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How to Optimize for Google’s Featured Snippets [2020]?

How to Optimize for Google’s Featured Snippets [2020]?

Featured snippets have been around for a long time now (since 2014 to be specific). However, I have seen a lot of attention from the SEOs only in the recent past.

There are 2 key reasons:-

  1. Featured snippets are now an established way to steal traffic from the top display search results (by ~8%, as per a study from Ahrefs). 
  2. Featured snippets are a gateway to leverage some of Google’s promising features (like voice search). 

Clearly, acing the game of featured snippet will help SEO gain search traffic.

Featured Snippet SERPs

In this blog post, I will discuss what are featured snippets, their types, why are they important for SEO and how to optimize your page to capture rank 0.

Let’s dig in.

A. What are featured snippets?

A featured snippet is a short, direct answer shown at the top of the Google search engine result page in response to a user query. It allows people to see the answer they are searching for in a quick and easy-to-read manner.

Featured snippet example

It is the first thing that a user sees when looking for an answer on Google, in case a snippet is available for the search query.

Featured Snippet is even referred to as ‘position zero’ because of the fact that it is found right above the first organic search result. 

B. Types of featured snippets

Featured snippets can appear on Google Search in any of the 3 formats :-

1. Paragraph featured snippet

Paragraph snippets are short excerpts of text, which is generally between 50-60 words. 

Most of the time, paragraph snippets answer questions around how, when, why, and what, as shown below.

paragraph featured snippet example

Paragraph snippets (also known as description box) is the most popular one out of all the 4 snippet types.

Many times, you will also see a thumbnail image alongside the text.

2. List featured snippet

The list featured snippets are in the bullet or number form that answers the searcher’s query. 

It usually shows up when a person is looking for a list of items, step-by-step guides, or process-driven questions. 

These lists can be ordered (e.g. step by step guide to do on-page SEO) as shown below. These lists have steps that flow in an order.

list featured snippet example

Or it can be an unordered list (e.g. 15 best practices for on-page SEO) i.e. elements of the list are not in any specific order and are random.

unordered list featured snippet example

3. Table featured snippet

The table featured snippets usually shows up when there is a query that is asking for direct comparison (e.g. price of Tesla models).

table featured snippet example

C. Why are featured snippets important for SEO?

Until recently, featured snippets used to be a URL picked from the top10 Google results. 

That meant you could steal some traffic from top results even without ranking on the top.

However, that changed in Jan 2020 and a URL appearing in featured snippet is not shown in the SERPs anymore. 

This definitely means a hit in the organic traffic (especially for URLs that ranked on position 0 and on position 1/2/3) and has given a rise to the debate of whether one should opt out of featured snippets.

However, featured snippets are still important for SEO because they open so many avenues for driving organic traffic to a website.

Let’s consider the top 3 benefits of featured snippets:-

1. Brings traffic to your website

Since featured snippets are placed on top of the search result, they immediately grab people’s attention. It increases your chances of getting noticed (and getting clicked).

2. Appearance in voice search

Voice search is the next big thing in 2020. With the increase in smartphone usage, people have taken to voice search to get their questions answered. In fact, stats show that voice searches may become 50% of all mobile searches in 2020. 

Whenever a user does a Google voice search, it doesn’t answer with a list of ten URLs. Instead, Google gives you one answer. 

The answer is usually taken from a featured snippet, which is why capturing a featured snippet becomes important.

3. Establishes you as an authority

As a searcher, how many times have you clicked on featured snippets? I bet many a times,

Featured snippets are a great way to gain the trust of your audience

“After all, Google must have considered your content as highly relevant to put it on the top spot” – thought the organic search user.

It’s safe to say that featured snippets give your posts high exposure and boost your company’s credibility. Besides, it keeps your website far above the fold. You don’t even have to pay any extra fees to rank for it. 

Regardless of your size, you can earn a spot if you do things right. And that brings us to our next question. 

D. How to optimize for featured snippets?

I have been earning multiple featured snippets for one of my personal projects. Consider a case for example:-

featured snippet example

Let me be frank:I never targeted result zero as part of my SEO strategy. 

My focus has always been on ranking in the first 3 results for the keyword. Getting listed as a featured snippet just happened as a by product.

My suggestion to you is also the same: focus on keyword research, followed by publishing some great content and adherence to on-page SEO best practices.

If your information is precise and well structured, you can expect to get ranked as a featured snippet. But even if not, the world is not lost. Ranking as result 1 in SERP is equally good, if not better.

Here are some tips you can follow as part of optimizing for featured snippets:-

Tip #1: Find keywords where Google offers a featured snippet

To shoot for featured snippets, you need to target keywords which have a questioning intent in them. Find those keywords as the first step.

Once you find out the keywords that you want to shoot for, put them in OnPage Champ to see the type of featured snippet that is available as a result. 

Featured Snippet shown in OnPage Champ tool
How OnPage Champ scrapes Google for featured snippet.
Featured Snippet in SERP
Actual featured snippet appearing on Google.

Whether it’s text or table or ordered list, you should then optimize your content in the same way as done by the existing result. 

Even if the selected keyword doesn’t have a featured snippet at present, still go for that keyword. Google may include a featured snippet for that keyword in future.

