You can get a LOT more traffic from the search engines without creating new content or backlinks.
These are partial answers to a specific user query shown at the top of Google’s search results.
It can look like this:
Featured snippets come in all shapes, sizes and formats. In Google’s words, snippets are meant to “enhance and draw user attention on the results page”.
And, since the snippets take up so much valuable real estate at the top of SERP, they get a lot more impressions and clicks:
Ahrefs analyzed 2 million featured snippets and found that for the SERPs with them, 8.6% of all clicks go to the featured snippet.
The same study found that ~13% of all search results now return a featured snippet:
Featured snippets steal organic traffic from all the other search results, including the content ranking in the #1 position.
This presents a couple BIG opportunities:
- If you rank #1 AND land a featured snippet you could be getting over 28% of the clicks (i.e. almost a third of the potential organic traffic for a given search term)
- If you don’t rank #1, but still manage to land a featured snippet you can exponentially increase organic traffic (i.e. pages ranking outside the top 3 positions would be getting single digit CTRs, so you could effectively 2-3x the traffic potential)
It doesn’t require a ton of time and money to land a featured snippet and reach “position #0”.
In this section of the guide, I’m going to walk you step-by-step through:
- The different types of featured snippets
- How to identify your featured snippet opportunities
- How to optimize existing content to win featured snippets
Before we jump in, here are a few things to keep in mind as we work through the tutorial:
- 99.58% of featured snippets are taken from content ranking in the top 10 positions.
- Even if you’re already ranking #3, you can land yourself a big spot at the top of the page -- just 30.9% of featured snippets are taken from content at the #1 spot.
- If a search result contains a featured snippet, this saps the CTR of the #1 placement by almost 25%.
- A single page can rank for thousands of different featured snippets.
Imagine the instant impact on your organic traffic if you were able to land dozens, hundreds or even thousands of featured snippets across your articles:
An earlier study of Google’s featured snippets (back when they were known as rich answers), shows the traffic boost you can get:
Now that you know how valuable featured snippets can be, let’s jump into the different types and how to get them for your site.
What are the Different Types of Featured Snippets?
There are 4 core types of featured snippets - paragraphs, lists, tables and YouTube snippets:
Note: Featured snippets are not to be confused with Rich Snippets, Instant Answers or Knowledge Graphs.
The distinction lies in the attribution. Featured snippets are the only results that include source links and pull answers from the top search results
Paragraph snippets are the most common and seek to provide searchers with a direct answer to their query. Often, they’re displayed alongside an image chosen from another source.
According to Search Engine Journal, you’ll get paragraph snippets for keywords including terms such as:
- How to do/get…
- Who is…
- Why is…
- What is…
Numbered list snippets
Google displays numbered list snippets when the query implies the searcher is looking for a set of steps to complete a task. The above featured snippet appears for the keyword “wash a dog”.
To optimize for these snippets, include a brief overview of the steps in a numbered list at the start of the post.
Bulleted list snippets
Everyone loves list posts, and Google is no exception. For bulleted list featured snippets, Google formats the headings of a list post into bullets to show a compressed view of the content.
For structured data, Google displays a table snippet for better readability. It doesn’t grab the exact table from the content -- instead, it re-formats the data to make it more useful.
As you can see in the post that generated the table above, you don’t have to provide a succinct table to win this kind of snippet; any data that can be shown as rows and columns has a chance.
Google is able to construct featured snippets from outside data sources, such as YouTube:
Search engines can also answer questions using text from video descriptions:
Now you know each of the different types of featured snippets at your disposal, let’s take a closer look at how to get them.
2 Ways to Quickly Find Featured Snippet Opportunities for Your Site
Tactic #1: Find Quick-Win Featured Snippet Opportunities
Your best shot at winning a featured snippet lies with all the keywords you are already ranking on the first page that have featured snippets.
Ahrefs’ (affiliate) keyword filtering options make it very easy to find these opportunities.
Go to the Ahrefs Site Explorer, and paste in your domain. Click on “Organic keywords”, then open the SERP features filter and select Featured Snippet:
You will see a list of all the keywords your site ranks for on the first page that contains a featured snippet. These are your "quick-win" opportunities.
My link building tools post ranks #1 for the term “link building tools”, but is getting valuable organic traffic skimmed off the top by Search Engine Journal’s featured snippet:
Let’s take a closer look at why this is happening.
With half the number of referring domains and lower rankings (#3 spot vs. #1), it doesn’t make immediate sense why SEJ would snag the snippet.
But, after taking a closer look at the post it starts to become more clear…
Check out SEJ’s predictable list post format:
As explained earlier, Google will often pull in H2s from a list post as bullets for a snippet, and that’s exactly what’s happening here.
My post -- while much more in-depth -- is formatted in a way that Google might not immediately understand:
Google likes to use headings as bullets for its list snippets, but here the headings can’t be condensed to answer the question. And, the tool lists are formatted as paragraphs (<p>), whereas Google is likely looking for numbered lists (<ol>) or bulleted lists (<ul>).
While there are no shortage of list types in this post…
…The formatting is not predictable enough for a machine quickly scanning the page to parse.
So, what could I do to be a stronger contender for the featured snippet?
The safest bet would be to include a new section that starts above the fold and consists of a numbered or bulleted list of the names of the most recommended tools in the post.
Something like this:
This would make it easier for Google to understand the “best tools” listed in the post. And, since the post is already ranking #1, it would have a great chance of stealing the featured featured snippet away from SEJ (~30%).
Tactic #2: Find new keywords with featured snippets
We just covered how to find featured snippet opportunities for keywords you already rank for.
Now, you’re going to find new keyword opportunities containing featured snippets.
