How to Optimize for Google’s Featured Snippets

[FYI: This article was initially published on the Ahrefs Blog. However, it has been subsequently rewritten, and I decided to share the original version here.]

Do you want to jump to the first position in Google without acquiring backlinks or significantly updating your content? Featured snippets can help you with that!

Featured snippets are pieces of information that typically appear at the top of Google’s search results. They provide answers to the search query by pulling relevant content from top-ranking pages.

You might be wondering how that’s a good thing for the website that owns the featured snippet. Users see your content in the SERP, and that might mean losing clicks, right?

Well, yes and no.

Check this example:

If link building could be explained in a few sentences, most of us, SEOs, would be out of work. So while the snippet tells you the absolute basics, you still have to click to learn any more than that.

That’s just one example. Featured snippets are one of the most prominent SERP features—and they’re evolving all the time.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • What types of featured snippets are out there
  • How featured snippets influence search and SEO
  • How to find and optimize featured snippets that you already own
  • How to rank for more featured snippets
  • How to keep track of your featured snippets

What types of featured snippets exist?

It’s crucial to know the type of featured snippet Google shows for search queries where you want to own the snippet. There are a few different forms:

  • Paragraph
  • Numbered list
  • Bullet list
  • Table
  • Video

1. Paragraph

A paragraph is the most common type of a featured snippet.

Paragraph featured snippet

2. Numbered list

Numbered list featured snippet

3. Bullet list

Bullet list featured snippet

4. Table

Table in a featured snippet

5. Video (typically from YouTube)

Video featured snippet

Also, there are a few other “snippet-like” results you need to know about to avoid any confusion:

Knowledge panel

Knowledge panel

Knowledge card

knowledge card - quick answer on SERP

These three SERP features have one thing in common. They don’t pull answers from one of the top-ranking search results as they’re based on entities in the Knowledge Graph. While they may contain a link to the source of information (song lyrics, for example), it’s never in the form of a clickable title as we have in featured snippets.

How featured snippets influence search and SEO

Google introduced featured snippets in 2014 and I would say that they’re one of the most prominent SERP changes of the past decade. There are quite a few things that featured snippets changed for both users and SEOs.

Shortcut to the top organic position

If your content is ranking on the first Search Engine Results Page (SERP) for a search query that shows a featured snippet, you can “win” that snippet and shortcut your way to the top position. Let’s break this down.

A study by Ahrefs found that featured snippets come from pages that already rank in the top 10. Moreover, the vast majority of featured snippets pages rank in the top 5.

In conclusion, the higher your content ranks, the more likely it is to get a featured snippet.

Getting to the first SERP is a more manageable goal than ranking number one for a keyword. But if that keyword triggers a featured snippet, it makes the first position a bit more attainable.

Fewer clicks (but not always)

Many SEOs believe that featured snippets reduce clicks on the search results. After all, if the answer to the query is in the SERP, why would you click on a result?

While this is the case for some queries, it’s certainly not the case for them all. It depends on whether Google can provide a satisfactory answer in the snippet.

For example, take a look at the featured snippet for the query, “when does the stock market close”:
a featured snippet that won't attract clicks

The answer is right there. You don’t need any more information than what the snippet provides. And that’s likely why only 23% of searches for this query result in search result clicks.

Keywords Explorer showing less clicks on search results

The takeaway here is that targeting keywords with a low number of Clicks Per Search (CPS) is rarely a good idea.

Pay attention to this when researching keywords in your favourite keyword research tool. Not all of them provide the “Clicks” metric in addition to the search volume.

low clicks per search in ahrefs keywords explorer

Featured snippets as superb branding opportunities

Clicks aside, featured snippets are the first thing that users see in the search results. They’re even more prominent on mobile devices, where they’re often the only thing people initially see:

featured snippets on mobile

This is a very compelling argument in favor of featured snippets.

Increasing your share of voice in SERPs is arguably one of the most important SEO KPIs. That’s because brand-building is proven to be the primary driver of long-term growth.

The more your brand is visible in SERPs for relevant topics, the more you will be associated as a market leader.

How to find and optimize featured snippets that you already own

Despite being the most reliable source of information about organic search rankings, Google Search Console doesn’t show any information regarding featured snippets. You’ll have to use third-party tools like Ahrefs’ Site Explorer to dig into them.

Let’s stick with Site Explorer. Paste in your site, then head to the Organic keywords report to see the keywords you rank for, then filter only for those where Google shows your page in the featured snippet:
Finding the serp features that you own in Ahrefs

Google is pretty smart, but sometimes it doesn’t get things quite right. I recommend checking the search queries yourself to make sure that Google pulls the ‘right’ content.

That said, featured snippets tend to appear for a lot of long-tail keywords. As you can see in the screenshot above, Ahrefs ranks in more than 1,000 featured snippets in the US. There’s no way that we would check hundreds of search queries manually.

We need to make a list of the most important featured snippets for us. And we’ll start by filtering the results further by search volume:
Ahrefs organic keywords - refining the results with filters

This narrows things down to just 50 search queries, which is 5% of the original amount—and a much more manageable number to work with.

