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Natalie Severt

Natalie Severt

3 months ago 5 min read

Featured Snippets: How to Rank and Track

Featured featured snippets how to track and rank
Natalie Severt

Natalie Severt

Do you have a page that’s stuck in the purgatory of lower level search results?

How much would you pay to skip the line and become number one?

What if you didn’t have to pay anything?

Meet featured snippets.

Also known as “rich answers” or “direct answers,” featured snippets are bits of your text that appear in an “answer box” in result 0 of the search results. Where? Result zero?

That’s right. There are some articles that can outrank even the best pages. All they have to do is answer a simple question. And the best part?

You don’t have to be a superbrand or have massive domain authority.

This article will tell you:

  • What a featured snippet is and how to get your page to rank for one.
  • How to implement SEO tactics for content you want to feature.
  • How to track featured snippets once you’ve landed one.

What Is a Featured Snippet? How Google Selects Text for Answer Boxes

What is a featured snippet?

A featured snippet is a bit of text just like this one that Google cuts from a page and places in a box in the zero position above all other search results.

Google features snips of text that answers questions like the one above – what is a featured snippet?

Featured snippets usually include:

  1. The Answer and an Image
  2. The Source’s Page Title
  3. The Source’s Link and URL

Here’s an example of a featured snippet for the common query “how to boil an egg:”

featured snippet example

Some important points about how Google selects text for featured snippets:

  1. A featured snippet always answers a question in a clear, concise way.
  2. A featured snippet almost always comes from a page that’s already ranking in the top five – sometimes ten – search results for that query. It does not have to come from the #1 position.
  3. Often, a featured snippet is lifted from a portion of text that is between 40 and 50 words long.
  4. A featured snippet is formatted in one of the three formats Google likes best – the paragraph, the list, or the table. Often, it’s also accompanied by an image.

Here is the featured snippet for the question “what is a featured snippet:”

what is a featured snippet example

As you can see in the example, the featured snippet and the Related Questions box take up the entire results page before the fold. That’s a lot of prime SERP real estate.

So, does the Ahrefs article meet the requirements? Let’s find out.

Does the article answer the question in a clear and concise way?

YES

  • The answer is a clear definition of “featured snippet” and includes the phrase “a featured snippet is,” which often boosts the probability of landing in the answer box.

Does the article come from a page that’s already ranking in the top ten?

YES

  • The article is ranking 6th for the phrase “featured snippet” and 7th for the query “what is a featured snippet.” Notice that it’s not ranking number one.

Does the article give a definition that’s between 40 and 50 words long?

YES

  • The answer is 45 words long, hitting the sweet spot of the featured snippet word count.

Is the article formatted in one of the three featured snippet formats Google likes best?

YES

  • The answer is formatted as a paragraph, which happens to be one of Google’s favorite formats at the moment. More on that later.

Now, let’s pick an example that’s a little less niche.

In a lot of cases, you’re going to find that Wikipedia holds the featured snippet position. Here’s an example of a featured snippet for Wikipedia:

example of a featured snippet

So, to grab a featured snippet position all you have to do is identify three things:

  1. What questions could you answer?
  2. What questions already have answers?
  3. How can you make content that will answer questions?

Pro Tip: The above criteria are not foolproof for landing or keeping a featured snippet. At the end of the day, Google’s goal is to answer questions as fast as possible. And Google may find that the best answer is a 90 word paragraph on page 70 of its results. While rare, it’s still possible.

Do you want a full guide on all of Google’s SERP features? Find out how to rank for almost anything! Check it out: A Definitive Guide to Google’s SERP Features

Who Should Try to Rank for Featured Snippets? You May Be Surprised

Now that you know what a featured snippet is, the next question to ask yourself is:

Are featured snippets right for me?

The good news is that featured snippets are for everyone. You don’t have to be a powerhouse brand or have hordes of gold to bag an answer box. Google also doesn’t seem to favor sites with high authority domains or impressive backlink portfolios.

All you have to have is know-how and patience. Think of featured snippets as a chance to rocket your pages past the Godzillas of your industry.

