incorporating keywords in your pages’ headers has always been crucial for on-page optimization and semantic relevance. It is similarly important for getting featured snippets. By including your full question in an H1 or H2 tag, you will be able to quickly show both your readers and search engines what your page is all about.

See more about on-page optimization here.

Clear but concise answer

The content you want to appear in the snippet (so, the answer to the query) should be placed in a <p> tag directly below the main header and should be no more than 2-3 sentences long, to ensure it fits comfortably into the feature.

The most common length of content in featured snippets is between 54-58 words so, if your content is too long, you should break it down using subheadings to make it easier for algorithms to determine whether it’s a fit for the snippet.

High-quality content

Even if you don’t need to rank in #1 to qualify for a snippet, you will still want to place for successive ranking positions, so you will need to keep all the standard ranking requirements when creating featured content.

Provide more in-depth information after you’ve directly answered your question and create content that is engaging, comprehensive, high-quality and user-focused (you can use Google’s related questions mentioned earlier to find more ideas on how to enrich your content).

Content formatting

It’s also important to understand what type of featured snippet a query might be triggering so that you can format the content accordingly. For example, for shorter, less question-orientated keywords, a paragraph or text snippet is usually triggered, whereas longer-tail questions will more likely pull a step-by-step list.

Using proper formatting including subheadings, lists or tables will help you make it easier for Google to understand your content. For example, by numbering the steps here:

follow these steps

Google will be able to order them chronologically and pull through just the subheadings instead of all the content.

steps snippet

Conclusions

As Google continues to focus on improving the user experience in search results, featured snippets will continue to increase in importance. Content which is optimized accordingly can obtain a featured snippet box without having to rank at the top of the SERPs as a prerequisite.

So, if you want to boost your brand's organic visibility by appearing in the featured snippet section, you can start by running a quick check of the keywords that you are already ranking for and identify how many of them are question-based queries. Then, you can begin to formulate a snippet strategy and execute it using the above tactics.

If you already have existing snippets, you should also monitor their performance and update them when necessary to ensure they continue to drive traffic to your site. You can use tools like SEMrush, Searchmetrics or Moz, which will help you track any SERP features your pages may have organically. This will help you increase your CTR, drive traffic, and ultimately boost the visibility of your brand in organic search.

Recent articles

New 2017 Local SEO Ranking Factors Guide shows reviews and engagement key
Posted by Rebecca Appleton on 14 November 2017
How to repurpose your influencer marketing content to get maximum value
Posted by Shane Barker on 8 November 2017
Mobile shopping visits set to overtake desktop for the first time this holiday season
Posted by Rebecca Appleton on 8 November 2017
Top tools for startups and small business that don’t cost a thing
Posted by Angelica Carsolin on 7 November 2017
Competitor Keyword Research With Wordtracker Inspect
Posted by Owen Powis on 3 November 2017