Featured Snippets: How to Get Them and Why You Need to Target Them

by Nikola Roza
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Featured snippets abound in Google’s SERPs, and like it or not, they’re here to stay.

If you can’t beat them, join them.

I.e., learn how to get featured more often than not with your content on the top of the SERPs, in the coveted position #0.

Let’s go!

What are Featured Snippets? And Why are They Important for SEO?

Featured snippets are short text snippets that appear at the top of the SERPS for a given query.

They’re pulled in verbatim from one of the ranking pages on page one, and they’re Google’s way of trying to answer the query as fast as possible (some SEO’s even suspect Google want to keep people in the SERPS so they’re exposed to more Adwords links, but that’s a topic for another day).

Here’s an example of a featured snippet.

I asked Google “when is HostGator Black Friday 2021” and it showed me my page ranking as a featured snippet, along with the hero image from my post.

Nice:)

Featured snippets are important for SEO because of 3 reasons.

First, they give you a chance to rank at the top of the SERPs when realistically you have zero chance of getting there organically with your website.

What do I mean?

Domain authority plays no role in featured snippet selection. So, your tiny eCommerce site (for example, any other website type will do) that’s ranking alongside Amazon, Walmart, eBay and other authority behemoths on page one can effectively beat them by leapfrogging them as a featured snippet.

It’s all about proper answer formatting as I’ll discuss in detail below.

Second, featured snippets are click magnets and they steal traffic from the first 3 ranked pages.

Third, because featured snippets steal so many clicks, and because they often lead to zero-click searches, they effectively make some queries a waste of time to try and rank for.

For example, let’s say you’re a fanatic about keeping our blue planet green (I tip my hat to you);

…and you want to host with GreenGeeks as they’re THE ECO HOST on the market (they have it in their name after all), and you want to learn who owns them, so you type “who owns GreenGeeks” and you see this featured snippet.

Now you know that Trey Gardner owns it and sure, you might be intrigued to click and learn more about him, but you’d definitely be a rare bird, a curious freak of nature, and most people would not bother but would go on with their busy lives.

They already got the answer then and there and that featured site had zero tangible benefits for v that searcher. 

Note: the intangible benefit is increased brand exposure, but that’s really small and impossible to measure.

Now that you know why featured snippets are important to you, it’s time to learn…

What Type of Featured Snippets Exist?

There are 4 main types of featured snippets:

They are:

  • Paragraph/definition;
  • Ordered list;
  • Unordered list;
  • Tables..

#1- Definition/Paragraph Featured Snippets

Definition featured snippets are short text snippets presented in a paragraph format that Google pulls out of a web page to present to the searcher as a definition or a definitive answer.

Google usually shows these to answer the “what is” queries and “is X” queries

For example, I asked “is Visme really free?” and Google gave me the answer right there in the SERPS.

How to Optimize for Definition Featured Snippets?

The main requirement is to have a text snippet that, when you read it, feels like it could stand alone, and that Google-bot can easily parse and scrape off your page.

As a bonus point, you can also have a subheader directly above the definition paragraph, but that is not a hard requirement.

For example, when I type “what is branding?” Google displays a snippet on Design Wizard.

And once I click through,  you can clearly see the paragraph stands on its own with logical start and finish, is 37 words long (I counted), and is very easy to read and for the machine to understand.

#2- Table Featured Snippet

Tables are super useful to users when they want to compare X, Y and Z. 

For example, type “mattress sizes” and see what you get. 

Different mattress sizes are compared directly in the SERP.

How to Optimize for Table Featured Snippets?

First, have a table in your blog posts. That is a hard requirement, as I’m sure you can imagine, no table, no table featured snippet:)

In other words, Google won’t pick and choose parts of your page it likes and make a table of their own.

Instead, they’ll scrape the existing one you already have in your blog post.

Second, use a clean table HTML code. I’m talking about using the <tr> tag.

Finally, the more tables you have, the better chance of getting picked up for multiple queries too.

For example, take a look at what the Moosend folks do with their post on the best Mailchimp alternatives

9 alternatives to Mailchimp, 9 tables comparing Mailchimp with other ESP’s, and (at least ) 9 opportunities to be shown as a featured snippet.

Note: I said “at least” 9 featured snippet opportunities.

