How to Optimize for Google's Featured Snippets [Updated for 2022]

Google’s featured snippets started as an experiment almost a decade ago. They have since become an integral part of Google’s SERPs, showing up for lots of queries. Making them part of your SEO strategy is essential to build more traffic.

How to Optimize for Google's Featured Snippets [Updated for 2022]

Google’s featured snippets started as an experiment almost a decade ago.

They have since become an integral part of Google’s SERPs, showing up for lots of queries.

In fact, featured snippets are now considered organic position #1, so it is part of any SEO strategy.

What are featured snippets?

Featured snippets are selected search results that are featured on top of Google's organic results below the ads in a box.

Featured snippets aim at answering the user's question right away (hence their other well-known name, "answer boxes").

The recent studies reveal that featured snippets have an average 35% click-through rate.

Being featured means being on top of everything (except for ads), in the most prominent spot:

Types of featured snippets

There are three major types of featured snippets:

  • Paragraph (an answer is given in text).

  • List (an answer is given in a form of a list)

  • Table (an answer is given in a table)

Each type can also include an image, and that image may come from a third-party page that is not featured. There may be 2 images included inside the featured box:

An older study from STAT: the most popular featured snippet is "paragraph" type.

Featured snippets or answer boxes?

The terminology may still be pretty loose here. Many people (including myself) are inclined to refer to featured snippets as "answer boxes," obviously because there's an answer presented in a box.

While there's nothing wrong with this terminology, it creates a certain confusion because Google often gives a "quick answer" (a definition, an estimate, etc.) on top without linking to the source:

To avoid confusion, let's stick to the "featured snippet" term whenever there's a URL featured in the box, because these present an extra exposure to the linked site (hence they're important for content publishers):

Do I have a chance to get featured?

Yes.

According to another older research by Ahrefs, about 100% of featured pages already rank in top 10 of Google. So if you are already ranking in top 10 for related search queries, you have very good chances to get featured.

Featured snippets appear and disappear for the same queries but you have higher chances to get featured if there’s already a featured snippet showing up for your target query (i.e. Google has already identified search intent for your query as informational).

Obviously, based on the purpose of the search section (i.e. to give a quick answer), you have a higher chance of getting featured if you answer a lot of questions in your content.

Identify all kinds of opportunities to be featured

Start with good old keyword research

Multiple studies confirm that the majority of featured snippets are triggered by long-tail keywords. In fact, the more words that are typed into a search box, the higher the probability there will be a featured snippet.

It's always a good idea to start with researching your keywords. Moz’s Keyword Explorer is a good place to start.

When performing keyword research with featured snippets in mind, note that:

  • Start with question-type search queries (those containing question words, like “what,” “why,” “how,” etc.) because these are the easiest to identify, but don’t stop there...

  • Target informational intent, not just questions. While featured snippets aim at answering the user’s question immediately, question-type queries are not the only types that trigger those featured results. According to the aforementioned Ahrefs study, the vast majority of keywords that trigger featured snippets were long-tail queries with no question words in them.

It helps if you use a keyword research tool that shows immediately whether a query triggers featured results. SE Ranking offers a nice filter allowing you to see keywords that are currently triggering featured snippets:

You can also run your competitor in Serpstat and then filter their best-performing queries by the presence of featured snippets.

This is a great overview of your future competition, enabling you to see your competitors' strengths and weaknesses.

Browse Google for more questions

To further explore the topic, be sure to research popular niche questions.

Tools like Buzzsumo and Text Optimizer can give you a good insight into questions people tend to ask around your topic:

Identify search queries where you already rank high

Your lowest-hanging fruit is to identify which phrases you already rank highly for. These will be the easiest to get featured for after you optimize for answer boxes (more on this below).

Google Search Console shows which search queries send you clicks. To find that report,

  • Click "Performance" .

