Optimizing for Google Featured Snippets: A Definitive Guide

The SEO world has been asking the same question for ages: how do you get to the top of a search engine results page? There’s no magic wand that guarantees your rise to the top...

Fiona Gurtiza
Fiona Gurtiza June 13, 2019

The SEO world has been asking the same question for ages: how do you get to the top of a search engine results page?

There’s no magic wand that guarantees your rise to the top of the SERPs. Getting there takes time and practice. In a nutshell, boosting your search ranking involves building a solid strategy, implementing it effectively, and keeping up with the latest algorithm updates so you can adjust your strategy to maximize traffic.

But when featured snippets started appearing in the search engine results in January 2014, everything changed.

Google rolled out featured snippets to provide quick answers to user queries. SEO professionals were over the moon with excitement because the new feature gave low-ranking pages the chance to climb to the top of the search results with almost zero effort.

It’s been five years since the rollout and featured snippets have turned into one of the main engines of economic growth. Their impact has been so strong that marketers are relying on them to get their message out to prospective clients. As they continue to drive greater search traffic, how do you optimize your content and use featured snippets to your advantage?

What is a Featured Snippet?

Featured snippets are a special block above the organic search results that Google sometimes shows for certain queries. Since they appear on top of the search engine results pages (SERPs), they account for greater traffic than the search results below them.

Unlike Google’s traditional 200 ranking signals, they run on a separate algorithm. Since Google tweaks the algorithm regularly and changes how it identifies the best answer to queries, getting a handle on how to optimize your content for the search engine’s featured snippet can be tricky. But optimizing your content for featured snippets all boils down to understanding how they work. And that starts with a definition of what a featured snippet is.

Useful, Bite-sized Info

dictionary featured snippet

Google’s featured snippet is a brief answer to a user’s search query. They appear on the top of the SERPs, along with the page title, publication date, and URL. These snippets are Google’s attempt to make a user’s life easier by answering queries right on the search results page.

As Google gets better at understanding search intent, it wants to give an immediate answer rather than force a user to conduct additional research by clicking through a website.

Featured snippets usually show up for queries with words like who, what, when, where, which, why, how, have, does, and should. They also tend to appear for overarching topics and other higher traffic terms. And since they’re the first thing that a user sees on the SERPs, they provide a window of opportunity for some websites to edge out competitors on the top spots for important keywords.

Different Types of Snippets

So how do featured snippets work? Google selects an excerpt from a relevant page that best answers the question in a brief, concise format. They can appear in different forms, which include:


paragraph featured snippet

Paragraphs are the quintessential featured snippet everyone is familiar with. Google extracts a text from a page and answers a user’s question. A good paragraph snippet addresses the query and contains additional info that sparks the reader’s interest and entices them to click through.

Numbered Lists

numbered list featured snippet

A numbered list enumerates steps that explain how to do something. An example of this would be a recipe that shows how to cook pancakes step by step. Searchers are likely to click on the snippet to view photos or read more details.

Bulleted Lists

bulleted list featured snippet

Marketers love bulleted lists, especially when writing listicles on their blog. Listicles get the limelight for bulleted list snippets. So if you have “best of” lists, ranked items, or feature lists that are written in line with featured snippet guidelines, there’s a chance for your bulleted list getting snipped.


table featured snippet

Featured snippet tables are one of the ways Google shows off its capabilities. It doesn’t just pull info from an article then pastes it into a snippet like the way it’s formatted from its source website. Instead, Google cherry picks relevant info then recreates its own table that shows the data in an easy, digestible format.

YouTube Videos

Youtube video featured snippet

Featured snippets go beyond text. Google can show a specific clip from a video or answer a user’s question by lifting a section of a video’s description.

Two-for-One Snippets

double featured snippet Google

It’s possible for Google to grab data from more than one source. Increase your chances of getting chosen for double featured snippets by using the paragraph format and complementing your content with helpful, illustrative photos.

Voice Searches are the Future of Search Queries

voice search future of search queries

Using voice search and personal digital assistants are becoming second nature because they are integrated into everyday products like phones, TVs, and cars. Voice search allows people to search for what they need with an immediacy, convenience, and intimacy that text-only searches can’t match.

The artificial intelligence (AI) that powers voice search grows smarter and smarter with each interaction. Every search yields more info about a consumer, allowing AI to understand who a person is based on his or her behavior patterns and preferences. In turn, this makes voice searches somewhat predictive since it has the power to grasp customer intent and anticipate what a person’s upcoming needs could be.

Providing Relevant Answers Across All Formats

But how do voice searches tie up with featured snippets? The rise of personal assistants highlights the importance of adapting your marketing strategy to provide answers in all formats, from text searches to voice queries. Users change their behavior for voice searches. Usually, they’re longer than their text-only counterparts and tend to explicitly answer a question. Since these searches are different, they should yield different results, too.

Encourage Click-through with Enticing Snippets

Some marketers were apprehensive of featured snippets the first time they came out because it could cause websites to lose traffic. For instance, what if a user learns everything they need to know from the snippet and skip visiting the source site altogether?

That’s where creating enticing snippets come in. You’ll need to hook your audience and encourage them to click on your page to learn more. This way, you can drive greater traffic to your website.

Does Google Always Get the Snippet Right?