Tip #2: Focus on long-tail keywords

Focus on long-tail keywords as part of your SEO strategy. 

For those who don’t know, long-tail keywords are terms composed of three or four words and are very specific to what a user is trying to search. For example, “benefits of SEO’ is a long-tail keyword, while “SEO” is not.

Long tail keywords make your content very specific and help Google understand the relevancy of your content vis a vis the user query.

You should also look up the “People also ask” box in the SERPs. Since these are direct questions, there’s a high probability that a featured snippet might be available for those questions.

People also ask box in SERP

Additionally, I suggest that you use AnswerThePublic tool to get access to multiple long tail keywords.

Tip #3: Write within the optimal word count

After you have selected the keyword to target, try to write a clear and concise answer.

As per the study done by SEMRush, the average length of content that ranks for featured snippets is between 40-60 words (maximum being 84).

average content length of featured snippet

So you need to make sure that your content not only answers the query but also fits within the above-said word count.

Tip #4: Make sure that your content answers many similar questions

As per Ahrefs, once the page ranks for featured snippets, it’s normal that you have the same content getting featured for multiple related queries.

It is only possible if you have written your content to answer many similar questions.

example featured snippet

It is wise to build one quality content piece that answers multiple queries rather than having hundreds of low-quality pages if you wish to rank for featured snippets.

Tip #5: Give due importance to on-page SEO

Remember, capturing featured snippets starts with ranking on the first page.

featured snippet source URL
Source: RankRanger

This chart clearly indicates that 99.83% featured snippets are picked from Google Page 1 results.

Therefore, optimize your web page for on-page SEO. That sends the right signals to Google wrt to your content.

Here are a few ways you can do that — 

Tip #6: Give special attention to formatting

To get featured for snippets, the key is to break up each section of your page so that it is clearly understandable by Google. 

Wrap up steps, lists, & titles as H2 or H3. 

Use short sentences that offer direct answers (e.g. sky is blue because….).

Maintain consistency in your writing style. For instance, if you have mentioned Tip #1, continue in the next as Tip #2, Tip #3, and not as Tip 2 or tip3. 

If you are targeting paragraph snippet, write a clear, direct and concise block of 40-50 words.

Just don’t confuse Google.

Tip #7: Add high-quality images and videos

Paragraph featured snippets often show a thumbnail image with the text. 

People like to learn things visually, and that is why it’s essential to add photos and videos to your posts. 

Again, pick up high-quality custom images or videos if you want to increase your chance to rank for position zero. 

Tip #8: Niches that you can target

The prevalence of featured snippets varies between different niches. 

Rank Ranger Research Lab found that if your brand focuses on health and finance, business services, or pets, your chances of getting featured are higher as compared to the content in other industries. 

List of niches with the highest percentage of featured snippets:

  1. Health and Fitness – 40.6% 
  2. Financial Services & Personal Finance – 36.7%
  3. Business Services – 35.5% 
  4. Technology & Computing – 34.6%
  5. Pets – 30.3%

Now, this might be old research from 2017. Yet, it’s important research to highlight the significance of featured snippets across some of the industry niches.

E. Some caveats around featured snippets

  • Featured snippets are not opinions

Google featured snippet is a piece of data; a hard fact. Featured snippet is a means to show information and is never a show of opinion.

That’s why, you will observe that featured snippets appear for informational keywords and not for opinion or judgement related keywords.

  • Featured snippets are purely search volume independent

Google doesn’t consider keyword search volume to enable featured snippets for that query. In my opinion, it’s purely dependent on the informational aspect of the keyword, and how well Google can identify the relevancy of a content to the search query.

  • Google doesn’t collate featured snippet from multiple parts of the page

Information on your page has to be concise and together for it to be considered as a snippet. That means if you are targeting a description box, your 40-50 word answer should be crisp, direct and together.

Similarly, if you are targeting a table snippet, related data has to be in one single table. Google wont pick rows of multiple tables or collate them to create a snip.

F. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

#1. How does Google’s featured snippet work?

The featured snippet is a short, direct answer to a user query. 

It appears at the top of the search results. The answer shown to you in the featured snippet is directly taken from web pages by Google.


#2. How many types of featured snippets exist currently?

Currently, there are three types of featured snippets: paragraph, list, and table featured snippet.


#3. Why are featured snippets important?

Featured snippets help you gain authority, promote your brand, and bring in traffic to your website. All this at no extra cost.

Firstly, you can only appear for a featured snippet when Google considers your website better than the rest. It helps to gain the trust of the audience.

Secondly, when your website appears above the fold, it surely catches user attention and brings in traffic to your website.

Thirdly, Google uses featured snippets for voice search, thus increasing your content reach.


#4. How long is a snippet?

As per SEMRush, the average length of content that appears for featured snippets is between 40-60 characters.


#5. How can I opt-out of featured snippets?

You can opt-out of feature snippets either by using ‘nosnippet tag’ or ‘max-snippet tag’.

G. Final words

Clearly, Featured Snippets aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

As voice search dominates 2020 and beyond, the popularity of featured snippets is only going to increase. 

Here’s a quick summary of the strategies we have discussed above:

  • Do a thorough keyword research
  • Understand the intent of the query
  • Aim for first page of SERP rather than a featured snippet
  • On-page SEO is a must
  • Structure and format the content 

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