  • Check the box to show the position your pages hold for each one and you'll have the ability to see which queries are your top-performing ones:

Note that Search Console labels featured snippet positions as #1 (SEO used to call them position 0). So when you see #1 in Google Search Console, there’s nothing to do here. Focus on #2 and lower.

You can then use the filters to find some question-type queries among those:

Go beyond traditional keyword research tools: Ask people

All the above methods (albeit great) tackle already discovered opportunities: those for which you or your competitors are already ranking high. But how about venturing beyond that? Ask your readers, customers, and followers how they search and which questions they ask.

MyBlogU: Ask people outside your immediate reach

Move away from your target audience and ask random people what questions they have on a specific topic and what would be their concerns. Looking out of the box can always give a fresh perspective.

MyBlogU (disclaimer: I am the founder) is a great way to do that. Just post a new project in the " Brainstorm" section and ask members to contribute their thoughts.

Seed Keywords: Ask your friends and followers

Seed Keywords is a simple tool that allows you to discover related keywords with help from your friends and followers. Simply create a search scenario, share it on social media, and ask your followers to type in the keywords they would use to solve it.

Try not to be too leading with your search scenario. Avoid guiding people to the search phrase you think they should be using.

Here's an example of a scenario:

And here are the suggestions from real people:

Obviously, you can also create similar surveys with tools like WP Forms or Google Forms.

Organize questions and keywords

I use spreadsheets to organize questions and keyword phrases I discover (see more on this below). Some of these questions may become a whole piece of content, while others will be subsections of broader articles:

  • I don’t try to analyze search volume to decide whether any of those questions deserve to be covered in a separate article or a subsection. (Based on the Ahrefs research and my own observations, there is no direct correlation between the popularity of the term and whether it will trigger a featured snippet).

  • Instead, I use my best judgment (based on my niche knowledge and research) as to how much I will be able to tell to answer each particular question. If it’s a lot, I’ll probably turn it into a separate article and use keyword research to identify subsections of the future piece.

Optimizing for featured snippets

Start with on-page SEO

There is no magic button or special markup which will make sure your site gets featured. Of course, it's a good idea to start with non-specific SEO best practices, simply because being featured is only possible when you rank high for the query.

Randy Milanovic did a good overview of tactics of making your content findable. Eric Brantner over at Coschedule has put together a very useful SEO checklist, and of course never forget to go through Moz’s SEO guide.

That being said, the best way to get featured is to provide a better answer. Here are a few actionable tips:

1. Aim at answering each question concisely

My own observation of answer boxes has led me to think that Google prefers to feature an answer which was given within one paragraph.

An older study by AJ Ghergich cites that the average length of a paragraph snippet is 45 words (the maximum is 97 words), so let it be your guideline as to how long each answer should be in order to get featured.

This doesn't mean your articles need to be one paragraph long. On the contrary, these days Google seems to give preference to long-form content (also known as " cornerstone content," which is obviously a better way to describe it because it's not just about length) that's broken into logical subsections and features attention-grabbing images. 

Even if you don’t believe that cornerstone content receives any special treatment in SERPs, focusing on long articles will help you to cover more related questions within one piece (more on that below).

All you need to do is to adjust your blogging style just a bit:

  • Ask the question in your article (that may be a subheading)

  • Immediately follow the question with a one-paragraph answer

  • Elaborate further in the article

This tactic may also result in higher user retention because it makes any article better structured and thus a much easier read. To quote AJ Ghergich,

When you use data to fuel topic ideation, content creation becomes more about resources and less about brainstorming.

2. Be factual and organize well

Google loves numbers, steps and lists. We've seen this again and again: More often than not, answer boxes will list the actual ingredients, number of steps, time to cook, year and city of birth, etc.

Use Google’s guide on writing meta descriptions to get a good idea what kind of summaries and answers they are looking to generate snippets (including featured snippets).

Google loves well-structured, factual, and number-driven content.

There's no specific markup to structure your content. Google seems to pick up

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