On this episode of Ground Up, Kieran Flanagan talks about the early days of freemium at HubSpot, instilling a growth discipline that expanded well beyond the marketing team, managing cross-functional teams, and more.
Ground Up Podcast | Oct 21
Jessica Greene on July 15, 2019 (last modified on July 25, 2019) • 20 minute read
They’re larger and more informative than standard organic search results, and they appear in “position zero”—above even the number one organic search position.
And while it’s possible to unintentionally rank for a featured snippet, you’ll usually have more luck earning position zero results if you follow a few best practices.
To put together a comprehensive list of featured snippet best practices, we asked 63 marketers to share their top featured snippet optimization tips with us.
Follow the 15 tips they recommended below to win the featured snippets for all of your highest-ranking content.
Table of Contents:
Editor’s note: If you want a quick and easy way to monitor how earning more featured snippets is affecting your site’s traffic, grab this free Google Analytics SEO dashboard. It pulls data from both Google Analytics and Google Search Console so you can see all of your most important metrics side-by-side in a centralized view.
Featured snippets are expanded organic search results that are designed to answer a searcher’s question quickly using clippings of text from selected content. They appear at the top of Google search result pages—below ads but above the position-one organic result—so they’re often referred to as “position zero” search results.
There are three types of featured snippets: paragraphs, lists, and tables.
For some queries, Google displays answer boxes that can be easily confused with featured snippets because they often provide some of the same information (definitions, for example) and appear in the same place as featured snippets.
But it’s important to recognize the difference between featured snippets and answer boxes because it’s not possible to optimize your content for an answer box.
So how can you tell the difference? It’s subtle, but answer boxes do not include a source link.
Featured snippets are an important part of any search engine optimization strategy because:
One of the issues people have raised about featured snippets is that they sometimes answer a searcher’s question fully, eliminating the need to click on your link and visit your site.
To find out if earning featured snippets give or take traffic, we asked our respondents if their featured snippets drive more clicks. 93.2% said they do:
According to DDI Development’s Alexandra Zelenko: “Research has found that featured snippets can drastically increase click-through rates for search results. A study by HubSpot found that the CTR for their high-volume keywords increased by over 114% when the results appeared as featured snippets.”
To avoid losing traffic because your featured snippet fully answers a searcher’s question, ScienceSoft’s Liubou Zubarevich recommends “trying to show some added value in your snippets.”
“For example, provide a list with at least nine items. Google usually shows only eight and adds a ‘More items’ link to the end. That will encourage readers to click through to your page,” Zubarevich says.
There are several ways to find featured snippet opportunities.
If you’re writing a new article that you’re optimizing for a specific keyword, type that keyword into Google and see if a featured snippet pops up. If so, there’s an opportunity to take over that featured snippet.
“Review these opportunities to see how you can format the content to capture the snippet,” says Tom Donohoe of Tom Donohoe Consulting.
In addition to looking for featured snippets for keywords you’re specifically targeting, Tomasz Alemany of Top Whole Life recommends asking yourself, “What other questions does my reader have that I haven’t answered?”
One way to find other questions, recommended by G2’s Lauren Pope, is to “Google your topic and look for the ‘People also ask’ section. Google is telling you right there what people are interested in when they search for your topic.”
If you’re trying to optimize existing content for featured snippets, Best Company’s Alayna Okerlund says, “Your content will have a better chance if it’s already ranking on the first page of Google. To push it further, find a popular question that people are asking on Google that relates to your already high-ranking content.”
And Colton De Vos of Resolute Technology Solutions recommends “using a tool like SerpBook to identify which of your tracked search terms has a featured snippet opportunity. If you have content already ranking well for your tracked term but not in the featured snippet spot, optimize your existing content to lock it down.”
Sometimes, you’ll run across a keyword that feels like it should have a featured snippet, but when you search Google for that keyword, no featured snippet displays.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that Google doesn’t want to display a featured snippet for that search; it may just mean there’s not a good snippet to include for that keyword yet. If you write and optimize your content correctly, you could earn the very first featured snippet for that keyword.
