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What Are Google's Featured Snippets and Why Are They So Important?

by Mark Croft on July 16, 2020

The search engine optimization (SEO) game has changed a lot over the past few years. Getting your website to stand out amongst the crowd is an increasingly difficult proposition. New competitors are popping up all the time, pushing content to draw the eyes of users towards them and away from you.

One of the best ways to attract attention is to reach Rank 0 (zero)  or take over the featured snippet.

Rank 0, sometimes also referred to as Position 0, is the highest organic ranking result on Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). This places your site above the fold and all other organic search results. (Although, featured snippets are still shown below paid advertisements related to the search terms.) 

🤔Are you wondering "What is a SERP?!" - Start with this blog.

What is a Featured Snippet?

Featured snippets are initial pieces of information that could answer a user's query before they click on a web page. The information, which is pulled automatically from a top ranking web page in Google's index, shows the following:

  • Information quoted from a third-party website
  • A link to the page
  • The page title
  • The URL of the page

They are sometimes referred to as "answer boxes", which is a fair, but confusing term that may make people think of the instant answer feature in a search engine, which provides information without citing any source.

You might be wondering how giving the answer to search results without the need to go the specific page makes sense for as a method for increasing traffic, but featured snippets have been proven to do just that. 

If a user's search requires more detail to get a fulfilling answer, then they will be much more likely to click through to the site providing the snippet. The evidence is overwhelming.

  • A recent study by HubSpot showed a 114% increase in CTR (click-through rate) for featured snippet results in position 0.
  • Ben Goodsell reported that the click-through rate (CTR) on a featured page increased from two percent to eight percent once it was placed in an answer box, with revenue from organic traffic increasing by 677%. 
  • Eric Enge noticed a 20–30% increase in traffic for ConfluentForms.com while they held the featured snippet for the query.

How Many Types of Featured Snippets Are There?

Featured snippets tend to be used to answer questions, but they can also offer other capabilities and various forms. Paragraph snippets, also known as definition boxes, tend to 40 to 60 words long and are by far the most popular type of snippet - they make up approximately 82% of snippets according to this study - but other versions are equally valuable.

Mixing up the way your content is displayed on a page will greatly help you gain Rank 0 prominence on Google. There is no limit on how many snippets can be triggered by a piece of content, so search engines may choose multiple forms of information at the same time. 

Paragraph or definition box snippet

As I mentioned above, the paragraph feature snippet is by far the most common type of featured snippet used by Google. This snippet shows paragraph-type answers to questions like who, what, when, where, how and why. See an example of a featured snippet in paragraph form below.

Paragraph featured snippet

Ordered and Unordered LISTs in Featured Snippets

There are two types of list that can appear as featured snippets - ordered and unordered. Ordered list are simply lists that are in number order; while unordered lists are typically bulleted.

Ordered List Snippet Example

Ordered Feature SnippetUnordered List Snippet Example

Unordered Featured Snippet

Youtube or video snippets

Video can show up in your search results two ways. The first way, as a suggested clip, is defined by Google as a featured snippet. The other way is as Rich Results (which we address a little later.) Google released video suggested clips as a featured snippet a couple of years ago. This type of featured snippet can take some time to set-up so that Google knows what you are trying to explain to potential visitors, but they can be highly valuable since they take the searcher directly to the place in your video where their search answer can be found.

YouTube or Video Featured Snippet


Table Snippets

Table snippets often show up for posts that contain comparisons charts or content with prices, rates, years, and other numerical data. Google seems to value well organized content. Below you can see an example of a featured snippet in table form.

Table Featured Snippet Example

People Also Ask Snippets

Google's 'People also ask' (PAA) snippet is pretty handy! This snippet provides questions (and answers) that are related to the originally searched for phrase.

For example, to get the table snippet above, I searched "social media usage statistics by country" and got the table snippet featured above. In addition to the table snippet, Google also gave me PAA with related questions to my original search.

people also ask google snippet

Rich Results

Google's definition of a rich result is

"An enhanced result in Google search with extra visual or interactive features."

Formerly called "Rich Snippets," rich results aren't technically a featured snippet. However, I think that is debatable. Especially since the rich results also result in higher clickthrough rates than other types of organic search results. Many times these rich results will show up in forms that would also be a featured snippet, like videos; therefore, it can be confusing (especially for newbies). 

