Featured Snippets: How to Optimize for Position Zero
Featured snippet optimization helps you acquire more clicks and improve your branding.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- what featured snippets are
- why they are crucial for SEO
- and the different tactics you can apply to optimize your website for featured snippets and snag that coveted position zero
We will also discuss the significance of optimizing for the People Also Answer (PAA) box and learn the best tactics for PAA optimization.
What Are Featured Snippets?
Featured snippets are excerpts of text from your web page that appear in position zero of the SERPs and are returned by Google for specific queries. The snippet is taken from blog posts that provide quick, accurate and concise answers to users’ questions.
There are two excellent benefits of optimizing for featured snippets:
- First, content from your web page ranks above position #1, leading to more clicks.
- Second, people start trusting your site because Google directly presents your content as the recommended answer to the query.
Snippets are extracted from the top 10 ranking content for that particular query and are displayed within a block that sets the text apart from the rest of the results. Google places featured snippets (usually one, but occasionally two) above the top 10 organic listings and below the ads.
Google returns featured snippets when their automated systems determine that a page provides an accurate answer to the user’s query. Hence, featured snippets are not shown for all searches, but just those where Google’s algorithms calculate that searchers can quickly find the information they are looking for via a snippet.
For instance, if you search for “How to start a business” on Google, this is what shows up as a featured snippet or position zero:
These snippets are particularly helpful for people searching for information via mobile devices or voice assistants.
So as a webmaster or an online marketer, you should optimize your website for featured snippets for more clicks and improve your business authority.
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Why Are Featured Snippets Important for SEO?
Featured snippets are essential for SEO because they let you display your website in the highest position of the SERPs (position zero), which greatly improves domain visibility.
To acquire featured snippets, you don’t need a high-authority website. Low DA/DR domains can also rank as featured snippets by creating quality content and optimizing it. Ranking your website for featured snippets with additional long-tail keywords improves your click-through rate, since featured snippets steal CTRs from position #1.
The average CTR of featured snippets is around 8.6%:
Additionally, featured snippets are vital for improving voice SEO. Moz did a study that found featured snippets do impact voice search. Voice assistants like Google Assistant, Siri, and Alexa use featured snippets to answer users’ voice search queries. These digital assistants pick content from the featured snippets because they are easy to read.
Therefore, capturing a larger share of featured snippets in your target niche can be helpful to improve your overall voice SEO strategy.
Here are some significant stats to further prove the relevance of featured snippets:
- At least 19% of SERPs have featured snippets appearing just above the organic results.
- A Search Engine Watch study shows that featured snippets get up to 35% of all clicks.
- 70% of featured snippets on Google are paragraphs with an average of 249 characters or 42 words.
- Google is 99.58% more likely to rank pages as a featured snippet that already appear in the top 10.
- Another study by Search Engine People suggests that long-tail keywords trigger a majority of featured snippets from top-ranking websites.
Hence, featured snippet optimization – or FSO – is significant to improve organic traffic. It is crucial for less popular sites because it gives them a chance to rank above highly trusted domains.
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5 Types of Featured Snippets
Google displays several types of featured snippets based on different search queries.
Here are the top five featured snippet types with examples:
1) Paragraph Featured Snippets
Paragraph featured snippets are one of the most popular types of featured snippets you will see on Google. This snippet provides a brief answer or definition to users’ search queries in a paragraph format.
Paragraph snippets are returned mostly for question-based keyword searches such as who, why, when, how, what, etc.
Here is an example of a paragraph featured snippet for the query “what is marketing in business”:
You can see that Google returns a straight answer to the question in this featured snippet because in this case the user intent is to find a definition of marketing.
Moreover, to further help the searcher, Google bolds the primary text from the paragraph to make it easier to locate the exact answer within the content.
2) Ordered List Featured Snippet
Ordered list featured snippets are presented as a numbered or bulleted list. These snippets appear for search queries that ask for a step-by-step guide or listicle in most cases.
Here is an example of an ordered list featured snippet for the query “Steps to create Gmail account”:
Notice how Google picks a piece of content with an ordered list of steps to take that provides clear instructions for what the user is looking to achieve.
