Featured snippets have redefined the way we think about SEO and optimizing content for Google search results. Google has started answering user questions with enhanced search results, including boxes, lists, paragraphs that appear above the first organic search result. Ranking #0 instead of #1 has become one of the primary goals of most content marketers.

The reason? 

When you get a featured snippet for a high volume keyword, it can drastically boost your organic traffic and effectively eliminate the competition. 

A case in point is the blog post below:

When writing for some of the biggest brands in tech including Salesforce and Oberlo/Shopify, a key focus of their strategy has become how to create content that gets featured snippets. 

This post I created for Oberlo ranks for a featured snippet for many keywords including “free video editing software” which has a monthly search volume of 171,000. But how many people actually click on these featured snippets? 

This post still gets around 100,000 organic views per month and is still one of the top-performing posts across the entire domain. Featured snippets can actually see higher click-through rates than you would expect for position one. The key thing is that you are answering a question that users want to read more about.

The bottom line is that with the right strategy you can rank for featured snippets. And with the right content, you can still get a healthy amount of clicks, even from a featured snippet.

In this post, I’m going to offer practical answers to the most common questions when optimizing your content for featured snippets on Google. 

Let’s get started!

What are featured snippets? 

Featured snippets are concise answers that feature directly in Google search results. They take the form of boxes, lists, tables and aim to answer a user’s question without them having to click through to a webpage. Featured snippets source information from a blog post or video and include a citation to the original content. Featured snippets are often confused with also known rich snippets, also known as rich results. Read on to learn the difference.

What are the main types of featured snippets?

The most common types of featured snippets are as follows:

  • Paragraph
  • List
  • Table 
  • Video
  • People also ask box

Paragraph featured snippet

Paragraph and list snippets are the most common of all. The paragraph snippet is simply a summary text and a citation to the original article. This type of featured snippet is very commonly used to answer “why” and “how” questions, as seen in the example below:

List featured snippet

Another very common type is the list featured snippet. Numbered lists are used to describe a step-by-step process such as a recipe, or DIY instructions:

Bulleted lists are used for giving overviews of products and when users are looking for features or comparisons in a listicle-style article:

Table featured snippet

The table featured snippet is used when the answer to the query is best served by highlighting data in a table such as financial market data, as seen below:

Video featured snippet

There are two types of video features snippets. The first type where Google actually cuts to the part of the video that pertains to the answer as seen below. This is commonly used for how-to videos:

Another type is simply where Google features a video as the answer to a search query. This type of snippet is used when Google thinks that the best way to answer the question is with a video. In the query below, “unboxing” implies that users want to actually see the unboxing of a smartphone, and just read about it:

People also ask box

You will also often see the “people also ask” box. This is a list of related questions that Google often adds below each featured snippet. Typically when each question is expanded, the answer is itself a featured snippet:

What is the difference between featured snippets and answer boxes?

Answer boxes answer questions without providing a citation. This is because the answer is not taken from a third-party, rather Google’s own knowledge graph.

For example, if you ask Google how many days there are in a leap year, it displays the following answer box:

Answer boxes are also used for many types of formulas, conversions and arithmetic:

Another common question that Google’s Knowledge Graph can deal with are basic facts about people. For example, if you want to know how old Jeff Goldblum is, you can ask Google and it can even answer in the autosuggest:

Displaying the full answer, you can see that there is no citation, because the information is from Google’s Knowledge Graph:

Google retrieves the information from sources such as Wikipedia and the CIA World Factbook. Typically, this information is objective facts that do not need further clarification.

What is the difference between rich results and featured snippets?

Rich results, also known as rich snippets, are Google search results that have been enhanced in some way, such as adding ratings to a recipe (as seen above) or breadcrumbs to a web address. As seen above multiple rich results can appear next to each other. In the example above, when a user searches for a pumpkin pie recipe, a card with multiple tiles is returned, with each recipe featuring a rating. This extra information is given to Google in the form of Structured Data, a special type of code that allows Google to display rich results. Here is a list of rich results put together by Google if you want to find out more. If you want to get started try Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper which can help you check if your code is correct.

Structured Data is based on what is known as schema markup, a type of markup created by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Yandex and maintained at Schema.org. It was created to expand and improve the HTML structure of web pages. By adding data about entities, such as “author”, “publish date”, schema markup allows search engines to improve their ability to differentiate between search results such as books, articles, recipes and many other types of queries.

