Featured snippets for voice results

Fernando Maciá

Written by Fernando Maciá

Featured snippets for voice results are text-type featured snippets that Google can read out loud when using voice search. It is important that you include the query you are targeting as a header followed by a direct answer in the first paragraph. Paragraphs between 35 and 58 words long seem to work best. But if you want to maximize the chances of getting clicked, include more words.

Getting featured snippets and its future impact on voice search was the topic on which I focused my presentation on SMXL Milano 2017:

The following text is a transcript of the main contents of this presentation. Examples mentioned in the text refer to those included in the presentation.

As SEOs, we have always pursued to get number 1 positions for our clients. Right? Getting to the first position is the main goal of SEO, we used to say. Think again, though: not any more.

The impact of featured snippets

So first position was always our main goal. But now, getting to position zero is even better. When you are displayed as a featured snippet for any of your targeted keywords, you are getting much more attention, more branding recognition and possibly much more clicks –a higher CTR– than ever before. Of course, when we went to school a 0 meant that you had the worst possible grade. Not here: a zero position means that you got the highest prize and the bonus.

Let’s see what is exactly what we are talking about. On desktop searches, even if you get both number 1 and number zero positions, you will get roughly 20% of the total screen area. That means a much higher posibility to get a click on your result.

If we make the same search from a tablet and also get both position zero and first, we will occupy 50% of the screen. We will compete with just one more result in the whole above-the-fold area.

So, as you can easily see, the smaller the screen, the bigger the benefit that we get from a featured snippet.

Let’s move a step further and try the same search from a smartphone. Tablets sales and navigation use seems to be pretty stalled in the last years while the use of smartphones to navigate through the Internet is constantly increasing. If users in your industry use mostly mobile devices and informational queries play an important role along your users’ customer journey, then you “win the jackpot”, as chances are that you are the only result on the screen.

Voice search

Voice search
More than 20% or searches made from mobile devices are voice searches and this percentage is likely to increase.

But wait, there’s even more: if your users are between 16 and 24 years, you have almost 30% of probabilities that they will use voice search. You will not only be the only result on the screen but also your brand and your result will be the only content that your user will hear.

Now, that is a huge difference. On desktop search results, CTR usually tops at 40% for first positions, then falls below 3% for positions under top5. But in a voice search context, you are the only result in front of your users’ eyes and ears.

And if you think that the impact of voice search is very limited, think again. Smartphones and other screenless devices are truly becoming our personal assistants in every context of our daily life: at home, on the car, at work… everywhere!! And once we start using voice interfaces and check that they are really able to understand us, it becomes a habit. And once it becomes a habit, then the impact will increase wildly. So, we’d better be prepared to battle to be position 0.

Be the best to get a 0

What does it take to be number 0? Well, it is easy. All it takes is to be the best. Google will choose your content and show it as a featured snippet only if it clearly fits a user’s search. Let’s see how we can do it.

Ok, first of all, you have to find the right keywords. Although Google is showing featured snippets for more and more searches, informational queries are the optimal candidates to receive the prize. If you can identify which informational searches your target clients would do, then you have the starting point.

Second, once you know what they want, be prepared to give them what the best possible content, clear and to the point. They are asking direct questions so they expect direct answers. This is no time for literature.

Third, there are different types of featured snippets. Targeting one or another depends on the queries that your users might search, on the format you decide to code your content and also on the type of featured snippet that you are pursuing. And four: offer the best possible user experience. You should focus on minimizing short clicks as those are a signal for Google that perhaps your content is not the best and should not deserve to be featured.

Find the right keywords

Ok, then let’s start with finding the right keywords. If you have more or less outlined your customer journey, then you should try to find informational queries that migh have possible direct answers.

Those queries are perfect candidates for content that might be selected as a featured snippet. The good part is that, as these queries are not so closely related to a buying intent, they are not so competed for.

So, it is usually easier to get to top positions for these keywords that for searches further down the conversion funnel.

Some hints here:

  • #1 hint: focus on keywords in the middle of the customer journey. This where most users try to find the answer to their objections or to confirm their motivations.
  • #2 hint: find queries that start with what, where, who, which, how… These patterns frequently favor a featured snippet with a direct answer from Google.
  • #3 hint: find queries that might return a list of elements or a series of steps to accomplish something. Data like lists and tables are also good candidates to be shown as featured snippets by Google.