3) Unordered List Featured Snippets
Unordered list featured snippets present a collection of items as a bullet list with no numbering or particular order.
Here is an example of an unordered list snippet for the query “best keyword research tools for SEO”:
Both ordered and unordered list snippets can be extracted from within the content, or Google can also extract the content and create its own list.
4) Table Featured Snippets
Table featured snippets are most likely to appear for search queries that contain a comparison or chart.
In most cases, Google shows table snippets for web pages that contain well-structured content with details like years, rates, prices, percentages, and any other numerical data.
Here is an example of a table snippet:
5) Video Featured Snippets
Video featured snippets are usually sourced from YouTube. Video snippets are displayed with the start and stop positions already queued up for the section that answers the searcher’s question.
For instance, when you search for a recipe or how-to guide, you will most likely get a video featured snippet appearing at the top of the search results.
Here is a video snippet example for the query “how to tie a tie”:
What Is the Difference Between Featured Snippets and Answer Boxes?
For some searches, Google displays an answer box just below the search bar and above the top 10 organic results. Most people confuse the answer box with the featured snippet.
For instance, when you search for the meaning of a word, what appears at the top of search results is not a featured snippet but an answer box:
The significant difference between answer boxes and featured snippets is that an answer box does not contain a source link while a featured snippet does have a source link.
Featured Snippet Niches and Top 10 Ranking
About 99% of featured snippets are from pages that are already ranking in the top 10 Google search results.
This means that if your website ranks on the first page (top 10) on Google, your content stands a higher chance of appearing as a featured snippet.
In a study by Moz, it has been found that the following niches get the most featured snippets:
- Mathematical/ Numerical
- DIY process
- How-to guides
Therefore, you have a better chance of ranking your domain as a featured snippet if your target keywords are related to any of the above categories. To grab a larger share of featured snippet rankings, you should identify the keywords that you can target to optimize your site content for featured snippets.
In the next section, we will discuss how you can identify the top opportunities to rank your site for several featured snippet queries.
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How to Find Keywords for Featured Snippets
To optimize your site for featured snippets, you should begin by identifying keywords that return featured snippets.
Visit the Semrush Keyword Magic Tool and enter your seed keyword. Then select the Featured snippet filter under Advanced Filters > SERP Features.
For instance, when I enter the seed keyword “weight loss workout,” Semrush returns tons of relevant queries that return featured snippets:
Here are the keywords that are ranking in the SERPs as featured snippets:
As you can see, keywords like “workout routines for weight loss,” “best home workouts for weight loss” and “gym workout for weight loss” all are ranking for featured snippets.
Depending on your niche, you can replicate this process to find relevant featured snippet opportunities for your website.
Tip: You can reverse engineer your competitor’s featured snippet keywords using tools such as Semrush or Ahrefs. Just enter your competitor’s domain and use the filter option to find keywords for which your competitor’s content ranks as a featured snippet.
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How to Optimize for Google’s Featured Snippet
Here are the top 10 tips you can leverage for featured snippet optimization.
Tip #1: Use Question Words in Your Headings
A web page is more likely to appear as a featured snippet if the headings and subheadings contain question words like:
Make sure that your question headings contain accurate answers, and avoid using metaphors or humor-based answers to the questions.
Here is an example from a Search Engine Land article that illustrates this:
The idea is to add different questions related to your seed topic in your article and answer them briefly.
Also, don’t forget to use relevant header tags to prioritize your keywords.
Tip #2: Rank Your Content in the Top 10
As discussed before, 99% of featured snippet pages already rank in the top 10 SERPs in Google. So, before you think of getting your content into featured snippets, you must get pages from your site into the top 10.
You don’t have to rank in position 1 or 2; all you need is to appear in the first 10 results.
To rank your content on the first page of Google, you can use regular and advanced SEO strategies like meta tag optimization, core web vitals optimization, quality link building and content optimization:
Tip #3: Understand User Intent and Decide on Your Content Format
When optimizing your web pages for featured snippets, you should figure out what users are looking for when searching for information on Google. You need to understand the search intent, and your content should focus on providing the best answers.
