The Art & Science of Winning Featured Snippets on Google (+ 3 Success Stories)
For years, Vital’s digital marketing clients have come to us for help with search engine optimization (SEO), with the goal of driving more traffic to their websites by appearing higher on the search engine results page (SERP) for more relevant keywords — with position one naturally being the most sought-after.
But almost eight years ago, Google introduced something called “featured snippets,” which appear before the top ranking keyword result. Sometimes called “Position Zero,” featured snippets can be a great way to elbow your way to the front of the line without playing the long game of traditional SEO.
We’ve been helping clients win featured snippets since day one, but because the process is fairly nuanced and technical, a lot of people are still confused about how (and whether) to snag a featured snippet for their content. We’re here to clear up that confusion, give you some practical tips for winning featured snippets, and share some of Vital’s recent featured snippet success stories.
What Is a Featured Snippet?
A featured snippet is a piece of content pulled from a webpage that answers (in part or in full) a search query. Featured snippets appear after ads (if there are any) and before the top keyword-based search results.
Case in point, here is the featured snippet for the search query: “What is a featured snippet on Google?”
Not every kind of query will return a featured snippet result. If Google determines that a query is informational in nature, there will likely be a featured snippet. Long-tail queries (lower-volume queries with 3 or more words focused on a specific question) account for the majority of featured snippets, according to ahrefs.
Featured snippets also show up a lot for voice searches, because those queries tend to be focused on a very specific piece of information. (This is how Siri and Alexa are able to answer so many of your questions.)
Here is the featured snippet I got from using voice search to ask “What year was Napoleon born?” My voice assistant was further able to refine the answer in order to tell me, “He was born on August 15, 1769.”
What Are the Different Kinds of Featured Snippets?
Google uses several different kinds of featured snippets, each with its own unique format and purpose. Here are the most common types of featured snippets:
- Paragraph snippets. The most common type of snippet. Paragraph snippets provide a brief, text-based answer to a user’s search query. They usually appear at the top of the SERP.
- List snippets. Lists of steps or items related to a search query. These may include images and links.
- Table snippets. When a query calls for a comparison or statistical data, you may see a table snippet, with rows and columns of information.
- Video snippets. Google will sometimes display a video thumbnail and a brief summary of the video’s content as a featured snippet.
- Image snippets. These may appear at the top of the SERP or alongside organic listings.
- Knowledge panel snippets. The most robust type of snippet, these appear on the right-hand side of the search results and provide detailed information about a person, place, or thing. They may include images, videos, and other information. Wikipedia entries are a common source of knowledge panel snippets.
For multi-media snippets, Google might pull text from one website, an image from another, and a video from a third source.
How Does Google Select Featured Snippets?
Google selects featured snippets using a complex algorithm that takes into account a variety of factors, including the user’s search query, the relevance of the content, and the quality of the source. Here are some of the key factors that can influence whether a page appears as a featured snippet:
- Relevance: Google looks for content that is highly relevant to the user’s search query. Pages that answer the user’s question in a clear and concise manner are more likely to be selected.
- Quality: Google prioritizes pages with high-quality content that is well-organized and easy to read. Pages that provide accurate and up-to-date information are more likely to be selected.
- Structure: Pages that use structured data to help Google understand the content are more likely to appear as a featured snippet. This includes using schema markup to identify key pieces of information such as dates, prices, and locations.
- Authority: Pages that come from authoritative sources, such as well-established websites with a strong reputation in their industry, are more likely to be selected.
- User intent: Google tries to understand the user’s intent behind their search query and select content that best matches that intent. This means that pages that address the specific needs and interests of the user are more likely to be selected.
Four Benefits (And One Drawback) of Featured Snippets
In the content popularity contest that is the Google SERP, it may seem obvious that getting a featured snippet is a big win. But how big, exactly? What can marketers expect in terms of performance from a featured snippet? And are featured snippets all roses and no thorns? Let’s break it down.
