August 2nd, 2019

Before you get too deep into this article, we advise you to first read our post on whether featured snippets are worth it for SEO, if you haven’t already. It sets the scene for the items we’ll be covering here, providing some background before we get into the more juicy ‘how-tos’ of this post. We’ll be expanding on how to identify the correct snippets to go after, as well as providing some tips on how to structure your content in order to get yourself featured.

Why should you target featured snippets?

Over the last 10 years, Google has been constantly revising their search results, both in terms of aesthetics and function. 10 blue links are no longer the norm. The SERPs (search engine results pages) are now jam-packed with sitelinks, local packs, knowledge graphs, instant answers, video and image carousels, not to mention tabs for flights, images, news, maps and more.

Featured snippets have been growing in stature over recent years, with Ahrefs releasing a study showing that featured snippets now appear for around 12.5% of queries. The study also shows that featured snippets are far more likely to appear for informational searches, rather than navigational or transactional searches.

For content strategies then, featured snippets should offer an interesting opportunity. At first glance it seems as though they are most useful for top of the funnel acquisition, and this is mostly true. However, there are also opportunities within pricing tables and list based snippets. Regardless though, it’s important that the right type of featured snippets are targeted for the right reasons, which is why we have created this article!

Identify the right featured snippets

We briefly discussed this in our previous article but wanted to dive into a little more detail here. Having criteria upon which to base your targeting decisions will provide structure and guidelines to your operational plans. Featured snippets can be very enticing, so these criteria should help you remain focussed on your SEO goals:

Does a featured snippet already appear?

This may seem like an obvious one, but when you type in the query, does a featured snippet appear? If yes, you can be confident that Google considers it to be the correct type of search for a featured snippet. Bear in mind though that more and more queries are being returned with a featured snippet. If one doesn’t appear right now, that doesn’t mean that it won’t in the future. It may also mean that Google doesn’t consider the current answers provided by websites to be sufficient. It’s a slightly riskier tactic to assign resources to a featured snippet that doesn’t already exist, so it’s worth approaching it with caution. Would this be part of your normal content strategy? Do you stand a good chance of ranking on page one? Regardless of the potential for a featured snippet, would this search term (and subsequent content) deliver valuable traffic to your site?

How do you find these featured snippets? Through a combination of more traditional research as well as utilising tools such as SEMrush or Ahrefs. For example, SEMrush allow you to find featured snippets that are currently occupied by your competitors, which is pretty handy! Both of these platforms do a good job of explaining how to find featured snippets (alongside Moz) so jump over to their websites for more info on sniffing out opportunities.

Buyer Personas

A key part of a content strategy is establishing your buyer personas and their corresponding buying funnel. Without this you run the risk of creating content for the sake of it. Targeting snippets that have low search volumes or result in virtually no additional traffic may help you gain brownie points with your management or client for a short period. But ultimately traffic and conversions are the end game.

We therefore need to ensure that any search term for which we create and optimise our content is relevant to your buyer personas and their buying funnel. There is a really good study published by A.J Ghergich for SEMrush that explores questions, prepositions and comparisons. It also mentioned pricing being an end of funnel type query that can be targeted, so we highly recommend you having a read of it as well.

Search Volume

Let’s not labour this point. If you’re looking at featured snippets, hopefully you have already conducted keyword research both for your SEO campaign as well as your content strategy. Targeting featured snippets that have limited search volume will ultimately deliver limited results, and we don’t want that.

The web is a crowded space so you’re unlikely to find high volume queries that nobody is targeting. Make a judgement call dependent on your ability to rank for specific queries.

What action is taken?

We explored this point in our previous article as well. Aside from brand exposure, attribution to bottom line growth is going to be particularly hard if the featured snippet for which you rank results in a high ‘no click’ rate. In other words, searchers do not click through to websites because they have all the information they need from the snippet.

Assess where the query might sit in a buyer’s journey. Can a featured snippet really provide a complete answer? The answer you are looking for is no.

You want the snippet to provide enough information to be useful, but not enough to completely solve their problem. In this way the searcher will be more likely to click on the link and therefore provide you with the opportunity to move them through your own sales funnel.

As mentioned by A.J Ghergich, there are opportunities (such as with list based featured snippets) to provide enough steps to be truncated and therefore encourage a click through to the website in order to read the complete list. Google also displays some text telling the reader how many rows have been omitted from the snippet.

