by Juan Robin II
Do you want more traffic from Google, without creating new content or acquiring new backlinks? Then you should optimize for featured snippets.
If you’re wondering what featured snippets are, here’s an example:
Basically, it’s when Google shows an answer, or a partial answer to the question directly in the search results.
You’ve probably seen these before; they tend to pop up for a lot of “informational” searches (such as questions). In fact, According to our study, Google shows featured snippets for ~12.3% of search queries, which is a lot.
But before I show you how to easily find and steal featured snippets—and secure the ones you already own—you may be wondering:
“If answers to queries are displayed directly in the SERPs (by featured snippets), won’t this mean that fewer people tend to click on search results, effectively driving less traffic to my website?”
Let me answer that for you! 🙂
You + featured snippets = more traffic (ALWAYS)
For SERPs with featured snippets, 8.6% of all clicks go to the featured snippet on average (according to our study).
This means that featured snippets effectively steal traffic away from the other organic results, including the result in position #1.
But what does this mean in real terms?
“What does this mean if I already rank in position #1?“
If you rank in position #1 AND own the featured snippet, 28.2% of all clicks will go to your page. (That’s clicks to the featured snippet and the regular #1 result combined.)
If you rank #1 and DO NOT own the featured snippet (but a competitor does): only 19.6% of all clicks will go to your page.
That’s means you get ~31% LESS traffic by NOT owning the featured snippet.
“What if I rank elsewhere on the first page of results? (i.e., in positions 2–10)“
With the remaining ~72% of clicks being spread across the other 8–9 results, pages in positions 2–10 will likely only be getting single-digit CTRs.
This means you could probably at least double your traffic (from that term) by claiming the featured snippet.
“What if I rank in position #1 and there isn’t currently a featured snippet, won’t I be cannibalizing my traffic by pursuing the featured snippet?”
Why? Because if you won’t grab the featured snippet, then your competitor will.
It, therefore, makes sense to go after it BEFORE your competitors do. (More on this later!)
Let’s take a look at the different “types” of featured snippets.
What types of featured snippets are there?
Featured snippets—AKA “answer boxes” or “rich answers”—come in a few different forms.
- the paragraph featured snippet;
- the numbered list featured snippet;
- the bulleted list featured snippet;
- the table featured snippet;
- the YouTube featured snippet
If you’re unfamiliar with any of these, you can see examples of them in this post.
This is a Google Instant Answer.
How do you know? Because Google doesn’t credit any particular website for these results.
Google says this is because the answers are in the public domain, so no credit is needed.
Here are a couple of things to note about these results:
- They don’t pull answers from one of the top 10 search results, so you won’t see any information from your website featured here.
- They don’t feature source links, so even if they did pull information from your website (which they don’t), these would be bad news—there would be no way to get visitors to click through to your website.
Now that we understand what featured snippets are, let’s talk about how to find (and steal) them!
Part 1. How to find featured snippets that you ALREADY own (hint: you might want to tidy them up!)
You may already own the featured snippets for a bunch of search queries.
But how do you find out what these are?
Site Explorer -> Enter domain -> Organic keywords -> SERP Features -> Featured Snippets -> Target domain must be featured.
You will now see all the search queries where you already own the featured snippet.
Next, you should check each of these snippets to make sure there are no issues with the way they are pulling information from your website.
Google is pretty smart but it doesn’t always get things right—this is especially true if your content and structured markup don’t properly align.
Try filtering by search volume to prioritize
Because long-tail keywords tend to trigger featured snippets, there are likely a LOT of snippets to go through and optimize.
That’s why I recommend adding a search volume filter so as not to waste time optimizing snippets for low-volume, long-tail keywords.
I’ve found this narrows things down by ~90%.
NOTE. Feel free to play around with this number. It doesn’t have to be 1,000. It’s more about reducing your workload so it’s manageable.
For example, take a look at the current featured snippet for “how to make buttermilk.”
This is a “numbered list” type featured snippet.
But there is a small problem: the step number is duplicated in the content itself, which looks a little strange.
If we delve into the HTML for that particular page, the reason for this becomes clear.
<li>Step 1:Pour 1 cup of milk [...]</li>
<li>Step 2: Grab one small fresh lemon [...]</li>
<li>Step 3: Use in place of buttermilk [...]</li>
Here we have step numbers written in plain text for each list item. This is overkill, because the ordered list markup already adds this.
Errors like this are surprisingly common, so it’s worth checking that your content is properly formatted and optimized with featured snippets in mind.
This means doing things like:
- Cleaning up any rogue HTML;
- Simplifying your content (e.g., if you’re trying to steal the featured snippet for “how to make pizza dough,” and you have a header that reads “how to make the most delicious and perfect pizza dough ever,” it might be worth simplifying to “how to make a pizza dough”)
- Making sure your content is descriptive (e.g., going back to the pizza dough example, let’s say you have a list of steps—in an ordered list, nice!—showing how to make a pizza dough, preceded by a header that reads “Directions.” You’ll likely have a much higher chance of holding onto the snippet if you add some context to this header.)
