As a search engine, Google’s aim is to get information to their users quickly and easily.
In an attempt to do just that, the search engine has been experimenting with answer formats for quite a while. And, while featured snippets (initially referred to as “Answer Boxes”) have been knocking around for a while now, optimizing for that search feature has been a source of many myths and misunderstandings.
Since then, their appearance in the SERPs has grown 165%, and this growth shows no sign of stopping. So let’s drill down into what a Featured Snippet is and how you can claim one (or many) for your business.
A Featured Snippet is Google’s way of giving you a quick answer to the question you have asked. Rather than just presenting a list of websites for you to click through to, Google displays a box with the most relevant information from one site inside.
This box is always displayed above the organic SERPs and either summarizes the information in a longer bit of content or takes a ‘snippet’ from a larger passage. A Featured Snippet has to include a citation (to indicate the content it was taken from). Otherwise, it’s just an Answer Box.
So let’s say you are a particularly needy pet owner (which isn’t about me at all… ahem) and you want to know how your cat feels about you. When you ask ‘Does my cat love me?’ Google will crawl sites with relevant content and keywords, then display its closest estimation of the answer in a box above the organic search results.
In the example above, the answer is formatted as a paragraph, an image, and a link. The ‘paragraph’ is the most popular Featured Snippet format (yes there is more than one). But Google also uses bulleted lists, numbered lists and tables.
So, now you know what a Featured Snippet is, you’re probably asking yourself why you should bother trying to rank for them?
Currently, at least a quarter all search pages include a featured snippet. That may not sound like a lot, but not all search queries are questions. But for those that are, the majority have a Featured Snippet.
On pages where a Featured Snippet is included, it steals a lot of clicks.
In fact, Featured Snippet ‘steals’ clicks from the #1 organic search result. When SERPs have a Featured Snippet, fewer clicks go to the result below it.
Ok, you say, but that still doesn’t look like a lot. Well here is an example from Hubspot, showing the increase in CTR (click-through rate) their page experienced when holding the Featured Snippet spot.
According to research by Ahrefs, 99.8% of ‘Featured Snippets’ come from the top 10 sites in the SERP. Of those sites, only 30.9% of the Featured Snippet spots were taken by the site ranking at #1.
This is great news if you rank lower on the list because, to land the Featured Snippet, you don’t have to put a lot of time and effort into climbing up the page rankings as long as you’re in the top 5.
What this also means is that your best chance of making the Featured Snippet is to find out which keywords your content already ranks in the top 5 spots and then optimise it for Featured Snippets.
You can use a keyword research tool like Moz, SEMRush or Ahrefs.
Most keyword tools show you how many keywords trigger a Featured Snippet, how many opportunities there are and how many you currently hold, as well as what new keywords now have a Featured Snippet that didn’t before.
With this information, you can focus your efforts on the SERPs you’re most likely to win the Featured Snippet for.
As I said before, you don’t have to rank #1 in the SERPs to land the Featured Snippet. But, you do have to match the content format to the type of Snippet Google has created.
There are three main snippet formats:
And each answers a different type of question.
The people over at Moz have created a chart that indicates the type of Snippet a search query is likely to generate based on the format of the question being asked.
So, say a keyword you want to rank for is used in a search query that’s framed as a ‘How’ question. Because you know this, you can guess the type of content Google will choose for the Featured Snippet related to that search.
Lists tend to be taken from blog posts with numbered or clear H2-marked sub-heads and paragraphs are usually snipped out short answer paragraphs like FAQ page answers.
Google’s latest update distinguishes between evergreen content and content that needs updating to stay relevant. You can use this change to your advantage in two ways…
So, say I just rescued my tenth cat and I’ve run out ideas for cat names. I might search for “The most popular cat names in the US”. If I did that, I’d be presented with this Featured Snippet…
While you take a moment to appreciate that kitten picture, let’s not miss the most important bit of information in this Snippet.
The list of names is from 2021. It’s outdated! And, it’s pulled from a site that ranks #5 on SERPs.
There are other pieces that rank higher and are more up to date (from 2022), so why does this piece rank in the Featured Snippet?
The answer is painfully simple… the other articles don’t list the names in bullet point form. Their content may rank higher, be more up to date, and possibly even be better written overall, but Google doesn’t care.
If the piece is not formatted for Featured Snippets, it won’t rank for one.
If your site supports content relating to pets, all you need to do is create a list from 2022 and use the bullet point format and this Snippet will be yours for the taking.
Let’s be honest, we all love evergreen content because, once it’s written, you can store it in the ‘done’ folder. But, unfortunately for all of us, Google doesn’t do ‘done’.
Keyword rankings change constantly, as do Google’s SERPs algorithms. While your competitor’s race to make the most up to date content, you should be optimizing your existing, evergreen content to rank consistently.
You can do this by:
People Also Ask boxes show up on 93.8% of featured snippet SERPs. Each drop-down features another snippet, which makes them a goldmine of Featured Snippet opportunities.
These boxes tell you what your searcher is looking for. If they’ve asked whether their cat loves them, they are probably interested in their cat’s other behaviors.
Once they’re reassured that their cat loves them, they’ll probably want to know why their cat ignores them sometimes. Because let’s face it, they’re clearly needy.
Each time a snippet answers a question, another will pop up. If you anticipate these questions well enough, you could build a whole cluster of content that makes the Featured Snippet and related queries.
Just as one page can rank in multiple SERPs, the same is true for Featured Snippets. So don’t stop once you have gained a few. Keep optimizing to trigger as many Featured Snippet spots as you can.
Last but not least, you’ve got to optimize for voice search.
Featured Snippets are often read out as answers to voice search queries. Which is why a paragraph format Featured Snippet averages just 43 words. People using voice search don’t want long-winded answers. And they expect them very quickly. So, to optimize for voice search you need to:
‘Featured Snippets’ are still a work in progress for Google, but their popularity means they are here to stay. As Google attempts to streamline the process of answering their user’s questions, you should aim to mirror their approach. Beat your competition to those ‘Featured Snippets’ by following these top tips:
And, lastly… keep in mind that Google is continually tweaking its algorithms, so make sure to check for any updates that affect ‘Featured Snippets’ and adjust your content to fit the changes.
For featured snippet research and optimization, hire an SEO agency that will identify your current opportunities and help you optimize your content for future opportunities.