If you’re wondering ‘How do I get Featured Snippets?’ then look no further – Here’s a quick 10 step guide of how to win SERP Features in 2021.

10 Steps to get your content used in a Featured Snippet SERP Feature:

  1. Use keyword research to find out what your potential visitors are searching for

  2. Choose which type of query you will be targeting (Question, Preposition or Comparison)

  3. Create content that is relevant and ANSWERS the target query properly

  4. Make sure your targeted query is used in headings and sub-headings

  5. Use SERP Feature friendly formatting

  6. Replace H3s with H2s where possible

  7. Use Bullet Points and Tables for Comparisons and Lists

  8. Use Paragraphs for Questions and Propositions

  9. Add relevant Alt Tags to your images

  10. Put the target query in your video title

A very brief history of SERP Features

The last 10 years has seen the once simple Google SERP (Search Engine Results Page) become an entirely different beast. Gone are the days of 10 organic results ranked 1 – 10. Now, on any given SERP, you’re likely to see a plethora of ‘SERP Features’. These bring richer elements to your results in the form of videos, photos, featured snippets and paid advertising.

What does a SERP look like in 2021?

In the example below the SERP for “which whisky to buy” returns a Google Shopping carousel, a Featured Snippet, a People also ask box and a Top Stories carousel before finally listing the first organic result.

In this case the top organic result is the same content featured in the snippet higher up the page. More on that later. This particular SERP only features 9 organic results, and it’s not uncommon to see less than this when there are more advertisers competing for the search query.

How to win SERP Features in 2019 - SoftStone Digital

So, what are these SERP Features? Should you be working to try and get them for your content? And if so, how do you do that?

What are SERP Features?

Firstly, they come in quite a few different varieties, and depending on what your content is, different types will suit your needs better than others. Some are text based, some are geared up to voice search and some are multimedia-based.

What are the different types of SERP Features?

Below is a list of SERP Features currently in use on Google’s SERPs.

  • Featured Snippets
  • Instant Answers
  • People also ask
  • Top Stories
  • Videos
  • Images
  • Local Pack
  • Knowledge Graph
  • Carousels
  • Shopping Carousels
  • Paid text adverts
  • Articles
  • Site Links

There are others, and more being added all the time, but for the most part this list will give you something to get working towards.

Should I be going after SERP Features?

Short answer; yes. With the way Google is changing the format of its SERPs, you’ll soon find it impacting your organic traffic if you aren’t working towards securing as many features as possible.

The first thing you need to do to secure more SERP Features is make sure your general SEO is in order. You need to be on the first page of Google, and preferably in the top four to stand a chance of being featured.

So, you should be able to just tweak your content using the guidelines below and start seeing your content appear in these coveted spots.

How to win SERP Features

Search Engines like to keep their algorithms close to their chests. Which means there’s no rule book. However, there are some formulas you can apply to your content creation to maximise your chances of being featured.

Below are the key areas to focus on. Remember it will change depending on what you’re trying to achieve and Search Engines are constantly moving the goal posts.

Some SERP Features sit outside the bounds of content and are controlled by Adwords campaigns, Google My Business accounts or your Google News Publisher status. So I’m going to focus on the content-driven features here – Featured Snippets, Instant Answers, People also ask, Images and Videos.

Keyword Research

This is the big one, as with any SEO, before you can rank you need to be clear on what you’re trying to rank for.

One of the most important aspects of this process is making sure that your content is relevant to the user’s query. Using bounce patterns and content analysis, Google is able to give your content a relevancy score which will dictate how likely your content is to be featured.

A simple test for this is to put your query is the form of a question. If you read my article on WordPress Gutenberg you’ll know that that natural language search queries are currently guiding the future of Search in our industry. Thanks to Google’s predictive text most users now are submitting relatively long tail queries. These queries give Google a much clearer idea of the user’s intent.

If a user searches for “Top 10 Scottish Whiskies”, Google understands that the user is expecting to see a list of 10 whiskies that have been labeled as top 10 or best. As such it will feature content which it has reason to believe give the user that exact experience.

How to win Featured Snippets - SoftStone Digital

In this example Google presents a nicely formatted list as well as images and links to various distilleries on the list. A great experience for the user, and a huge opportunity for content creators to get their work in front of the user.

Types of Queries

According to Izzi Smith from SIXT – The queries that make up the majority of Featured Snippets are consist of:

  • 42% Questions (E.g. Should I do weight training or cardio?)
  • 18% Prepositions (E.g. Guitars with Single Coil Pickups)
  • 23% Comparisons (E.g. Best whisky under £50)

This is a useful way to consider your target queries. Try and create a mixture of content with a similar balance of questions, prepositions and comparisons as the targeted query.

There are literally thousands of tools out there for doing your keyword research. answerthepublic.com is a great one for helping to come up with queries in question, preposition or comparison form. Alternatively you can work with some of the major industry players like MOZ or SEMrush. Both of these have free and premium versions and are fully featured SEO tools.

Content Formatting

This brings us nicely on to formatting your content to target Featured Snippets (this also applies to People also ask and Instant Answers).

Unstructured content, such as sentences, tends to describe answers in prose form; however, structured content, such as tables and lists, tends to describe answers in terms of attribute values and attribute relations, or fact sets. For example, in the case of a list, the list comprises ordered attributes of list entries. In the case of a table, row and column attributes define relations between various attributes.