Reviews, top stories, videos, comparisons, events, blogs, podcasts, and recipes can all be displayed as rich results in Google's search results. Plus, that list is ever-growing and evolving because Google is constantly reviewing, testing, and releasing updates to search results that are optimized best for the users. There are a few example of rich results below.

Video as Rich Results Example

video rich resultsShopping/ Comparison Rich Results Example

Rich snippet shoppingEvent Rich Results

Of course this one comes with a pandemic warning, but you get the idea. 

Event rich result google

What Searches Activate Featured Snippets Most Often?

It is a common misconception that Rank 0 is mostly used for the most popular search words and phrases that are entered in higher volumes.

In reality, the opposite is true. After going through two million search entries with featured snippets, Ahrefs discovered in a study that most snippets are triggered by queries with fewer than 50 monthly searches. This means that more detailed searches and long-tail keywords are more likely to get your site to Rank 0. They also noticed that the vast majority of keywords that trigger snippets aren't formatted as questions, prepositions, or comparisons. 

The 30 words most frequently used in search queries with featured snippets are:

recipe meaning time size salary
best price review cost top
vs.  chicken many change number
make iPhone name reviews get 
definition list long phone schedule
can much code new windows

The top 20 websites with the most featured snippets are:

wikipedia.org wikihow.com allrecipes.com quora.com
webmd.com reference.com youtube.com healthline.com
food.com mayoclinic.org foodnetwork.com glassdoor.com
livestrong.com sudy.com amazon.com dictionary.com
investopedia.com howtogeek.com support.google.com drugs.com

How do you get featured snippets on Google?

Attaining a Rank 0 result takes a lot of research and effort to achieve. And, even at that, there is no guarantee that you'll get there. But there are some things you can do to send signals to Google that will put the odds in your favor.

Secure the Snippets You Own

To keep anyone else from taking over your featured snippets, you have to make sure that each of them match their search query as much as possible. You can do this by: 

  • Keeping your content up to date at all times.
  • Providing both the question and the answer on the same page – preferably very close to one another – and then making them both short enough to fit in the answer box.
  • Matching your content to the current format of the snippet.

There is a chance that your site already has a ranking for some featured snippets.

You can use keyword tools like AdWords Keyword Planner, SEMRush, or the Chrome extension Keywords Everywhere to come up with long-tail keywords and phrases that are relevant to the services you provide that could be used in your content to help you appear in Position 0.

Look for Existing Opportunities

Giving Google a better alternative to the snippets offered by other websites is key to gaining Rank 0 priority. Search the phrase you'd like to rank for and some variations on it to get an idea of what sort of content you should be making, and to determine if there is a snippet present already. If there's not, try to create content that could be used as a snippet. And if there is, see if you can create something better that could potentially also be used as a snippet (or instead of the current snippet).

It's also helpful to look at the ways non-industry people talk about and search for information on the topic. Google's "People Also Ask" box is a helpful resource in this regard.

Some people have reported that structured markup helps sites get featured, although Google has since said otherwise, and a study from GetStat found that structured markup is actually less common on featured snippet URLs than it is on regular search results. What you really need is the content that people are looking for. 

Write in-depth and helpful content

You can engage in all the right processes to lift your website to Rank 0, but if the rest of your content is hard to process and not well-organized, people won't stay on your website. That means any good traffic you get from the snippet doesn't turn into leads. Make your answers concise (about 50 words or less) but filled with enough information to answer the question.

Content Optimization is Important

It's impossible to make the most of your digital inbound marketing efforts without optimizing the substance and style of the content of your websites. Featured snippets are best used as one of many features in your SEO process. You might not get to rank 0 through optimization, but your organic ranking should still improve regardless. And that improvement still brings tangible benefits. Any position in the top 10 can gain a featured snippet consistently, bringing in more traffic to your website. 

All of this can sound overwhelming to the inexperienced, but it gets easier once you establish a workflow and develop an ingrained understanding of what your target audience is and wants. Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the several services we offer at 30 Degrees North. If you would like to schedule a free consultation or ask a question about any other feature of our work, we would love to talk marketing with you!Request a free technical SEO review of your website