That’s because one table can get pulled for several, or several dozen long-tail variations of the main keyword it’s targeting. 

So the opportunity pool is usually much larger than you’d expect.

#3- Ordered Lists

An ordered list snippet is a list of items presented in a specific order.

Google uses them to show rankings or a list of sequential steps.

For example, when you search for “how to make cold brew coffee”, you get a list of steps you need to follow one by one in order to go from cold water, ice and ground coffee, to delicious iced coffee, best drunk quickly lest it goes to room temperature.

This is very different from an unordered list when there are no steps and it’s just a list. Here the steps are laid out in a sequential manner and the whole point is that someone can see how to make iced coffee directly in the SERPS

How to Optimize for Ordered Featured  Snippets?

Google most often makes ordered lists out of your heading tags.

So it is crucial to make each step in your step by step guide wrapped in a heading tag (it doesn’t matter whether h2, h3 or even h4).

It also helps if you’re consistent.

What do I mean?

For example, let’s say your first step to doing X is written like this Step #1, then your next step needs to be written Step #2, and should not be written Step 2, or even just 2.

This would only confuse Google.

As an example, this page shows up when I search for “what is the best place to find kalimba tablatures online?”

Now, take a look at the image below and you’ll see Google constructed the featured snippet of the heading tags, and heading tags within the post are all uniformly written and there’s no deviation in enumerating them.

Hope that made sense:)

Pro tip:

If you’re an affiliate pulling hair follicles out of your scalp because Google is giving the answer in the SERPs, and no one’s visiting your page and clicking on your affiliate links, don’t despair as there’s a way forward.

Remember, Google has limited space to show in the SERPS and at one point they’re forced to show a “read more” link.

And it’s easy to trigger too.

Google shows up to 8 items in a single list. So they can show fewer items, but never more.

So make your list posts really meaty with 9+ items. 

Google will be forced to show a “read more” link as a way of crediting your site and the user will often be intrigued to see the whole list because remember, they want to score a deal. 

And what’s a few minutes of their time if they can get a better product for cheaper?

Quicksprout do that excellently with their hosting guide. See below how Google cut off at 8th item while they have 10 best hosts in their guide?

Very clever and I bet it’s intentional.

People shopping for hosting now have to visit that page to see the remaining 2 hosting providers, otherwise they would just visit directly the hosts mentioned in the featured snippet list.

#4- Unordered List

Unordered lists are just that. Items listed in no particular order.

And Google presents them as such in the SERPS.

You can recognize this as an unordered list because Google uses bullet points without the numbers.

I won’t write about optimizing for these because you already know how to do it.

It’s the same as with ordered snippets, except that you don’t need to enumerate your headings/steps as 1.2.3.4 or #1, #2, #3, #4.

Pro tip:

I’ve noticed Hubspot’s featured snippet play.

Whenever they have a list of steps in a blog post, before actually delving into it, they give a full bulleted list of steps in a box that suspiciously resembles a featured snippet.

That is no accident and I often see their site featured as a snippet.

Here’s an example:

Might be something worth delving into further…

7 Optimization Tactics to Score More Featured Snippets (That Work Like a Charm)

You know what featured snippets are. You know what they look like and what are the usual triggers.

Now’s the time to learn to optimize your blog posts to get picked more often.

#1- Get on Page #1 of Google

99% of all featured snippets get pulled from the first 10 results in Google.

This makes perfect sense. 

The first page is the curated, best content on the topic for any given keyword at that moment in time, so it makes sense for one of the ten to be chosen to be featured, as opposed to picking a page from the 15-th page of Google.

So if you want to have more featured snippets, you need to get more page one rankings. Easier said than done, I know.

But it’s the truth.

#2- Match the Featured Snippet Type With Your Content

When you’re on the first page and there’s a featured snippet present, stop, take a deep calming breath or two (breath from your diaphragm), take a closer look and see what kind of snippet Google prefers to show.

Is it a list? Ordered or unordered one? Is it a table? A paragraph?

When you’ve gathered that crucial intelligence, proceed to examine the winning page and find exactly the page element that is being scraped and shown as a snippet.

Finally, create something similar on your page that’s competing in the same SERPS. The closer it is to the one that’s already showing, the higher the chances you’ll get featured instead.