To do this, 9Sail’s Kyle Kasharian says to “start by understanding user intent of the corresponding search term. What is the user trying to accomplish or learn? What stage of the sales funnel do people searching for that term currently occupy?”
“Analyzing the search term with questions like these will help frame how you phrase and structure a section of your content to be optimized for a featured snippet,” Kasharian says.
After you’ve identified your opportunities, follow these 15 featured snippet optimization tips our respondents recommend to earn more position-zero results.
“Before you set your sights on the featured snippet, optimize your content to rank on page one of the search results for your target keyword(s),” says Allison Reinert of ALR Marketing Solutions. “Virtually all featured snippets are generated from the top 10 results.”
Tony Mastri of MARION Integrated Marketing agrees: “You don’t have to be ranking #1 or #2 to earn a featured snippet, but ranking in the top five will give you the best chance of earning a position-zero result.”
“Answer questions your audience is likely to search for on Google,” says Integritive’s Derrick Rehn. “If your audience is likely to ask something like ‘What’s the best time of year to buy furniture,’ having a page that answers that question is helpful for showing up for a featured snippet.”
“People use Google to find answers,” says Nextiva’s Yaniv Masjedi. Position your business as the source for answers, and Google will reward you with a featured snippet.”
“With voice search and search trends in general, more users are shifting to queries in question format,” says Courtney Culligan of Perfect Search Media. “Your content should follow that trend. For example, use the title ‘How Do You Tie a Tie?’ instead of ‘The Best Way to Tie a Tie.’”
So how do you find out what questions to answer with your content?
LyntonWeb’s Jennifer Lux recommends “answering a core question about your site content: ‘What universal questions does this page answer?’”
Sergio Guillén of Accelingo agrees: “Think about a question searchers might formulate by asking who, what, how, or why.”
Best Company’s Carlee Linden recommends “keeping your audience’s intent in mind and spending a few hours a week on keyword research. This helps you find out what questions your readers are asking and what kind of verbiage they’re using.”
And Daisy Campbell of Canz Marketing recommends “finding questions on public platforms like Quora and Twitter and optimizing your content around these queries.”
“When targeting a specific keyword, it helps to think of that keyword as a question instead of a statement,” says Shawn Breyer of Breyer Home Buyers. “Not only do you want to condense the answer to that question, but you also need to create in-depth content elaborating on the topic throughout the blog post.”
Jonathon Aalders of Venn Digital agrees: “While creating the content, always make sure that you’re consistently referring to the question. Everything—from the H1 to the conclusion—should be focused on giving your audience the answers they’re looking for.”
“Make sure you’re answering several related questions on one page,” says Derek Bryant of EZMarketing. “The goal of content marketing is to provide incredibly valuable content to build trust with prospects and get them to come back and become customers. Answering related questions helps with that.”
Acquire’s Dhwani Shah agrees: “Covering all the queries that people search for relating to a topic is the most effective way to optimize your content for the featured snippet.”
How do you find related questions? Julien Raby of Pet Approves says, “Google is actually helping us a lot in that area these days. For many keywords, Google provides questions that are related to that keyword. If you click on each question, you’ll see featured snippets, so we know Google wants snippets for these queries.”
“To maximize our exposure in featured snippets and get additional search traffic, we make sure to thoroughly answer each related question within our core articles. Each article can then get featured for 5-20 different queries, and these can add up,” Raby says.
Then, to include answers to related questions in your content, Core dna’s Edward Dennis says to “have a specific paragraph just for ‘People also ask’ questions and make sure you:”
And Kaushal Soni recommends “adding a Q&A section to your content. It helps Google understand your content easier.”
“Head over to AnswerThePublic and enter your keywords, hand-pick the best questions that are relevant to your overall topic, and answer the questions in 40-60 words. You can also submit your page to Google for recrawling after you add the Q&A section,” Soni says.
