This is the first post of my new SEO Challenges section. The goal here is to teach you something which you can use in order to improve your site and then challenge you to do it and succeed. These challenges are a part of my Search News You Can Use Newsletter. The newsletter also includes a huge number of tips each month that will help you to continually improve your site whether you are a complete beginner or an experienced SEO.
What are featured snippets?
A featured snippet is a box that appears at the top of the search results that usually quickly answers a users' query. Here is an example:
In some cases, featured snippets can result in a loss of search traffic.
But, in most cases, having a featured snippet can result in a nice big jump in traffic.
How does Google decide who gets the featured snippet?
While we don't know exactly how Google makes these decisions, a few people have studied these extensively and have tried to figure out the best ways to get these. Here are some posts I would recommend reading for more details:
What we learned from analyzing 1.4 million featured snippets - by A.J. Gherich
Slideshare version of the same post by A.J (There are a few extra nuggets in here.)
How to get featured snippets for your site - by Eric Enge
How to earn your featured snippets - by Qi (Vincent) Zhao
Game of featured snippets - how to rank in position 0 - by Larry Kim
How to find easy featured snippet opportunities - by David Butler (This post includes info on using SEMRush's keyword magic tool which is pretty cool.)
The posts I have linked to above go into details on the different types of featured snippets as well as many other details. What we're going to do here is give you step by step instructions to follow and challenge you to win some of these for your own site. I would love for you to share your successes with me afterwards!
Step 1. Identify opportunities
How do we determine which featured snippets we could possibly win? There are two ways that I have found work well. One is to use information from SEMRush. The second is to use information from Google Search Console.
Method 1: SEMRush
SEMRush has a great interface for identifying featured snippet wins and opportunities. However, if you are not a paid member you will only get to see a small number of opportunities. I highly recommend paying for SEMRush. It's one of my top recommended SEO tools.
You can see a list of possible featured snippets for your site by entering your domain name here:
Click on "organic research" in the top left corner.
On the right hand side you should see this:
Note: small sites may not see any featured snippets. If that's the case, skip to method #2.
Click on featured snippet.
The list that follows contains keywords for which there is a featured snippet.
You may own some of those featured snippets but in most cases, I've found that someone else owns them.
Check out the search results for some of those terms where you rank on the first page but not in the featured snippet position and see if you think you have a post that could be used for a featured snippet.
Keep reading...soon I'll give you an example of some featured snippets I am going to try to win for my veterinary site.
Method #2: Google Search Console Search Analytics
GSC is free for all webmasters to use. If you are not using it, you really should get your site connected to GSC now.
Go to Google Search Console --> Search Tools --> Search Analytics
Now click on "No filter" under Queries:
Let's do some searches for queries that have the following words:
Now, for each of those, check clicks, impressions and position and sort the list of keywords by Impressions:
Now I've got a list of the most popular questions that people are asking about my content. Take a look at some of those for which you are ranking in the top five positions and do some Google searches to see if those queries are triggering featured snippets. (Note: You don't have to be in the top 5 in order to win a featured snippet, but it seems to be a little bit easier if you are. You can still try this for lower ranked queries as well.)
Here are some places where I think I could win some featured snippets for my veterinary site:
This query has over had over 800 impressions this month for me. A Google search shows me that there is a featured snippet that really doesn't answer the query well:
Here is another search query which is not being answered well in the featured snippet:
I'm going to be a little vulnerable here and tell you that I am going to do everything I can think of to try to win these featured snippets. I encourage you to do the same! (At the end of the post you can see how to enter the challenge.)
What if you don't have any queries in GSC that are helpful?
If this is the case then it's time to use your noggin! Start thinking and Googling about questions that people might ask in your industry. You can try typing your main keyword in to Answer the Public to get some ideas for questions that people might ask. You can also try searching Yahoo Answers for topics related to your website to see what kind of questions people ask.
If there is no featured snippet, in some cases it may just mean that no one has answered the question properly. This is your chance to perform!
What changes need to be made in order to get a featured snippet?
The articles that I linked to above give some great tips on things that you can change in order to win the featured snippet. Here are what I think are the most important things that we can do.
1) Write a better answer! In the two examples I gave above, the featured snippet answer doesn't really answer the user's query. When the user asked, "Is corn bad for dogs" the answer talks about corn on the cob and not corn overall. When the user asked "Will one grape hurt my dog" the answer talked about grapes in general but not just one single grape.
The key here is to write a concise answer that Google would be proud to display. This is incredibly important.
Aim for 40-50 words in length.
2) Use HTML for lists and tables. If you're trying to capture a featured snippet that displays a list or a table, then write your answer in either a list (i.e. using <ul><li></li></ul>) or using plain old fashioned HTML tables.
3) Utilize your h tags. Often the site that wins the featured snippet will have the search query in an <h> tag. For example, if I were trying to win the featured snippet for "Is corn bad for dogs?" It might be good to have <h2>Is corn bad for dogs?</h2> on my page. I don't believe that an h1 tag will have higher value than h2, 3, etc. but I could be wrong on this.
4) Add an image somewhere near your content. Google seems to like landscape images. According A.J. Gherich, 285 x 160 pixels seem to be ideal. Or, you can use something that can scale down to that size.
