How To Rank for More Featured Snippets in 2021

SEO April 15th, 2021

There are big changes happening with one of Google’s most prominent SERP features—the featured snippet. This element can act like a billboard in the SERP drawing users’ attention immediately, and until recently, it was displayed in close to 25% of all search results pages.

Now the number of featured snippets in certain categories is taking hits, making them even more valuable, and since Google seems to be implementing changes that affect what snippets are displayed for certain queries, marketers can capitalize and grab the feature to earn more traffic.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the types of featured snippets, how to optimize your pages for them and also how you can respond to a drop in the number of featured snippets in search results pages.

  1. What Type of Featured Snippets Are There?
  2. Recent Changes to Google’s Featured Snippets
  3. How Do Featured Snippets Impact SEO?
  4. Find Featured Snippets You Currently Rank For
  5. How to Earn More Featured Snippets
  6. How to Write for Featured Snippets: Get Straight to the Point

What Type of Featured Snippets Are There?

Featured snippets are Google’s way of providing users with quick information and answers to their search queries. They’re usually shown at the top of the SERP above the first organic search result (Position 1), and are often the first thing a user sees which makes them valuable if you’re hoping to draw users to your page. Here are a few examples of featured snippets so we know what to look for:

  1. Paragraph
  2. Bulleted list
  3. Numbered List
  4. Video
  5. Table

1. Paragraph

2. Numbered list

3. Bullet list

4. Table

5. Video

It’s important to keep in mind there are other features that turn up in results pages which are very similar to featured snippets but serve a different purpose.

While the featured snippets are there to provide more targeted information based on a query, the knowledge panel is an element often shown in the SERP for more general queries and acts as an information hub with a variety of details around a particular topic or brand.

Another key difference is that there isn’t a clickable title within the knowledge panel that takes you to a specific page, but rather the information in the panels is pulled from Google’s Knowledge Graph.

Knowledge panel

Knowledge card

Entity carousel

Multimedia Snippet


 

Recent Changes to Google’s Featured Snippets

While featured snippets have historically been a common inclusion in search results pages, recent data from Moz indicates a steep drop in the number of featured snippets being shown, particularly in categories that fall under Google’s YMYL designation.

According to Google, the pages in these categories have the potential to “negatively impact a person’s happiness, health, financial stability or health,” and recent changes to the SERP are in line with Google’s moves toward prioritizing pages in these categories that have high E-A-T signals.

Moz reports a 40 percent drop in SERPs with featured snippets (day-over-day) and based on the areas most affected, marketers should review their content if it falls into the YMYL bucket. This also means that SEOs who stay on top of a volatile SERP have the chance to rank pages for featured snippets they didn’t before.

How Do Featured Snippets Impact SEO?

The main idea behind optimizing your pages to earn more featured snippets is simple – improve your content to earn the featured snippet and get more traffic by being placed at the top of the SERP for valuable search terms. The addition of the featured snippet in 2014 meant big changes in traffic and clicks across the web because it opened the door for pages in position 2 to 10 to jump to position 1.

According to a study from Ahrefs, featured snippets come from pages that already rank in the top 10 and a large majority of featured snippets pages rank in the top 5, so if you’re already somewhere on the first search results page, some small improvements to your content might help you capture the featured snippet and the top spot in the SERP.

That same study also suggested that one of the major impacts of the featured snippet is that it usually steals traffic from the page that would have been the top page if not for a featured snippet:

(Source: Ahrefs)

Outside of click-through-rate, featured snippets can do a lot for your brand’s image as it relates to the top queries in your industry. The more you’re showing up in the most prominent spot for relevant search terms, the more likely users are to view you as an authority in your space and when you earn the featured snippet on mobile, you’re usually the only thing a person sees in their initial results:

One major change to the featured snippet came in January 2020 when Google rolled out featured snippet deduplication which meant that instead of showing a page twice in the SERP (once in the featured snippet and again further down in the results page), they now only show a page once.

This change was always going to shift CTRs and traffic, but according to a study from Kevin Indig, the traffic driven to pages with the featured snippet generally isn’t hurt by much and like any good SEO, he says it “highly depends on your vertical, brand strength, content quality, device, and type of Featured Snippet you show up for”.

Opting Out of Featured Snippets

It’s possible to opt out of featured snippets, but it’s not usually recommended since there’s a really good chance it will hurt your traffic, but if you’re still interested, there are a few different ways to do it.