Richard Baxter from BuiltVisible has had success doing this.
Here’s a pre and post-optimization shot of his featured snippet for the term, “remove sandisk u3”:
You can see that the featured snippet looks a lot better after optimizing the post, which no doubt increased Builtvisible’s chances of (a) holding onto the snippet long-term, and (b) the snippet click-through rate.
Part 2: How to find and grab “low-hanging” featured snippet opportunities
According to our study, pages that rank in top10 are automatically “eligible” for a featured snippet.
In fact, we’re 99.58% positive that Google only features top10-ranking pages in snippets.
This means that should you already rank in the top10 for a particular term, yet don’t own the snippet, you could probably win the snippet just by making a few tweaks to your page.
Therefore, you need to find queries whereby:
- a featured snippet is already being displayed;
- your website already ranks somewhere in top10.
This is quite easy to do with Ahrefs. 🙂
Site Explorer -> Enter domain -> Organic Keywords -> Top 10 filter -> SERP Features -> Featured Snippets -> All Features.
This will show all the queries you currently rank for (in the top10) which also show a featured snippet in the SERPs. You don’t necessarily own the snippet for these terms, though—some will be owned by your competitors.
As far as we’re aware, Ahrefs is the only tool currently capable of doing this. 🙂
We already covered optimizing your content for snippets you already own, so the next step is to filter out all owned snippets (so that you see only the snippets your competitors own).
Right now, we don’t have this kind of functionality in Ahrefs (we’re working on it!), but worry not… Josh is here with another cool automated spreadsheet that will do the job for you! 🙂
You can download this here.
IMPORTANT: Make a copy of the Google Sheet… don’t request access to the original!
Give the template a name, choose where you want to save it (on your Drive), then hit OK.
You will now have a fully-editable copy of the file on your Google Drive.
Please do not request edit access to the original document. We cannot grant this permission as it will destroy the original template for everyone else.
Plus, it sends me annoying email notifications. So please don’t do it! 🙂
Here’s a quick video showing how to do it:
Or if you prefer written instructions, keep reading.
Export the filtered report (from Organic keywords) to a CSV file.
Then, copy this Google sheet (so that you’re free to edit it) and import the CSV into the first tab (i.e., “Import!”)
To do this in Google Sheets, go to File -> Import.. -> Upload -> Select a file from your computer -> change “Import location” to “replace data at selected cell.” Sound complicated? Watch the video above!
Next, go to the tab entitled “featured snippets you don’t own.”
Here, you will see a list of queries with featured snippets that you don’t own.
Check out each of these queries in Google and you’ll see who does own the snippet.
It’s then a case of trying to understand WHY you don’t own these snippets and doing everything in your power to rectify the issue(s).
Here are a few issues and solutions that, while not guaranteed to help, have apparently “worked” for others:
- Your competitor’s answer is “better” than yours—Unless your content actually provides a snippet-worthy answer, you don’t stand a chance at ranking for this snippet. Take a look at your competitor’s featured answer. Does your content contain anything remotely similar? If so, is it better or worse than your competitor’s answer? If it’s worse, you need to improve your content.
- You have structured markup issues—Google relies on appropriate HTML markup to help understand what your content is about, and how it’s structured. If you have well-structured content with tables, ordered/unordered lists, h-tags, and so forth in all the right places, Google is going to have an easier time identifying data that could be used in a featured snippet. (It is, however, worth noting that rather surprisingly, pages marked up with microdata—i.e., schema markup—don’t appear to be any more likely to appear in featured snippets.)
- Your content doesn’t adhere to the format searchers want to see—If your competitor currently owns the featured snippet with a numbered list, well, chances are that this is the type of format users want to see. If your content is structured differently (e.g., an unordered list), you probably ain’t going to be able to steal the snippet—Google clearly thinks people want to see a step-by-step process.
To be honest, there are a lot of existing posts explaining how to “optimize” your content for featured snippets, so I’m not going to go into great detail on this front. (I have included a few worthwhile resources on this topic below, though.)
But basically, it seems that you need to make sure your content contains snippet-worthy information, and does so in a way that Google can easily parse, understand, and interpret.
Want to find even more opportunities? Try optimizing for search queries that DON’T already show featured snippets
Site Explorer -> Enter domain -> Organic search -> Top Pages
This will show you which pages on your site attract the most organic search traffic.
Grab one of these pages and paste it into: Site Explorer -> organic keywords -> filter by top 10 positions
Let’s use our http vs. http guide for this example.
Now look for other informational keywords that could potentially lend themselves to a featured snippet.
NOTE. You can see the top 30 most common words and phrases that appear in featured snippets here, and the “types” of queries that trigger snippets here. So we recommend that you look for search terms featuring those or similar words, that don’t yet show a featured snippet. Why? Because these keywords are likely crying out for a snippet, but chances are none of the top-10 ranking pages contain appropriate information (or simply aren’t marked up in a way that google understands). Therefore, these are BIG opportunities.
For example, our http vs. https guide ranks in the top 10 for “should i use https for my entire site.”