What are the advantages of ranking for featured snippets?

Ranking for featured snippets is one of the main goals of content marketers, Here are some of the main advantages:

  • Steal clicks from 1 position – If you get a featured snippet you will more than likely gain organic traffic, as position one is now often featured below the fold.
  • Get a “double ranking” – if you manage to land a featured snippet, Google will often feature your article in position 1 as well. 
  • Build your topic authority – once Google trusts you on a topic such as “content marketing”, it will be easier to rank for featured snippets. This is similar to domain authority, but topic authority can be built relatively quickly in a niche area of specialization.
  • Voice search – Google use featured snippets as answers for voice search. Gaining featured snippets will allow your brand to break into this emerging market.
  • Better serve your users – by thinking about content marketing strategy in a question and answer format, it ultimately allows you to create more user-centric content.

Do I have a chance to ranking for featured snippets?

Regular SEO logic still applies to featured snippets. One rule of thumb is if you are able to rank in the top 10 for a specific keyword, then you have a good chance of getting a featured snippet. In order to have the best chance of ranking for featured snippets, one framework that helps guide strategy is Answer Engine Optimization (AEO). 

AEO can be seen as an extension of SEO and aims to create content that serves that answer economy, including Google search results. As users continue to want concise answers to an increasing number of queries, following a framework like AEO will be important for content marketers to stay competitive in the future, particularly with the emergence of voice search and digital assistants.

How to optimize your content for featured snippets

This section is going to address the following key areas of content optimization:

  • Optimal text length
  • Writing style
  • Word choice 
  • Inverted pyramid for structuring information 
  • An approach to keyword research
  • Answer Engine Optimization (AEO)

How long should the text for a featured snippet be?

Studies have found that the optimal length for the paragraph featured snippet is around 40-50 words or around 300 characters. For list featured snippets, if the list contains more than 8 items the text will be cut off and feature a “more items” button. This may lead to more engagement by encouraging users to take action. 

What style should I use to optimize my text for featured snippets?

Try to keep your text objective by writing in the third person and in a question (it rather than I or you) and answer style. Objective answers tend to be written from a neutral standpoint and are more likely to be used by Google for featured snippets.

What types of words should I use?

Use of language is really important for featured snippets. Avoid any salesy or marketing type language. Keep your tone objective and remember the goal of a featured snippet is to pique the interest of the reader by offering a great answer where they want to find out more. 

How should I organize my information?

The inverted pyramid is a simple and effective way to organize information when going for featured snippets. Used in journalism, this method frontloads the attention-grabbing information, only adding, details and context later on. Applied to featured snippets, you should first include the question as a heading, and give the best possible concise answer to the question. Any relevant data of contextual details should be added next, followed by subquestions.

How should I perform keyword research for featured snippets?

For existing content, it’s best to focus on keywords that you already ranking in the top 10 organic positions. Outside of the top 10, it will be difficult to rank for a featured snippet. Keyword research for featured snippets is similar to classic SEO keyword research but with some additions. Here are some quick tips to get you started:

  • Prioritize long-tail keywords
  • Find keywords that are questions. One great way to find questions is by using Answer The Public which is a free tool that displays questions visually based on autocomplete data.
  • Find keywords that already trigger a snippet
  • Check the keyword competition using a keyword tool such as Adwords or CanIRank.
  • Create a list of the keywords with the lowest competition, highest search volume and that already trigger a snippet.
  • Check the competition for each of these keywords and prioritize your content workflow based on the pages you think you can outperform.

The key is to find high-intent keywords that are low competition and trigger a snippet. While this may take a little extra research, it is well worth it as you will be targeting the right featured snippets.

How about branded queries? Branded queries and search keywords that involve a brand for example “Apple iPhone” or “Washington Post news”.  Featured snippets tend to focus on more objective questions, but even with some branded queries Google has started to display

For example, if you type Guardian news, Google displays a top stories box. I would recommend focusing on non-branded keywords. For an in-depth look at keyword research strategy I would recommend reading this post from Moz, it’s packed full of useful information.

What about onpage SEO?