“One simple way to compete for the featured snippet is by formatting the topic at hand exactly the way a searcher would be thinking,” says Grant Christensen of Six Brothers Pest Control.
“For example, many times a question-answer-type box will appear as the snippet. Use the exact question as an H2 and start off the paragraph by answering it concisely as possible,” Christensen says.
Dandy Marketing’s Dan Reeves agrees: “Formatting is absolutely key. Google needs to quickly understand your content. Most of the time, Google picks up the H2 tag, so set the question—or a close variant of the question—as the H2 tag. Then put your answer directly underneath.”
“The more concise and simple your answer is, the better Google can identify your content and decide whether or not it satisfies the query,” says Fundera’s Lizzie Dunn.
Lots of other respondents agree:
“SEMrush analyzed almost 7 million featured snippets and found that 40-60 words is the sweet spot,” Kaushal Soni says.
Grow with Ward’s Ward van Gasteren agrees and says, “if you use WordPress, you should really try the Yoast SEO plugin. If you are writing a blog post in Gutenberg, add an FAQ section with Yoast FAQ Blocks for Gutenberg.”
“After you’ve added these questions to your blog, Google will show them below your result.”
“It will easily double the size of your result, which gives you a way higher CTR. Also, answering the exact question people ask will give you a better chance to be featured in position zero in the SERPs,” van Gasteren says.
“Try to format your content to fit one of the three different ways to get a featured snippet: paragraph, list, or table,” says Heather Quitos of SmartBug Media.
And Alex Deckard of Aeroflow Healthcare recommends “checking Google to find out what format is already getting the featured snippet for specific keywords. If Google is pulling a table, make an HTML table. If Google is pulling a list, create a list.”
“Content structured as a list is more likely to become a snippet,” says Dallin Hatch of Womply. “Lay out your content with numbered H2 or H3 tags to help improve the likelihood of Google featuring your content as a snippet.”
Djordje Milicevic of StableWP agrees: “If you want to rank for list featured snippets, optimizing the article structure is essential.”
“Use heading tags (H2, H3, etc.) to create a list structure with all steps/list items. Give each item its own heading, but make sure to follow a logical structure. If you already used H2s for introductory sections, create a new H2 to start off the list, and then use H3 headings for each list item,” Milicevic says.
“Listing the major points that relate to the search query and/or a numbered list of steps the reader can follow is key to getting a position-zero ranking,” says Joe Lawlor of Digital Dynasty. “It basically shows search engines that you have a nicely packaged answer that’s relevant to the search query.”
“You want your content to be organized, readable, and scannable,” says Growth Hackers’ Jonathan Aufray. “You don’t want a huge chunk of text, so I recommend using numbered lists or bullet points. For instance, you can answer a question with six steps and organize your article with six sections or six bullet points.”
“Numbered lists are more relevant for product recommendations or step-by-step tutorials,” says Swati Chalumuri of HearMeFolks. “If you create a list of simple subheadings, it’s highly likely that you’ll end up in position zero.”
“Outline your steps in order with list tags, and be sure to use a heading for each individual step,” says Andrea Parrino of Underground SEO Solutions. “Google will populate the snippet with the ordered steps.”
“Many people know that using bullet points and numbered lists helps Google pull quick answers from your article, but most don’t know that using tables gives Google the same ability,” says Jared Bauman of 201 Creative.
“Tables organize data across several factors, allowing Google to quickly understand what is most important. And in our experience, it has had a noticeable impact on gaining featured snippets. Google’s John Mueller has even confirmed that tables make it easier for Google to pull information,” Bauman says.
“If you answer contains comparison tables, you’ll be likely to get featured—even for branded queries,” says Rahul Singh of HubsAdda.
“I once optimized a blog post that had written out statistics for 2015, 2016, 2017, etc., and I put them into a table instead,” says Ruti Dadash of Panthera Plus. “That table quickly became the featured snippet for several search terms.”