- Get more clicks faster. It takes a lot of time, a lot of hustle, and a heck of a lot of domain authority to win the top organic spot on the SERP. With the right tools and strategies, it can be easier and quicker to win a featured snippet. According to Search Engine Land, featured snippets get 8.6% of clicks, which is a huge boost for content that might otherwise be buried on page two or three of the SERP.
- Boost your brand visibility and credibility. At 8.6%, the click-through rate (CTR) of featured snippets is still significantly lower than the first organic result, which gets 26% of clicks when there is no featured snippet for a query, and 19.6% when there is a featured snippet. But even when searchers don’t click on your result, you get tons of free eyeballs on your content and a halo effect of credibility that comes with being Google’s chosen one.
- Improve your site’s overall SEO. Search engine optimization is a holistic discipline that takes into account much more than just the quality and relevance of a given piece of content. By driving more traffic to your website, featured snippets improve your site’s overall SEO profile and domain authority, which provides a lift to all your content.
- Win even more clicks on mobile. With less real estate available on mobile devices, featured snippets are even more prominent. According to Search Engine Watch, featured snippets take up over 50% of mobile SERP real estate.
With all that going for them, we wouldn’t blame you if you’ve already decided to go out there and win all the snippets. And maybe you should. But before you try, consider the one potential downside to featured snippets:
The No-click Search
A no-click search happens when a user gets all the information they need from a snippet and doesn’t click on a result. This is common for simple queries like the one above about Napoleon’s birthday. It’s also common with voice searches on mobile. If Siri nails it, a searcher has no incentive to click.
No-click searches aren’t all bad. But if your goal is to get people onto your site so they can engage further with your content and eventually convert into a lead or a sale, your featured snippet strategy should involve analyzing queries to determine whether they’re likely to lead to a click, or whether a snippet alone will satisfy the searcher.
Five Tips for Winning Featured Snippets
Let’s assume you already have a solid content marketing and SEO strategy for ranking on the SERP, but you’d like to add more featured snippets to the mix. Instead of relying on luck, a strategic approach will help get you there.
- Find opportunities for featured snippets. As part of your keyword research, look for queries (probably long-tail queries) that don’t yet have a featured snippet. We use tools like SEMrush, MOZ, ahrefs, and SpyFu to find out whether a query has a featured snippet or not.
- Determine the type of snippet. Take a look at the SERP and see what kind of content is showing up in the organic results. You should be able to determine if a query lends itself best to a paragraph, a list, an image, etc.
- Structure your content to satisfy the snippet. Depending on your research so far, create an outline of what your content will need to include to win a featured snippet, such as headings, bulleted lists, etc.
- Structure your data. Some types of snippets, such as FAQs, are code-based. You’ll need an expert who knows how to structure schema markup to win these types of featured snippets.
- Enrich your content with multimedia. As we mentioned earlier, sometimes Google pulls in content from multiple sources for a single snippet. Make sure your content includes all the types of media Google might be looking for, and ensure it’s all optimized correctly, to guarantee you dominate all the components of the snippet.
Three Vital Featured Snippet Success Stories
Oh good, you made it to the best part! Here’s where we say, “We hate to brag, but…” and then brag about the featured snippets we’ve helped our clients win — and more importantly, their results.
Success Story #1
Client: Key Collision Center
Keyword: How much does it cost to replace a bumper?
The post saw a 30% increase in traffic after being on page one and then earning the featured snippet.
Success Story #2
Client: Element Group
Keyword: Bank giveaway ideas
This post immediately ranked for the featured snippet without ever ranking organically, so every click they get from the snippet (which, you’ll recall, is an average of 8.6% of clicks) is gravy.
Success Story #3
Client: Vital (yes, we are our own client)
Keyword: Marketing strategies to attract students
This blog post never ranked on page one. We updated the content, won the featured snippet, and saw a 1,175% jump in organic traffic to this post.
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