— September 20, 2018
Featured snippets are routinely called position zero in SERPs. They are concise answers to user queries appearing after PPC ads (if there are any on the page), and just before the first result for the query.
Featured snippets are not instant answers, and they’re not also rich snippets.
The former are precise answers to questions like how big the sun is or the exchange rate of one currency to the other. Google gives no credit to any source for such answers. The latter tells you if a particular result for a query has the information you need. As an example, rich snippets may inform you of a product’s availability, rating, or pricing before you click through.
Google gets information for featured snippets from one of the results on the first page. A study by Ahrefs shows that 70 percent of featured snippets are from sites in position 2 to 10 of SERPs. So, ideally, you must be ranking on the first page for your content to have a chance at being the featured snippet.
However, there’s a glimmer of hope if you’re not ranking on the first page. WordStream’s content has ranked on position zero even if it was number 71 (page 8) in search results. It’s certainly still an experiment worth trying for your content.
Another problem is that featured snippets are constantly changing—you may see one featured snippet now and an entirely different one on your next query with the same terms.
There are different theories on how to rank on position zero, with varying degrees of certainty, but you can be certain that not all types of content will be a featured snippet. Here are some forms you should consider:
- Definitions Google’s algorithm recognizes definitions of complex terms in its featured snippets. And you don’t even need to add “define” or “what is” to your query before you see a definition.If you search for a term like “content marketing” you’ll see a dictionary definition of the term. It’s the same with “lead generation.” That also shows that it’s not complex enough to warrant pulling a definition from another site.Now here’s an example of a complex term where there’s a featured snippet. The screenshot below is the search result for “conversion rate optimization.”
- Think of complex terms in your niche, preferably terms that are a combination of two or more words, and create content around it. First, research those terms yourself to see if a dictionary definition is the first result you’ll find. If it isn’t, and since featured snippets fluctuate, you may stand a chance.
- Comparisons Featured snippets for comparisons in my experience can be a table, a paragraph, or even lists. Topics for comparison are endless. You can compare two travel destinations, different cat breeds, phone specifications, and even two or more types of food.Tables will work for “comparison content,” but Google will consider paragraphs too.Here’s a featured snippet for “apples vs oranges.”From the featured paragraph, you’ll deduce that there’s a table on the page, but the featured snippet is a paragraph from the page instead.
This featured snippet is a table comparing two Samsung Galaxy phones.
When writing “comparison content,” it’s safer to add a table comparing the items. Tables make up 29 percent of all featured snippets. But just know that Google’s algorithm will feature what it wants, and it may not be the table.
- Step-by-step instructions The best content fills a need and/or solves a problem. How-tos improve time on page for your site, especially the detailed ones. And they’re not just text. For some instructions, you’ll find videos from YouTube to walk you through the steps you’ll take to accomplish your goal. This is a featured snippet for “steps for baking cake.”Change the query slightly and you’ll see a different snippet. Here’s what I saw for “how to bake cake.”
Technically the same query, but the different keywords turn up different featured snippets. So pay attention to your keywords while creating instructional content. And you may do well with some knowledge of YouTube SEO too.
For example, look closely at the result for “how to climb mount Everest.”
You’ll discover that Google recommends a 91-second clip from the video. Whenever you can, create videos for your instructional content too.
- Questions (how, what, why, where, when) This almost encompasses every other content type on the list. This is what I mean:
- For definitions, you can use “what is…”
- For instructions you can use all of “how, what, why, where, and when”
- For rating lists you can use “what are…”
Aim for that type of content when answering questions. If users are satisfied with the answer they see on the featured snippet and don’t click through to your site, it can reduce your search traffic to the post.
Always answer the questions succinctly, but make your users long for more by clicking through to your site. If you’re feeling stuck, inspiration is a few Google queries away.
- Rating lists You can also call this “best” or “top” lists. They can be ranked by some criteria or unranked.Typically, they feature the author’s (or site’s) pick of the best or top choices for a particular category. Like step-by-step instructions and some questions, rating lists are often bulleted or numbered lists. Occasionally, based on your query, you may get tables too.Here’s an example:
- If you click through, you’ll discover that the list is only sorted into categories or niches, but “best” isn’t determined by domain authority, subscribers, or other metric. That’s an unranked list.
On the other hand, this featured snippet for “best VPN software” is sorted after tests carried out by the PCMag team.
Think up potential ideas for a rating list in your niche. And remember that lists are a classic type of skyscraper content.
Most content we have on the internet today exists solely to answer questions. Decide what questions you can tackle in your niche, and create content answering those questions. Also, optimize your content for voice search by including conversational phrases to mimic verbal communication between humans.
A search for “why is Facebook’s logo blue” gave me a clear answer, but as you see, the article’s headline is captivating and a user is more likely to click through for more information.
Start sooner, not later
Experts generally agree that ranking on position zero means you should:
- Start your content with a direct answer to the question. If it’s an instructional post, you can list the instructions before you explain them in depth later.
- Include details like pictures, tables, charts, and other supporting information to the post.
- End your post reiterating the short answer to the question, or write the list without the supporting information. You can experiment with this since I’ve seen a case where a featured snippet was taken from the end of the page in a WordStream article because the instructions were summarily listed there without the supporting information.
You can easily track whether any of your pages has a featured snippet for any of your keywords using SEO PowerSuite’s Rank Tracker.
Each passing day, more search queries will have featured snippets. Just as you don’t create content for search engines but for humans, produce valuable content first, then optimize for position zero to create even more value. Just stop waiting, and start creating. Also don’t forget to utilize other search snippet features for the same.