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Possibly one of SEO’s best kept secrets, winning featured snippets in Google is a surprisingly easy way to leapfrog your competition, increase click-throughs and get more organic traffic! Here’s how to optimize your blog posts to win Google featured snippets…
If I told you there was a surprisingly easy way to leapfrog your competition and jump right to the top of Google’s search results, you’d bite my hand off for it, right?
Well, there is…
It’s called snippet optimization.
What is snippet optimization?
Snippet optimization is the practice of optimizing a post or page so that it ranks as Google’s featured snippet (otherwise known as ‘position zero’) for a specific search term.
The awesome thing about snippet optimization is that, done right, it can help you totally leapfrog all your competition and get the top slot in search results, even for fairly competitive search terms that your blog wouldn’t normally stand a chance of getting the top slot for.
The weird thing about snippet optimization is not may people are doing it. Which is crazy given it’s incredible potential!
In this post, I am going to share my tips for winning that featured snippet in Google.
But first, let’s start right at the beginning… what exactly is a featured snippet?
What is a featured snippet?
A featured snippet is the highlighted search result which usually appears right at the top of Google’s search results page for a specific query.
Featured snippets are often (though not always) provided in response to a question and aim to give searchers the answer to their query at a glance.
The content that appears inside of a Featured Snippet is automatically pulled from web pages in Google’s index.
Here’s an example of what featured snippets look like…
Featured snippets should not be confused with answer boxes. Featured snippets always contain a link back to the original content, whereas answer boxes do not.
Answer boxes are typically used for questions where there is one definitive answer – for example, ‘How many days are there in October?’
Different types of featured snippet
There are many different types of featured snippet, but the 3 main ones are:
This is where Google shows a one paragraph answer. For example:
This is where Google shows a list in response to a searcher’s query. Lists can be bulleted or numbered. For example:
This is where Google shows a table in response to the searcher’s query.
Which types of search queries get featured snippets?
Featured snippets tend to be shown for search queries which ask a question. However, this is not always the case.
Here’s an example of one of my featured snippets. ‘Beginner’s guide to Pinterest for bloggers’ is not a question, but it still gets a featured snippet!
Benefits of featured snippets
The first and most obvious benefit to having your content appear in a featured snippet is that featured snippets are HUGE and usually right at the top of the search results, above the fold.
Appearing right at the top of the search results obviously has a big impact on click-throughs and consequently traffic. In fact, according to Search Engine Land, a featured snippet gets approximately 8.5% of all clicks.
But being in position zero also has other benefits.
For starters, it increases your ‘brand recognition’ which in turn will increase your ‘know, like and trust’ factor. Think about it – if your target audience keeps seeing you at the top of search results, they are going to start recognising you and considering you an authority on the topic you blog about.
The featured snippet is also the search result that usually gets read out in voice searches, which again increases brand recognition and trust in your blog.
But perhaps the greatest benefit of featured snippets is the ability to leapfrog your competition – even in quite competitive searches. According to Getstat, 70% of featured snippets are pulled from results outside of the top-ranking organic position.
In my own experience, optimizing for featured snippets has helped me beat much bigger more authoritative blogs and get right to the top of the first page of Google for search queries that I probably otherwise wouldn’t have a chance of ranking on the first page for!
In fact, it seems that winning the featured snippet is much less about the traditional SEO ranking factors, like backlinks and authority (although they do count – see below) and much more about having the right type of content, presented in the right way.
In other words, you can get more featured snippets simply by specifically optimizing your blog posts to win snippets. And that is what ‘snippet optimization’ is all about.
Here’s how to do it…
How to optimize your blog posts to win Google featured snippets
The bad news is there is no magic button or special markup which will make sure your blog posts always win the featured snippet. The good news is, there are lots of simple ways to give each and every one of your blog posts the best chance of getting at least one (if not many) featured sippets. The even better news is not many people are actually doing this, so there’s still a lot of potential!
1. Do proper keyword research
There is absolutely no point in getting a featured snippet on a search term no one searches for! Your first step in oprimizing your blog posts for Google featured snippets must, therefore, be to conduct proper keyword research.
A little unsure how to do keyword research? Head over to this post >>> How to actually DO keyword research: a step by step guide or sign up for my free video training!