Besides considering our customer journey, we can also use tools like keywordtool.io. Beginning with a first keyword, keywordtool.io will suggest a number of other keywords including or related to the original one. Specially under the Questions tab, we will find lots of closely related questions that we can filter with prepositions like waht, when, how, etc. that might have a direct answer. Those are candidate queries for direct answer contents that show up as featured snippets.

Another handy tool to identify related questions is answerthepublic.com. Beginning with a first keyword, answerthepublic.com uses Google suggested searches as a source of data to populate clusters of related questions classified by preposition: what, how, when, why… We can look at the graphics or extract the tabular data to identify the best keywords.

We can also use SEMRush to identify the keywords where our competitors are getting featured snippets. There is a link under SERP functionalities to filter by featured snippets.

With SEMRush, we not only learn what these keywords are, but also how the content that our competitors created to get a featured snippet is and the way we should create ours to beat them. We can then analyze this content to see what worked for them: length of the page, external references, lists, tables, link profile, domain authority…

On Sistrix, we also find a “rich snippet” filter where we can further dig down to select featured snippets and identify keywords where our competitors are getting listed.

And if we want to know which kind of searches and featured snippets formats are increasing, then we can use Moz Analytics Trended Analysis. With this tool, we can know how many of our total number of target keywords are showing featured snippets. A study by Eric Enge, from StoneTemple, shows that Google is displaying featured snippets for an increasing number of results.

Identify the content you have and the one you are missing

Ok, now we should know on which keywords we should focus. We already have our target keywords for our featured snippets goals.

What do we need next? Of course: content. And perhaps we’ve got it or perhaps we don’t. We can ask Google Search Console.

Filtering by each preposition, we can find queries where we are getting impressions and/or clicks. The best candidates would be queries already included in our list of target keywords and for which our CTR is significantly higher than the average or queries that respond to the search of a definition, a concept… Things that might have a simple and direct answer.

After filtering by queries, for instance, keywords that start with “what”, we can then segment by pages to find out which organic landing pages are positioned for these queries. We should check the average position and the click through rate.

Although it is possible to be featured snippet without being position 1, it is generally easier if we already have good positions and a good CTR to start with.

Optimize your content

Ok, then: do we have the right content? Let’s optimize it!! let’s tweak it a little so that it is easier for Google to understand it.

First of all, check for pages that go from general to specific. Yes, Google can grab the right content from whatever place it may be along your page. But it is a good idea to start with a direct answer and then develop all the related ideas an arguments that support this initial statement.

From a user’s point of view, this structure is also better because he would find what he needs much faster. If he wants to know much deeper, then he can read the rest of the content. Also, if your site is dealing with content that might be marked up with structured data, please do it. Again, although it is not strictly necesary for Google to understand your content, it might help.

If you are already getting some featured snippets, you can also optimize the way your content is displayed. For instance, in this first example, we got a text-type featured snippet but no image. Although the result occupy most of the screen, an engaging image would probably get more clicks. On the second example, Google is showing our text as featured snippet but not our image. Clicks on the image will take the user to a different web site. And that is not what we want. On the third example, Google is showing both our text and our image and we are both on position 0 and 1, so we completely dominate the result. This would be our goal.

If we are afraid about users getting all the information they require from the featured snippet, so we could start losing traffic, we can try to force engaging signals like ellipsis in text-type featured snippets or “more elements” note on tables and lists. If users see that there is much more interesting content to discover behind those ellipses or “more elements”, then they will likely click more on the result to see it. Lists with more than 8 items, tables with lots of rows or paragraphs longer than 60 words will probably include these signals.

We should not only optimize the content but also every other aspect of the on-page relevance factors. And, considering that we are trying to target searches made from mobile devices, the speed would also be one of the most important ones. In this case, instead of using traditional tools like PageSpeed, we would recommend using the performance audit with LightHouse, on the Chrome Developers Tools.

What makes this audit different is that it measures the speed from a user’s perspective. That’s it: how the download of the page would be perceived by the user. This perspective is important because what we want to avoid here is short clicks. Users coming to the page from a featured snippet, then quickly going back to the results page because it took too much to download.This tool shows a timeline where we can see how the actual rendering of the page would develop and how long it would take. So, pretty handy.

Create the right content

And what, if you don’t have the content? Well, as Bryan Eisenberg says It is day 1 to start creating the right content.

First of all, depending on your industry and the featured snippet that you are targeting, you should select the right keywords and the right format for your content.

