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What is a featured snippet? (and how to gain them).

Catherine Large, SEO Strategy Manager

The author

Catherine Large

SEO Strategy Manager

A featured snippet is an answer to a user’s query summarised in Google’s SERPs above standard organic results and below paid listings. These snippets are taken from third-party websites with a link to the site page (as opposed to a ‘direct answer’ which is taken from Google’s Knowledge Graph).

The featured snippet was introduced by Google in 2014 and recent studies show that they appear in around 9% of SERPs. The ever-growing popularity of mobile search and voice search has led to people submitting questions to Google as their search query and a featured snippet provides a clear and concise answer.

Why is it worth gaining featured snippets?

Several studies have found that in around 70% of cases the website showing in a featured snippet is not the site which ranks number one in the standard organic listings. This presents a clear opportunity to gain a prominent position in Google’s SERPs and jump ahead of competitors with higher visibility in the standard listings.

There has been some debate around whether a featured snippet helps traffic to a website if the answer to the searcher’s query is displayed within Google’s SERPs, however, a 2015 case study carried out by Search Engine Land found that organic sessions to a page that gained a featured snippet increased by 516%.

How to get featured snippets

The main rules for your website getting a featured snippet are:

  • Include content within the HTML tags: <table>, <p>, <ol> or <ul>.
  • The page URL should include the main question/query you want the content to appear for.
  • The main heading should be contained within a <h1> tag and include the main question/query you want the content to appear for.
  • Subheadings should be contained within <h2> tags and reinforce the relevance of the content to the main question/query. They should include the how, what, why and when.
  • The maximum word count for a featured snippet is 50 words.
  • The higher up the page the content you want to appear is, the better.
  • If a page has more than one question mark-up each question within a <h2> or <h3> tag and provide clear and concise answers.
  • Ensure images include alt text and the file name includes keywords – as a minimum use schema mark-up.

Featured snippet formats

To claim a featured snippet you need to look at the content structure of your site pages. In particular, you will need to make sure you’re using clean HTML mark-up – Google pulls content contained within <table>, <ol>, <p> and <ul> tags.

The HTML mark-up you use depends on which format you want your featured snippet to take. Featured snippets can appear in three different formats; table, list and paragraph. An example of each is below:

Table

Table snippet

List

List snippet

 

Paragraph

Paragraph snippet

Paragraph featured snippets are the most common, however they are also the most competitive as on-page content in more likely to appear within <p> tags than <table>, <ol> or <ul>.

Question and answer formatting

Presenting content using a question and answer format will increase the likelihood of a page’s content appearing as a featured snippet. This can be done by creating a new site page for a question and following the rules summarised above. However, it’s also possible to gain a featured snippet using a subsection of a site page by incorporating Q&A sections to site pages.

Images

Occasionally, a featured snippet includes an image (as you can see in two of the examples in this post). For the best chance of an image appearing, ensure it is close proximity to the text you want to feature. Make sure the image alt text and file name include the main keyword/query. If this isn’t possible, schema .org mark-up is enough to have the image appear in some cases.

When are featured snippets most likely to appear?

Studies were carried out for Moz and by STAT to find out when a featured snippet is most likely to appear. The Moz research found that 75% of the featured snippets they tracked for the study were claimed by pages that ranked between the second and tenth position.

The STAT study found that there were certain query types where a featured snippet was most likely to appear. Some of the query themes they found to be the most common were; financial, mathematic, time, transitional, status, requirements, health and DIY process.

Conversely, they found that a featured snippet never appeared on the same SERP as a local three-pack listing. Other query types they found featured snippets were rarely shown alongside included subjective, info/help, factual, shopping, images and videos.

Summary

It’s important to note that there’s no guarantee that a site will gain a featured snippet but following these rules will certainly make it much more likely. There’s also no guarantee that a featured snippet will remain as Google continues to test results and make changes to its algorithm.

However, as users continue to move towards mobile and voice search it is likely that the use of featured snippets in Google SERPs will continue to increase so getting into the habit of following these rules can only benefit a website.