Looking for content optimization opportunities to rank higher in search engines?
One of the newest and most controversial Google’s search elements is the featured snippet.
Should we be optimizing for featured snippets and, if so, how to do that?
Here’s a comprehensive and up-to-date guide on Google’s featured snippets and why content marketers need content optimization for them:
What Are Featured Snippets and Why Should We Care
By now, you are likely to have seen featured snippets when searching Google. They are all over Google’s search result pages aiming at providing quick answer to a search query:
Because of their position on top of organic search results, featured snippets have quickly become an SEO dream.
Then something happens… And as of January of 2020, Google launched a so-called featured snippet deduplication update. From now on, if your page is featured, it is removed from Google organic search results:
Put simply: There are now 10 (instead of 11) organic listings per search result page now, with the featured snippet being counted as #1 organic position.
Ever since that update, being featured has no longer been an obviously good thing.
No one knows whether featured snippets are clicked as much as organic search results. And some studies and experiments suggest that they are not.
It certainly depends on many factors including search intent and the featured snippet itself. Overall, by design, featured snippets are for giving immediate answers. They remove the need to click. Organic search is where people search and click.
So here comes the question:
Should We Optimize for Featured Snippets?
Like with several other Google’s search updates, do we, web publishers, even have a choice?
If you are not featured, your competitor is going to be there. Google remains the major traffic driving source in the world processing over 40,000 search queries each second. You just cannot help optimizing for its top-most SERP element.
Deduplication or not, featured snippets provide an unbeatable opportunity to bring your brand forward in front of competitors (otherwise ranking higher than you).
Look at this screenshot, for example:
The featured domain otherwise ranks #3 but its actual position is way below the fold preceded by “People Also Ask” results and video carousels.
Now, imagine that the currently featured page owner decides to opt out of that featured position (which is not easy but still doable). Now their competitor is being featured, and that page is pushed even further down that page.
With the current Google’s SERP design filled with all kinds of interactive and visual elements, unless you get featured, you risk losing just about any organic search visibility.
How to Optimize for Google’s Featured Snippets?
There’s no official recommendation from Google as to what to do to improve your chances to get featured but there are a few patents, educated guesses and experiments that shade some light onto what exactly web publishers should be doing to rank their pages in featured snippets:
Optimize for More Than Your Target Keyword
Featured snippets are dynamic and often unpredictable. Instead of trying to chase each particular opportunity, create a content strategy that would cover more of those organically.
In other words, create longer content that includes more of the related concepts and questions. Upping your long tail keyword optimization strategy will also help.
Text Optimizer will help you with that. It uses semantic analysis to identify related concepts and terms and forces you to cover more of those by scoring your content based on how much you have covered so far.
Overall this is a great tool to help you create more in depth and better optimized content.
Structure Content Using Subheadings
Google has been trying to become an answer engine for years which we can see from multiple patents they have been filing, including this one that talks about accommodating users who use search engines to find answers, rather than a listing of resources.
This patent goes into much detail on how they find and extract answers from pages. Specifically, this graph shows how they use on-page subheadings to locate an answer to a query:
And here’s what it looks like in search:
And if you spend some time searching Google and keeping an eye on those featured snippets, you’ll notice this implemented in practice. Google heavily relies on meaningful content structure to locate an answer to the query.
So make sure to always break your content into sections and use headings to name each section. It helps if you use secondary keywords and questions (see above) to word those subheadings.
It is also a good idea to always include a clickable table of contents that points to each subheading. This will make it easier for Google to locate each answer.
Work on Improving Your Organic Rankings
This has been confirmed by multiple research studies and experiments: Around 90% of featured pages are picked from top-5 organic listings.
So the higher you rank, the better your odds are to get featured.
This is somewhat confirmed by the above-mentioned patents which patent relies on three types of scoring to identify pages it uses to find the answer:
- The ranking score (Your actual organic position which is the most powerful factor)
- The reputation score of the resource which is a score that indicates the trustworthiness of the page. And I take it as the page backlink profile as Google is usually using backlinks to measure the trustworthiness of the page.
- The site quality score is a measure of quality of a website that hosts the resource. And I find this one very interesting because site authority was never officially confirmed as one of Google’s algorithm signals.
Whether all of these scores made it to the actual featured snippet algorithm or not, what we know is:
- Building backlinks help you improve rankings
- Building backlinks help with other positive signals (trustworthiness and site authority).
Consequently, backlinks indirectly help you get featured more. Link building a huge topic in itself, so feel free to check my previously written resources on that: Backlinks You Need Your Content to Get (and How to Get Them)
Fundamentally, link building is an important step to getting featured.
Create Videos to Capture Video Featured Snippets
According to Ahrefs data, Youtube is featured for more than 1 million search queries. Creating search-optimized Youtube video content offers an untapped opportunity to control more featured snippets and get your message heard.
Getting a Youtube video to rank higher (and consequently get featured) is much easier than ranking an average small business website.
So in many ways video content optimization is that low-hanging-fruit opportunity not many brands are using.
And the main reason why brands are not using that opportunity is because they shy away from video production as it is deemed too expensive and complicated.
In fact, these days video creation is not only doable but in many cases easy.
Tools like InVideo offer rich video creation and editing capabilities without the need to download and figure out any complicated software. Create your script (if you already have an article written on the topic, you can use that for the script), pick a template and use an easy visual editor to put together your asset.
Your YouTube videos will need some optimization work for them to get featured.
Optimizing YouTube videos for organic visibility is very similar to any SEO process. In short, here’s what you need:
- A keyword-focused title of the video page
- A detailed video description (don’t forget to put your focus keywords there as well). It is also a good idea to include clickable timestamps which would make it easier to navigate to the most relevant section of the video.
Additionally, you need some links pointing to your videos. At the very least link to each video from your own site. This will help it rank.
One thing that you shouldn’t miss when creating videos with the goal of capturing video featured snippet opportunities is adding a meaningful and distinct voice-over. Google uses the video transcript to generate the featured snippet, so it is important to have one:
Create and Optimize Images
More and more featured snippets are visual these days. Unless Google finds relevant images on your site, they will be forced to use images from other pages:
To avoid losing clicks and brand visibility to someone else’s images, make sure to always include images in all of your web pages as part of your content optimization efforts:
- Canva is a great tool to start, so are these online image creators
- Here’s a good collection of free image sources
- Lastly, check out my checklist on properly optimizing images for search
Overall, when you start using images more diligently, you are likely to notice more positive metrics. Images have been scientifically proven to improve engagement, so you will likely see your on-page conversions growing.
Conclusion on Content Optimization for Featured Snippets Advice
Google is evolving and content creators find it increasingly hard to keep up. But until Google stops sending high-quality clicks to our websites, we have to continue content optimization for new search elements. Otherwise, our websites will be left behind by more innovative competitors.
Like we may not like the fact that Google is “stealing” some of those clicks by providing instant answers to search queries, the value of Google’s traffic is too high to be ignored.