September 26, 2018 By
This resource center is your one-stop hub for everything you need to know about Featured Snippets in search. You’ll learn here how to get Featured Snippets for your content, common myths about how Featured Snippets are earned, and why Featured Snippets can come and go.
We’ve also included the latest 2018 data from our ongoing study of how Featured Snippets in Google Search change over time. These studies have been cited by numerous major publications, including The Washington Post, Entrepreneur, Moz, Think with Google, The Next Web, and The Verge.
- How to Get a Featured Snippet in 8 Steps
- Myths About Earning Featured Snippets
- The Iteration Principle of Featured Snippets
- Google’s Dynamic Testing of Featured Snippets
- The Latest Data on Google’s Featured Snippets
How to Get a Featured Snippet in 8 Steps
Let’s start with a short summary of the major steps:
- Identify commonly asked user questions related to your business
- Qualify the popularity of the questions, and filter out ones that are infrequently asked
- If you intend to modify a current page on your site, pick ones that already rank in the top ten for the given query
- If you intend to create a new page, create a page that has a strong chance of ranking in the top ten for the given query
- Develop a list of related queries users have that are related to each selected question
- Create content that directly answers the question
- Expand that content to address all the closely related questions users have on that topic (make your content comprehensive)
- Place the information that you want to have shown in a featured snippet on your page in a manner that makes it easy for users, and Google, to find
Now let’s expand upon each of these steps in a bit more detail!
1. Identify commonly asked user questions related to your business
There are many ways to approach this. One of the best is to speak directly with your customers. Or talk with your sales or product marketing people and see what questions they are frequently asked. There are other tools available to help, too. For example, consider looking at the Google Autocomplete for a given query, as shown here:
Google has more sources of data than the autocomplete box. You can also look at what shows up in the “People Also Ask” part for those, if there is one for your query:
To expand the number of People Also Ask results shown by Google, click on a few of them, and Google adds more, so this provides you a way to get more examples. Last, but not least, use Answer the Public to see commonly asked question variants on any topic.
By the way, Answer the Public is also an invaluable tool for all kinds of content-related research.
2. Qualify the popularity of the questions, and filter out ones that are infrequently asked
For this task, there are two basic methods that I recommend:
- Use your favorite keyword research tool. SEMRush, Moz, Searchmetrics, Brightedge, and of course, Keyword Planner are all great examples of tools that you can use.
- Go back to your data on conversations with customers. This is an awesome and often under-utilized source of market intelligence.
3. If you intend to modify a current page on your site, pick ones that already rank in the top ten for the given query
This is an important step, as Google does rely on the traditional core algos to identify the pages that are eligible for earning featured snippets. It’s not that you shouldn’t improve content on other pages, but those will be dependent on getting the page in the top 10 (and preferably relatively high in the top 10) before a featured snippet is a possibility. It’s best to focus on those pages where featured snippet pay dirt is more likely to follow.
Getting the ranking data is fairly straightforward. Take those popular queries and type them into Google and check their rankings if you have to. You can also use any of the above tools (except Keyword Planner) to check rankings data in a more automated way.
4. If you intend to create a new page, create a page that has a strong chance of ranking in the top ten for the given query
If you don’t have any page at all that addresses the target query, you can still consider creating content that you think is worthy of a featured snippet. This is something we’ve helped many clients with, and it can be an effective approach.
You can still do research that helps you assess your chances of success. Use your favorite Enterprise SEO tool, such as SEM Rush, Searchmetrics, Brightedge, Conductor, or SEO Clarity to see what keywords you currently rank for. Do you rank for any related keywords to the target query?
For example, if you want to earn a featured snippet for the phrase “how to buy blue widgets”, are there any queries that include the phrase “blue widgets” in it that you rank for? (i.e. phrases like “blue widgets for sale” or “best blue widgets”, or any other phrases that include your target?)
If you’re ranking for many of these related terms, then your chances of ranking with a brand-new page for “how to buy blue widgets” are significantly better. If you don’t rank for any related terms, it may be a sign that Google doesn’t see you as relevant to the topic at all, and you might want to put your energy elsewhere.
5. Develop a list of related queries users have that are related to each selected question
Our data shows that Google is far more likely to pick a page for a featured snippet that treats the topic matter in a comprehensive way. For example, if your phrase is “how to build a chatbot”, there are many other related questions that the user may have. You can see some examples in this screen shot of Google Autocomplete:
Further research is likely to reveal that people are interested in chatbot building tools and examples of successful chatbots. As you develop content to seek a featured snippet for this query, make sure to answer all those other questions too, as it makes your page much better for users who are asking the “how to build a chatbot” query.
As I outlined above, you can check Google Autocomplete, People Also Ask results, Answer the Public, and other sources that provide this kind of information.