Note that when doing this yourself, you should play around with the filter according to your country and industry. In some industries, keywords with a search volume of 100 can be strong head terms.

How to rank for more featured snippets

Winning more featured snippets is a simple way to increase organic traffic to your site potentially. Below, we’ll discuss a few ways to do that.

Leverage content that you already have and rank for

Here, we’ll be looking at pages that already rank in the top 10 for a particular term yet don’t own the snippet. It’s possible to win the snippet just by making a few tweaks to your page.

How to find these opportunities? It’s easy.

With Ahrefs’ Site Explorer you can filter keywords that trigger featured snippets where your website is ranking in positions 2-10 (but not in a featured snippet).
Featured snippets opportunities in Ahrefs

This gets you a list of low-hanging opportunities to steal featured snippets from your competitors. Let’s get you prepared for the heist.

We need to prioritize. Stealing 10k featured snippets at once is a mission impossible.

I reduced the list to 60 keywords by prioritizing those with higher search volumes, where we rank in positions 2-4.
Refining the list of featured snippets opportunities

Now things look much more manageable.

These filters can be different for you. However, if you don’t rank for a substantial amount of keywords already, I’d suggest focusing on creating more great content and building links.

So, we’ve got the list. What’s next?

In our case, I’d prioritize further by manually checking for keywords with solid business value. For example, the search query “most popular websites” is less valuable for us than “how to get backlinks” even though the first has five times the search volume. People who want to build links are much more likely to become our customers.

Taking that query into account, this is what we see:
A featured snippet occupied by a competitor

Our own SEO audit guide that we’d like to rank in a featured snippet might be missing a clear definition of the term “SEO audit.” Additionally, it’s not in the first paragraph.

Improvements for featured snippets

Making a few minor edits might improve our chances of securing a position in a featured snippet. While there’s no guarantee of success, it’s certainly worth trying.

In short, you need to make sure your content contains snippet-worthy information and does so in a way that Google can easily parse, understand, and interpret.

Create new content with featured snippets in mind

Let’s make one thing clear from the start:

You shouldn’t create content just to target a featured snippet. You target keywords because they’re in demand and are relevant to your business. If your content happens to win the featured snippet, well, that’s the icing on the cake.

That said, it still makes sense to keep featured snippets in mind when creating content.

For example, let’s assume that you have a food blog and plan to write a post about how to make pizza dough. You can use similar filters in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer to find potential featured snippet opportunities.

Just enter the seed keyword “pizza dough,” then go to the “Related terms” -> “Also rank for” report and apply the featured snippet filter:
Featured snippets opportunities in keywords explorer

We got a nice list of keywords that the top-ranking pages for “pizza dough” also rank for, which also happen to trigger featured snippets. If we can incorporate some of these subtopics into our content, we may be able to rank for them in the snippets.

Dealing with a few hundred keyword suggestions can be overwhelming in this case. It wouldn’t be practical to incorporate all of them. Instead, we can filter for relevant ones with decent monthly search volumes that show signs of being easy to rank for.

Let’s add a few filters to do this:
Applying filters to refine keyword suggestions

This gives us 46 relevant and easy-to-rank keywords that also trigger featured snippets. All that’s left to do is eyeball the list for subtopics that would make sense to include in our article.

One that immediately stands out to me is “how to roll pizza dough.” This can be one of the subtopics that we could cover in our guide.

Even if we never win the featured snippet, it’s helpful information for readers.

Just remember the “rules” of ‘winning featured snippets when creating and optimizing your post:

  • Format and structure your content correctly (H1-H6, etc.)
  • Try to avoid overcomplicated sentences. Succinct explanations win.
  • Use the language of your audience. In the end, Google uses featured snippets as answers in voice search.
  • Use the Inverted Pyramid Method (where it makes sense).

How to keep track of your featured snippets

You may already be using a rank tracking tool, and many of these tools can also track featured snippets. Let’s take Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker as an example.

The first step is to add all the queries for which you currently own the featured snippet. Ahrefs allows you to directly import keywords from the “Organic keywords” report into your project in Rank Tracker.

Ahrefs Rank Tracker allows you to filter for keywords where you rank in a certain SERP feature, including a featured snippet.
Featured snippet filter in rank tracker

There’s also a specific tab dedicated to SERP features:
SERP features tab in Ahrefs Rank Tracker

Here are the key parts to keep an eye on:

  • the number of featured snippets you currently own (plus the +/- change in the selected period);
  • the number of featured snippets in total for the keywords you’re tracking (plus the +/- change for the period);
  • the percentage of all queries with featured snippets that you currently own (e.g., if there are 100 tracked keywords showing featured snippets and it says 10%, then you own ten featured snippets);
  • a graph showing your progress over time.

Now you know everything you need to crush SERPs with your featured snippets.

Tim Soulo is the Chief Marketing Officer and Product Advisor at Ahrefs, a leading tool trusted by hundreds of thousands of SEOs and marketers worldwide. His SEO-related data research studies have been cited by media giants, including Inc, TechCrunch, and VentureBeat. He's also a regular speaker at some of the largest industry conferences around the globe, such as PubCon (US), BrightonSEO (UK), and the Digital Marketers Australia Conference (AU).