Search Engine Optimization is still very important. Your website should be as optimized as possible with a particular focus on mobile-friendliness, quick loading times, and well-optimized meta descriptions and title tags. Answer Engine Optimization is an extension of classic SEO and it involves optimizing your content for answer engines such as Google. In order to rank for featured snippets you need a combination of classic SEO and AEO. If you’re new to SEO, check out this guide to onpage SEO from Brian Dean to get started. We wrote a guide to AEO so check that out, too!

Do I need to use Structured Markup to rank for featured snippets?

The short answer is no. Structured Markup is used to enable rich results, not featured snippets. That said, however, Google does use rich results to create featured snippets. Structured Markup is a great way of organizing your information and letting Google know the purpose of your content.

What is the relationship between voice assistants and featured snippets?

Did you ever wonder how Google Assistant works? It’s actually reading out featured snippets. This has major implications for the world of Voice Search. As voice searches increase, ranking for featured snippets will be crucial for content marketers, as Google Assistant uses featured snippets to answer user queries.

A quick case study – Oberlo blog post

I would like to add a few further details about the Oberlo blog post that I mentioned above. While keyword research plays a crucial role, there are a few other points that are often overlooked.

Do more research

The first is research. I think most content marketers underestimate the amount of research that is needed to gain featured snippets for highly competitive keywords. A lot of the other articles I was competing against, just listed software. I downloaded a trial of each video editor and spent a whole day trying each one from a beginner’s perspective. I took a lot of notes on some of the features I thought our readers would want to know about. Finally, I spoke with dropshippers who were just starting out to find out what they wanted to know.

Initial user signals are critical

One key aspect of the success of this blog post that is often overlooked are the user signals. When this post came out, it got a lot of positive feedback from users. Checking the metrics, time-on-page was high as were most other user signals. One way to help boost initial user signals is to share the article with a small number of your target audience before you publish it to get some critical feedback

Monitor topic relevance

By monitoring the key interests of Oberlo users, we knew that in mid-2018 when the post was first published, one of the key recurring questions was where to find good video editing software. By monitoring your users’ questions in the comment section of your blog and on social media, you can react more quickly to trends. 

Featured snippets: A quick look at the numbers

Let’s turn our attention to some findings from research papers on featured snippets. In June 2017, Ahrefs analyzed 2 million featured snippets and found that 13% of all search results contain a featured snippet. Fast forward to 2019 and Moz puts  this number to be 23%. If anything, based on my personal experience this number is a little low, but it is really difficult to conduct a comprehensive study. Other indicators that this trend is growing are the number of 0-click searches. A 0-click search occurs when a user queries something but does not click on any of the results.

Source: Jumpshot/Sparktoro

Source: Jumpshot/Sparktoro

Data from Jumpshot and Sparktoro shows that the number of 0-click searches is increasing over time while the number of organic clicks is decreasing, and ad-clicks are increasing. Sparktoro and Jumpshot found that in June 2019, more 0-click searches occurred than with organic clicks.

This is not that surprising as more and more searches contain a featured snippet, and Google is getting fairly aggressive with their ad-positioning, With many queries, the top organic result is often below-the-fold.

Looking at the text itself, Moz analyzed 1.4 million featured snippets and found the ideal length of featured snippets to be 40 to 50 words. A previous study by SEMrush also showed 40 to 50 words to be the right length for paragraph featured snippets.

Other key findings included:

  • Question words were great at landing featured snippets, especially paragraph snippets.
  • “How” (46.91%) and “Have” (17.71%) outperformed the other question words in list featured snippets.
  • “Which” (16.20%) triggered the most table featured snippets.

Source: Moz

Source: Moz

Conclusions – what the numbers tell us

All the data studies confirm that the number of featured snippets is on the rise. With the emergence of voice search, I think that over the next couple of years will not only see more featured snippets, but an even more diverse array of featured snippet types. Objective, concise and question and answer style language seems to perform the best when targeting featured snippets.

Featured Snippets and the Answer Economy

Featured snippets are Google’s response to user desires. Users want concise, informative and definitive answers to increasing types of queries. Whether it’s looking up a recipe or buying a product, users now trust Google to provide the best answer. With  the rise of voice search and digital assistants. This ecosystem forms the Answer Economy and how your content feeds into this ecosystem is the key challenge facing content marketers today. With these trends only set to continue, it’s important to position your brand now to be ready to be part of this answer economy. Use the tips in this post to start optimizing your content for featured snippets 

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Research studies/data on featured snippets

Below is a collection of data studies on featured snippets for you to dig into: