If you’ve ever used Google’s search engine (and if you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’ve probably used it now and again), you’ve probably seen something that looks like this:
This is called a featured snippet. It’s a small excerpt of web content that Google thinks answers the exact question you’re asking. Featured snippets are displayed above the other organic search results in a very visible and desirable spot often called “position zero.”
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had questions answered without ever having to visit another website just by reading the featured snippet. How’s that for instant gratification? Ask google a question, and hey presto, question answered.
So why would you ever want to be in a featured snippet, especially if they can answer questions without ever driving traffic to your site? We want traffic, don’t we? Well, even though some users may not need to click through to get what they want, several studies show that featured snippets can drastically improve your traffic.
- Ben Goodsell says that holding the featured snippet position increased organic traffic by more than 500%, increased click-through rate (CTR) 400%, and increased revenue from organic visitors nearly 700%.
- Matthew Howells-Barby from Hubspot reports that their click-through rate increased by over 114%, even when they already held the #1 position in the SERPs.
All that’s well and good, but there’s a small problem. Whether or not your site content gets displayed in a featured snippet is entirely up to Google. You can’t create or buy them. However, there are several things that we can do to stack the odds in our favor.
If you want to be chosen for a featured snippet:
- Rank well.
- Write content that answers questions.
- Comprehensively cover your topic.
- Answer questions that haven’t been answered yet.
Get on the first page.
First up, you need to be listed in the top 10 results in Google for your keyword phrase or question in order to be considered for that rich snippet feature. In a study by Ahrefs.com, they demonstrate that the vast majority of featured snippets come from the top 5, so the higher you rank on page one, the better. There are two things that we can take away from this data:
- If you’re not already ranking in the top 10 for your targeted keyword phrase, then you need to focus on SEO tactics to improve organic rankings first.
- If there is any content for which you are already in the top 10 outside of your targeted keyword phrase, optimizing those pages first can help improve your ranking for your targeted content.
Answer questions, don’t just say the magic words.
Secondly, we have to change the way we think about our content writing. If you’ve been following SEO trends at all in the past few years, this will come as no surprise to you. Google has been continually changing its algorithm to favor “semantic searching.” This means Google is less concerned about the words that the searcher is using and is more concerned about trying to figure out what the searcher wants. Creepy, but effective.
When we write our content, we need to think in similar terms. We need to stop asking ourselves “what words will they type” and start asking ourselves “what questions are they asking” and “what are they trying to do.” If you want to get a featured snippet of your own, answer the question clearly, concisely, and better than everyone else.
Cover all the angles.
Thirdly, be comprehensive. Google values authoritative content. If you can holistically address a topic, cover all the angles, and answer all the questions, then not only will you have a page of thoroughly optimized content, you will have the exact kind of content that Google wants to display in featured snippets.
Before you sit down to start writing, try to figure out everything a reader might want to know about your topic. Make a list of questions they might have, and then make sure that you answer each one clearly, concisely, and exhaustively. Use images. Use data tables. Use lists. Do your research.
Following the guidelines for making strong pillar pages is a great way to start. And like I mentioned earlier, if you already have content that is ranking well, that is an ideal place to start with your pillar page. It is far easier to get a featured snippet by taking good content and making it great than it is by creating great content from scratch.
Pick the low-hanging fruit first.
Lastly, try to identify opportunities where featured snippets do not already exist. If someone else is already ranking for your keyword phrase or question or even worse, already has a rich snippet for your phrase, you’ve got an uphill battle ahead of you.
Once you’ve identified an area with no features snippets, give it both barrels of quality content creation. Jump at the opportunity to become the authority on that topic. Using a keyword and search engine analytics program such as SEMRush can help you find which questions are being asked and also which questions have yet to be answered.
However, unless you are an extremely specialized industry, you’ll probably be dealing with some competition. While you can try to take Goliath head-on, it might be best to stack the odds a bit in your favor.
If your topic is a highly contested topic, look for a niche or specialization with a lower level of competition. Approximately 15% of all Google searches have never been seen before. That means we don’t need to be afraid of going after that niche question or topic. That could be your gateway into really great rankings and featured snippets.
Use SEMRush to see where your competitors are ranking and for which queries they already have a featured snippet. Then you can identify less competitive terms and really specialize in providing answers in that area.
But is it worth it?
These strategies to earn a featured snippet, even for a site that ranks very well among its competition, don't guarantee you any kind of result. In the end, Google chooses what to display. So is it worth it to sink so much time and money into the pursuit of position zero?
Yes. Yes it is. Even if you spend years chasing a snippet by employing these tactics and have bupkis to show for it, the effort is worth the cost. I can say this with confidence because featured snippet or no featured snippet, you're investing that time and money into your own authority and the specific needs of your audience. That's an investment that pays dividends in more ways than just the one.