How to Get Featured Snippets: Four Optimization Tips

A featured snippet is nothing but a cheat. Google cheats when it passes our content for its own. Users cheat when they get the information without visiting our websites. But, more importantly, we cheat when we manage to get a featured snippet and completely obliterate all of our search competitors.

Are featured snippets fair? Absolutely not. But they exist, they are here to stay, and we have no choice but learn how to take advantage of them.

What is a featured snippet?

A featured snippet is a search result that’s been elevated to the very top of the search results page. It tends to have more content than a regular snippet. A featured snippet could show a full paragraph of text, but also a list, a video, or an image gallery. The goal of a featured snippet is to give a brief answer to the search query without having to visit any websites:

Paragraph featured snippet

Why should SEOs worry about featured snippets?

For an SEO, the worst thing about featured snippets is they provide information right there in the SERP. When there is a featured snippet, a user no longer needs to click on the search result and visit the page. It means there is an additional share of organic traffic that never makes it to your website.

Another issue with featured snippets is they take up a lot of real estate. Whenever there is a featured snippet in search results, it fills most of the viewport and pushes organic snippets below the fold. So it’s not just that the featured snippet is more informative, it also totally dominates the space.

The only good news is that virtually any page has a chance of getting a featured snippet. If you know how to format your content just right, you will dramatically improve your chances of being featured at the top of the search results. 

How does Google choose featured snippets?

Obviously, there are tons of pages having similar content and answering similar questions. How does Google choose which page is a good source for a featured snippet?

For one thing, the page should display conventional quality signals. It means the page should already rank high in search, use the right keywords, have quality content, provide a good user experience, and show some authority — most likely via backlinks.

For the other thing, the content should be arranged into a snippable format. So, if you are targeting a paragraph snippet, it’s best to have the exact paragraph on your page, ready for Google to snip. Although this is not a strict rule — sometimes Google would go through your page, pull a sentence here and there, and stitch them into a paragraph.

So, assuming you already do good SEO, the goal here is to make it easy for Google to snip your content. Let’s see what you can do to make it happen.

Tip #1. Research the SERPs

As we mentioned earlier, featured snippets may be in the form of a paragraph, list, video, or a few other formats. So, before you begin editing your content, you should find out the exact snippet format you are after.

For example, let’s say you are running a bike-related website and you have a bunch of content on bike maintenance and repair. If you were to google some of the bike maintenance questions, you would soon find out that fairly similar questions are often answered with different types of featured snippets.

If you ask Google how to fix a bike tire, you get a list of steps:

Numbered list featured snippet

But, if you ask Google how to clean a bike chain, you get a video snippet:

Video segment featured snippet

So, even though these two queries are very similar in nature, they will require two different approaches for getting a featured snippet.

An easy way to find out which format you are after is to google each of your queries and write down the types of snippets in each SERP. But it only makes sense if you are targeting a few very specific keywords. If you are targeting many keywords or if you don’t even know which of your keywords have the potential of getting a featured snippet, then you will need a more thorough approach.

My advice is to launch Rank Tracker, create a project for your website, and go to Target Keywords > Rank Tracking. There, make sure your workspace includes the Google SERP Features column. This column shows which features are present in the search results:

Rank Tracker workspace, SERP features

If the feature is green, it means you already got it — good job! If the feature is grey, it means someone else has got it — you need to step up your game.

If you want to prioritize the list of keywords in this workspace, you can use filters to find the keywords with the highest traffic potential. Click on the filter icon and set filters to show keywords that already rank on page one, have high search volume, and don’t yet have a featured snippet.

Once you’ve applied the filters, you will get a shortlist of keywords to work with. Go through them one by one and edit corresponding pages to make them more snippet-friendly.

Tip #2. Write snippable paragraphs

A paragraph is by far the most common type of featured snippet. In fact, nine out of ten featured snippets have a paragraph format. Here is how you can arrange your content to compete for a paragraph featured snippet.

Signal relevance with an optimized <H> heading

If you want your paragraph to be picked for a particular query, then at least one of the headings on the page should be a very close match to the query. As close to word for word as possible.

You could choose to optimize the H1 heading, i.e. the title of the page, if the entire page is on this one subject. Or you could choose to optimize one of the H2 headings, if just a part of your page is on the subject of the query.

Just to give you an example, here is the featured paragraph when I search for how to pick a good watermelon:

Featured snippet explaining how to pick a good watermelon

Now, when I visit the page from which the paragraph was pulled, I can see that the H1 heading is almost the exact match to my initial query:

Matching headning from the source page

Almost without exception, you would see that exact or close match headings go hand in hand with featured paragraphs. And since most featured snippets are triggered by question-like queries, it helps to use question-like headings on your pages as well.

Use keywords throughout the paragraph

With featured snippets, it often feels like Google is using its old algorithm. Keywords are back in the game and they follow familiar rules: use your main keyword close to the beginning of the copy, a few secondary keywords down the line, and a few synonyms throughout:

Keywords in the featurde snippet

When you look at the way most featured paragraphs are optimized, you’ll notice most of them follow a very simple formula of having an optimized question in the heading and an optimized answer in the paragraph. It’s always something like this:

Heading: How to pick a good watermelon?
Paragraph: To pick a good watermelon …

Heading: What is the best leather for a jacket?
Paragraph: The best leather for a jacket is …

This basic formula is something to keep in mind when writing blog posts and guides.

Mind the length of the paragraph

Most featured paragraphs are between 40 and 50 words long. It’s not exactly a problem if your paragraph is shorter or longer than the average. If Google really wants to feature your paragraph, it will either cut your paragraph shorter or use other copy to make it longer.