Firstly, you can add a max-snippet robots meta tag which specifies the max number of characters Google shows in their text snippets. Featured snippets are usually longer than descriptions in regular snippets so after you set the character limit to the usual maximum length of descriptions (around 155–170 characters), then you can paste this code snippet into the <head> section of the page where you’re removing the featured snippet:

<meta name=”robots” content=”max-snippet:170″ />

While this is probably the easiest way to avoid a featured snippet, Google says it’s not foolproof and the only way to ensure removal of featured snippets is by using the nosnippet tag or the data-nosnippet tag:

If you’re considering opting out of featured snippets and want a quick look at how this will affect your position and share of voice in the SERP, then try this out…

Here’s the SERP for “E-A-T content” where we can see Moz.com earned the featured snippet and is displayed at the top of the page:

By appending “&num=9” to the URL in Incognito mode, we can see how the SERP changes if Moz didn’t have the featured snippet and we can see they move below Ahrefs in the page without it:


 

Find Featured Snippets You’re Currently Rank For

Having a look at all of the pages you’re currently earning featured snippets for can be helpful for a variety of reasons. You can get a look at how these pages are formatted to find commonalities among them and improve the rest of your pages accordingly, or you might get a look at whether shorter queries of long-tailed keywords are showing featured snippets with your page in them.

However you plan to use this data, it’s never far from reach and there are a few pretty straightforward ways to find it. Semrush is a great tool for pulling all of your pages with featured snippets as they provide an easy-to-use filter:

Ahrefs also provides a similar look at the pages where you’re earning featured snippets and this can also be done through Google Search Console:

To find all of your featured snippets using GSC:

  1. Open up your Google Search Console to the Search Analytics dashboard.
  2. Check the box to show positions, and then make sure you’re viewing analytics for your queries.
  3. Add a filter to your queries to find keywords that contain typical question phrases like:
    • “What is”
    • “How to”
    • “Why should I”

  1. Sort your results by position by ascending order so that any keywords for which you rank first appear at the top, then click the little box with the arrow next to your search queries to view the SERP. There’s a really good chance that you’re appearing in a featured snippet for your queries with positions in the top 10.

How to Earn More Featured Snippets

There are a few different things you can do to give yourself a better chance of capturing the featured snippet and the organic traffic that comes with it. Since Google is constantly testing new changes to the SERP and what featured snippet is served, ultimately your approach should hinge on some competitive analysis and examination of the current SERP for terms you’re interested in.

Let’s walk through an example and see how we can use what we find in the SERP and competitor pages to optimize our owns pages or create a new one with the featured snippet in mind:

Let’s say we’re hoping to rank for “sleep-inducing foods” which is a 5,400 search volume/month term…

When we search for “sleep-inducing foods,” we can see that this page from Sleepfoundation.org currently owns the featured snippet:

Pay close attention to what information is included in the featured snippet, how it’s formatted and what terms are bolded. What we want to know is, what information should we include in our post and how can we format it in a way that makes sense to users and the Google bot.

Right now, we see a brief sentence that seems to be cut off from the rest of the paragraph and a bulleted list of foods.

Now we need to investigate a little more to see how this content is actually formatted on the page if we’re hoping to optimize our own content.

When we open the page, we can see that the featured snippet is being pulled from the last sentence of this paragraph and the bulleted list is actually Google pulling in all of the <h3> headers listed in the post:

With this, we can determine that to have a better chance of capturing the featured snippet, we should:

  1. Include a brief sentence in the intro of the post explaining what sleep inducing foods are.
  2. List the foods as headers and wrap them in an <h2> or <h3> tag

Other Trends in Featured Snippets

If you review enough search results pages looking for featured snippets you’re bound to find patterns in the way they’re formatted and as you can see from the above example, Google often pulls in a pages headers as a list in the featured snippet.

Headers

Because Google uses your headers to learn what your page is about and considers them to be strong signals of relevancy, it makes sense that they often get pulled into the featured snippet. For this reason, it also makes sense to write your headers as answers to the query you’re focusing on or look back at Google’s People Also Ask queries and consider formatting your headers based on those.

Jump links

Another way content is commonly pulled into featured snippets is from a list of jump links at the top of the page so that users can click on different sections of your content and jump to that area rather than having to scroll down to it.

Here’s an example of how Google is pulling the jump links at the top of this Nerdwallet post into the featured snippet:

Jump links often produce the featured snippet for editorial content. Part of the reason for this is likely because your link list is usually prominently placed at the top of your post and includes relevant keywords that summarize the contents of your post well.

How to Write for Featured Snippets: Get Straight to the Point

Since the main idea behind the featured snippet is to provide users with quick answers and information, it makes sense to address information directly related to your target search query early on your page with clear and concise writing.

Google places more weight on the information near the top of your page since users are more likely to interact with the content first and Google isn’t going to serve a long-winded response if there’s a competitor page that answers a user’s query in a couple of sentences, so don’t bury the lead – get straight to it!

This is a straightforward process you can use across your new pages or when looking for good ways to optimize the pages you already have. Keep in mind that if you’re already ranking on the first page of Google, data shows you’re in the running for the featured snippet so might as well give it your best shot.

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