Tip: Use this trick to see what your featured snippet would look like if you won it.
If you don't have the featured snippet, try typing in the following:
If you've got a featured snippet there, then you have a chance to win it. You can also see what content Google is pulling from your site. If the snippet they have used doesn't really answer the question well, then it's time to re-format!
Are you ready to start the challenge? Before I write about that, let me tell you what changes I made to try to win the above featured snippets.
The changes I made
1) Is corn bad for dogs?
If you recall, the site that currently has this featured snippet is not really answering the question. I added the following to my post:
- an <h2> tag with the words "Is corn bad for dogs"
- a 49 word answer that answers the question really well
- a 285x160 landscape image
It now looks like this:
I also went to Google Search Console and did a fetch and render (GSC --> Crawl --> Fetch and Render) of this page and submitted it to Google's index (hit the request indexing button).
2) Will one grape hurt my dog?
Here are the changes I made to my post in order to try to win featured snippets:
- I changed the title tag of the page to "Will one grape hurt my dog"?
- I added internal links to this page with the anchor text "will one grape hurt my dog"?
- Added an H3 tag with the question in it.
- Rewrote the answer so that it is now 45 words that completely answers that question.
- Added an image that is 285x160 pixels.
- Added symptoms in <ul><li></li></ul> tags.
I also did fetch and render and submitted this to the index.
How long will it take to win the featured snippet?
I have heard of people who have won the featured snippet almost immediately after requesting a fetch and render and submitting to the index. If Google tends to index your site quickly, this could happen. Otherwise, I would say to give it 1-2 weeks. If you don't have the featured snippet after this, then make more changes and try again.
Here's how to tell if your page has been updated in the index by Google. Click on the arrow next to your result and then on "Cached". You'll then see the date on which it was cached.
If you don't have the featured snippet within a week of your new content being cached, then it's time to try other tweaks.
Update #1! Woohooo....I won one of the featured snippets
I wrote the above post last night. This morning, I did an incognito search for those queries and I have won one of the featured snippets.
Hilariously, I made a typo in my title tag but Google still liked my answer. Here is the result for "will one grape hurt my dog":
The interesting thing is that Google did not use the updated content that I wrote (i.e. the nice 45 word snippet) and they have not used the image that I inserted. Let's see if this changes over the next few days.
It's interesting to note that I still rank #3 organically for this term. The veterinary hospital that previously had the term is ranking at #8.
The other cool thing about having this featured snippet is that if Google Home users or Google Now users ask this question, they'll get an answer vocalizing your answer and your brand name:
For the corn query, Google has cached my page. They've changed who has the featured snippet and given it to Hill's Pet Nutrition. It might be hard for me to win this one because Hill's is a recognized brand who may have more authority speaking on nutrition than me. Still, we'll see if this changes over the next few days.
I'll keep monitoring these queries and update you on the changes.
Update #2 - Darn it. I lost the snippet
I was just about to hit publish on this post that I wrote one week ago and I have lost the grape featured snippet. Here is something interesting. When I do the site: trick (i.e. search for my query plus site:mydomain.com) I can see that Google is not able to grab the appropriate information from my site. The snippet they are using is not the snippet that I wrote that most accurately answers the question.
Remember, I wrote a paragraph that really answers the question well. But instead, Google is grabbing another paragraph. I'm going to now try moving my content that answers the question well up higher on the page. I've just fetched the page in GSC and requested indexing. I'll keep you updated.
For the corn query, if I do a site: search, I see that Google has grabbed my content correctly but for some reason it is not using it for the featured snippet. The snippet has changed now from hillspet.com back to ultimatehomelife.com. This snippet seems to keep changing!
I noticed something interesting here. Take note of the words that Google has bolded for this search:
I find it quite interesting that they bolded "safe for dogs". I also find it interesting that my answer only has two bolded words in it. I'm going to change my answer to try to get more bolded words. I've changed the paragraph to read:
Corn is safe for dogs. Dogs digest corn well. Corn contains good fatty acids and other nutrients. Corn is not bad for dogs. It is a great protein source. However, there are different kinds of corn in dog foods and some are better than others.
To be honest, this reads a little keyword-stuffy to me, but for the sake of experiment I'll submit the page to the index again and see if I can get that featured snippet with those changes.
Are you ready to give this a try? How many times have you read an SEO article and thought, "Oh that's a good idea. I need to implement that" - And then you never get back to it. Let's not make this one of those times. Seriously. I urge you to commit to trying this on at least one or two pages of your site.
If you have succeeded in winning a featured snippet let us know. You can either leave a comment below or even better, send me before and after screenshots (to email@example.com). Feel free to anonymize your results if you'd like. If you want me to mention your success, I'd be happy to link to your website.
The Challenge ends February 26, 2017.
Want more tutorials and challenges like this?
This article is the first challenge in my Search News You Can Use Newsletter. The first edition of this newsletter went out to anyone who was signed up for my free Google Penalty Newsletter. Big changes are in store and while I'll still be sending you free updates on major Google announcements, I'll be sending out a lot more incredibly helpful info in my paid newsletter. For more info, you can read here about the Search News You Can Use Newsletter.
*This post contains an affiliate link to SEMRush. Please know that I have been recommending this tool for quite some time even before having an affiliate code.