6. Create content that directly answers the question
Now that you’ve conducted all this research, it’s time to create your content! Answer the core question thoroughly. Extra points for organizing it in a simple bulleted list, or a single paragraph, or a single table to address the answer.
7. Expand that content to address all the closely related questions users have on that topic (make your content comprehensive)
Now for the reason we did that supplemental research in step five. Add to your content answers all the closely related questions that users ask. The first and most important reason for this is simply that it will make your content better for users. In turn, it will also increase your chances of earning that coveted featured snippet.
8. Place the information that you want shown in a featured snippet on your page in a manner that makes it easy for users, and Google, to find
I’ve seen many examples where Google parses complicated docs and extracts all the section headers to construct their own summary featured snippet. I bet that they’ll continue to invest in such technology. Their hunger for information is boundless.
That said, making information easier to find and extract is always a good thing. It makes it easier for users to find and understand, and it makes it more likely that Google can find it too. Keep it all in one simple bulleted list, paragraph, or table to increase your chances of success.
Myths About Earning Featured Snippets
Schema: I can’t recall how many people I’ve seen claim that implementing Schema is critical to earning a featured snippet. Based on the 366,964 featured snippets we found in our 2018 featured snippet study, there is no evidence at all to suggest that Schema helps you get a featured snippet. None.
Paragraphs vs. Bullets vs. Tables: Many out there will claim that there is a preferred format for content that can get a featured snippet as well. The problem with these claims is that they’re based on subjective information or on aggregated data across thousands of featured snippets.
The truth of the matter is that for some queries, Google prefers bulleted lists. For others, they prefer paragraphs of text. For yet other queries, tables are actually preferred.
The ideal format depends on the context. In other words, does the nature of the query suggest that a bulleted list is the best fit for users? If yes, then do that. Or would a table be more valuable to the user? If so, do that.
Here is a chart that shows the coding techniques across a broad array of markets, as well as for one very specific market:
Notice that the paragraph format is the most common format for featured snippets in general. But for a specific market where tables and bulleted lists are the dominant formats, how will you know what’s best for you? Simple: do the research in your specific market to figure that out.
Don’t rely on general market data only to find out that the format that works best for users in your market is something else. In absence of research, the right format to use is the one that does the best job of presenting the information to users. Ultimately, that is what Google is angling towards, and you should too.
Content Length: The next claim to debunk is that there is a perfect content length. I’ve seen it suggested that 100 words is the max you should use for featured snippet-seeking content. Yes, there is a limit to how many characters Google will show in the SERPs, but this has no bearing on how long your overall piece of content should be.
As I’ve outlined above, our data shows that comprehensive content appears to have more success in earning short-form featured snippets.
FAQ Pages are Good for Featured Snippets: In our entire study, the presence of FAQ pages generating featured snippets was rare. Think about this logically for a moment, and you’ll quickly understand where FAQ pages make sense: “in and out” questions where follow-up or more detailed information beyond the immediate answer is unlikely to be needed by the user. That’s probably not the need in most queries.
The Iteration Principle of Featured Snippets
It’s also important to be aware that you can get featured snippets and then lose them. That means that your content was good enough for Google to test it, but not good enough to keep it. If that’s the case, go back to the drawing board and work to improve the content. Over time, Google will see the changes, and may decide to test it again.
Once you have success getting featured snippets for some of your target queries, and keeping them, if you have a large-scale site, you can begin thinking about how to scale. The process for that might look like the following:
Persistence is key to winning the battle here. Even after you appear to have won a featured snippet for the long term, keep checking it. Google’s testing is ongoing, and your competition may decide to try and take that featured snippet away from you. Defend your hard won turf!
The world of featured snippets, and more generally, rich answers, is a complex one. However, as we’ve seen, rich answers offer an excellent opportunity to drive incremental traffic to your site. In the realm of voice interactions they are literally the only game in town.
The core thing that Google is using featured snippets to accomplish is to find the one definitive answer to a user’s question. All of Google’s effort in this area, including all of their testing, is designed to help them find that answer.
Let’s step back for a moment and look at what’s happening here. Google is looking for that one answer that satisfies the largest possible percentage of users. This involves many components, including the fact that the user’s search query normally only defines a part of their need. For example, if they search on oil filters, they may also want oil.
Ultimately then, all of this is about Google finding the best content for users. That means our task is to create the best content. Be relentless in your drive to create better and better content for the visitors to your website—not just the ones that want to buy today, but for the broad mix of people that end up coming there.
Regardless of how the concept of featured snippets evolves over time, the value of creating the best possible content will endure. For us, that means a continual and ongoing effort to improve our content, update it, monitor how it does, and come back to it and improve it again.