That means that featured snippets are right for most of you. Anyone who creates content that answers users’ questions can qualify for a featured snippet answer box.

That includes websites that have Q&A or FAQs pages.

FAQ featured snippet example

At the same time, there are those who may want to consider ranking for other SERP features first. A good example is local, brick-and-mortar businesses.

Let’s say you want to drive foot traffic to your local coffee shop. While answering questions about cold brew coffee may drive more traffic to your website, it’s not necessarily going to drive more foot traffic through your front door.

Everything depends on your end game. Do you want to increase traffic to your site? Try for a featured snippet. Do you want to increase foot traffic to your shop? Try for local packs and other local features.

Are you a small, local business? Do you want to find out more about local SEO tactics and how to rank for features like local packs? Check out our guide: Local SEO for Small Businesses

Why All the Fuss? How Do You Benefit From Featured Snippets?

Are featured snippets that big of a deal? they show up in the SERPs anyway?

In a sample of one million SERPs, Getstat found that featured snippets show up in 23.25% of search results in April 2017. That’s up from 9.28% in January 2016 and 15% in July 2016.

It’s obvious that Google is increasing the number of page results that include featured snippets and doesn’t show signs of slowing.

So, what can securing a featured snippet actually do for you?

There are those that say featured snippets are sometimes undesirable. Let’s say your answer to a question is so perfect that anyone who reads it gets all the information they need.

They don’t have to click through to your site because their needs are met. Thus, the traffic and CTR drops, and you lose potential leads and conversions.

While that may be true for some, most experience a surge in traffic and a higher CTR after landing a featured snippet position. That’s especially true for pages that were lower in the rankings prior.

For example, one of our articles containing the keyword, “pinterest marketing strategy,” ranked for a featured snippet between August 25 and September 21, 2017. The CTR for the keyword was 15.41% on average during that period.

Before landing the featured snippet, the article ranking for the keyword “pinterest marketing strategy” had a CTR of 7% on average.

CTR for featured snippets tracking

Reasons you may want to rank for a featured snippet:

  1. Featured snippets increase your visibility in Google SERPs, as you occupy two positions – both the featured snippet and your original SERP position. Double exposure.
  2. Research shows that featured snippets consistently result in a higher CTR and thereby drive more organic search traffic to your site.
  3. Featured snippets also increase brand trust and credibility. Ending up in an answer box is a nod from Google to users that your content is the best answer for them.

Let’s say your page is in the top ten, but it isn’t ranking for the number one position.

Ranking for a featured snippet leapfrogs your page over higher results to “position 0” at the top of the SERPs. The shortcut can move you above websites with better backlink portfolios and higher domain authorities than you.

Here’s a table that shows where Google pulls content for featured snippets:

 

featured snippet source rank
Image Source: Getstat Study 2017

As you can see, Google took the highest percentage of featured snippets from articles ranking in the 3rd and 4th position of the SERPs.

Ranking for Featured Snippets – It’s Not as Hard as It Sounds

As with every other aspect of SEO, content is king. Yes, you’ve heard it a million times, but it’s worth repeating.

You can’t force Google to rank you. All you can do is provide the best content.

For featured snippets, that means providing a clear, simple answer for a direct question. But, how do you decide which questions to answer in the first place?

How to choose between fresh content or old content:

Start by deciding whether or not you want an existing page or a new page to rank for the featured snippet.

If you want an existing page to rank for a featured snippet, then you need to check it’s stats.

In order for Google to choose your page, you’ll need to boost your existing page metrics. Make sure the following page stats are higher than the overall average for your website or blog:

  • CTR
  • Bounce Rate
  • Average Session Length
  • Time on Page
  • Time on Site

If people are bouncing or the CTR is low, Google may take it as a sign that your information isn’t useful or engaging for your users. In that case, you will need to revamp the whole page if you still want that content to compete for a featured snippet.

