Did you know there’s a feature in Google that – given the right circumstances – can make your blog content display higher than the number one ranking spot? No it’s not AdWords – this is totally free! They’re called “featured snippets”, and are totally possible with minimal website tinkering.
Anyone who has used Google in the past year or so (y’know, pretty much all of us) will have seen featured snippets from time to time – so what exactly are they?
What Are Featured Snippets?
Featured snippets (sometimes called “answer boxes”) are a recent Google feature that draws a concise and succinct answer from within a blog post or article present in the search results and displays it right at the top of the results page.
This is a good example of a featured snippet:
Recognise them? We’ve been seeing them more and more recently, and the good news is that if you create high quality content that ranks decently and is formatted in a certain way, you can totally get in on the snippet action.
Here’s another example:
Though “what is” and “how to” questions are generally most likely to elicit a featured snippet response from Google, implied questions are also good contenders:
Though a question wasn’t asked outright, a concise snippet answer was given. These snippets generally fall into three different formats:
- Text – a short paragraph
- Lists – can be bulleted or numbered
- Tables – displaying or comparing data
These snippets are generally taken from an article in the search results that Google’s algorithm feels answers the searcher’s question concisely and clearly. The higher the source page ranks in organic search can raise the snippet’s chances of appearing, but SearchEngineWatch found that snippets were being taken from pages as far back in the results as number 80 – that’s the end of page 7! So if you aren’t on page 1 for a particular term, don’t go thinking you’re out of the game!
What Are the Benefits of Using Featured Snippets?
Because they show up at the very top of the search results (which has earned then the nickname “ranking 0”) they’re understandably beneficial to your visibility online.
They also don’t require any payment to Google – if the algorithm sees your content is formatted correctly and answers the query better than any other site, it’ll appear as a featured snippet. The algorithm for this (at least at the time of writing) seems quite egalitarian; if a smaller company does a better job of featured snippet optimisation, they can get a share of the limelight without even having to reach for their wallets. If their answer to a query is the most concise and is formatted well they can easily “leapfrog” competition of any size.
As with a lot of things relating to search visibility and SEO, there’s sadly no hard and fast answer to achieving snippet-status. Additionally, though you may be featured today, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be there forever. However, there are a few things you can do to help tip the odds in your favour.
How to Appear in Featured Snippets
In order to be in with a chance of having your content show up as a featured snippet, you need to format things in a certain way. If you’re familiar with basic HTML formatting, you should find the actual retooling of any articles a walk in the park.
I would advise first using Google Search Console and Google Analytics to identify which of your posts are the most popular and what search terms people have used to find them. Once you’ve identified a few posts that are performing particularly well, or at least a few topics that could do with some sharper focus, it’s time to get formatting.
Pose A Question Your Readers Are Asking
By looking at the search terms people are using to find your content, you know what people are typing into Google. Are any of those queries posed as a full question? If not, you can always use a keyword research tool like Answer The Public to find out related search queries, or a Q&A site like Quora to see how real people are posing full questions about your niche.
Use this information to ponder how you’re going to pose the question you are looking to optimise. Are people wording things in a particular way that you hadn’t thought of? Is there a way of simplifying the question at all? Remember that the question itself doesn’t need to be the title of the article, it can simply be a HTML header tag (<h1>, <h2>, <h3>, etc.) within the text, directly above your optimised answer.
Remember the kinds of things that cause Google to respond with a featured snippet too. For example a search for “Samsung Galaxy S6” isn’t likely to come up with a featured snippet, but a search for “how do I backup my Samsung Galaxy S6” does:
Questions that are framed as “how to” or “what is” are generally a good fit for a featured snippet, though they’re by no means the only format you can use.
Format Your Answer as Appropriate
Once you’ve nailed your question down and included it as either the title of your article or within a prominent header tag, we’ll need to format the answer text properly to give your snippet the best chance in life. Let’s refer back to the three types of content that can be covered in a featured snippet: Text, Tables, or Lists.
This of course begs the question – what format would be best to answer this question? Our cake baking and Samsung queries are best addressed with numbered lists representing different steps, but the other two examples have been tackled through an explanatory paragraph. If you have a set of data for reference of comparison, maybe a table would be best. Be aware that according to SEMrush, the most common featured snippets have a word count of between 40 and 50 words, regardless of whether they’re paragraphs or lists.
If you’re going for the paragraph option, insert a paragraph or <p> tag in the HTML before you start your answer, below the appropriate header where you placed your question.
Bulleted lists must be properly coded using the <ul> and <li> HTML tags, and place directly below the header-tagged question. Check out this article on W3Schools for more info.
When you use a numbered list, you need to use the standard <ol> and <li> HTML tags, included below the header-tagged question. Head over to W3Schools for more.
Tables need to be HTML coded and display directly after the header tag – tables in HTML can be quite confusing, so I highly recommend heading over to W3Schools for this one too.#featuredsnippets are a huge way to boost your search visibility - and they’re free! Click To Tweet
Now it’s over to you – do any of your blog posts already show up as a featured snippet? Have you had an article of yours show up as a featured snippet in the past? What’s your opinion of the whole snippets business? Let’s have a natter down in the comments!