When searchers are looking for a direct answer, then offer a straightforward answer within your content. Sometimes, searchers might expect a quick list of items that match their query. They can click on the link provided on the featured snippet to get more information.
For example, if someone is searching for “tools to measure length,” Google returns a list of tools as a featured snippet to match the search intent accurately:
In list-based snippets, users are more likely to click on the website to get more information.
Similarly, sometimes you might need a table comparison in your content to start ranking for featured snippets.
For example, for the query “tax slab rate in the UK,” Google returns a table featured snippet to answer the searcher’s query quickly:
Consider adding a table within your content if you have a broad list of items to share in different columns.
Displaying data in a tabular format is a great way to increase the chances of your content appearing for featured snippets.
Lastly, if searchers are looking to complete a particular task that contains several steps best explained via video, you should take the next step to add videos to your content.
For example, Google returns video snippets for recipe-related searches or how-to-related searches:
Therefore, you must understand the different types of search intent when creating content for your website. You need to know the motive behind each search query when choosing your targeted keyword. This way, you can increase your chances of appearing on featured snippets.
Tip #4: Structure Your Content in the Form of Lists
It is essential to present the content on your page in a manner that Google can crawl it easily.
Always present your listicle or step-by-step process in proper HTML format.
For instance, some content pieces require an in-depth explanation that includes steps or processes or a list of items. In such a case, content structure with proper formatting is significant. Use bullet lists and numbering to present your information in a readable format.
Let’s understand this with an example.
Suppose a searcher is looking for “proven saas marketing strategies,” then your content should list every strategy in a subheading with a consecutive number. This boosts your chances of appearing in the featured snippets.
Here is a screenshot of a Medium article that appeared as a featured snippet with properly formatted subheaders and accurate numbering:
You can use both ordered and unordered lists to present your information.
Tip #5: Add a Table of Contents with Anchor Links
Including a table of contents (TOC) is another method to optimize your content for featured snippets. When you structure your content with a TOC, you make it easier for Google to identify headings and subheadings in your article.
Also, a TOC is crucial for lengthy content (3,000+ words), as it makes it easier for readers to directly jump to the specific sections in the content they want to read. Create a table of contents just after the introduction.
Here is an example of a TOC with anchor links:
You can easily create a table of contents using plugins such as Easy Table of Contents or Table of Contents Plus.
Tip #6: Define the Concept and Highlight Its Importance
The objective of Google’s featured snippets is to help users find accurate and succinct information or answer their search query in the shortest time. Therefore, your content should ideally educate more by using fewer words.
Besides being relevant, user-friendly and accurate, your content should define the concept and elaborate on its importance in the first paragraph right after the heading or the subheading.
If you can’t define your topic within the first three sentences of your content, chances are you aren’t that clear on what it is. Focus on providing must-know facts in the second and third sentences with simple phrases.
Here is a great example:
In the above image, you can see that the first sentence clearly defines the role of internal audit, while the second sentence explains the importance of internal audit.
Tip #7: Avoid Using Brand Names in Your Featured Snippet Text
When optimizing your content for a featured snippet, including the brand name is something you should avoid.
In most cases, featured snippets are used to boost voice search. Intelligent voice assistants like Google Assistant and Alexa read what is written in the featured snippet text.
Let’s understand this with an example: Imagine a company called HealthyFruit is trying to optimize its content for featured snippets with the targeted keyword “benefits of cashew nuts.”
Now, let’s say the company uses the following text in the content to optimize for featured snippets:
“Cashew nuts from HealthyFruit are an excellent source of Magnesium, Phosphorus, and Vitamin B6.”
That text will come across as promotional when read by voice assistants.
Someone searching for “cashew nuts benefits” is not interested in finding a company that sells cashews, but rather looking to learn about the various health benefits of this nut.
Removing the company name from the text can increase the chances of appearing on a featured snippet. Here is how you should write for the keyword “benefits of cashew nuts”:
“Cashew nuts offer several health benefits. They are an excellent source of Magnesium, Phosphorus, and Vitamin B6.”
