Did you know that it’s possible to jump to the #1 position in Google without actually putting in all the hard work?
No, I’m not talking about using Google Ads.
You’ve probably seen the “quick answers” in Google search results that try to answer your question without having to visit a website – we call these featured snippets.
The amazing thing with these is that anyone on the first page may be selected to be displayed there.
While some work is still involved, getting to the first page is magnitudes easier than actually ranking number one.
Today I’m going to show you how to score these featured snippets and even steal them from your competitors.
Time to learn: 15 minutes
Impact (1-10): 10
Tools required: None
Tools suggested: Ahrefs
Now, let’s get to it…
What Exactly Are Featured Snippets?
What better way to explain what a featured snippet is… Other than to show you a featured snippet about featured snippets?
In other words…
Featured snippets are Google’s attempt at answering the searchers query straight within the search results, without having to click through to a website. These are powerful because they’re always displayed above the other organic search results.
Not only do they get the most exposure, anyone ranking on the first page is eligible to be selected for this.
This means that, in a way, you’ve got a chance at ranking #1 without doing “the hard work”. After all, going from #3 to #1 is usually the same amount of effort as getting to the first page in the first place.
Just like with other keywords, a page can also show up for an unlimited amount of featured snippets. I’ve seen SEOs 4x the traffic on a page just by optimizing for featured snippets with the strategies we’re going to talk about today.
P.S. Until earlier this year you could have both the featured snippet and the #1 search result below that and get double the presence on page one. After the big featured snippet update, this is no longer the case.
But Karl, Won’t This Mean Less Traffic?!
This is one of the main things I hear from people when it comes to featured snippets.
If Google is already giving people the answer – why in the world would someone come to my website? Wouldn’t I be getting less traffic with this?
While this is true for some searches… The vast majority of topics are far too complex to give a full answer to in less than 300 characters.
But they’re still good enough to show the searcher that you know what you’re talking about and put you in the spotlight over competitors.
Beyond that, they take up significantly more space than traditional search results, giving you more exposure.
Hell, combined with other search features like “People Also Ask”, you might not even see any other search results without having to scroll down significantly.
While this is completely anecdotal and based off of sites I own, but in general I see at least a 15-20% increase in traffic from keywords that suddenly start displaying a featured snippet, didn’t have one before, and decided to rank my result.
Different Types of Featured Snippets
Before we get into actually earning and potentially even stealing featured snippets from your competitors, you need to understand the different types of featured snippets that exist.
1. Content snippet
A content based featured snippet features around 50-300 words from an article and may also include an image that is displayed near it.
Most often you’ll find that sites that have these mention the main keyword you’re searching for in the heading (h2 or h3) right before the paragraph as well as the paragraph itself. A photo with optimized file names and alt text may help as well.
2. List based snippets
There are two types of list snippets, ordered and unordered. Ordered lists tend to show up more for how-to type search queries, while unordered lists are more prominent for product round-ups and things of that nature.
The content can come from an actual list that is on your website or from the headings you use on the page (e.g. step one is a heading, followed by a paragraph, and step two is another heading a second paragraph).
3. Table based snippets
Featured snippets can also extract data from tables and present that within a search result. Generally up to four rows and three columns are displayed by default and the user can expand that.
4. YouTube snippets
Google LOVES sending traffic to their own properties and that’s why YouTube featured snippets are becoming more and more common for all types of queries. They’ll also suggest which part of the video to watch to get your answer.
Not only that… They’re also using YouTube video descriptions and featuring those within featured snippets. Just look at the screenshot below.
How long away are we from Google also starting to use video captions or even automatic transcriptions for these results? I can only imagine them growing in popularity.
Before we get into how to actually get or steal featured snippets, we need to find search queries that already have them present.
Like any good SEO will know, the best place to get keyword data is from Ahrefs. They’re the second most active crawler on the web and thus, tend to have the most data available compared to other SEO tools.
How to Steal Featured Snippets
To steal featured snippets, you need to type in your domain in the “Site Explorer” and click on the “Organic Keywords” tab. Then choose “SERP Features” from the top menu and tick the “Featured Snippets” box.
This will give you every keyword your website ranks for that also includes a featured snippet in the search results.
You’ll also see that there’s a small quotation mark next to some of these keywords – that means you already own this featured snippet. You can dig into these examples from your own site and analyze what you’ve done right.
Before we get into the actual factors of earning the featured snippet, it’s important to choose the right keywords for this.
While you can earn the featured snippet from any position on the first page (I’ve gotten it from #9 many times), the higher you rank on the first page, the better your chances are of being selected for the snippet.
This means you’ll want to prioritize keywords where you’re already at least in the top 5.
Now, let’s get into the meat and potatoes.
1. Check the Featured Snippet Type
The first thing I do when trying to steal a featured snippet is figure out what type Google has selected for the query. For example, if there’s already a video snippet for the search result, you’re going to have a very hard time replacing it with a content snippet.
