Featured snippets. With the right tools and expertise, you too can compete in this arena. Here’s what you’ll need to know to score a snippet of your own, plus a few Tips, Tools and Resources to get your started
You may have heard about featured snippets. Those short blurbs at the top of the search results.
Care to know more? You’re in the right place. In this post, we’ll—
- Show you what featured snippets are, how they work, and different ways they show up.
- Show you why they’re an organic traffic game-changer.
- Share 17 essentials to successfully competing in this SEO arena.
- Share a few how-tos, tips, tools and resources to get you going.
By the end of this post, you’ll know how how successful bloggers land this prized search result.
We’ll start with a quick TLDR, and if you need, take a quick scan of the post in the TOC.
Ready to snag a featured snippet? Let’s begin.
Featured Snippets are short nibbles of text that show at the top of Google Search Results Pages.
Taking form as Tables, Definitions, Lists, Videos, or Carousels, featured snippets give a concise, quick answer to a searcher’s query. The snippet’s text is pulled from your content exactly as it was indexed by Google crawlers. Smart bloggers know which types of keywords attract featured snippets, and how to optimize their page with Structured Data to win this coveted search result. Get it right, and if your article is a featured snippet post, you’ll get a windfall of organic traffic.
What Are Featured Snippets?
Definition of Featured Snippets
Featured snippets are expanded search results that give an immediate answer to the user’s query. As they appear in Google’s search results, the featured snippet will appear at the very top of the search results, or in the People Also Ask section. For example, a search for technical SEO produced this snippet in the PAA section–
Since featured snippets are there to answer a query without additional clicks, they’ll be found only on the first Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
Types of Featured Snippets
Featured snippets take a form that most easily and logically answers a query, including–
Common among featured snippets, the paragraph (aka Definition Box) snippet is used for queries requiring a brief explanation–
Google uses Table snippets to answer queries requesting a comparison of data–
Google will often provide Ordered List snippets for queries that follow a set of steps, like making cold brew—
Or serving in tennis–
Conversely, the snippet may be unordered, where numerical or chronological hierarchy isn’t important—
Appearing as a carousel of images and descriptions with links to different web sites, Carousel snippets are used when a query requires a list of options (products, travel destinations, services etc), as this search for best hiking trails in the United States demonstrates–
Video snippets typically show up where a demo is more efficient than text. They feature a video thumbnail, title, and a brief description of the content.
Rich Snippets? Featured Snippets? What’s the Difference?
Rich snippets and featured snippets are similar in that each of them give the user instant information. However, there are differences between the two.
Featured snippets have the singular objective of giving a concise answer to a user’s query. Rich snippets (also known as Rich Results), are more like an enhanced organic search result. In other words, if your Google search result comes with reviews, recipes or event info, it’s a rich snippet.
Other ways of differentiating Featured Snippets from Rich Results?
Rich snippets will use images, reviews, videos and maps to showcase details related to specific search results.
Conversely, and though they use both text and media, featured snippets focus on brevity in its singular purpose of giving concise query answers.
Rich snippets will appear where search queries require additional context, detailed information or reviews. Featured snippets will show where informational queries can be answered quickly and succinctly.
Is one better than the other? No, because the content creator will write schema markup to GET one or the other. Bottom line? Featured and rich snippets each give the user so much more than a standard search result, so it makes that content far more likely to be clicked to.
Where Do Snippets Come From?
Featured snippets are sourced directly (often verbatim) from the text, video, images and other media Google crawler bots read and indexed off a content creator’s page.
How does Google choose the lucky content owner? That has as much to do with how well the content was optimized for featured (and Rich) snippets. We’ll be spending much of this post talking about just that–how to make your content the stuff that gets used in snippets.
Over and over again.
Knowledge Panels vs Featured Snippets
Search any person or entity name and you’ll probably see a panel on the right side of the SERP, where a short biography appears with other additional links and resources.
That’s a Knowledge Panel, an info box designed to give users a quick, comprehensive overview– key bio tidbits, images, history, filmography and other useful factoids.
Featured snippets = Quick Answers.
Knowledge panels = Quick Background.
Why Featured Snippets Are An SEO Game-Changer
Let’s say that you, as a very successful blogger, have just scored a featured snippet on a keyword you’ve been working hard to rank for. How will that snippet drive more traffic to your website?