Competition

There is a lot of talk about how websites can leap frog existing top rankings by appearing in featured snippets. You do have to take into account though that research by Ahrefs show over 99% of featured snippets originate from websites already ranking in the top 10. So it’s great for those sitting in 9th, but not so great for websites on the 4th page.

Taking this into account, you should be targeting featured snippets for which you have a good chance of appearing in the top 10. I had originally written ‘a puncher’s chance’ prior to realising that this is used in relation to an outside chance or real underdog!

A lot of the advice out there is centred around optimising existing content because you’ll know if it already ranks in the top 10. This is sound advice, but it shouldn’t stop you from creating fresh content if you believe that you can get it to the first page.

What you really want to assess is whether the answer provided in the featured snippet is the best answer possible. It’s always very satisfying when you find a featured snippet where the answer could be improved dramatically, and you subsequently do so! On the other hand, if the answer if really good and from a high authority website, it might be worth picking another fight.

You can also make use of the ‘People also asked’ section if it is displayed. Whilst not technically the featured snippet for the query at hand, they do show relevant queries and their corresponding snippets. Great for further keyword research and ideas.

Review existing content

Creating any type of content can be a time consuming task. It makes sense then to capitalise on opportunities where the bulk of the effort has already been applied. In short, what content have you already written that can be improved to appear in featured snippets? You should be able to review all of your existing content relatively quickly, ranking each in terms of opportunity. Clearly the articles that already rank in the top 10 organic results but not currently in the featured snippet are going to be the ones with the most immediate opportunity.

First page rankings are important to avoid wasted resources but you don’t need to be militant about this rule. In fact, reviewing an article’s potential for a featured snippet can also provide a catalyst for improving the whole article, therefore securing that first page ranking anyway!

Great, we now have a set of criteria that can help provide structure for us when looking for those fabled snippets. We would suggest running through this exercise fully first in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of how featured snippets might supplement your SEO campaign or content strategy. It will also mean that you can make a judgement call on how much effort you want to put into targeting them.

Finally, we would advise baking this research (and the following implementation advice) into your content process as a standard practice. Read on to understand how to give yourself the best chance of being featured by optimising your posts.

How to target featured snippets

Most importantly, you should look to provide a high quality, unique, clear and concise answer to the search query. Utilise the most appropriate structure, whether that be a paragraph, list, table or video and include schema markup for clarity.

Focus on providing the highest amount of value for the search query within 40 to 50 words. After all, this is what search engines are trying to provide to their searchers within a featured snippet. As with all things SEO, pay particular attention to the intent behind the search, as Google (through Rankbrain) will be providing the answer that best aligns with this intent.

1. Assess search intent

A critical part of SEO, you need to ensure that the searcher intent has been established for your target search term. In turn, you can analyse the current results to gain a better understanding of what search engines deem to be the intent and therefore tailor your answer accordingly.

2. Structure your article

You need to understand the type of snippet that is being targeted. This will be dependent on the type of query but should be evident from the existing snippet. Conform to the status quo – i.e. if it is a list snippet you will need to structure your answer as a list.

3. Word count

Remember that there is a limited amount of real estate in the SERPs. The SEMrush research shows that the majority of featured snippets display between 40 and 50 words. You need to be conscious of this word count when creating concise answers.

4. Add schema

To give your content the best chance of appearing as a snippet, you need to include schema markup. There are many types of schema so choose the one that provides clarity to search engines as to the purpose and format of your content.

5. Normal SEO

Of course there are also the normal SEO optimisations that should take place, including URL and heading structures. This ensures that your page (and site) are mobile friendly and the site is secure with HTTPS.

It doesn’t end there!

Hopefully you’ve found this article useful and you can now confidently identify and target featured snippets. You might even have secured some already. At Yellowball we’re always conscious of what we call ‘vanity metrics’. In the end, if you don’t get conversions, it doesn’t matter if you get 10,000 extra users a month to your website through a single featured snippet. Conversions are what the majority of SEO campaigns will be judged on, so don’t go resting on your laurels.

You’ve done the hard work of getting traffic to the site. If you’ve followed our steps, this traffic should be relevant to your business or organisation, i.e fit somewhere in your sales funnel. Loop in your web designers, UX team or CRO specialists. Brief them on the type of traffic that is being generated, where they are landing and figure out where you want them to go next.

Need we say any more? Capitalise on this new source of inquisitive traffic. There’s a strong argument to say that if they’ve clicked through to your site having already been displayed more content than a normal SERP result, they’re likely to be more interested!

Good luck. See you on the battlefield.

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