Imagine you have a burning question about elephants (what are those tusks for, anyway?) and also happen to be friends with a librarian. So you pose your question to your librarian friend. In all likelihood, they won’t show you every book on elephants in the library. Instead, they’ll pick out the book with the best possible answer.
That’s the idea behind the featured snippet. After entering a search query, users can immediately see the information they’re looking for without having to decide which source to click. By optimizing for featured snippets, you can boost organic traffic, build online authority and win users’ trust.
The Featured Snippet: A Modern Solution to a Timeless Problem
You may have heard the story of how Guinness World Records was created to give people an easy way to find answers unavailable in standard reference books. The question that spawned the idea was simple: “What is the fastest bird in the world?”
While Guinness World Records is still alive and well, most people now turn to a faster, more easily accessible source to find the answers they want: Google. Depending on the query, users don’t even need to comb through search results. Instead, Google displays the relevant information right at the top of the search engine results page (SERP).
This type of result is known as a featured snippet. In Google’s words, a featured snippet “provides a quick answer or summary with a snippet of content from a relevant website,” and is more likely to appear for a search written in the form of a question.
Each featured snippet contains:
- information quoted from the source page;
- a link to the page;
- the page’s title; and
- the page’s URL.
For users, featured snippets are a convenient way to instantly find the answer they’re looking for and quickly click through to the linked page if they want more information. For you, they’re nothing short of prime search engine real estate.
How Featured Snippets Can Affect SEO Metrics
If Google uses a page to create a featured snippet, everyone who enters the right query will be greeted with a box of information pulled straight from that page. Should the searcher wish to find out more about the topic at hand, the link to the page is right there—no scrolling required.
In a 2020 study, Ahrefs found just over 12 percent of search queries have a featured snippet. (software like SEMrush can tell you how many a website already has).
As a result, traffic ends up getting diverted from the first “natural” search result in favor of the featured snippet. In SERPs with a featured snippet, the snippet gets 8.6 percent of clicks while the result right below it gets 19.6 percent. In SERPs without one, however, the first organic result gets 26 percent of clicks:
In short, featured snippets seem to take a portion of clicks from their standard, non-featured counterparts.
Keep in mind SERPs with the snippets get 4 percent fewer clicks than those without, presumably because users get the answer they want without having to click at all. Nevertheless, these results still indicate if a site is used for a featured snippet, it could get a significant percentage of clicks that would otherwise go to the top organic result.
The caveat? Per Ahrefs’ data, sites chosen for Google featured snippets already rank in the top ten organic results 99.58 percent of the time. In other words, you’ll need to build a great SEO foundation for your entire site if you want to reap the benefits of a featured snippet.
Create Snippet-Friendly Content
Let’s say a page already ranks in the top ten results for a given query, but it’s still not showing up as a featured snippet. In this case, the solution may lie in better optimizing the page’s content to suit the Google featured snippet format.
Perform the Right Keyword Research
Not all keywords are created equal. Rather than searches using exact-match keywords (i.e., those precisely describing what the user is looking for), searches triggering featured snippets often use long-tail keywords. Many (but not all) times, this means the query is a true query, and takes the form of a question.
For example, instead of searching for “Harajuku,” a user might enter a question like “what is Tokyo’s fashion district.” This tells Google it’s a good time to display a featured snippet:
When searching for the same thing without using a question format, a slightly different featured snippet is displayed. However, it’s still from the same blog post from the same site:
With this in mind, remember to focus on keywords users are likely to enter when they don’t know the answer to a question, whether they write their query in question format or not.
To start your keyword research, consider the types of questions a page may be able to answer. For instance, let’s say you’re optimizing a marine conservation group’s website. You might position the site’s content to answer common questions about marine life, such as “how big is a blue whale?” or “how do dolphins communicate?”
For help discovering the questions users are asking, try using a site like AnswerThePublic. Upon entering a keyword, you’ll be presented with a visualization of the questions people are asking about it:
Choose a few questions the site’s content will be able to answer, and use a keyword research tool like Moz’s Keyword Explorer (ten free queries available per month per account), Wordtracker (free) or Google’s own Keyword Planner (requires a free Google Ads account).
With Moz’s Keyword Explorer, for example, you’ll be able to see a variety of key metrics for your query, as well as a list of related suggestions and the current top-ranked pages:
Of course, you’ll also want to enter your search term into Google to see which page is used in the featured snippet, if there is one. Once you’ve decided which keyword you want a page to rank for, incorporate it throughout the page’s content—just don’t overdo it.
Use Strategic Formatting
To ensure Google can easily use content to create a featured snippet, try to pre-format it accordingly.
The first step is to understand the different types of featured snippets:
Paragraphs are by far the most common, accounting for 82 percent of all featured snippets.
But this doesn’t mean you should go out of your way to try to rank for paragraph snippets. Instead, focus on whichever style makes sense for the queries you’re aiming to answer.
Remember to consider length, too. Paragraph snippets usually have an average length of 45 words.
Those in list format have an average of 4.2 items with 10.8 words per item, and those in table format have an average of 3.6 rows and 2.5 columns:
In terms of minimum length, Google has no specified requirements. This is because it’s “variable based on a number of factors, including—but not limited to—the information in the snippet, the language, and the platform (mobile device, app, or desktop).”
So don’t stress over minimum length. Instead, try to answer your targeted query as thoroughly as possible without greatly exceeding the average snippet length.
If you’re not sure which type of featured snippet to target, perform a Google search for the query you want to rank for, and see for yourself what kind of snippet appears.
Provide Value to Readers
Remember, all the keyword research and proper formatting in the world won’t help you land a featured snippet if the information you’re providing isn’t valuable.
What determines value, exactly? In this case, it’s the page’s ability to answer a specific query in a succinct, accurate and easily comprehensible way. In other words, a user should be able to get the answer they’re looking for in just a few seconds.
Ask yourself if the content you’re optimizing for featured snippets:
- immediately answers the user’s question;
- provides completely accurate information;
- is logically organized;
- is free of extraneous content (e.g. self-promotions or irrelevant product details);
- can be easily understood by readers of all kinds; and
- is well written with proper spelling and grammar.
By ensuring the content meets all those criteria, you’ll be able to create a fantastic user experience which can generate higher search rankings and boost your chances of securing the featured snippet you’re pursuing.
Win a Featured Snippet, Win Users’ Trust
Just as you’re more likely to trust a book recommended by a librarian, search engine users may be more likely to trust information prominently featured at the top of the SERP. This means the perks of earning featured snippets go far beyond a higher ranking.
With a featured snippet, a page can also gain more visibility, stronger authority and elevated status as a reliable source. Are those benefits worth pursuing? We don’t need a featured snippet to know the answer.
Screenshots by author / June 2020
AnswerThePublic / June 2020
Moz / Retrieved June 2020