Over the past few years, Google has been improving the way it displays results to users. One such feature that it has been working on is called Google featured snippets or answer boxes that it displays in the search results. The Google featured snippets are designed to provide quick answers to users without them necessarily having to click through to a page.
So from a content optimization point of view, I had the following questions:
- Are they of any benefit to a site?
- Are they important from an SEO or business perspective?
To answer these questions, I decided to learn more about Google’s featured snippet boxes to see how they might benefit a business. If they are beneficial, I also wanted to discover did how you could optimize your content to gain a featured snippet box.
What is a featured snippet?
Enter a question into the Google search box and The Google featured snippet box is likely to appear. The snippet that gets displayed features content from one of the pages that ranked on page one of that query.
In other words, it attempts to answer the query without the user having to visit the page. Take for example the search query, “how to make roast turkey”.
As you can see, the featured snippet box appears at the very top and displays the instructions from the webpage.
Types of Google featured snippet boxes
There are 4 types of featured snippets:
- Paragraph snippets answer the what type questions
- List snippets tend to answer the how type questions
- Table snippets for options or commerce type queries
- Site links snippets are designed to make finding information on your site much easier.
Why is it important?
Google’s featured snippets have led to an increase in click-throughs. By increase of click-throughs, I mean a significant jump in click-throughs. Studies have shown increases by 516% and 114%, and others with as much as 20%.
Take Confluent Forms (a site with a Domain Authority of 47) for example. They have a page on their site that showed as a featured snippet for the search query, “what is a rfp.”
The site was ranked behind a Wikipedia ranking at position 2, yet it was chosen to generate the snippet for a time. Take look at the increase in traffic when they got the featured snippet and after they lost it.
Apart from the increased traffic, there is the added benefit of having users view your page as important, given that your page was picked to stand out from the rest.
Also, if you get a featured snippet, you get to beat the competition and save money on PPC.
How to get featured in Google’s snippet section
Google has stated that-
A snippet is the summary of a site extracted programmatically from a webpage. What’s different with a featured snippet is that it is enhanced to draw user attention on the results page. When Google recognizes that a query asks a question, they programmatically detect pages that answer the user’s question and display a top result as a featured snippet in the search results. Like all search results, featured snippets reflect the views or opinion of the site from which we extract the snippet, not that of Google.
In other words, Google programmatically determines that a page contains a likely answer to the user’s question and displays the result as a featured snippet.
The following steps will help determine areas you can focus on to obtain featured snippets.
- Find out whether your page has a featured snippet and what your page ranking is. This is done via the Google Search Console (which needs to be connected with your website).
- You can login to your Google Search Console, then go to – SEARCH TRAFFIC > SEARCH ANALYTICS. Select “CLICKS”, “CTR” and “POSITION” for filtering.
- For specific dates, it is recommended you choose the last 90 days.
- There is a good chance that terms that rank in spots 1-5 appear as featured snippets. To focus on those, you can sort the report by position.
- Look at the live search results of the keywords in those 1-5 positions by clicking the little box and arrow next to the keyword.
- You can then verify whether you do rank in the indicated position and have a featured snippet.
- Rinse and repeat the above steps for all the keywords that rank in positions 1-5.
Bear in mind that if you have a featured position, you will need to keep an eye on it. Things could change, and you may not hold a featured snippet position for long.
If you do not have a featured snippet for your target keyword phrase, here are a couple of options to make the most of your ranking.
- If you rank for positions 1-5 and do not have a featured snippet, here’s what to do. Review your competitors’ page that shows in the featured snippet. Determine what you can improve. Keep in mind that there is no guarantee of getting the featured snippet. Optimizing your page only gives you a better chance of getting a featured snippet. In the end it is Google that will determine which page gets the snippet.
- If you do not have a featured snippet and do not rank in position 1-5, then look for other low hanging fruit that you could work on.
How to optimize your content in the snippet
Research by Hubspot indicates that sites that rank for a keyword in the first 5 positions are favored to appear in the snippet box. You can use a tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs to determine how well your keywords are ranking.
If you are in the first 5 positions, then you could make alterations to improve your chances of being featured in the snippet box.
To optimize your content, consider tweaking one or more of the following:
Answer anticipated long tail queries in the question form, and ensure your answer has semantic relevance to the query in question.
Target search queries
Look at relevant search queries, especially ones where you can provide an in-depth answer. The queries can come in many forms, so use semantic keywords in your answer to cover as broad a range as possible.
SEMrush in their analysis found that the average length of a keyword phrase in a featured snippet was 6 words.
Other findings from their research included:
- Keywords with “what”, “why”, “how” appear in featured snippets more often.
- Keywords starting with “how” and “what” have much higher search volumes than the other 4.
How do you ensure that you pick queries that have a high chance of making it into the featured snippets?
According to STAT Search Analytics, 8 words are frequently used in featured snippets. These are as follows:
- The word average has a 77.71% featured snippet frequency and is mostly used in queries about costs, ages, or rates.
- Salary has a 76.84% frequency and is almost always related to occupation.
- Words like many (72.06%) and much (69.95%) tend to be part of queries with definitive numerical answers, such as [how many calories are in a banana] or [how much are hybrid cars].
- Does (69.94%) is often found as part of a question about processes or purposes, such as [does apple pay dividends] or [what does a criminal defense lawyer do], or about amounts when paired with how much, such as [how much does it cost to install solar panels].
- Years (69.42%) is often used to ask about the length of time for educational programs or college degrees, mortgage rates, or more generally how to become or do something, such as [how many years for a masters degree] or [years to become a dentist].