Featured snippets appear at the top of Google’s search engine results page, which is why many SEO experts refer to the Featured Snippet answer box as the #0 position.
Increased visibility translates to more organic clicks.
High Impact Click-Through
Featured snippets give users quick answers, which in turn makes them more amenable to clicking through to learn more.
Something else to consider? Depending on the study in question, the impact of featured snippets range from stealing clicks to downright domination of click-share–
A 2022 featured snippets study conducted by Enginescout.com.au goes even further, showing featured snippets receiving 35.1% of total click-share. And when combined with knowledge panels, they grabbed a whopping 42% of the click take.
Depending on the keyword used, featured snippets will often appear for high-volume, high-intent search queries. That means users who find your snippet are already intently focused on the solution you present beyond the snippet. Which means a highly engaged reader, and improved conversion rates that follow.
The impact of featured snippets on your SEO cannot be overstated. So now that you know what they are, and why they matter, let’s get you going.
17 Featured Snippet Essentials Every Blogger Should Know
Keyword Research and Selection
Everything about content strategy, including getting that coveted #0 position in the SERPs, begins with keyword choice. Here are 5 essentials to keep in mind—
1. Begin With the Goal
To score a featured snippet, you need to create content that clearly, concisely, answers a specific Why…What is… or How do I… question.
So, you’ll begin with a powerhouse short-tail keyword (aka head term) and then identify a specific question the searcher would have about it. From there, your goal is to write a no razzle-dazzle post, one which clearly states the question that you’re providing a painfully concise answer to.
Begin with this in mind, and keyword selection becomes easy.
If all of this sounds refreshingly simple, that’s because it is.
2. Load Up Your SEO Tool Box
You can’t do SEO work without the right SEO tools.
Google Keyword Planner (free), Wordstream.com (free), Semrush.com (very not free), Ahrefs.com (ditto), Ubersuggest and Answerthepublic, (each from Neil Patel at NPDigital–not free but much cheaper) are outstanding keyword research tools that’ll help you identify relevant keywords, their Keyword Difficulty and Monthly Search Volume.
Use the trial offers to find the one that suits you best (I use Ahrefs and Answerthepublic), and get comfortable with them.
3. Think Long-tail Keywords
Since questions are most likely to bring up featured snippets, focus on answering how, what, when, where, why, or who.
He’s talking about long-tail keywords— very specific, longer-worded keyword phrases which invariably bring lower search volume but are oft-easier to rank for and attract motivated users.
Tool tip– Answer the Public is an outstanding resource for finding long-tail keywords. Enter the short-tail keyword, and you’ll get hundreds of exportable LTKs kicked out to consider. And for just $9 a month, you’ll get monthly search volume for each of them.
4. Be Sure Your Keyword Is Snippet-Ready
Depending on the study or tool being cited, less than 15% of queries result with a snippet atop the SERP.
How to make sure you’re not doing a lot of work for nothing? Look for snippetable keyword phrases. To do that, know that most snippets come from queries looking for–
- answers to how-to, who, how, what, when, where, why questions.
- lists (top-ranked items) and process steps (think recipes).
- product comparisons.
That’s a start. But without further research, you’re still guessing. Here’s 2 ways to make sure your keyword phrase is snippet-ready–
Use Your Keyword Research Tools
Tools like Ahrefs and Semrush will help you find keywords that trigger featured snippets. Let’s use Ahrefs to see how it’s done—
First, we’ll do a search of powerhouse keywords to identify High-Domain Rating websites in in our specific niche who likely often score featured snippets. (Domain Rating shows the strength of a domain’s backlink profile, on a 100-point scale) .
Open Ahrefs, go to Keyword Explorer, and enter Literary Devices, an Uber-competitive (high Keyword Difficulty, High Search Volume) keyword that will probably have a host of Domain Giants ranking for that keyword–
Since I know them well, let’s use our friends over at Smartblogger.com to demo how to ID other, easier target keywords that have featured snippets—
With Ahrefs open, click on Site Explorer, enter Smartblogger’s URL, and you’ll get the Domain Overview window–
With a DR of 79, and 203K organic keywords, we won’t have any trouble finding a featured snippet.
Look at the Admin panel on the left, let your eyes travel down a bit, and click on Organic Keywords–
Here’s where you’ll end up; now, click on the SERP Features button, and select Featured Snippet–
Here’s what you get—
Examples of smart goals, is featured snippet friendly because it lends itself to many long-tailed keywords. Anyone can imagine typing a query like what are a few examples of smart goals? or can you give me some examples of SMART goals.