Your first attempt at stealing the snippet should always be to match the current format.
On the other hand, the opposite may also be an opportunity.
Sometimes you’ll see a paragraph snippet that is simply a poorly formatted list or the information can be conveyed better in an ordered list format – this is your chance to steal the snippet, by displaying the content better.
Remember the example snippet of the fastest motorcycles, displayed in a table?
Well, if you Google for “fastest production cars” you’ll see that even though the query is similar, it’s displayed in a list with the top speed within bullet points.
If all other strategies fail from this list, I would try adding a table summary above the normal headings with the model, top speed, and year.
Hell, you can even see Google suggesting adding years to the search to get more relevant results. It’s a clear indicator that searchers find this information important.
Here’s another example, where the website is using weird characters in their text to make a list. It results in a content snippet instead an ordered list – which one would be better for user experience?
2. Is the Existing Content Relevant?
You don’t have to be in SEO for very long to know that Google messes things up.
No seriously, like really often.
They have the same habit with featured snippets and this is your opportunity to get some easy traffic.
The main way this happens with featured snippets is that Google gives you a partial or irrelevant answer.
I probably should… But I don’t keep a running list of Google’s screw-ups.
That means that off the top of my head, I couldn’t come up with a specific query that not only has a featured snippet but is also screwed up… But I got pretty close!
This answer isn’t necessarily wrong but it’s not the most insightful to the search term “how to sell textbooks”. Queries like this tend to be fairly easy to take over by answering the question in a more direct way.
3. Use Headings to Add Clarity
I already mentioned this in the bit about content snippets. One of the easiest ways to increase your chances of getting the featured snippet is by including a keyword-rich, descriptive heading (H2/H3) right before the content itself.
This applies to all of the snippet types – whether you have a list, table, or content competitor.
Here’s an example from the website ranking for “best garden hoses”. It’s literally a H2 tag with the keyword and then an ordered list of the best products – and that’s exactly how it displays in the search results.
4. Use Clear and Concise Language
There are two important things to keep in mind for featured snippets.
The first is quite obvious – you’re dealing with Google and that effectively means you’re dealing with a robot. While they can understand language to some extent, they’re very far from being perfect.
The more clear you can be with your language, the higher your chances are of getting a featured snippet. Complex language and filler words will make it harder for Google to understand whether you’re actually answering the query.
Let’s say the user is searching for “what is a featured snippet”.
Someone writing casually within the context of their blog might start the sentence with:
“Featured snippets are gold in SEO. We call them position zero because they sit on top of all the other organic results and provide content within Google.”
While this is totally okay and you’d probably get an idea for what featured snippets are…
Google is much more likely to choose a snippet that starts along the lines of:
“A featured snippet is X. Clarification Y.”
If you know a query is already showing a featured snippet, make it obvious that you’re giving an answer to exactly that query.
Wikipedia kills it when it comes to featured snippets. Look at the way they write most pages and define things.
The second thing to keep in mind here is that featured snippets are generally limited to 300 characters or less. As you’ll learn in a little bit, using synonyms and related words can give Google additional context that your answer is relevant.
This means you’ll want to cut out as many filler words as possible and remove any fluff.
5. Keep Formatting Predictable and Clear
Like I mentioned earlier, Google doesn’t always pull the contents of a featured snippet from one place.
If you look back at our previous example of the best garden hoses, they did actually have a simple ordered list with all the items.
More often than not, they’ll actually have separate headings for each product, a review or description below them, and Google will extract the information from the headings.
Here’s an example where exactly that happens.
6. Use Related Words and Phrases
Similar to when you’re trying to optimize your content, Google uses related words and phrases to gauge the relevance of your content.
You’ll want to use as many related words, phrases, and synonyms as you can – while still making sense, of course.
A great way to do this is use the SEO Ruler Chrome extension.
You may have noticed that when Googling for things, they’ll often bold words that are related to your query. This is the easiest way to increase your relevance for that term and you’ll want to fit in most of them.
Here’s an example of what I mean.
Even though I was searching for how long hair takes to grow, it also highlighted baldness and hair thinning so you’d want to include those in your paragraph as well.
The SEO Ruler function has a feature that’ll extract all the bolded words from the search results and you can do that for the top 100 (ten pages) in just one click.
Matt Diggity says he’s had great results from using scientific and technical words when going after featured snippets. So if you wanted to rank for “how to build a bigger back”, you might include the latin word for the muscle which is “latissimus dorsi”.
7. Add More List Items
This one is something I’ve personally had a lot of success with and have seen floating around in various SEO communities as well. On the other hand, lots of people disagree with it.
When you’re trying to rank for a list based featured snippet, like your typical affiliate round-up of “best garden hoses” – if all your other options are exhausted, you can try simply adding more list items than your competitor.