2. Focus on long-tail keywords
Long-tail keywords are simply longer keyword phrases. Long tail keywords typically have 4+ words and have lower search volumes, but also less competition.
Multiple studies have found that the vast majority of featured snippets show up when people search for long-tail keywords. In fact, the more words that are typed into a search box, the higher the likelihood that there will be a featured snippet for that search query.
3. Answer questions
Featured snippets are often (though not always) found in response to questions. So one of the best ways to win more featured snippets is to answer questions!
Try to get inside your audience’s head and think about the questions they may be typing into Google.
You can either write a single blog post in response to that question, or you can include that question in a longer blog post on that topic.
For example, I might identify through careful keyword research that ‘Should you use plain flour or bread flour in soda bread’ is a question I want to target for a featured snippet. I could write a whole post on this topic, but given this is such a niche question, to me it would make far more sense to add this question to an existing soda bread recipe post. (Which is exactly what I did – you can see this in action here >> Easy White Soda Bread)
Questions are also, by nature, long tail keywords!
4. Use Google to help you
If you are struggling to think of good questions, use Google to help you. Type your main topic (for example ‘soda bread’) into Google and scroll down to the ‘People also ask’ section. Start clicking on the questions there and more questions will appear.
The great thing about these questions is you can more-or-less guarantee that they have good search volumes (because Google shows questions here that lots of people search for).
Another useful source of question inspiration is Answer The Public, but remember for these suggestions, there is no such guarantee that they will have good search volumes on Google. Some of these may have very low search volumes, so you will need to conduct proper keyword research to ascertain which ones are worth pursuing.
5. Write a better answer
Once you have a search term you would like to target, your next job is to write the type of answer that Google is likely to pick.
Your first step is to google the search term you want to target and see if there is already a featured snippet.
If there is already a featured snippet, you will need to write a better answer than the one that is currently there.
(If not, your task is a little easier!)
6. Answer the question early and concisely
If you are targeting a ‘paragraph’ snippet you should answer the question CONCISELY and in ONE PARAGRAPH.
If you look at a selection of featured snippets in Google, you will see that they are nearly always short: 1-2 sentences and 40-50 words. This is what you should aim for!
You should also aim to put your answer paragraph as early as possible in your blog post, ideally in the introduction. (Although use your common sense here, it doesn’t always make sense to put your answer in the introduction.)
Ask the target question right above the answer paragraph and bold the answer so it stands out. This will not only help you win the featured snippet, but it will also improve that blog post’s UX (User eXperience – an important component of Search Engine Optimization).
You can see an example of this in this post >>> How much does it REALLY cost to start a blog?
And here’s the snippet I won as a result…
7. Be factual
This is super important – and a big area where bloggers often go wrong with featured snippets. Google does not usually present opinions in featured snippets, Google likes to present facts here. So avoid language like ‘I think’, ‘I consider’, ‘In my opinion’ etc. in your answer paragraph.
8. Structure your blog post well
Google loves well structured posts! So make sure you use your H tags correctly…
- H1 should only be for the title of your post
- H2 is for the main subheadings
- H3 is for the sub-subheadings
(You can see this in action in this blog post – my H2 headings are in blue and my H3 headings are in pink.)
Structuring your blog posts correctly is good for SEO full stop. But it is especially important if you are trying to win featured snippets!
It can help you win more paragraph snippets AND more list snippets
9. Use questions in your headings
To win more paragraph snippets, use the type of questions your audience are likely to type into Google, right in your H2 and H3 headings.
Simply put the question as your H2 or H3 heading and then answer the question in one paragraph immediately below.
(If you want to add more detail to your answer, you can always add more paragraphs below the first one for the benefit of your blog post readers, but bear in mind that the initial question should have a complete answer in the first paragraph, as this is what will be pulled for the featured snippet.)
10. Use lists
Google loves lists! And correctly using H tags will also help you win numbered and bulleted list snippets.
To win numbered lists, make sure you use numbers in your H tags (either 1. 2. 3. or Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 etc.) You can see a good example of this in this post: I have placed my target question ‘How to optimize your blog posts to win Google featured snippets‘ both in the H1 title and the relevant H2 subheading. Then, under that subheading, I have used numbers in all my H3 sub-subheadings.
