• Scott Herring

Aspirational Goal: Featured Snippets

A few years ago, Google added a shiny new box at the top of the results page, what they call a Featured Snippet. Google said early on that they were only doing it in certain situations, and there wouldn't be easy ways to game the system. I mean, we're talking SEARCH RESULT ZERO - the first first first answer to a search query. If the first search result gets ten times as many as the second, how much more would the shiny new box get? Over time, more and more featured snippets have been added, and I've been fortunate enough to rank a few. With Renegade Blogger, we're in an extremely crowded market, so when Moz showed that we had a chance at making the post into a featured snippet, my gears immediately started cranking. So this is a new aspirational goal: to transform that article in such a way that it becomes not only a top search result, but a featured snippet.

Featured Snippets, Defined

As briefly explained above, Featured Snippets are short blocks of text that appear at the very top of Google search results. They earn this status because they simply answer an intended search query. Remember, Google wants you to get your answers as quickly as possible. If you ask for a definition of something, that's a good featured snippet result. If the answer is the first result, Google wins. The content that shown in a Featured Snippet is pulled directly from the web page it features. Note, the actual page may not be the first one -- in many cases it isn't. The link takes users directly to the section of the page that appeared in the featured snippet.

Featured snippets are designed to “enhance and draw user attention on the results page”. Almost all featured snippets (>99%!) are derived from content in the first ten search results. Most importantly for our goals, featured snippets include source links.

Types of Featured Snippets

1. Definitions

Google uses Definitions snippets to answer “what is” queries. The average Definition Featured Snippet is 40-60 words

2. Ordered Lists

Google displays a list of items in order. For example, a sequenced set of steps.

3. Unordered Lists

Google presents a list of items that are not in any particular order.

4. Tables

Google displays data from a page as a table -- not the exact table from the content, but a more useful representation.

Plan of Attack for Getting a Featured Snippet

First, there is no magic formula or secret handshake. You can only make your page more amenable to Google's algorithm and then wait... Obviously atop the to-do list is getting your page on page one of Google, you know, top ten results. Then it's about optimizing your content for one of the types of featured snippets.

Before you decide to focus your effort on a keyword, though, check to see if the search results already have a Featured Snippet. In my recent case, Moz informed me my post was a contender with its high ranking. Start your quest with any keywords that are already ranking on Google's first page that have featured snippets. Extra smart tip: check for other snippet opportunities under the “People also ask” section.

From a content standpoint, you may want to review the four types of snippets to see if you can map better to them. In my case, I had a list, so that's good, but I made a structural change to make that list better for the Google crawler. Our goal in most SEO techniques is to format for the crawler to quickly scan and parse the page. Although we don't know for sure, Google is probably scanning for numbered lists (<ol>) and bulleted lists (<ul>) to build those type of snippets.

In general, as with most SEO practices, it's best to target question-based queries. Google uses semantic search, which is why you get more accurate results when you ask a question or put in multiple words. For example, searching for "coffee", "best coffee makers", "coffee shops near me", and "how to brew the best cup of coffee" all lead to different paths. SEO is best served by addressing specific questions: how to, what is, where is, what's best, etc. In addition, provide a summarized view in your list posts and how-to articles (this is what I added to my example post). Make it easy for the crawler to distill the list. Also, write for readers: give immediate, clear, concise answers to questions. Answer first, then support it after. Keep your content tight so that Google can easily feature it.

Featured Snippets Do Not Suck

The advantage of getting featured snippets for your content is that even if you’re not even in the top 3 search results, you can still can drive a bunch of traffic to your site. In some cases, it validates your URL below in the ranking (note, I think this works with PPC too, but that's another subject). I've been successful over the years with many posts that are ranked 3-10, but they still get visibility through featured snippets. I'd argue that it's a strong indicator to users of your domain and page authority. By creating content that’s ready for featured snippets, you can boost online engagement and make it easier for users to find and interact with you. As for my post, I'll keep an eye on it (er, Moz will) to see if it sneaks into the snippet spot. We'll update you if/when it happens!


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