Google is actively rolling out featured snippets for a wide variety of search queries because they want to serve quicker answers to people.
And SEO professionals are absolutely excited about this new opportunity because featured snippets give a chance for low-ranking pages to get to the top of search results with almost zero effort.
Last year, Ahrefs jumped on this bandwagon by intoducing support for all sorts of “SERP features” in the Site Explorer and Keywords Explorer tools.
And today, we have collected enough data to carry out a substantial research of featured snippets and share all our findings with you.
What is a Featured Snippet?
A Featured Snippet (otherwise called Answer Box) is a brief answer to a user’s search query, which is displayed on top of Google search results. It is extracted from one of the top-ranking pages for that search query and includes that page’s title and URL.
It looks like this:
But that was my own definition. You might also want to know how Google themselves describe it.
What makes a featured snippet so enticing?
If your page is ranking anywhere in the top10 Google search results, it has a chance to also get the #0 spot – a featured snippet.
And the best part is that the amount of effort required to get featured is almost zero (that is, if you get lucky).
I mean, let’s say that you rank #7 for some keyword. Trudging your way to #1 would usually be quite challenging and slow. But if there’s a featured snippet opportunity, you can get there almost instantly with just a few small adjustments on your page.
So let’s see what Ahrefs’ data tells us about featured snippets and how to take advantage of this awesome opportunity.
1. How many search queries have a featured snippet?
When we performed this study, we had ~112 million keywords in our US database, almost ~14 million of which had featured snippets in their SERP.
In other words, according to Ahrefs’ data, ~12.29% of search queries have featured snippets in their search results. (Which is quite a lot, if you ask me.)
Performing a study on 14 million keywords would be rather challenging, so most of the experiments below are based on smaller samples (up to 2 million keywords, depending on the experiment).
2. Do featured snippets drive more clicks?
Featured snippets are styled differently from the rest of the search results. They occupy more real estate, and they clearly catch the eye.
So they should attract a lot of clicks, right?
When there’s a featured snippet at the #1 position, it only gets ~8.6% of clicks (on average), while the page that ranks right below it will get ~19.6% of clicks (on average).
How does it compare to a regular #1 ranking page with no featured snippet above it? That page will get ~26% of all clicks.
In other words, it looks like the featured snippet is stealing clicks from the #1 ranking result.
Just in case you want to know a bit more about the details of the above experiment, we only selected search queries that didn’t have any paid ads, and we excluded all branded search queries where the #1 ranking result had sitelinks. Sample size: 100k keywords with search volume of at least 100 searches per month.
But, as you may already know, not all searches result in clicks on the search results:
So we also decided to study the “Clicks-to-Searches” ratio for keywords that had a featured snippet in the search results VS those that didn’t.
And here’s what we’ve got:
It looks like featured snippets do reduce the overall number of clicks. Which is no surprise, actually, since the goal of these featured snippets is to give the searcher an instant answer to their question so they wouldn’t have to click.
Please treat the results of the above experiments with a grain of salt because featured snippets aren’t the single contributing factor to both CTR and Clicks/Volume ratio of a search query. And the numbers vastly vary from keyword to keyword, while we’re giving you averages across a large sample. But the general takeaways do seem to make a lot of sense nonetheless.
3. What are the most common ranking positions of featured snippets?
In the above experiment, we only looked at the search queries where the featured snippet was ranking at the very top of the search results.
But how often does this occur?
It looks like only 30.9% of featured snippets rank at the very top. And still, the vast majority of them rank in the top5 quite consistently.
4. Is top10 ranking required to get “featured”?
According to our data, it is 99.58% positive that Google only features pages that already rank in the top10.
But now you’re probably wondering what’s up with these 0.42% “outlier” pages? The answer is simple: they are taken from some other SERP feature, like an Answer Box.
So it appears there’s no way to rank in a featured snippet if you don’t already rank anywhere on the front page of Google.
5. Do backlink signals help you get a featured snippet?
For each individual search query, we compared the backlink metrics of a “featured” page vs. median value among the rest of the pages in the top10 organic results.
Here’s what we’ve got:
In the vast majority of cases, the backlink metrics of a “featured” URL seem to be on par with the rest of the pages in SERP. So Google doesn’t seem to be featuring “the strongest” page in the top10.
DR & UR only measure the overall quality and quantity of incoming backlinks. We didn’t study the anchor texts of these backlinks, or surrounding text, or topical relevance of the linking pages. So we can’t advise you to discount all backlink factors at once.
6. How many featured snippets can a single page rank for?
The top-performing page in our database owns 4,658 featured snippets!
It’s this one:
You can browse the search queries where this page is featured using Ahrefs’ Site Explorer tool.
Just go to the “Organic keywords” report and use the “Features” filter:
And here are the top10 pages by the amount of featured snippets they rank for:
- (4658) https://authoritynutrition.com/how-to-lose-weight-as-fast-as-possible/
- (3159) http://www.healthline.com/health/rashes
- (3130) http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/whats-causing-my-chest-pain
- (3055) https://authoritynutrition.com/6-proven-ways-to-lose-belly-fat/
- (2993) https://authoritynutrition.com/12-weight-loss-pills-reviewed/
- (2918) http://www.savethestudent.org/make-money/10-quick-cash-injections.html
- (2354) https://www.onlinevideoconverter.com/mp3-converter
- (2289) https://torrentfreak.com/top-10-most-popular-torrent-sites-of-2016-160102/
- (2167) http://www.healthline.com/health/raised-skin-bump
- (2150) https://www.rush.edu/health-wellness/quick-guides/what-is-a-healthy-weight
Research these pages with Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and learn from their success.