Note: there’s a hack that virtually guarantees you’ll overtake your competitor for the snippet spot. I keep it in the bonus section of this guide, near the end, so make sure you keep reading if you know what’s good for you:)

How about an example?

This Voila Norbert post gets pulled in for the query “steps to building a successful sales strategy”.

If I wanted to take over this snippet spot, then I’d go into the post and see how Google is constructing their featured snippet from it.

Then I’d copy what the winning page is doing, and in this case, I’d have a guide consisting of 7 subheadings designated sections explaining in detail how to build an effective sales strategy.

#3- Answer the Question

Kevin Indig’s keyword research post revolutionized my keyword research process.

In there, he says that every query is a problem and a question, even if it’s not formulated as such.

Want proof Google thinks the same?

When you Google “best link building service” you get this page as a featured snippet.

You can see that Google thinks this neutral search query is actually a question. 

And they understand that searchers probably don’t want just one best service (because they have something between their ears and who can say what’s really the best- scepticisms on the internet is real), but many so they can compare by themselves.

So they treat that query as if it is “what are the best link building services?”.

The page in question is obviously doing good, but they could probably do even better if they turned their headline into a question, while keeping the important keywords intact.

It’d probably boost CTR and would certainly make Google’s job easier.

#4- Scale Your Featured Snippet Efforts

One page that you build to target one featured snippet is actually targeting dozens of them, if not hundreds.

That’s just the way search works and you’ll almost certainly see your site pop up as featured snippets for queries you didn’t know even existed.

But why not be deliberate with it?

Why not purposefully optimize your blog posts to show up for more queries?

Yes, I”m talking about slapping a mini-FAQ section at the bottom of each post. 

These questions should be pulled from People Also Ask and Answer the Public, and are a perfect way to increase the value of your post while also naturally boosting your featured snippet reach.

Remember, FAQ’s work by having an h tag as a question, followed by a succinct answer right beneath.

They’re just perfect for featured snippet hunting.

And as a bonus, these often get pulled as voice answers because they’re the exact questions people ask.

Here’s an example of what it looks like in Content King’s Magento SEO guide.

#5- Include FAQ Schema

According to Google, they don’t factor in schema when generating featured snippets.

This includes FAQ schema.

However, I think they can still help

How?

FAQ schema is proven to boost CTR and also, even though all 10 results are eligible for a featured snippet, the lion’s share belongs to the first 5 results

So, follow the trail here carefully:

  1. By adding FAQ schema you get it displayed in the SERPS. 
  2. This leads to more clicks.
  3. Google notices and rewards you with higher rank.
  4.  The higher the SERP position, the higher the likelihood you’ll get chosen for the snippet.

Of course, this is a long term game and there are so many factors that influence ranking besides CTR, but it is something to take advantage of, especially since you WANT higher CTR regardless of whether it brings you the desired featured snippet position too.

Pro tip:

Where you put your FAQ schema does not seem to matter. If it’s relevant and helpful to users Google will show it in the SERP.

So my advice is to put it towards the bottom of the page as a bonus section.

This post on WordPress browser caching even has its FAQ section below the post’s conclusion.

That’s a unique placement I haven’t seen before, but as I mentioned, it doesn’t interfere with Google showing the FAQ’s in the SERPs for relevant queries.

#6- Target the Featured Snippet Image

Take a look at this image below. What you see is a page being featured for the query “best Zendesk alternatives”.

It’s a buyer’s keyword so hooray for them:)

Also, notice how a part of the snippet is an image taken directly from the blog post in question.

It’s a double whammy for them, but the thing is, it doesn’t have to be.

Google can, and will show a different image from a different page if they deem it more relevant.

And while getting the text portion of a featured snippet is far more valuable, getting an image is the second-best win.

How?

It’s all about superb image optimization, and already ranking at the top of Google Images for the given query.

Image SEO is too large a topic to do it justice here, but here’s a guide that can help you.

#7- Add a Table of Contents With Anchor Links

Tables of content are a UX feature above anything else. They help the user easily skip sections of the page to get to the stuff they want to read.

They also help with getting featured snippets. 

This is anecdotal stuff and I have no proof, but I’ve noticed that my posts that have a table of content get shown as featured snippets more often than the posts which don’t have them.

My theory is that it’s because content tables are clickable links that lead to heading tags across the post, and these reinforce to Google the structure of your post and that it is eligible for a featured snippet.

