Featured snippets: What are they and how to win them

Since its introduction in 2014, featured snippets have taken the industry by storm. They play a crucial role in Google’s search engine result page (SERP) and thus greatly impact a website’s SEO.

Having an article in the featured snippet space can boost your overall rankings, improve Click-Through-Rate, and increase brand exposure and credibility, hence why there’s always a fierce race to earn that spot.

Understanding the importance of featured snippets is one thing, but knowing how to win them is a different beast entirely. After all, you’re competing with every other website in your niche.

To help you outperform your competitors, this article will explain what featured snippets are, the types of featured snippets you’ll encounter, why they’re so important for SEO, and how to win them.

A featured snippet is a snippet of text, sometimes with an accompanying image or table, that appears at the top of a search results page, accurately answering the search query shortly and concisely. This information is pulled from a web page that Google deems to answer the query best.

Featured snippets are now the primary way in which Google tries to display the answer to a query.

Since they appear before the first ranking search result, they are described as ‘rank 0’ and are highly sought after. It can significantly improve a website’s SEO and traffic, which is why there’s often a race to win featured snippets for a particular search query.

Depending on your search query, search engines will typically show one of four featured snippet types:

  • Paragraph snippets
  • Bullet point, numbered, list snippets
  • Table snippets
  • Video snippets

Using its advanced algorithm, Google’s search results page will automatically determine which featured snippet types are the most relevant for your search. But what is the difference between them? Let’s take a look.

1. Paragraph snippet

As the name suggests, the paragraph snippet is a paragraph of text that typically answers the five W’s – Who, What, Where, When, and Why questions. Since these are often the most Google’d search queries, most featured snippets tend to be in paragraph format.

Paragraph featured snippets are anywhere between 40 and 60 words long and answer search queries in a short and succinct manner, giving the reader the exact information they want without the fluff.

For instance, if you Google “When was the London Eye built?”, you are first shown the exact date it was officially opened. Alongside the date, you are presented with a short paragraph of 55 words which explains when construction began, the date it was opened ceremonially, and the date it was opened to the general public.

This is a great example of how Google uses paragraph snippets to provide readers with enough information to answer their queries without showing them a massive wall of text.

2. Bullet point, numbered, and list snippet

Bullet points, numbered, and list snippets present the reader with even more concise information than paragraph snippets. They can be ordered or unordered and do not describe each point.

For example, suppose you search “how to lose weight” on Google.

The featured snippet is a list taken from an NHS article. It lists 12 tips you can do to lose weight in bullet form, such as

  • Do not skip breakfast
  • Eat regular meals
  • Get more active

However, what you aren’t shown is a description of each point. In order to see that, you must click on the link and view the entire article.

3. Table snippet

Compared to a paragraph or bullet point snippet, the table featured snippet takes a more visual approach. As you might guess, table snippets present information in a table.

Table snippets are common for search queries that show numerical data, such as prices, earnings, and years, or for search queries that compare data.

For instance, suppose you search “What are the pros and cons of solar energy?”. The featured snippet is taken from an article written by Greenmatch, and is presented in a table, with one column outlining the pros and the second column outlining the cons.

Another example is if you search “Employment rate by European country”. Taken from a Wikipediaa article, you are shown a table that compares each European country’s employment rate.

This format of table snippets is a little less common than the others, mainly because most content on the web is in text format.

4. Video snippet

Occasionally, your search result query will display a video featured snippet. This is where Google shows a video that matches your search query. Video snippets are most common with ‘How to’ searches.

Often the video snippets are clipped to the most relevant part of your query, so you don’t have to start from the beginning of the video.

For instance, if you search “How to tie your shoelaces”, you are presented with a YouTube video snippet starting at the exact point where you are shown how to tie your laces, excluding the introduction.

Featured snippets are crucial for SEO since they are the first thing shown on a search results page.

Often, searchers only read the featured snippet. If they want further information, they will click on the link instead of going to the search results. Therefore, obtaining a featured snippet results in a few key benefits:

  • Boosts your search result rankings
  • Improves Click-Through-Rate (CTR)
  • Increases brand exposure
  • Improves brand credibility and trust
  • Source of voice search answers

1. Boosts your search result rankings

Since featured snippets are ranked ‘0’, you automatically bypass a search engine’s 1-10 ranking algorithm. This means you can effectively shortcut your way to a top-ranking position on a results page without having to compete with your competition. In effect, you’re working smarter, not harder, to achieve the desired result.

2. Improves Click-Through-Rate (CTR)

Featured snippets provide a short, concise, and basic answer for the search query. Still, if readers want more information, they typically click on the website link to read the entire web page.

This is known as the Click-Through-Rate – the percentage of users who click through on a link – and obtaining a featured snippet can increase your organic CTR since there’s a greater likelihood of a user clicking on the first link displayed to them. As such, you are effectively ‘stealing’ the CTR from the first-ranked search result.

However, it should be noted that this isn’t always the case – it depends entirely on the search query. For instance, a featured snippet for the search “when is Boxing Day” may not increase CTR since the user is typically only looking for the date.

On the other hand, a featured snippet for the search query “why is it called Boxing Day?” may increase CTR as the user may be searching for an in-depth explanation on the topic.