Google’s featured snippets help users quickly find the info they’re looking for by providing what they need on the description and the link when they click through. Though this approach was paved with good intentions, Google has fallen short of getting every snippet right.

An example of this would be when the search engine received criticism for snippets that reported false info like “women are evil” and a planned coup from former U.S. president Barack Obama. These cases were the result of Google’s failure to assess the authority of particular websites for rare questions. This prompted the search engine to update its Search Quality Rater Guidelines. Fringe queries aside, however, Google is a credible source. With every algorithm change, it continues to optimize snippets to reflect accurate info.

Featured Snippets Don’t Last Forever

As much as featured snippets could be your one-way ticket to brand visibility, there’s no such thing as sole ownership on the special box on the top of the SERPs. Even if you earn a featured snippet, the position could easily change depending on current keyword trends. Moreover, you could get dethroned by other websites if Google decides they provide the best answer to a query. But getting around this can be quite simple.

Turn Yourself Into a Question-answering Guru

Optimizing for google featured snippet

Featured snippets are programmed to answer questions. If your content doesn’t answer any questions, you won’t land into the featured snippet box. It’s that simple.

Here are some tips to help you earn featured snippets on Google:

1. Know the Right Questions to Answer

Since people are typing questions into Google, their search terms may include words like how to, what is, why do, how do, what did, and the like. Frame your content so that it provides relevant info that addresses these types of queries.

The best part: You won’t have to worry about your ranking position. In a 2016 study, Moz analyzed 981 snippets and discovered that about 70% of the time, Google pulls snippets from pages with an organic search position of #1 to #3. But 30% of the snippets came from much lower rankings, with positions #4 to #71 on the SERPs.

If this data teaches you anything, it’s that you need to answer questions well to get into a featured snippet.

2. Conduct Keyword Research

Once you know the why and who, you’ll need to address the how. How will you reach your readers? What do they want to know and what problems do they need to solve? Conducting keyword research can help you find out which words or phrases appear on the SERPs and learn what topics your audience is interested in.

Google’s Keyword Planner, SEMrush, WordStream, and Serpstat are all excellent places to start for keyword research. When it comes to keyword research for featured snippet optimization, take note that you’re simply adding words to the beginning of a query. For example, research “how to increase blog revenue” instead of just “blog revenue”.

After hitting enter, your keyword research tool will paint a clear picture of your competition for the organic keyword. In turn, you’ll get updated insights on what other people are searching for.

3. Answer the 5 W’s

One of the most common functions of a featured snippet is to answer one of the five W’s (who, what, when, where, why). Pay attention to the complexity of the question, though. If the question is too complicated for Google to unpack, it will forgo the featured snippet and skip straight to the results.

So keep in mind that your content should be simple enough for Google to define in a short paragraph or list, but also complex enough for a whole page to unpack. Start by typing each of the five W’s into your tool, then filling it with niche keywords. It will generate keyword suggestions to help you ideate topics that spark reader interest.

4. Create How To’s

The lion’s share of featured snippets belongs to websites that contain instructional content. These include instructions, how to’s, and other types of content that list the different steps to a process. Instructional content holds a special power because they encourage greater click-through rates and dwell time. Moreover, they provide readers with value because they teach them how to do something.

And unlike other forms of content, how to’s have a less restrictive format because they can educate users through lists, images, and videos. After all, how and why questions can have robust answers. So make sure your content informs your readers and teases them to click on the page to learn more.

5. Define Complex Terms

Users usually make voice search queries in the form of complete sentences. Mobile and desktop users, on the other hand, are more likely to type in single words and stilted phrases. And though these questions aren’t phrased like questions, they imply ones. For instance, a person searching for “SEO” is probably asking what SEO is.

If you can supply a thorough definition of complex terms on your website or blog, then you’ll have solid material that Google could include in a featured snippet. To follow up on the example from earlier, keep the content on your page as informational as possible by defining SEO and listing down tips on how to improve organic rankings.

And if you can, keep your content engaging because high engagement rates could give Google a signal that you provide useful, authoritative content. In turn, you’ll have a higher chance of getting snipped.

6. Build Comparisons

Tables or lists that compare and contrast two or more items are easy-to-snip content. Google values well-structured content that includes prices, years, and other numerical data. After all, table snippets provide better readability than text-heavy paragraphs.

Finding topics to build a comparison for can be easy, too. Explore topics like the differences between dog breeds, or choosing between an Apple and an Android device. You might also want to consider creating tables that illustrate cost breakdowns. This way, users can compare the cost and features of your goods and services with those of your competitors. Remember: any sort of info that makes the lives of your customers easier is good.

Formatting this type of content is also hassle-free. All you need to do is mark up your page using the <table> tag and include as much info as you can. If Google thinks your content is helpful enough, it’ll create its own table and present your data in an easy-to-read format.

Launch Your Website to the Top

Now that you’re familiar with the type of content that Google favors for featured snippets, you can start optimizing and structuring your content. The basic formula involves the following:

  1. Hooking your audience with a simple yet direct answer to their question.
  2. Sustaining their interest through additional info, like photos and videos.
  3. Topping it off with supporting background data, like examples or case studies.

Turn your site into a treasure trove of informational content and you’ll climb your way up to the top. For more help in building brand visibility, get in touch with us today.

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