We already know that a single page can rank in the top10 for thousands of relevant keywords (see our previous study). But it turns out that a single page can also “be featured” for thousands of search queries.
7. Which search queries trigger featured snippets?
Let’s take a closer look at the 2 million search queries with featured snippets that we have randomly selected for this study.
Here’s their distribution by monthly search volume:
Somehow, I always thought Google only cares to display a featured snippet if the keyword is fairly popular. But it turns out the majority of featured snippets are triggered by long-tail keywords.
This data actually supports the “create great content” mantra.
I mean, there’s almost no way you could purposefully target millions of featured snippets for millions of long-tail keywords.
But if you stick to writing detailed in-depth articles that fill all possible blank spots that people might have, you’re increasing your chances to rank for a bunch of “long-tail featured snippets.”
8. Which words trigger featured snippets?
Here are the top30 most frequently met words among the search queries that trigger featured snippets (stop words excluded):
A.J. Ghergich has done some great research, studying the relations between types of search queries (questions, prepositions, comparisons) and formats of featured snippets (paragraph, table, list).
Immediately after reading it, I wanted to know the “popularity” of each group of search queries:
To my sincere surprise, the vast majority of keywords that trigger featured snippets didn’t belong to any of the three aforementioned groups.
Here are a few examples of keywords from the group “Other”:
- primary taste sensations
- verizon lg g2 update
- windows 10 compatibility
- cocktail weiner recipe
- gmat scores range
9. Which websites get “featured” most often?
I’m sure you won’t be surprised if I say that Wikipedia is the absolute leader in the amount of featured snippets it owns.
But can you guess the top20 “most featured” websites in the United States?
Research these websites with Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and learn from their success.
I don’t know about you, but I was rather surprised to see YouTube as the #7 “most featured” website.
I mean, you do get a large Knowledge Graph panel with a video in it when you search for some YouTube video (like a Katy Perry song).
But YouTube also owns featured snippets for search queries like these:
- bromite lewis structure
- microsoft access database password recovery
- summertime ceiling fan direction
- connect hdmi to dvi monitor
- how to get to the maelstrom legion
- cleaning filter on kitchenaid dishwasher
- is the diamond play button real diamond
- what is dual band
Basically, Google is happy to feature the descriptions of relevant YouTube videos, even when they are just a few sentences long:
10. How often does Google change featured snippets?
This one was quite tricky to study because we don’t update SERPs for all keywords in our database with the same frequency. The more popular a keyword is, the more often we update it. Which means that longer tail keywords might not have their SERP updated in 2-3 months.
So we took 10,000 of our most frequently updated keywords (in the United States) and got this:
How to rank in a featured snippet
I hope you enjoyed our takeaways and now have a much deeper understanding of Google’s featured snippets.
But the most important question was left unanswered:
How do you rank in a featured snippet?
Unfortunately, there’s no guaranteed way to do it. But there are quite a few things you can try to increase your chances.
1. Secure the featured snippets that you already own.
The odds are your website ranks in a few featured snippets already.
You can easily see that in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer tool by applying a “Features” filter to the list of keywords that you rank for:
(We only rank in 12 featured snippets with ahrefs.com website)
If you don’t want someone else to steal these featured snippets away from you, you have to make sure that each of your featured snippets perfectly matches its search query.
There are three simple ways to do it:
- Your content should be awesome and up-to-date;
- Try to provide both the question and the answer on your page (make sure both are short enough to fit the “box”);
- Match your content to the current format of the snippet (paragraph, list, table, image).
Here’s a great post by Richard Baxter that shows this strategy in action: Optimising for Google’s Quick Answer Box.
2. Look for existing opportunities.
We already know that any page that ranks in the top10 Google search results can be “featured.”
You can use Ahrefs’ Site Explorer to quickly find the keywords with featured snippets where your website is ranking in the top10:
(Looks like there are 195 keywords with featured snippets where ahrefs.com website ranks in the top10)
The key to winning these snippets from your competitors isn’t in any way different from what I just suggested.
You just have to “feed” Google a better snippet than what’s already listed.
Some people have reported that using structured markup helps to get featured. At first Google confirmed it, but immediately after they said otherwise.
Well, according to a recent study from GetStat, Schema.org markup is actually less common on featured snippet URLs than it is on regular search results:
We noted that the code snippet of itemtype=”http://schema.org/ appeared on 15.7 percent of featured snippet URLs, but we saw the same markup on 19.6 percent of regular search result URLs. Wikipedia was the number one domain for featured snippets in our data set and they don’t use Schema.org, which may have skewed our results here.
3. Write in-depth content that helps people
As you just learned from this study, the majority of featured snippets are:
- triggered by long-tail keywords;
- triggered by search queries that aren’t categorized as questions, comparisons or prepositions.
This means that the best way to rank for a lot of featured snippets is simply to produce a lot of great content that will address what people are searching for.
And, of course, formatting it in a way where it would be easy for Google to pull featured snippets from it.
That’s all we can tell you about featured snippets as of today. I hope you enjoyed our data and I encourage you to “steal” it for your own articles, presentations and client proposals.
As always, if you would like us to study something else about featured snippets, don’t hesitate to let us know about it in comments. We’ll see what we can do.