Click on the SERP button to open the Ahrefs SERP panel. You’ll see that Smartblogger’s both the #1 ranking position, and the #0 position as featured snippet.
Let’s see what the snippet looks like when we enter that exact keyword in Google search—
Oops. See how the acronym text got truncated? Seems to negate the full answer value of a snippet, doesn’t it? Some bloggers, though, let it happen so the user clicks through to the article. In this case, they included an infographic just to be sure.
Just the same, if I’m gunning for a snippet on that keyword phrase, I’ll watch my word count and make the whole answer visible.
So, that’s using Ahrefs to hunt down featured snippet-ready keywords. Other approaches?
Manually Search for Q & A-Based Keywords
To find the snippetable keyword, begin with a short-tail keyword, and go from there. Let’s illustrate–
We’ll start with Estate Planning as our short tail keyword. It has an Ahrefs Keyword Difficulty (KD) rating of 51 (pretty hard) and a huge Monthly Search Volume of 27K.
Using a tool like Answerthepublic, I’ll enter Estate Planning as my keyword, and from the 374 long-tail keyword possibilities it produces, I’ll choose Why Estate Planning is Important.
Scooting back over to Ahrefs, I’ll go to Keyword Explorer and enter that long-tail keyword. It has a KD of only 16, and a respectable search volume of 300—
We’ll scroll down the page, and… we’ve got a winner—
Now, like we did with Examples of Smart Goals, let’s do a Google search to view the snippet itself, and see what we’re up against. Beating the existing snippet is simply finding ways of just being better.
Which brings up a point worth mentioning– unique featured snippet opportunities are great, but you’ll more often need to steal a snippet from a competitor.
Do this by analyzing competitor content in Ahrefs. What keywords are driving traffic to their site? And which of them are showing up in the SERP as featured snippets?
Study those snippets, their content, format, and structure, and create one that stands out from theirs.
It’s a great way to serve notice.
5. Verify the Query Intent
Before you settle on a keyword, ask yourself this—
What is the intent behind the search query?
Search Intent is an essential piece of On-Page SEO. But it’s vitally important if you’re hoping to score a featured snippet. Get inside the head of the user as they’re typing their query into the search window—
Are they looking for information? A product? A review? A service? Technical data? The easiest best recipe?
Getting search intent right will save you a lot of wasted effort.
You can have the perfect keyword, but you still need well-executed content to score yourself a snippet.
Here are 5 key essentials to getting this critical stage done right–
6. Create Content That Serves the Snippet
The content you write for a featured snippet will be direct, laser-focused, and invariably short.
Pretty short, according to the people at Backlinko.com, who suggest–
When it comes to paragraph or definition snippets, those that Google tends to use are short and sweet.
To be specific, this, from our friends at Semrush.com—
The average definition style featured snippet is between 40-50 words long.
Shorter just got sweeter. And easier.
7. Get It Out There Right Quick
Typing the query how are keywords different from long-tail keywords, the SERP gave me this winning snippet from the people at Wordstream.com–
Let’s look at the article itself—
(Yes, that’s the headline at the top of the screenshot).
Talk about getting after it–these Wordstream folks went straight for the snippet. NO big leadup, no jazzy intro, just a definitive answer to a definitively direct query—
What Are Long-Tail Keywords, Exactly?
And, since the post is only 709 words, why not bring the queen out right away?
Another quick example, to show that Wordstream ain’t alone. Same query– how are keywords different from long-tail keywords— this snippet snagged by Yoast.com, found in People Also Ask–
And here’s the article–
The snippet content? It too immediately follows the headline.
Takeaway? Get the Featured Snippet Question & Answer combo out there as early in the article as possible. How early? Well, Wordstream took two paragraphs to get it out there. Yoast did it in their first. Some experts say that getting it done inside the first 200 words of the post is okay.
Dawdle at your own peril.
8. Make It Easy for the Snippet-Makers
Along with getting your query header-tagged and answered right away, how else can you make it easy on Google?
One trick I’m seeing a lot of involves a formatting play that quickly translates into a list snippet.
Better-suited for short-numbered Tips or Process list posts, create an H-2 or H-3 banner just under the sub-headline with bar-divided Jump-Links to each of your numbered subheads.