Google patent application 62036945

Bullet Points and Tables for Comparisons

Put simply, if you’re writing a piece of content targeting a comparison Featured Snippet, then use a numbered list or bullet points. This simple formatting tells Google that you have a list. Pair this up with an H2 heading (it’s important that you use H2s here) which has solid relevancy towards the user’s query and you’ve put yourself in a good position to get featured for that content. Remember, the content still needs to rank preferably in positions 1 to 4, bullet points are not a magical formula to get you to the top of Google!

If you are comparing the specifications of two products – cars for example. Create a table, again with an H2 and Google will understand that this table compares the various aspects of the Land Rover Range Rover and Discovery models.

Paragraphs for Questions and Prepositions

This is fairly self explanatory, if you want a snippet of your content to make its way into a Featured Snippet, then you should format it as a paragraph. The same applies with H2s (I can’t repeat myself enough on this one) for the headers.

According to Ignite Visibility there are optimum lengths for these paragraphs too; around 45 words or 293 characters – something to bear in mind.

Try and put your paragraph towards the top of your content too, remember it’s going to be a ‘Featured Snippet’ so treat it as such within your content. Use it as a summary, definition or quote that is key to your topic.

General Formatting Rules

Here’s a short list of other formatting to get in check:

  • Images – Use descriptive and topic-relevant alt tags
  • Videos – Make sure your title contains the target query
  • On-page SEO – Make sure you have a good grasp on the basics:
    • URL
    • Page Title
    • Headings and sub-headings
  • Lists, Tables, Images, Paragraphs, Videos and Charts are all good!

Instant Answers

Finally, just a few quick thoughts on Instant Answers. As marketers it might sound counter-intuitive to produce content which will give users answers to their queries without having ever set foot on your site. But there are some obvious use-cases, and some less obvious ones.

For example, if someone searches “John Lewis Customer Support” they will see the John Lewis Customer Support phone number in big bold numbers. Nice and easy for the user to make contact without having to dig. That’s great UX.

But equally if someone gets an instant answer from your content and never visits your site, you have still gained something from that interaction. Brand awareness and trust. It gives you the opportunity to create content that will pitch you as an authority on a given subject.

You need to move away from the idea of ‘owning’ a customer and instead move towards a relationship or conversation with the customer where you can both benefit.

How to win SERP Features - SoftStone Digital

Voice Search

Since Google’s 2013 Hummingbird update – Search has become more semantic; that is to say that Search Engines now have a better understanding of user intent based on natural language queries (otherwise known as Long Tail Queries). This shift also coincides with predictive suggestions on search; Just type “How do I” into Google and enjoy reading the hilarious suggestions that follow.

What this means is that Google is setup better than ever to understand and process longer queries using natural language processing. Perfect then for Voice Search generated by the many Voice assistants that now grace almost every device and platform; Alexa, Google, Siri, Cortana etc…

Voice Assistants rely almost exclusively on Featured Snippets for their canned responses. Which means in a nut shell, if you’ve done your keyword research, and targeted the question based, long tail queries that are best suited to the Voice Assistants, then you can expect to have your content read out by our new AI friends! 

It’s also pretty sensible future proofing. It’s fairly safe to assume that Voice Assistants and Voice Search will improve over time, become more ubiquitous and spread into other aspects of technology. Therefore, it makes sense to be ahead of the curve, and ‘Voice-Ready’ now.

How to get SERP Features – Conclusion

As always, content is key. Make sure your content is the best it can be and relevant to the target query. If you haven’t got this step right, go back and do more research, everything else will just be wasting your time.

Have a strategy in advance – if you’re targeting a comparison query, then use lists and tables. For ‘how-to’ content, consider making a step-by-step list that runs the length of the content. WikiHow are the kings of this and as a result they get literally millions of Featured Snippets. (According to data taken from SEMrush tooling Wikihow have seen as many as 35 Million sessions in a month from Featured Snippets Traffic, and C-NET around 6 million sessions).

SERP features are still developing, and they look set to stay for good. So getting your content in shape now should put you in a good position in the future too. The growth of voice Search and natural language queries means that marketers can understand the user’s intent better than ever. As a result search engines can add extra levels of detail and texture that can be returned with confidence.

So, should you be going after SERP Features in 2019? Absolutely – Happy hunting!

EDIT 14/01/20:

How do you get SERP Features?

In a marketing-inception twist, this article managed to get a SERP Feature by following the steps above. Making a SERP Feature about SERP Features with a screenshot of the article as a SERP Feature. Where’s Leonardo Dicaprio when you need him?!

A SERP feature about how to win SERP Features
My blog about SERP Features as a SERP Feature.

But theres a caveat to this apparent win. The use of the word ‘win’. It’s a debatable point, but not everyone will say win when it comes to Search marketing. Instead you might say ‘How to get SERP Features in 2019’. That being said I can see I’m ranking just above SEMrush and MOZ so I can’t be too far off the mark.

How to win SERP Features - SoftStone Digital

This really raises the point that one of the most important steps is the keyword research. If the search demand isn’t there you will find it much easier to get SERP Features (or rank in general) but you’ll get a lot less traffic and engagement from it.

So, how do you get SERP Features? follow the steps above, then monitor the results, rinse and repeat. It’s that simple. Hopefully these steps will help you get to the top of Google.

Read more of my digital marketing articles.