But weirdly, there is no featured snippet for this term, even though it’s a question.
Right now, our article doesn’t tackle this exact question… at least not in any kind of obvious or structured way. So we could just add it to the article, ideally using the kind of markup that we think is most appropriate for the answer to such a question.
<h3>Here’s why you should use https for your entire site:</h3>
<li>It may increase your rankings.</li>
<li>It preserves referrer data</li>
<li>It’s more secure and more private</li>
Google may then see this change and decide to show this information as a featured snippet. 🙂
Note #2. We did actually try this. But unfortunately, after we optimized the page for this query, it was kicked out of top10. So the experiment was a bit of a failure.
Part 3: How to steal MORE featured snippets
Imagine if you could identify niche-relevant keywords that already show potentially “stealable” featured snippets. That would be cool, right!?
Here are three ways to do this:
- use the “featured snippet’ filter in Keywords Explorer;
- research your competitors;
- research BIG generic sites.
Let’s start at the top.
Did you know that you can use the same SERP filters (as I mentioned earlier) directly in Keywords Explorer?
Keywords Explorer -> Enter seed keyword -> Phrase Match -> SERP Features -> Featured Snippets.
Here’s an example (using “SEO” as the seed keyword):
BOOM! That’s ~3K queries (containing “SEO”) with featured snippets.
Let’s use SERP overview to see who owns the snippet for “SEO tools.”
Buffer owns it.
Which brings us neatly onto the next tactic for finding more featured snippet opportunities: research your competitors.
Let’s plug blog.bufferapp.com into Site Explorer and see what other queries they rank for that show featured snippets.
Site Explorer -> Enter competitors domain -> Organic Keywords -> SERP Features -> All Features
Instantly, we’ve found 154K+ keywords that also show featured snippets. (Yes, 154K!)
Remember, if you get a TON of results like this, try filtering by search volume. This will remove the long-tail queries and reduce the amount of queries you have to sift through.
After doing this myself, it didn’t take long to find a potentially stealable opportunity for the query, “how to do keyword research.”
Once again, the site that currently owns the snippet has less than optimal markup.
In all likeliness, all we would need to do to steal this featured snippet (and many others) is to create some well-optimized content around that term. Or even optimize an existing, related piece of content, such as our keyword research guide to try to steal the snippet.
But this tactic doesn’t extend solely to direct competitors—you can also mine big, generic websites (e.g., Quora) for niche-relevant keywords with featured snippets.
Site Explorer -> Enter BIG competitor (e.g., quora.com) -> Organic Keywords -> Search for a niche-relevant keyword (e.g., “SEO”) -> SERP Features -> Featured snippets -> All features.
That’s 1,776 more keywords!
Quora is a good site to use for this for two reasons: (1) they rank for hundreds of thousands of keywords across thousands of niches; (2) they’re a generic website, so they are often easy to outrank. Remember, the higher you can rank, the higher your chances of stealing the snippet
You can see how easy it is to find potential featured-snippet-looting opportunities using this tactic!
How to keep track of new and lost featured snippets
Before I wrap this up, I want to show a quick and easy way to keep track of your progress with featured snippets.
Enter Rank Tracker.
First of all, you should add all of the queries for which you already own the featured snippet.
Just to recap, here’s how you can find these: Site Explorer -> Enter domain -> Organic keywords -> SERP Features -> Featured snippets -> Target domain must be featured.
Export this report to CSV, then copy all the keywords and paste into Rank Tracker.
Rank Tracker -> select project -> add keywords
I recommend tagging them with something like “featured snippets” (this just makes it quicker and easier to filter for them in future) before hitting “Add to list.”
Next, add any queries with featured snippets that you’re actively pursuing (i.e., those found in parts #2 and #3 that you’re going after.)
You’ll then be able to see when you win or lose a featured snippet—here’s how:
Rank Tracker -> your project -> Overview -> filter for the snippets you’re tracking with the “tag” filter -> click “SERP snippets” graph -> select “Featured snippet”.
Here are the key parts to keep an eye on:
- the number of featured snippets you currently own (plus the +/- change in the selected time period);
- the number of featured snippets in total for the keywords you’re tracking (plus the +/- change for the time period);
- the percentage of all queries that have a featured snippet that you currently own (e.g., if there are 100 tracked keywords showing featured snippets and it says 10%, then you own 10 featured snippets);
- a graph showing your progress over time.
If you ever want to delve deeper into the specifics for a single keyword, just hit the graph icon next to it.
This will show you if you own the featured snippet, when it was won or lost, and more.
With 8.6% of clicks (on average) going to the featured snippet, it pays to be proactive about securing the ones you have.
So be sure to optimize your content to prevent competitors from stealing them.
But don’t stop there: find low-hanging featured snippet opportunities (i.e., those for which you already rank in the top10, or those that competitors currently own) and steal them.
Doing this often isn’t particularly difficult—with my Google Sheet (and Rank Tracker), you can easily keep tabs on your progress and make sure you’re on the right path.
Let me know if you have any other thoughts on featured snippets. I’ll happily add any worthwhile insights to the post! 🙂