It also means creating new content over time, and making your site the best resource, bar none, in your market space. This is the key lesson behind the world of featured snippets. The sooner you embrace it, and figure out how to invest in it, the better off you’re likely to be!
Google is Conducting Ongoing Dynamic Testing of Featured Snippets
On June 26, 2018, I published the results of a detailed study that measured featured snippet churn. This study was conducted with the assistance of STAT Search Analytics, which is a powerful tool that allows very detailed monitoring of featured snippets.
In the study, we looked at 4,999 queries for 124 straight days to see if they were showing featured snippets, and whether or not the snippet or its source had changed. The level of churn of featured snippets in the results surprised us:
The reason why understanding the level of churn is important is that it shows us how heavily Google is investing in featured snippets. It’s a major strategic investment on their part.
What this data shows is that Google is still working very hard at testing featured snippets and Knowledge Graph results. As I documented in our 2016 study of 1.4M search results, it looks like this is a dynamic testing process. This further demonstrates how important it is for Google to get these to be as accurate as they possibly can.
In voice environments, Google will not generally be able to show more than one result when the search result is spoken in reply to a user’s voice query. As a result, they need to have the absolute best answer with that first result as often as they possibly can.
For publishers, learning how to earn featured snippets remains an imperative. This is best done by focusing on user value, because that’s what Google is doing. You must be prepared for continued volatility, but keep on experimenting. The worst that can happen is that you will add value to your site and improve the experience of your users.
The Latest Data on Featured Snippets and the Knowledge Graph
We’ve tracked over 1.4M queries since July 2015, charting how many of them return featured snippets, Knowledge Graph-based results, and/or enhanced regular snippets in the search results. There are links to our prior studies at the bottom of this post (you can use the quick links above).
We used the same set of queries for all four of our studies. All of the queries were selected because they were deemed likely to be something that could be addressed either by a Knowledge Graph result or a featured snippet result. In other words, all the queries look for a relatively simple, factual response.
There are a few important terms to understand when looking at this data:
- The Knowledge Graph is a Google database containing many billions of public domain facts.
- A Knowledge Panel is factual information provided by Google that is sourced from their Knowledge Graph, Wikipedia, or both. On desktop devices, this appears to the right of the search results, but on mobile devices it appears in line with the regular search results. Other than in the case of Wikipedia, no attribution is provided to the source of the information (since it’s public domain, that is not required.
- A Knowledge Box is factual information provided by Google that is primarily sourced from the Knowledge Graph. On both desktop and mobile devices, this appears in-line with the regular search results. As with the Knowledge Panel, no attribution is provided.
- A Featured Snippet is information that Google sources from third-party websites, that is then provided above the organic search results, along with attribution to the page where Google sourced the info.
- An Enhanced Snippet is when a regular search result is enhanced with more information, beyond just that of a tile and a description. One example of this is the Sitelinks feature in the search results.
- A Rich Answer is any search result that has one or more of the above features present in the result.
One more important point, and then on to the data! In this year’s study, we searched the 1.4M+ search queries using a mobile user agent. This does cause some differences in the way our data is calculated, but we’ll explain those as we go along.
Total Rich Answers
We continue to see growth in the total incidence of Rich Answers, as shown here:
Total Featured Snippets
In contrast, we saw a slight drop in total featured snippets:
This represents a drop of about 11% in total featured snippets.
Total Knowledge Graph-Based Results
We also saw a somewhat larger drop in total Knowledge Box + Knowledge Panel results, as shown here:
The total drop was about 32%.
Total Featured Snippet Results with Videos
The incidence of featured snippets that contain videos, however, went up significantly:
Comparing Mobile and Desktop
In addition to examining the 1.4M+ results in mobile, we also took a random sampling of 185,075 additional queries, which we also ran with a desktop user agent to compare the results.
Total Rich Answers: Mobile vs. Desktop
The incidence of rich answers on the desktop is noticeably higher than it is for mobile:
Total Featured Snippets: Mobile vs. Desktop
Desktop has the lead here, though by a smaller margin:
Total Knowledge Graph-Based Results: Mobile vs. Desktop
Total Featured Snippets with Videos: Mobile vs. Desktop
This one is pretty close to a dead heat:
A strong presence of videos in featured snippets in mobile makes sense, as videos work very well in mobile environments.
- Rich Answers continue to rise. Across all of search, Google continues to increase the number of results that go beyond the traditional “blue link” with a two-line description.
- Featured Snippets and Knowledge Graph results dip. For the first time, we saw a slight decline in the number of Featured Snippets and Knowledge-graph reuslts across all of search.
- Featured Snippets with videos grow. After a sharp dip last year, Google seems to have re-committed to video-based Featured Snippets
- All types of Rich Answers are more common on desktop than mobile, including Featured Snippets. However, video Featured Snippets on mobile occur with about the same frequency as on desktop.