Head back over to Ahrefs (affiliate) and enter a seed keyword into the Keyword Explorer Tool. Go to the Phrase Match report >> Search Features >> Featured Snippet:
In seconds, I’ve found 362 different featured snippet opportunities for the seed term “beard oil”.
Awesome, right? It gets better.
Next, click the SERP dropdown to reveal the site currently occupying the featured snippet:
In this example, the site baldingbeards.com is winning the snippet.
Copy the domain URL and paste it into Site Explorer. Go to Organic Keywords >> SERP Features >> All Features >> Featured Snippets to see a list of all the keywords they are ranking for that have featured snippets:
This returns a list of 53,773 different search terms that contain featured snippets!
If you want to narrow this down more and only look at the keywords the competitor is shown in the featured snippet for, simply select Target domain must be featured from the dropdown:
Now there is a list of 2,284 keywords:
Note: If the returned keyword set is still massive, you can use the KD, Volume, Word Count filters to make it more manageable.
Next - you’ll want to start analyzing the featured snippets for each of the target keywords to see if there is any opportunity to steal the snippet away from the competition.
After clicking through to the first featured snippet for “best beard oil” I can see why baldingbeards.com is winning so many snippets. Every one of their long form list-based review posts is well formatted with h2 tags that are populated in a bulleted list snippet:
This asset has a stronghold on the featured snippet. But, if I was going to try and steal it away, I’d focus on the following:
- Write a more in-depth review looking at a greater number of products
- Include a review leaderboard with the top products in the introduction
- Format each product name inside a h2 tag in order to match the content to the current format of the snippet (in this case - bullet list)
- Include the text “an in-depth review of the best beard oil products” in close proximity to the ordered list in the introduction (in order to induce a title in the snippet)
This is how the folks over at BuiltVisible are using text in close proximity to ordered lists to induce the title:
Which shows up in the snippet like this:
This will give your snippet a higher CTR and improve the chances of it remaining there (more on that later).
Now that you know how to quickly find loads of feature snippet opportunities, let’s take a look at how to better optimize content for snippet placements.
5 Actionable Ways to Win Featured Snippets
#1. Target question-based queries
Google wants to increase its “stickiness” by providing answers to popular questions directly inside the SERP:
Ghergich found that the terms “how” (46.91%) and “have” (17.71%) were present in most question keywords earning list snippets, while “which” (16.2%) was the top-performing inclusion for table snippets.
Almost all question-based keywords are effective at earning paragraph snippets:
This is something of an inexact science, but generally Google will pull in the paragraph from your content that provides a direct answer to the user’s question.
Here’s how to quickly find quest-based keywords to target:
Enter a seed keyword (or list) into Ahrefs Keyword Explorer and use the question filter on the left sidebar:
You can check out Answer the Public to get a list of popular questions in your niche.
Answer the Public can give you either a visual map of question keywords divided up by type, or an exportable CSV you can work through or analyze further:
If I was an open source software blogger, I’d have a big chunk of my content strategy laid out for me already using the result above!
It doesn’t stop at questions. You can also get keywords that include prepositions and comparison terms. From the studies shown earlier in the post, you know these exact keyword types are what win the different kinds of featured snippets:
2. Include summaries in list posts and how-to guides
The easier you make it for Google to understand your content the more likely it is they’ll award you with a featured snippet. For that reason, choosing the right keyword is only half the battle. You should also include numbered and bulleted lists that summarize the key points or steps in a post.
For example, check this snippet from How to Brew:
How to Brew summarized the process in a numbered list and Google pulled the list into a featured snippet:
Similarly, Fossbytes lists the best data recovery software in a generic list post format with each item as a H2:
And Google re-formats the post’s H2s into bullets for the snippet:
With 15 items on the list and only 8 displayed in the snippet, this is likely to prompt the user to click through to see the entire list.
3. Provide immediate, clear and concise answers
Google is looking for a short paragraph -- around 50 words -- that gives a direct answer to the search query.
It’s obvious why Wikipedia is the world leader in featured snippets. Every article includes a useful answer to the query in the first sentence of the content.
Take a page out of the Wikipedia playbook -- include the target keyword in the paragraph, and treat it similar to a dictionary definition:
Use structured data to win table snippets
Some information -- like the relationship between features and pricing or protein and calories -- is best marked up as tabular data.
It’s easier for readers to make sense of a table than freeform words, and you have a better chance of landing snippets:
Clicking through to the article above, you can see TopTenReviews has set its site up perfectly for table snippets with clear rows and columns:
Comparison keywords like “which”, “price”, “best”, and “compare” have the best chance at earning table snippets, but the table formatting is a key piece of the equation:
Engagement = featured snippets
An in-depth study by Larry Kim looked at the correlation between:
a) where a page ranks and whether or not it’ll be placed in the snippet, and;
b) relative time on site and chance of winning a snippet
The results provided some great insights:
Remember how we said 70% of snippets are pulled from articles that aren’t in the top spots?
Larry predicts that Google decides, in large part, based on engagement metrics.
There are a lot of factors that go into creating a user experience that earns stronger engagement signals such as:
- Time on page
- Content matching user intent
- Site speed
- Mobile experience
I’ve written a massive SEO copywriting guide that covers all of these (and more) in greater detail.
Fetch in Search Console to land snippets faster
By now, you’ve done the following:
- Learned about the different types of featured snippets
- Learned how to identify new and existing featured snippet opportunities
- Learned how to get your content ranked in the featured snippets
Don’t wait for Google to notice your newly optimized content -- use Search Console to get it indexed fast. This is a simple process.
All you need to do is go to Search Console and expand the Crawl menu:
You’’ll see the “Fetch as Google” option. This lets you submit a page to Google and fetch it for re-indexing.
Even if your page is already indexed, this tells Google to re-crawl it, and helps get your updates (and snippets) in the SERPs faster.
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