SearchEngineJournal.com emphasizes supporting your content with statistical data, rich media and infographics.
And the folks at Moz.com suggest eye-catching, branded images that spell out the text in the snippet.
Smart, because, as the SMART Goals example shows, you never know how Google will present the snippet.
9. Heading Tags Matter
Winning yourself a featured snippet will rely greatly on the properly-formatted outline you used for your post.
Specifically, your Heading-Tags, the H1-H5 metatags you use to show Google the organizational hierarchy of your content. H-Tags are essential On-Page SEO because they help Google’s crawler bots scan, index, and transform your content into snippets.
Get sloppy here, and you can forget about ever scoring a featured snippet.
H2 or H3 tags are fine, but be sure your snippet headline clearly states the query your ensuing content answers.
10. Better Content, Shorter Content
Long-tail keywords required pointed, Just the facts, Ma’am posts. The user expects it. Google builds snippets to short-cut to the answer. So you, content creator, may want to follow suit.
The Wordstream post we mentioned earlier? Just over 700 words. The Yoast.com article? 1900. Not terribly short, but not epic by any standard.
This said, a caveat–
Never forget you’re still in the business of outgunning your competitor’s content quality. Yes, there are many opportunities to out-quality even high-authority domains, but don’t think simply giving direct answers to queries is enough. You need context, examples, details that support and enrich the answer you provide.
Do that, and you’ll ramp the relevance and value of your content—in the eyes of the search engines, and your readers.
The Long-tail Keyword Effect
Experts like Neil Patel suggest making long-tail keyword phrases a part of your SEO content strategy. They should also be considered when chasing featured snippets. Here’s why–
Greater Specificity & Less Competition
Much like the questions in People Also Ask, long-tail keywords reflect a narrower query intent. A definitive plus for you, since it means a more laser-focused (and often shorter) post. They may have lower search volume, but they’ll have less competition, which creates greater opportunity for your content.
Multiple Query Impact
Because long-tail keywords have less competition, your content may appear as a featured snippet for multiple longtail keywords. That amps the visibility of your content, and drives more traffic to your site.
Greater Perceived Relevance
Successful content ALWAYS scores high on the Search Intent meter. And because long-tail keywords by nature reflect a more specific user intent, it’s easier to deliver content that’s perceived as relevant. That fosters higher engagement, and better analytic metrics.
This, from our friends at Wordstream.com–
Long-tail keywords are great for those who want their content to rank, but they’re even better from a paid search perspective. Since lower search-volume keywords bring less competition, the cost per click is inevitably lower as well.
Less Search Volume = More Page Views.
Seems counter-intuitive, right? We’ll let the folks at Wordstream explain–
The user who Googles the short-tail keyword “sofa” MAY eventually click her way to a sale. If she’s Googling “elm wood veneer day-bed”, she not only knows what she’s looking for, she’s probably prepared to buy it.
General rule– the closer the user is to buying, the longer the query will be.
Which is why short-tail keywords only account for a small percentage of page views (10-15%), while roughly 70% of them are the result of long-tailed keyword searches.
And what what comes with greater Page View Numbers? You guessed it, Higher Conversion.
Targeting long-tail keywords is smart SEO strategy. They won’t be all you write for, but articles specifically designed to target single-question and answers can be a refreshing change of pace, and vault you to the top of the SERPs.
You’ve chosen a snippet-worthy long-tail keyword, you’ve built a well-executed piece of content that should win you a featured snippet.
Your work is done, right?
Wrong. Before you publish, you’ll need to make sure Google has what it needs to guide that targeted content to the featured snippet spot.
You’ll do that with Schema markup. Let’s take a closer look at structured data before we see how it’s used–
Typically residing in the realm of Technical SEO, structured data is a standardized format for marking up your content so search engines will better understand its intent and context.
Structured data uses specific vocabulary, or Schema Markup, to identify different types of information (like ingredients, cooking time, and nutritional information for recipes) that appear in your content. Think of these schemas as labels for organizing and presenting content to Google, who will use that structured data to deliver richer search results (reviews, ratings, product info etc).
Schema markup is vital to earning featured snippets, knowledge panels or rich snippets like the one featured below.
11. Schema Markup = Snippet Insights
Schema markup is what gives Google special insights to your content so it knows HOW to use it as a snippet.
