How to optimise for Google’s featured snippets in 2021

search engine results page serp spelled out in letters

What’s a featured snippet anyway?

Featured Snippets are short pieces of text that Google pulls from a relevant website to provide a quick answer or summary for searchers. A featured snippet is the best possible Google ranking – because it comes BEFORE organic search results. It’s often called “position zero” – it appears first, and Google chooses what to put there. You can’t buy a featured snippet.

paragraph featured snippet indoor plants

What Google tells us

Google: “When we recognize that a query asks a question, we programatically detect pages that answer the user’s question, and display a top result as a featured snippet in the search results”.

(Featured snippets usually come from content that’s already ranked on page 1 for the query.)

For some searches, Google provides a quick answer or summary with a content snippet from a relevant website. These featured snippets are most likely to show up when your search is in the form of a question.

Featured snippets include:

  • Information quoted from a third-party website
  • A link to the page
  • The page title
  • The URL of the page”

Why does a featured snippet matter? Because a featured snippet gives a significant boost to your organic click through rate – even if you’re close to the top for your chosen keywords.

The data scientists behind the Semrush online marketing platform have also found that Search Engines give Featured Snippets a significant amount of screen real estate – particularly on mobile devices.

“And we found that on average on a modern phone, if you earn a featured snippet, it takes over 50% of the screen on a mobile device. So you’re getting a lot of attention, a lot of bang for your buck.”

mobile featured snippet

How do featured snippets work?

Featured snippets try to provide fast answers – so they’re a whole lot more likely to appear as answers to questions.

For example: “why did my souffle collapse?” or “what are featured snippets?” or “how do i choose a good accountant?”

Featured snippets are extracts of content that Google chooses as being a relevant answer to the search question.

A well-crafted featured snippet can bring your website more organic traffic – so it’s worth investing in quality content with the goal of solving a searcher’s problem and winning a featured snippet.

Your goal is also to demonstrate that you are an authority in the area where your ideal customers are looking for solutions. When you do, a link to your content is put right under the searcher’s nose. 

Plus there’s potentially an extra trust boost because Google has evaluated your content and decided to put you in “Position 0”. (If you saw our post on the Psychology of Influencing and Trust, you might remember that your perceived authority is a key element of trust.) 

Featured snippets are useful answers to quite specific questions. The more useful, helpful, supportive content you have on your website about the specific issues your ideal customers are trying to solve, the better.

For example, our client Vortex Basketball earned a featured snippet for their blog post ‘World’s Top 10 Most Amazing Basketball Courts’. Over the last year, this post has been one of the top performing pages organically on the website, receiving 38.6% of all website clicks. 

vortex basketball featured snippet

What content increases your snippet potential?

Think about how to address your visitor’s needs – especially helping them to understand more clearly what their needs actually are. A lot of people searching online are beginning a journey – so it can be useful to help them understand “what they don’t know they don’t know.”

Good marketing strategy today is all around “making your customer the hero” – after all they’re the one on a quest to solve a problem. Good positioning is generally about demonstrating your ability to be their guide or mentor – so THEY win.

For example, someone who wants to make the perfect French macaron probably wants to DO the baking. Otherwise they would be asking “where do I buy the best macaron?”  So think about your visitor’s goals in their terms, not your expertise.

Snippets are most typically informational. They can be paragraphs, lists, tables, or videos.

semrush featured snippet format comparison


Fundamentally, they’re responses to questions – solutions to problems that people are facing – whether it’s making the perfect French macaron, getting an investment loan or moving house without having a nervous breakdown.

So think about the questions that your ideal customer would be asking as they search online:

Why do my macarons go sticky?

How can I afford my first investment property?

How do I protect my staff from COVID?

Then build rich, helpful content around answering those questions. You’re after a click-through, so make sure there’s more to click through to. For example:

Twenty tips for perfect French macarons.

How to buy your first investment property.

Snippets are extracts from your content – so rich, helpful supportive content will encourage searchers to click through to your website to read more.

Invest the time to create a high-quality explanation. For sequential information, do a well-designed table, list or video – something that Google can use as an effective featured snippet.

But think at least as much about really helping your visitors as about “what Google wants”. At the end of the day, people do business with people. So the best content is always about helping your customer. That’s what Google wants too. However much they play around with their algorithms, they want their users to find interesting, useful and entertaining content.

Is your content detailed and well-structured?

Create a broad range of content so that you can answer more specific users queries. Remember that their needs are likely to be more complex than their initial query may indicate.

Depending on what you do and the variety of solution spaces you work in, it may be worth revisiting the way you structure the helpful content on your website – so that it’s organised around subject areas.

How do I work out what questions people are asking?

cut out paper question marks

If you’re a Mad Scientist Digital client, then your targeted keywords are the foundation of your Featured Snippet experiments. There are also a range of tools related to developing keyword lists.

The Semrush platform (whose video inspired this post) offers a number of fantastic tools to analyse keywords and find opportunities. Check out their Keyword Magic tool to find question-based keywords relating to your targeted keywords. 

Another helpful tool is Also Asked – put in a keyword and it will aggregate Google’s ‘People Also Ask’ data to give you insights into what users are searching for. 

For the purposes of building content that could become Featured Snippets, we suggest that you hunt down fully formed questions. That’s because the full question helps you best understand the search intent – what the user is TRYING to search for. 

And it’s worth going beyond the research – a 10 minute chat with your best existing customers could also be a good way to explore the questions and concerns that brought them to you – or that they’re currently exploring.

What content will help me win a featured snippet?

Semrush found these patterns on the source content of snippets:

  • 98% were on secure servers (HTTPs).
  • They are mostly longer five minute reads – at least 1100 words.
  • They’re well-structured long-form content:

    • they use subheadings for scan-readers
    • they embed questions in the content to help Google extract answers
    • they use imagery and associated alt tags
  • They use structured data like lists and tables, which works extremely well (if it’s WELL-structured). Lists are great for any ‘How-to’ content whilst tables work well for anything that is comparative such as prices, rates and data. 
  • A longer-tail search with ‘Why’ in it triggers a featured snippet 70-80% of the time. Other question keywords such as ‘Can’, ‘Do’, ‘Are’ and ‘How’ also trigger featured snippets 65-72% of the time.

why do cats knead featured snippet

Is it worth the investment?

Supportive, strategic content focused on your customers and their needs is always a good long-term SEO investment.

So even if you don’t win a featured snippet to start with, it’s still worth investing in quality, well-structured content.

What we found is almost every single time we went and applied the principles of structuring the data, refreshing the content to optimise for featured snippets, our organic traffic increased every single time.

We didn’t always get the featured snippet, but the principles that are guiding it are important, because it’s forcing you to understand the user’s search intent, and to better the user experience, to answer their queries better and more succinctly and more purposefully.

You do that, and you’re going to win long term, the algorithm should chase you, not the other way around, at that point.” – Semrush

So get out your target keyword list and start turning it into questions – and create content that answers those questions. And if you don’t have a keyword list yet, or still feel unsure about how to find snippet opportunities, let us do the work for you and get in touch with us today. 


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