3. Increases brand exposure

Since featured snippets are the first thing shown on a search result page, it significantly improves your brand exposure. This is particularly the case for mobile searches, where a featured snippet can often take up the entire screen.

Suppose your featured snippet is the only thing the user sees. In that case, you will have significantly increased your brand’s exposure and awareness compared to your competitors. Therefore, featured snippets can be seen as a form of marketing to promote your brand to the masses.

4. Improves brand credibility and trust

Featured snippets also have the benefit of improving your brand’s credibility. If Google deems your content valuable and worthy of being a featured snippet, readers will think the same. They will also assume that you are an expert on the topic, which will begin to foster trust.

Combined with the increased brand exposure, over time, you may find that search engine users click on your links rather than your competitors – regardless if you are ranked first for a keyword or not – as they are already familiar with your brand and trust your content.

5. Source of voice search answers

With the ever-increasing adoption of voice assistants such as Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant, featured snippets can help build your brand authority in a field.

There are six main ways to optimise your content for featured snippets:

  • Evaluate featured snippet opportunities
  • Target long-tail keywords
  • Improve your SEO and ranking capability
  • Focus on easy opportunities first
  • Structure your content using the inverted pyramid technique
  • Format your content appropriately with headings

Google’s featured snippet algorithm is constantly evolving. That’s why it's not uncommon to see featured snippets change over time. However, these tips will ensure you give yourself the best chance to achieve position 0. Let’s explore these tips in more detail.

1. Evaluate featured snippet opportunities

It’s all well and good trying to win a featured snippet, but your efforts will be in vain if there isn’t a featured snippet shown for that search query. Therefore, the first thing you want to do is determine whether there’s a featured snippet opportunity or not.

Once you’ve confirmed that Google is displaying a featured snippet, the next step involves examining the type of featured snippet. Is it a paragraph snippet, a list snippet, or a table snippet?

This gives you insight into what Google wants to show and, thus, how you should optimise your content. For example, suppose it’s a paragraph snippet. In that case, you’ll want to include a paragraph that answers the search query within 40 to 60 words.

2. Target long-tail keywords

One of the major ways to earn featured snippets is to use long tail keywords. Google searches with long tail keywords are much more specific and can increase your chances of acquiring a featured snippet. In fact, a study performed by Ahrefs found that the bulk of featured snippets are displayed for long-tail keyword searches.

For example, suppose you have a traditional search query such as “make banana bread”. A long-tail keyword version of this search query would be “how to make banana bread at home”. This second version is much more likely to trigger featured snippets than the traditional search.

An easy method to find featured snippet keywords is to examine the ‘People also ask’ box that Google shows in its search results. Here you can find long-tail keyword questions that users are searching for, which presents featured snippet opportunities that you can target.

People Also Ask results for the search query "How to ride a bike"

Alternatively, you can conduct traditional keyword research to find search queries to focus your efforts on.

3. Improve your SEO and ranking capability

Although featured snippets improve your website’s SEO and ranking capabilities, it works both ways. Therefore, improving your rankings will also increase the likelihood of obtaining a featured snippet.

This is because featured snippets are taken from the first page of search results, meaning your website must be ranked anywhere from 1-10 for a search query in order to earn a featured snippet. As such, when it comes to featured snippets, you must take a holistic view of SEO.

There are many ways to do this. For instance, you can improve your content marketing strategy, optimise your website’s page speed and make it mobile-friendly, and focus on off-page SEO factors such as increasing your number of backlinks. If it improves your website’s overall SEO performance and ability to rank, you will increase your chances of earning featured snippets.

4. Focus on easy opportunities first

Following on from the previous point, you can easily obtain featured snippets by optimising the content you’re already ranking for. You can find which web pages these are by using tools such as Semrush, Moz, or Google Search Console.

From there, all you have to do is restructure your content, making it more likely for Google to deem it featured snippet-worthy. We explain exactly how to do this below.

5. Structure your content using the inverted pyramid technique

As a general rule of thumb, your content should be structured using the ‘Inverted pyramid’ technique. This is where you aim to answer the question immediately with the most important information. In subsequent paragraphs, you can provide further (and less important) information, such as details that support your answer.

This method of structuring content is widely used in journalism, but it also has benefits for winning featured snippets. It ensures that the most important part of the answer is situated directly beneath your question heading, thus increasing the likelihood of Google using your answer as the featured snippet for that specific – or closely related – question.

6. Format your content appropriately with headings

An often overlooked aspect of earning Google featured snippets is the format in which your content is displayed. An easy way to optimise for this is by using headings and sub-headings.

Headings allow you to separate your content into sections. They not only make it easier for the reader to navigate through your content, but it also makes it easier for Google to crawl your web page to determine what can be used for a featured snippet.

For instance, suppose you are writing a blog post. You can create headings with questions (as we have done in this article) and use the inverted pyramid technique mentioned above to answer them concisely.

If your content includes numbered or bullet-pointed lists, you can create a list under your main heading, which can earn a featured snippet. Then, you can utilise sub-headings to expand on each point. This ensures that you optimise your content for featured snippets without sacrificing the information and value provided to the reader.