When adding content tables, you can do what Brian Dean does and manually create them with the help of jump links.

For example, in this post.

You can also use a free WordPress plugin called Easy Table of Contents by Steven Zahm.

Here’s what it looks like in action on this post:

Both methods work and can help you scoop up more featured snippets.

Bonus- Steal Your Competitor’s Featured Snippets (Literally)

A while back I listened to this podcast episode hosted by Charles Float and the guest was Kyle Roof.

Kyle said something intriguing there in regards to featured snippets.

He said that you can 100% copy the content showing in the snippet (from your competitor) and that you will replace them provided your on-page SEO is stronger.

So I tested it.

And it worked.

Take a look at the featured snippet for the query “Link Whisper promo code 2021”

The text you see featured there was actually taken almost 100% verbatim from a competing page.

In fact, the only thing I changed was the coupon code as I obviously didn’t want people using theirs:)

And it worked!

It’s worth trying if you’re out of ideas on how to steal the snippet.

Bonus #2- How to Get People to Click More

Google has one public goal with featured snippets. To give searchers the answers as fast as possible so they don’t have to hunt them down inside the actual web pages. 

They probably have a hidden goal as well, which is to keep users longer on Google SERPs, which is their property where they serve them ads and often other Google-owned properties.

We as webmasters can and need to combat this.

How?

By purposefully designing our text that even if it gets pulled inside the snippet it only gives half the answer they need,

Definition snippets and table snippets are barred from this strategy because Google won’t pull your definition unless it’s already complete, and tables get scrapped automatically in their complete HTML form and there’s nothing you can do about it.

But with both ordered and unordered lists, things are vastly different.

Namely, Google tends to show up to 8 bullet points before giving the “read more” link.

So the solution here is to give tutorials that are pretty elaborate and have many steps. Or to give meaty posts where even if Google crafts featured snippets from the heading tags, there are so many of them they still can’t show them all.

For example when I Google “best web hosting free trial 2021” with the implied question being “what is the best web hosting free trial 2021” 

Google shows me this:

8 entries, but there are 10 hosts this blogger deems the best and the reader would be intrigued to click through as they’d feel they could be missing out.

As for the opposite case, when you search for “how to brew coffee in a pot” there are only 3 steps and Google readily shows them right then and there.

Unless one is a stickler for image instructions, I feel one could brew their first pot of coffee right then and there just by following the instructions Google scraped from that website.

Bonus #3- How to Create Featured Snippet Opportunities?

Sometimes, Google doesn’t want to show featured snippets no matter what you do. After all, only 11.84% of all queries have them, so most don’t.

But oftentimes, Google is willing to show a snippet but has nothing to work with as the ranking results are not featured-snippet friendly.

In such scenarios, all you need to do is format your text better to match what Google wants to see and you will often win.

To guess what Google wants, you can take hints from other snippets in the similar SERPs.

For example, you saw how Google gave a snippet to my HostGator Black Friday guide?

Now, when I click on that link I can see that Google pulled the snippet from this part of my page

If I wanted to repeat that result oin another page, (and I do want it) I’d need to add a similar heading, text and formatting to it.

It isn’t that hard and there’s a good chance it’ll work.

And the payoff would be awesome.

In fact, that page is due for some serious updating, and besides the standard on-page SEO shenanigans, I’ll make my update featured snippet focused and we’ll see how it goes.

Conclusion

Getting featured as a snippet is no more a thing of randomness and chance for you. Instead, it can be a deliberate and quite frankly, clever way of promoting your blog posts.

I say it’s clever because it implies it’s deliberate on your part, and deliberate action is what will set you apart from 99% of your competitors.

Because guess what, 99% of the featured snippets you see in the wild are accidental and happening without rhyme and reason for the webmaster.

Google gave them a featured snippet and it’s great that it happened, but they weren’t targeting that golden opportunity.

It wasn’t awesome content marketing.

This also means 99% of all featured snippet opportunities are ripe for the taking with a solid, structured approach to featured snippet takeover.

And now you know how:)

Leave me a comment below, tell me how much you love my guide.

Thanks!

Nikola Roza blogs about combining affiliate marketing and SEO to achieve online success. If you want to be a successful digital marketer, pay his website a visit. You won’t regret it.

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