How to choose your question for featured snippets:

Let’s say you’ve decided to make new content. In that case you will want to:

  1. Conduct Keyword Research
  2. Identify Questions or Invert Keywords
  3. Identify Keywords Ranking for Featured Snippets
  4. Decide on a Strategy for Ranking

Before you conduct keyword research, you might want to find out which of your keywords render results for pages with featured snippets and other Google SERP features.

Here you can see that the keyword “rich snippet” renders result pages that contain ten Google SERP features. You can also see that the keyword is already ranking for the featured snippet.

tracking featured snippets example

Checking which keywords already render pages containing featured snippets is a good way to conduct competitor research. You can find out if the answer box for your keyword is up for grabs of if you have to compete for the prize.

Now, let’s say you decide that your main keyword is “contact lenses.” It’s best to look up the phrase and see what Google suggests and what turns up in related searches.

Here’s five of the results that we got for contact lenses:

  • Contact Lenses Online
  • Contact Lenses Costco
  • Contact Lenses Near Me
  • Cheapest Contact Lenses
  • Contact Lenses for Astigmatism

Next, you’ll want to invert the keyword phrases:

  • Where can I buy contact lenses online?
  • How do I buy contact lenses online?
  • Where can I buy contact lenses near me?
  • What are the cheapest brand of contact lenses?
  • Which contact lenses are best for astigmatism?

Keep in mind that questions that include phrases such as “near me,” often lead to local packs or other types of SERP features. So, you don’t want to choose a question like:

Where can I buy contact lenses near me? 

For this question, Google serves the user a local pack featuring local contact lens vendors in the user’s direct vicinity.

So, if you want to rank for a featured snippet you should try for questions with less subjective answers.

How often do featured snippets show up with other SERP features?

featuerd snippet and other SERP features
Image Source: Getstat Study 2017

Pro Tip: You will also want to avoid questions where answers are quick facts:

What’s the capital of Bolivia? How many feet are there in a mile?

Google answers these questions in another SERP feature called Knowledge Graphs. They take their answers from three sources Wikidata, Wikipedia , and the CIA Handbook. You cannot rank for these SERP features.

Try to choose questions you could answer on a Q&A or FAQ page or with dedicated blog content.

Here are three other alternative ways to find questions people want answered:

Alternative One: 

  • Think of logical questions often put to people in your industry.

For example:

How do I put in contact lenses?

Notice that there is no featured snippet in the SERPs for that question:

no featured snippet in SERP example

No featured snippet box means that you have an open playing field. When you notice that there is a featured snippet for your query, find out how you can do better. More on that later.

Alternative Two: 

  • Read the comment sections of articles already ranking for your keyword.

Find out what questions your competitors’ pieces have failed to answer by reading the comment sections of their content. Go through the top 5 or top 10 results for your keyword to see if there’s anything they’ve missed.

You can also check out sites like Quora.

Alternative Three: 

The phrase “contact lenses” generated 181 potential questions. Here’s an example of featured snippet queries via Answer the Public:

keyword research for featured snippets example

Keep in mind that high search volume keywords and longer queries get featured snippets more often. Also check the Related Questions boxes as they are often paired with featured snippets.

By answering these Related Questions, Google may choose you for various featured snippets with similar phrasing.

Here’s an example of one of our articles that’s ranking for a featured snippet across three separate keywords:

ranking for featured snippets examples

How to create content for keywords that don’t have featured snippets:

Now that you have your question, you can start writing your content.

  1. Start by adding the question as a header in your article, either H1 or H2.
  2. Repeat the question verbatim in the body of text underneath the header.
  3. Start your answer by rephrasing the question – What is a dog? A dog is…
  4. Finish by providing a clear and full answer to the question you’re targeting.
  5. Try to keep your initial answer between 40 or 50 words long.
  6. Format your answer in one of the three formats Google favors.
  7. Consider using tagging <p>, <li>,<ol>,<ul>, or <table> in the HTML.
  8. After answering the question, provide added value and more details.

What are Google’s favorite featured snippet formats?

There are three prominent featured snippet formats:

  1. Paragraph
  2. List
  3. Table

When Google first introduced featured snippets, the paragraph format reigned supreme. Now, lists are slowly taking a bigger share of results.