For instance, if you want a text-type featured snippet or a voice result, then you should focus on creating content that is a direct answer to a certain query. In this case, the search intent is finding the definition of an unknown concept: conversion rate optimization. We can see that Google has grabbed the first paragraph under the header and the included image. There is no structured data, just plain HTML with an h1, a paragraph tag and an image tag.

If your topic is related to recipes or any other kind of step-by-step guides, then you should try to include lists and structured data. In this example, we find that ingredients are correctly marked up as structured data in an unordered list, the name of the recipe is an h2 header and yet, Google is showing the list of ingredients as a numbered list.

If it is a voice result what we want, a list type featured snippet is not a good idea. Google does not “read” lists or tables. At least, not yet. So, if you want a voice result, you should stay with just a header an a plain paragraph so that Google can show it as a text-type featured snippet. This way, Google is able to read it and you get the extra bonus of a higher brand recognition.

If your users are interested in rankings and classifications –for instance, in sports, economy, business and many other topics– then perhaps a table type featured snippet is what you want. Keep in mind, however, that Google is able to skip columns and grab just the data that was required on the query. In this case, we have table type featured snippet that also includes an image.

So wrapping up, depending on your industry, your users will require a certain kind of information from you or another. This will lead to different kind of queries and different kinds of content that would fit those queries. The way we create the content and the formatting we use will also determine which type of featured snippet we get:

Types of featured snippets

Targeted KeywordContent typeCoding formatTargeted featured snippet
definitions, what is… queriesglossary, informational content, blog, FAQText+imageText-type FS, voice-search FS
advice on.., how to… queries
Tutorials, help section, step-by-step guidesOrdered and unordered lists + imageList-type FS
list of sorted results: most populated cities of…, prices of Ferrari models…Product specifications, price lists, characteristicsTable, ordered listsTable-type FS


Wrapping up

  • Try to include direct answers to your target queries first. Then, develop your content
  • Use structured data mark up whenever possible although it is not strictly required
  • Most text-type FS are 30-58 words long (ideal 45-48)
  • To target voice-searches, try to get text-type FS
  • If you want to force a final “ellipsis”, then you can try to make your paragraph longer than 60 words or your list longer than 8 elements for increased CTR
  • Provide an excellent user experience

How to monitor featured snippets

Once you implement the optimization of your content or the creation of new pages, check in SEMRush what is working as expected and what is not. Also, find what works best for your industry, for your competitors, and study their contents to beat them. Remember, the prize is well worth it.

Here you can see the impact that we got on a web site after applying this strategy. We not only got more visibility but also got more traffic, brand recognition and conversions.

Relax, and enjoy!!!

References about featured snippets

Ranking #0: SEO for answers

Featured Snippets: New Insights, New Opportunities

Google’s Featured Snippets: Automated Continuous Improvement

New Featured Snippets Opportunity: YouTube Descriptions

How to rank for ‘position 0’ in 3 simple steps: A featured snippets primer

5 ways to identify potential featured snippets to rank for

Google Featured Snippets – What Makes Them Appear

What We Learned From Analyzing 1.4 Million Featured Snippets

How To Find Google Featured Snippets Using SEMrush And Google Search Console (GSC)

9 Tips on How to Rank for Featured Snippets

A Complete List of the Different Types of Featured Snippets

What are Featured Snippets?

Surveying the Featured Snippets

New Featured Snippets Opportunity: YouTube Descriptions

Why Featured Snippets Can Rocket You to the Top in SEO – Here’s Why 133

How to Optimize for Google’s Featured Snippets to Build More Traffic

How to Discover and Track Featured Snippets

Google won’t add featured snippets analytics in Search Console

Proof: Featured Snippets & Rich Results Filters Coming To Google Search Analytics

Google Not Releasing Featured Snippets Search Analytics Filter?

References about voice search

Just say it: The future of search is voice and personal digital assistants

OK Google, Siri, Alexa, Cortana; Can you tell me some stats on voice search?

2017 Will Be The Year Of Voice Search

Google says 20 percent of mobile queries are voice searches

Lessons from 1,000 Voice Searches (on Google Home)

From Desktop to Home: Optimizing for Voice

Fernando Maciá
Autor: Fernando Maciá
CEO of Human Level. He's an expert in SEO, online marketing plans and web internationalisation. He's also a digital marketing teacher and an accomplished writer, having published several books on web positioning, social media marketing, and strategies to earn customers on the Internet.

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