“I find that structuring your post using a table of content makes it easy for Google to identify potential featured snippets,” says Lily Ugbaja of FindingBalance.Mom.
Commusoft’s Cristina Maria agrees and also recommends adding anchor links to table of contents sections: “List the content of your article after the introduction in such a way that it resembles featured snippets in your field, then link from those to the respective sections.”
“Not only does Google approve of it, but your readers will also have a better user experience,” Maria says.
“One of the most effective tips to earn a position zero result is to add schema markup to your content,” says Mallory Fetchu of SmartBug Media. “This will help Google understand your content better and faster, which, in turn, will help you increase rankings and earn featured snippets.”
Sam Maizlech of Glacier Wellness agrees: “I highly recommend incorporating structured data into your webpages if you want to earn featured snippets. This simple coding technique has countless specifications that make it easier for search engines to understand your content.”
“JSON-LD markup is the preferred method of schema markup for Google,” says Audrey Strasenburgh of FreeLogoServices. “It ensures that all of your important content will be displayed in the featured snippet section. Without the markup, Google will pick and choose what content it wants to display.”
“Look for pages that are ranking in the top 10 results for queries that have featured snippets,” says Portent’s Kyle Freeman. “Then, look at your ranking page and ask yourself: ‘How can I rewrite my existing content to deliver an accurate and clear answer to this query that is better than what’s already in the featured snippet?’”
Sagefrog Marketing’s Ben Johnston agrees with this approach: “See how the current URL ranks for the snippet, provide your answer closer to the query, and mimic the rest of the page—but do it better.”
When you look at the current snippet, HashtagJeff’s Max Pond recommends asking the following questions:
“As you ask yourself questions like this, you’ll uncover the framework that you’ll need to implement in order to be a worthy contender for that coveted position-zero spot,” Pond says.
Lendio’s David Hutton offers another tip: “I often see Google pulling sentences from various paragraphs on a page to construct a featured snippet. In this case, simply providing a concise paragraph could help Google view your content as more helpful or more understandable for a featured snippet.”
“We aim to replicate particular features of the existing snippet,” says Quentin Aisbett of OnQ Marketing. “If it’s using a table or if it’s a list, then we do that. If it’s the more traditional paragraph snippet, then we’ll look at the word count and try to stick close to that. We even try to publish an image that is at the same ratio.”
But Logan Allec of Money Done Right cautions against mirroring the existing snippet too closely:
“Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, but don’t simply reword your competitor’s content, either. Take an extra minute or two to consider the searcher intent beyond the keyword, and craft your content to better satisfy it than your competition’s content does.”
Editor’s note: If you use SEMrush and want a quick way to identify your top-ranking keywords, grab this free SEMRush SEO Performance dashboard. It shows your top keywords alongside performance data like sessions and rankings distributions so you can see how your efforts are impacting overall traffic/visibility.
In addition to the text that displays in a featured snippet, an image also sometimes displays. And the interesting thing about a featured snippet image is that it can come from a different website than the text portion of the snippet.
“We focus on featured snippet images,” says Branko Kral of B King Digital. “They’re quicker to act on, and page one search results can change fast.”
“Here’s the process we follow:”
“What counts for featured snippet images is having alt text and a title that’s more relevant to the search query, using an image that better answers the query, placing the image close to the top of your page/post, and using an original image.”
Our final featured snippet optimization tip comes from Bowler Hat’s Marcus Miller who says, “once you have a page-one listing for the term you are trying to target (and ideally a listing in the top five results) keep tinkering with the post to see if you can get your answer to pop into the snippet.”
In other words: if at first you don’t succeed, choose another one of these optimization tips and try, try again.
Ready to learn more about SEO? Check out our beginners guide to SEO, discover some of the most common SEO mistakes, find out what SEO KPIs you should be tracking, or optimize your content using these 29 SEO copywriting tips.
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