Tip #8: Optimize Your Content for Long-Tail Question Keywords
Most featured snippets show up when users search for long-tail keywords because people use long-tail questions when they want specific answers to their queries.
You can use keyword research tools like Ahrefs and Semrush to find long-tail keywords, or you can use Google’s “People Also Ask” box.
Here is an example of the People Also Ask box containing a list of relevant questions about the cashew nut query mentioned above:
Once you prepare a list of questions to target, you can create content accordingly. The best way to target lots of related questions on a topic on a single page is by adding an FAQ section.
Dive Deeper: Why You Should Use Long-Tail Keywords in Your SEO Campaign
Tip #9: Use Structured Data
Google is looking for a piece of code in your site that can quickly tell them what the page is about. Structured data helps Google extract the essential part of the content from the page.
The process works like this: Google detects structured data on your site. The structured data tells Google if your content is a good match for the query:
Hence, using structured data in your site makes the work of Google crawlers much easier, and your chances of ranking as a featured snippet increases.
Although using structure data won’t directly help optimize your content for featured snippets, it definitely helps Google better understand the contents of your page.
For some queries such as event dates, presenting your content using structure data can help Google identify the exact dates and timings of the events to present it in the form of featured snippets:
Hence, leveraging structure data can be helpful in featured snippet optimization.
Bonus: How to Get Into the People Also Ask (PAA) Box
The “People Also Ask” box are questions that people commonly search for on Google. These questions are related to your searched keywords and can aid your research.
Here is what a PAA box looks like:
According to Ahrefs, at least 43% of keywords show up in the PAA section in the SERPs:
Therefore, along with featured snippet optimization, you should optimize your content for People Also Ask questions to get the double advantage.
Google displays the same PAA box for a number of related queries, so you can acquire high impressions and clicks if you are able to get your content ranked in the PAA boxes.
Just over 90% of PAA boxes have four questions, while the rest of them have about three:
Here are the steps to optimize your content for People Also Ask searches:
Step #1: Find Keywords for PAA Box
To find keywords ranking in the PAA box, you can use a couple of tools.
Finding relevant PAA box keywords is the same as finding keywords for featured snippets. With Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool, first enter your seed keyword. Semrush will give you lots of relevant keyword ideas, as you can see in the image below:
Next, click on Advanced Filters, select SERP Features, and choose People Also Ask:
Now you will see all the keywords that are ranking under the PAA box:
You will get a filtered list of keywords that displays PAA questions and answers. You can select the questions you wish to target in your SEO strategy.
Another tool is the Search Response’s People Also Ask tool. Once again, start by entering your primary keyword. For example, when I enter the keyword “What is SEO,” the software suggests more than 3,000 PAA questions:
The tool suggests the PAA keyword, the URL ranking for that keyword, and the keyword popularity. The higher the keyword popularity, the more difficult it is to get the PAA ranking for that keyword. Just sort the list with the lowest keyword popularity and select the best choices that are relevant for your website.
Step #2: Optimize Your Content for the PAA Box
Apply all the tactics you learned for featured snippet optimization to optimize your content for the PAA box.
For instance, PAA boxes can have paragraphs, lists, videos, and table snippets. However, more than 75% of PAA answers consist of paragraph snippets:
In addition, you should keep your answers between 40-50 words because this is the average word count that Google returns via PAA boxes.
Once done, acquire some links to your page and watch your site gain more clicks via PAA!
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Final Thoughts on Featured Snippets Optimization
Featured snippet optimization is a great way to drive more traffic to your site and elevate your branding. The key lies in keyword research. Once you have decided the keywords to target, you can apply the above tactics to optimize for featured snippets in order to improve your chances of ranking in position zero.
As a bonus, you should also try to get your article in the People Also Ask (PAA) answer boxes because this will further improve CTRs to your site and increase organic traffic. Hence FSO + PAA optimization should be on your list of SEO strategies in 2023 and ahead.
Hopefully you learned how to optimize your content for featured snippets! But if you just want an expert SEO agency to do it for you, click here.