- Queries containing forming had a 75% featured snippet frequency and almost always relate to forming an LLC or corporation. While queries containing often (73.83%) relate to how often to do an action, like [how often to get an oil change] or [how often to sweep a chimney].
The themes that these words reveal are related to questions about lengths of time, average costs and how-to processes.
Other general word themes that generate featured snippets are as follows:
Make sure your heading tag is an entire search query
Your audience is likely to enter a whole question as their search query. For example – how to make cookies.
You see that the article featured is a recipe from Betty Crocker on making chocolate chip cookies as that is a popular cookie recipe that people search for.
Create relevant answers
Krill Konrad suggest the following tips to create answers that stand a good chance of showing up in the snippet box
- Pick topics that are of interest to your audience.
- Use buyer persona research, focus groups and engagement analytics to determine what content you should create that is relevant to your theme.
- Create the page to have the best user experience for your audience.
- Where possible and appropriate, add the phrase “how to”, add a clear how-to list in the content and bullet points to clearly present answers.
- Ensure you use on-page optimization practices including relevant internal linking and other SEO practices.
Keep the answer to a paragraph
Research by HubSpot indicates that answers in a single paragraph associated with a <p> tag between 54 and 58 words long have the best chance of being featured. SEMrush, on the other hand, found that the most common length of content in featured snippets is 40-50 words.
Should your answer require more explanation, keep the answer logical and include numbers and lists where possible.
- Use the Flesch-Kincaid Readability factor to ensure your content can be easily understood.
- Do the same with your URLs, as ones that have been featured scored better on readability tests.
Connect to People also ask box
For some queries, Google also provides its users a few more options around popular queries under the title, “People also ask”.
Research by STAT search analytics found that featured snippets queries and “People also ask” (PAA) results are related. In 23% of the SERPs that featured both a featured snippet and a “People also ask” result, the first PAA answer was identical to the answer in the featured snippet.
So, understanding what people search for related to the query you are targeting will help you tweak your content for the better.
Optimize the page
Write your content with bullets or tables so Google can easily understand it. Also, if you are creating recipes or instructional posts, you should use ordered lists. Research by STAT Search Analytics, found that:
- Pages which have table tags show 22% more times as snippet results pages without table tags.
- Pages that featured in the snippet results have a 42% chance of being selected if they have ol (ordered list) tags.
- Pages that featured in the snippet results had response times that are 19% faster.
- Pages that featured in the snippet results have exact match keywords appear in the title 10% more often. They appeared 21% more often if in both h1 and h2 tags.
- Pages that featured in the snippet results have slightly higher backlink metrics.
Use Q&A format
You can dedicate a page to answering multiple questions and still be featured if your page ranks on page 1. The answer to the query you are targeting needs to clear and high on the page.
Also, if your question is in the form of h2 tags, then the answer should be in the paragraph below and answered in a couple of sentences.
How do you find questions to answer?
Here are a few options to find potential questions to answer:
Quora – This is a Q&A site that can be a great way to find questions that people in your industry are asking. Use the search feature to find queries related to keywords you enter, but also keep an eye out for the auto-complete suggestions the search feature brings up.
Reddit – Explore subreddits, which are communities around certain interests or niches, to see what questions often come up.
Google – This is a popular way of finding possible questions. Every time you enter a query, you will see a drop-down box with suggested terms. Also keep an eye out for related searches that might show at the bottom of the page.
Answer the Public – This site allows you to enter a broad term and country to display lists and visualization of questions around that term.
Leverage domain authority and rankings
Answers featured in the snippet box are usually found in the first 5 search positions. Hence why having high domain authority helps. Having high engagement in the SERPs also helps. In other words, users must be clicking on the result. Then browsing through your website to find the information they seek.
In fact, Search Engine Watch suggests that the following are common traits of sites that get a featured snippet:
- Sites have over 1,000 referring domains
- Pages rank in the top 5
- Pages are less than 2,000 words
- Pages have strong user engagement
How to optimize your content, so users visit your site
Optimizing your content to get a featured snippet listing fails if people do not come over to your site and engage with your content.
To ensure this is not the case:
- Ensure your site is optimized to receive visitors and has a call to action to drive them towards the action you would like them to take.
- Ensure you satisfy the user’s pain points and provide some tidbit of information or data they can’t scroll past.
- Use incomplete lists. You could, for example, follow up on a definition with a teaser that addresses the how or why. Alternatively, if your list has more steps than can be displayed, users will click through to finish reading.
- Place the question in a <h> tag and immediately follow with the answer.
How can you earn a site links snippet?
- Site links are usually tied to brands, so work towards ranking no. 1 for your brand and towards increasing brand awareness.
- Keep an eye on your internal linking structure in your search console, and set up a sitemap if you don’t have one already.
- Constantly monitor results and your content to make sure that nothing is being affected adversely.
- Ensure your data is organized in a way that corresponds with the structured snippet option.
- Ensure you use alt text to explain images.
- Work on improving the SEO for pages other than your homepage.
- Ensure that you have quality links to multiple pages on your site.
Getting a Google featured snippet for key pages on your site is a good thing. But it is not without challenges.
From a business point of view, there is great value in being able to drive traffic from questions that your potential customers have related to your market space.
There is no silver bullet formula to guarantee gaining a featured snippet. However, having a great content strategy grounded in SEO fundamentals can go a long way towards optimizing your content for Google’s featured snippet box.