Another good example would be in my Beginner’s guide to Pinterest for bloggers where I have put Step 1, Step 2 etc. in my H2 headings. Here’s the snippet I won for that post…
You typically get bulleted list snippets when your H tags don’t include numbers – but sometimes, even when you do include numbers, Google chooses to show a bulleted list. A good example of this would be my 20 reasons why you should start a blog in 2020 post. I included numbers in my headings, but Google showed it like this…
11. Use tables
Another great way to win featured snippets is to include a table. Depending on your niche, this can be hard to do. But if you can possibly think of a way of presenting some of the information in your blog post in a table format, then do it!
Few people think to include tables in blog posts, so table snippets are often surprisingly easy to win.
Do take care, though, that the information you present in the table is an answer to a question people in your target audience are likely to type into Google. Put that question in a H2 or H3 heading immediately above the table to help Google understand which search query your table answers.
Adding a table to your blog post is now much easier with the ‘Table’ option in Gutenberg.
Not yet using Gutenberg? Check out my guide >>> How to write your first post in Gutenberg.
12. Include images with good alt descriptions
Paragraph and list snippets often include images pulled directly from your blog posts. When a featured snippet includes images, it obviously stands out better and looks more visually attractive, so is likely to result in more click-throughs.
To ensure Google shows your images – and shows the right images, make sure you choose good images to illustrate your blog posts and complete the alt descriptions with something that will really help Google know exactly what that image is of.
13. Answer more than one question
Do not limit yourself to only answering one question per blog posts! One blog post can earn multiple featured snippets if it answers more than one question.
In fact, in their study on featured snippets, Ahrefs found that once a page wins one featured snippet, it’s more likely to get featured in lots of similar queries.
This means you should always try to ask and answer multiple questions in each blog post!
Answering lots of questions in one blog post will also naturally make your post longer (good for SEO) and be more helpful to your readers (good for UX).
READ MORE >>> How to optimize for Google Passage Ranking
14. Give searchers a reason to click through
One of the problems with featured snippets is their whole raison d’être!
Google uses featured snippets because it wants to give the answer to a question right in the Google search results page. This means, if you are not careful, you can get FEWER click-throughs from featured snippets, because searchers are getting all the information they need right inside of Google.
Obviously, you DON’T want this to happen!
To get round this problem, you always need to give searchers a reason to click through. There are a number of ways to do this…
The first is to use a compelling title for your blog post. This naturally causes searchers in Google to want to click through because they realise there is some added value in doing so.
The second is to ensure that when you are targeting a list snippet you always make it a long list! Google seems to only show the first 7 or 8 items in a list snippet, so if you always have at least 9 items in your list, Google will show a MORE ITEMS link that searchers have to click on to get the rest. Like this…
(When the searcher clicks on ‘More Items’ they get taken to your website for the full list!)
And the third way is simply to make your content so valuable that the searcher naturally wants to click the link for more information. For example, in my Beginner’s guide to Pinterest for bloggers post, the headings themselves clearly do not tell the whole story. To find out HOW to do each step, the reader must click on the link to my blog post for the full tutorial.
15. Make sure you do the rest of your SEO right – on your post
Of course, it is important to point out that you are unlikely to win any Google featured snippets for a blog post unless you have also ensured the whole blog post is fully optimized for search engines.
If you are a little unsure about this, check out this post >>> How to fully optimize an individual blog post for search engines
And also this post >>> How to write the perfect blog post (for search engines and your readers)
16. Make sure you do the rest of your SEO right – on your blog
Likewise, you can follow all the tips in this guide to snippet optimization AND fully optimize your blog post, but you are very unlikely to win any featured snippets unless you have also ensured your whole blog is following SEO best practice.
To find out more about what all the other aspects of SEO are and what to do about them, check out this post >>> SEO for Bloggers
Or why not take my FREE DIY SEO AUDIT to find out exactly what you need to fix on YOUR website?
Over to you…
I would love to hear from you! Have you done any snippet optimization on your blog? And have you won any Google featured snippets as a result?
Or is this whole topic new to you? In which case, which of my tips are you going to apply first?
Let me know in the comments below!
- A beginner’s guide to SEO for bloggers
- How to optimise an individual blog post
- How to write the perfect blog post (for search engines AND your readers)
- FREE DIY SEO AUDIT
- FREE KEYWORD RESEARCH TRAINING