We’ll be getting to the how-to of schema markup in a future article, but for now, here’s an example of schema markup for an article on How to Make Chocolate Chip Cookies—
In this example, schema markup is used to—
- Define the content as an “Article” entity (top line)
- Define properties like headline and description using the itemprop attribute (lines 2 and 3).
Here’s another example of schema markup, this done with the intention of creating a rich snippet for Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies–
In this example, the structured data markup uses the Recipe schema to include info for recipe name, image source, author, prep and cook time, ingredients, and instructions.
12. Test Your Structured Data
Before going live with your content, you’ll want to test your markup. Using either Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool or Schema.org’s Schema Markup Validator, you can check for opportunities to improve your content as well as markup errors.
Getting structured data in place IS work, but it’s vital technical SEO for winning that featured snippet. The payoff? Better SERP rankings, and way better click-through rates.
After Publishing— Snippet Tracking
Your content is created, it’s optimized with structured data, and lo and behold, you scored a featured snippet.
So now… it’s time to analyze their performance. But how?
Here are a few steps you can take–
13. Analyze Your Click Rates
14. Monitor Changes In SERPs
Keep an eye on search results for the keywords your snippets are targeting. Negative changes in your rankings may indicate your snippet visibility is slipping.
15. Analyze Engagement Metrics
Use Google Analytics to check your metrics. Poor time on page, high bounce rate, low conversion rates mean your snippets aren’t capturing user attention like they should.
16. Test Different Approaches
Everything is changing, all the time. Your snippets’ effectiveness included.
If your metrics are lagging, it’s time to begin testing new approaches, including changes to the format and structure of your content. You may also consider re-tooling your schema markup to go after a rich snippet if your content lends itself.
17. Monitor Competitors
Watch your competitors’ featured snippets. How are they performing? Can you optimize your content to better theirs and maybe even steal their snippet space?
The business of content marketing IS analysis, and this is particularly true for featured snippets. Create, monitor, and find ways to continually optimize for maximum visibility and engagement.
Tips, Tools and Resources
Backlinko.com: Featured Snippets Have a Dark Side
A study by Ahrefs shows search results containing featured snippets result in fewer clicks than SERPs that do not. Featured snippets increase the number of no-click searches in instances where the snippet completely answers the query.
Not entirely a gamechanger, since a cross-section of studies show less than 20% of SERPs have a featured snippet (this Semrush.com report showed it was only 6.36%). Just the same, it leads us to our next tip–
Ahrefs.com: Keep It Simple. But Not Too Simple
If you’re taking on a query that can be fully-answered in the snippet— like What time does after-hours trading end? —you can expect, on average, just a 19% CTR.
Conversely, a query that addresses deeper topics—like How does the stock market work? —will do much better (82% of searches for this query resulted in a click).
Takeaway—The best keyword phrase is one where the snippet gives a basic answer to the query, and searchers will click through to learn more.
NeilPatel.com: Stay Inside Your Optimal Word Count
Searchmetrics.com: Optimize Body Content for the Snippet You’re Chasing
If it’s a list snippet you’re going after, use the query as an H2 header tag and list your bullet points in the body. Google will show a handful of bullet points, and users can click to see more—which boosts your Click-Through Rate (CTR).
For a table snippet, use the keyword phrase as an H2 header tag and create a simple table with a large number of rows. Google will probably truncate the table, which again increases CTR.
- Google Keyword Planner (free)
- Wordstream (free)
- Semrush (Various paid plans with trials)
- Ahrefs (Various paid plans with trials)
- Ubersuggest (Free and Subscription)
- Answerthepublic (Free and Subscription)
- Moz Pro (Various paid plans)
Featured Snippet? It’s Your Time
Creating content specifically for featured snippets makes perfect sense. They’ll significantly increase your visibility, drive traffic to your website, and deliver users who are already engaged.
That means better conversion.
It’s time for the next phase of your evolution as a Content and SEO strategist. So, jump into the fray.
Start with that snippet-ready long-tail keyword. Use clear H-tagged subheads, and get it out there right away. With just the detail needed, examples and visuals to illustrate, all of it marked up so there’s no doubt who the featured snippet is going to.
Do that, and we’ll see you on page 1.
Questions? Clarifications? Feel free to drop me a line. Check out our blog page for examples to model your own work on. You can shoot over to our portfolio page for inspiration too. And if you prefer to have an agency do it for you, read about our content writing and SEO services here.
In the meantime, Best of Luck. And Be Well.