Here’s a table of how the trends are changing over time from a recent Getstat study:

 

types of featured snippet formats
Image Source: Getstat Study 2017

Here’s an example of a featured snippet in the list format:

featured snippet list format example

Here’s an example of the featured snippet table format:

featured snippets table format example

How to create better content for keywords that already have featured snippets:

Let’s say the question you’re targeting already has a featured snippet in place. Should you go for it? Sure!

All you have to do is write 10x content.

What is 10x content?

10x content is a piece of writing that’s 10 times better than the content that it aspires to beat in Google SERPs. To achieve 10x content, you need to find out what makes the best content rank number one and build higher quality content with more added value.

See what I did there? I just optimized my content for the question: “What is 10x content?” Will my content end up ranking for a featured snippet about 10x content? That remains to be seen.

How do you make your content 10x better than the competition? Ask yourself:

  • Did they leave out any information, details, or examples that I could add?
  • Do I have access to fresh or unique data that could spruce up the piece?
  • Do I have an original approach to the topic backed by great writing?

The goal is to answer “yes” to all of these questions and then use your insight to create the best content on the Internet about your topic.

You can use the 10x content strategy to revamp old pieces that you want to use for a featured snippet piece and to beat the portion of content that’s in the featured snippet box.

Finally, you will want to apply traditional SEO tactics to optimize your content for keywords and your question.

For your featured snippet question, you only have to be sure that it shows up in one of the first headers you use and in the body of the text before the answer. Try to put the question close to it’s header.

And what about images?

Images are a great way to attract attention to a featured snippet, but there’s no way to make google pick one. At times, Google will even lift images from other content.

Here’s an example of a featured snippet for the query:

“What are chicken nuggets made out of?”

featured snippet example with image

Notice that the featured snippet contains text from an article ranking in the 6th position. The National Chicken Council’s text explains that chicken nuggets are made out of breast meat.

Yet, it is paired with a still image taken from a Youtube video about pink slime. The Youtube video is ranking in the second position of the SERPs.

How To Track Featured Snippets Before and After Your Campaign

One downside of the Google featured snippet API is its reliability. One day you’re featured, the next you’re not.

That’s why it’s best to start tracking featured snippets for your keywords.

For example, we first secured a featured snippet for the keyword “rank your site” on September 10, 2017. We lost the answer box the next day.

Tracking featured snippets allows you to go back to your content and make tweaks so that you can regain the featured snippet answer box.

Notice that we reranked for the same featured snippet on September 18, 2017. Also notice, that it disappeared the next day again. Featured snippets tend to be a capricious feature.

how to track featured snippets example

Still Not Convinced? Here’s How To Opt Out of Featured Snippets

If you find that your traffic or CTR has taken a hit thanks to getting a featured snippet here’s how to opt out:

Google advises websites that do not wish to rank for featured snippets to use the <meta name=”googlebot” content=”nosnippet”> tag on their page.

Conclusion

Ranking for a featured snippet box is one of the fastest and easiest ways to take your content to the top of the results page. And the best part is that you don’t have to be a big brand with a big marketing budget.

All you have to do is answer your audience’s questions with the best content that you can create. Your users will love you, Google will love you, and you’ll be at the top of your game.

Did we answer all YOUR questions about featured snippets? Does anyone have experience gaining the answer box? What was your secret weapon? Let us know in the comments!

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Natalie Severt

Natalie Severt

Content Manager at Unamo. When I'm not writing about SEO strategies and Digital Marketing, you can find me cooking, reading, and binging on TV series. I have an undying love for tacos.
Natalie Severt

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Written by
Natalie Severt

Natalie Severt

Content Manager at Unamo. When I'm not writing about SEO strategies and Digital Marketing, you can find me cooking, reading, and binging on TV series. I have an undying love for tacos.

Comments (2)
James (1 month ago) Reply

Which tools do you do to track featured snippet appearance?

Adam Coombs (1 month ago) Reply

Unamo SEO of course :)

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