They reviewed six products? Go for 7 or 8 and see what happens.
In a particular case, my competitor did have six and I didn’t get the snippet until I had our team work up to 13 products. Other times I’ve only needed one or two.
Now, before the gurus jump on me…
Was this actually because I had “more items” or just because I had better/longer content and increased my ranking at the same time?
Who knows. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
But nonetheless, the strategy has worked for me and others countless times.
8. Make List Items More Detailed
This one ties in closely with the previous strategy. There have been plenty of instances where I’m not able to make the list any longer in terms of number of items.
Want to uninstall a software? Here you go, here are the six steps numbered and that’s that.
What you can do however, is add more detailed descriptions below each step and add more information.
Do I think this algorithm says exactly this? Nope, not at all.
But again, it’s worked countless times.
9. Include Overviews and Summaries
This is something I tell all of our writers to do for the vast majority of content created.
In the beginning of the page, have an overview of the things you’re going to cover and a table of contents (the headings for example – there are plugins for WordPress that do this.)
Not only does it give your readers a better experience, these are by nature written in a concise manner and pick up featured snippets easily.
The exact same thing applies for writing proper conclusions and summaries.
10. Keep Your Code Clean
We’ve all known for a long time that clean code in general and following proper development standards is something Google gives some value to.
Gael brought up an example where having “messy” code was actually hindering the website from getting a featured snippet.
If you’re using content builders such as Thrive or Elementor, they’ll often stuff the code with lots of unnecessary tags like spans, divs, and other stuff that doesn’t need to be there.
The div tag, for example, is meant to create divisions/sections in code and are not actually visible to the user.
Remember we talked about being predictable with your formatting and Google pulling the list snippet from your headings?
Because of the theme builder inserting unnecessary div tags, there was a container created that made two of these list items “overlap”.
In other words, it wasn’t clear whether the second heading was a separate list item or unrelated content.
They removed it and stole the snippet.
This entire theory sounded a little bit excessive to me in the beginning but…
One of our sites was using Thrive’s content builder and had this exact issue in all of the round-up posts. We managed to score featured snippets on quite a few of them with no other work and saw traffic go way up.
An easy win.
11. Add an Image For Better CTRs
Every part of your article that you optimize for a featured snippet should have an image next to it with a related file name and optimized alt text.
If you do end up getting the featured snippet, this will give you quite high chances to have the image included in the results, like this:
While it (probably) doesn’t directly help you get the featured snippet, it’s a surefire way to increase your clickthrough rates once you do have it and get more traffic.
Plus… It’s good for your on-page SEO in general.
12. Focus on What Worked for Your Competitors
Here comes the big fat conclusion and what every other article on SEO will tell you when it comes to stealing featured snippets.
Look at what the snippet for your keyword currently looks like, where it comes from on your competitors site, and do it better.
While that is quite useless advice, I hope by explaining the 11 other strategies, this one becomes a much more valuable asset in your toolbox.
You already know what Google is looking for and will see what your competitors are doing right and what could be done better, so start tinkering.
Which brings me to my final strategy and some good news…
13. Force Google to Recrawl Your Page
Featured snippets are pretty amazing in general since they’re relatively easy to get compared to traditional first page rankings and they tend to bring in more traffic.
But my absolute favorite part about them is the fact that you can get the featured snippet instantly after making the changes.
I’ll be fair, this was way more common about a year ago but it still works quite often and could save you days or weeks of waiting.
You do this by going to Google Search Console typing in the page you’ve changed in the inspect URL box on top.
You’ll be presented with a page saying the page is indexed and there’s a button to “Request Indexing”.
By clicking this, Google will generally recrawl your page within minutes and when it comes to featured snippets – these changes may be reflected in the search results near instantly.
Check out the search results for your keyword in 15 minutes and you just may see your site at the top. I generally make 3-4 changes at the same time to increase my chances.
This doesn’t always work so don’t just start revamping the entire page again. Wait 3-4 days and see if anything happens.
On the plus side, if it did work – you’ll know immediately and can move on to the next page.
Bonus Tips for Featured Snippets
While the vast majority of this article focused on the concept of stealing snippets from your competitors and earning them on existing pages, there’s more to it.
One of the best opportunities you have is looking for topics that come with a good amount of featured snippets when doing your keyword research.
Like I’ve mentioned before, reaching the first page is a lot easier than reaching the first position and with these strategies, getting the snippet has pretty good odds.
To finish off, I encourage you to send this post or make a standard operating procedure of your own and share it with all of your writers. It’ll help them create better content and get you more snippets.
They should know how to write optimized content for snippets as well as look up (or be provided with) a list of keywords that include snippets before writing their piece.
I hope you found this week’s guide helpful and as always, if anything was unclear don’t hesitate to reach out and we’ll help you out.
I’ll see you next week with some more SEO valuebombs.
Let’s Smash it!