But, if you want to improve your chances of getting a featured snippet, it’s best to have your paragraph optimized for length. Make sure to fit all of the essential information in a single paragraph, make it under 50 words, and have it ready for Google to snip in one piece.

Tip #3. Arrange snippable lists

A list is another common type of featured snippets. Featured lists can be of two types: numbered and bulleted. 

Numbered snippets explain how to do something step-by-step: recipes, how-to instructions, DIY. 

Numbered list in a featured snippet

Bulleted snippets will pop up when a list doesn’t need to be in any particular order:

Bulleted list in a featured snippet

Signal relevance with an optimized <H> heading

The advice is the same as with featured paragraphs, except with lists it’s even more evident that headings are important. Featured lists use headings or page titles as list titles in the snippet:

Featured list title

And here is what the heading looks like on the source page:

Matching title from the source page

So make sure to have a title or a heading that can be used as a list title in the featured snippet. For a numbered list, it’s best to use question-like queries. For a bulleted list, you might have better luck with typical listicle titles that start with best, top, etc.

Use lower-level headings to tag list items

There are a few different ways in which Google can assemble a featured list. It can use headings as list items, it can use regular lists as is, or it can even make a list from a paragraph of text, although this last one is rare.

If you want to help Google pull a list from your page, it is your task to use proper HTML tags to mark list items. In case your entire article is a listicle, the proper markup is to use H2 headings for each of your list items. For a regular list within your page, use standard HTML tags to create a list.

Follow parallel syntax for each list item

The parallel syntax is when each item on your list is written using the same syntax structure. Parallel syntax helps Google identify items as belonging to the same list.

Just to give you a brief example, here is a list from a featured snippet on how to stop hiccups:

  • breathe into a paper bag
  • pull your knees up to your chest
  • sip ice-cold water
  • swallow some granulated sugar
  • bite on a lemon or taste vinegar
  • hold your breath for a short time

You can see how each list item starts with a verb of the same form, the phrases are similarly structured, and are even of the same length, which is not necessary but still neat.

Here is an example of what this list would look like with poor syntax:

  • paper bag could be used for breathing
  • pull your knees up to your chest
  • tiny sips of ice-cold water
  • swallow some granulated sugar
  • biting on a lemon or tasting vinegar
  • hold your breath for a short time

In this example, you can see that each list item is written using different syntax: different verb forms, different types of phrases. This type of inconsistency is not grammatically correct and may push Google away from using your list as a featured snippet.

Create longer lists

One of the problems with featured snippets is users get all the information without having to visit the page. So, if you manage to land a featured snippet, your exposure goes up, but your clicks may actually remain the same or even drop.

Well, with featured lists you get a bit of a lifehack. If your list has more items than Google is willing to show, it will add a more items link at the end of your list:

More items link in a featured snippet list

This way users are encouraged to click through to your page and learn about the remaining items.

One challenge here is you can’t always guess how many items Google is willing to show. For some snippets, it’s four or five, but for other snippets, it may be up to twelve. So, as a rule of thumb, aim for longer lists, over eight items at the minimum.

Tip #4. Create snippable videos

Video snippets are becoming increasingly common. Probably because Google is getting better at interpreting videos and feels more confident about using them to answer queries:

Featured video snippet

A curious thing about featured video snippets is that Google doesn’t show the entire video. Instead, it highlights the part of the video that contains the most direct answer to the query. How does Google do that?

Well, it looks at all the metadata provided for the video, uses it to estimate overall relevance, and finds the exact piece to match the query. Here is how you can help Google with this process.

Host your videos on YouTube

Google owns YouTube and uses it as its primary source for video results in search. You can occasionally see videos from other platforms, but it’s very rare and I’m not sure they ever make it to featured snippets.

Regardless, Google and YouTube are essentially the same thing and they use a lot of the same algorithms to determine relevance. Hosting your video on YouTube puts it on a highway to Google search results, while hosting your video on any other platform basically makes it ineligible for featured snippets.

Use keywords for video metadata

YouTube video metadata includes things like video title, descriptions, and tags. All of these play a major role in signaling your video’s relevance to the query.

Similar to your text content, it is customary to make the video title a close match to your main keyword and spread secondary keywords throughout the description. Video tags are a little more tricky to implement, I suggest you consult the instructions in this guide on optimizing YouTube videos for search.

Add closed captions to your videos

Google uses closed captions to find the exact piece of the video that is most relevant to the user’s query:

YouTube video closed captions

Now, if you don’t add closed captions to your video, there is a chance Google will generate them automatically and analyze your video anyway. But I wouldn’t leave it up to chance, since automatically generated captions are not always spot on in terms of understanding language, and synchronization may be tricky as well. For best results, I suggest you take the type either to write your own closed captions or to edit the ones that have been generated automatically.

Split your video into segments

Another way to help Google understand your video is to split it into segments. You can do that by adding timestamps to your video description. Think of it as a sort of table of contents for the parts of your video:

Timestamp data in the YouTube video description

If the timestamps have been added properly, you will see that the progress bar of your video is now split into chapters, like this:

YouTube video split into chapters

If the progress bar is not split into chapters, then it means something went wrong when adding timestamp information. When adding timestamp information, always make sure that:

  • Information is added to the description, not the comments (popular mistake);
  • The first timestamp starts at 00:00;
  • There are at least three timestamps;
  • The length of any chapter is no less than 10 seconds.

Final thoughts

It’s probably not the case that after reading this article you will go back to your website and start editing content for featured snippets. I doubt it’s a part of anyone’s SEO process. But, knowing what gets you into featured snippets and what doesn’t is something to think about when creating future content. For example, whenever I write a new blog post, I always think about paragraph featured snippets and I try to structure my paragraphs a certain way. Hopefully, it becomes a part of your content creation process as well.

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