Featured snippets are comparatively new Google's search feature showing web pages that did the best job answering a user's query in position 0, i.e. on top of organic search results below the ads.

Google's Featured Snippets are still volatile (Google keeps working on the algorithm on a regular basis). This means that queries that are not currently triggering featured snippets, may do so in the future.

This also means that there is no sure-fire way to optimize for Google Featured snippets and there might not be such a way going forward.

That's not to say marketers are not (or should not be) interested in the featured snippets because those pose a big threat to the brand's search visibility as well as provide additional opportunities to stand out in the crowd of competitors.

The increased interest in the featured snippets means that more and more of your competitors are paying attention to the section and it's going to be harder and harder to get ranked in position 0. So if you were considering whether or not you need to start optimizing for featured snippets, the answer is definitely "You do" and it's best that you start now.

Here are a few major recent studies examining featured snippets, what triggers them and how to best optimize for them:

How to Rank for Featured Snippets in 2018 by @SEMRush (November 29, 2017)

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How to Rank for Featured Snippets in 2018

Takeaways:

  • 41% of questions have featured snippets.
  • 22.67% and 17.72% of comparison and preposition keywords respectively trigger featured snippets
  • Paragraph featured snippets are more popular than other types, with paragraphs in the 40–60-word range appearing in search results
  • You should use longer lists (longer than 8 lines) whenever possible, so Google is forced to truncate the results.
  • SE-optimized landscape (aspect ratio 4:3) images tend to appear in the featured box
  • 70% of featured snippet hubs have adopted HTTPS.
  • The average Mobile Friendly Score of featured pages is 95/100. The average usability score is 96/100.

@Ahrefs' Study Of 2 Million Featured Snippets (May 29, 2017)

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Ahrefs' Study Of 2 Million Featured Snippets

Takeaways:

  • ~12.29% of search queries had featured snippets in their pool of data
  • Featured snippet are stealing clicks from the #1 ranking result.
  • 30.9% of featured snippets rank #1. And still, the vast majority of them rank in the top 10
  • Google doesn't seem to be featuring pages with most backlinks. To be clear:
    • backlinks might not be the metric Google is looking at to feature pages BUT
    • backlinks do help in obtaining top 10 positions,
    • so backlinks do indirectly help to get featured
    • furthermore (and most importantly), we don't really know how Google is using backlinks to measure a web page authority. In the study, the number of backlinks is considered but we well know that the number of backlinks is probably not the signal Google is looking at
  • The vast majority of featured snippets are triggered by long-tail keywords

Are Google's SERP Features Stealing Traffic from Your Site? by @Visme (June 13, 2017)

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Are Google's SERP Features Stealing Traffic from Your Site?

Takeaways:

  • In total 5,126 search queries were included in the research
  • Featured snippets resulted in 18.5% fewer clicks than those without the non-organic feature

Featured Snippets: New Insights, New Opportunities (May 24, 2017)

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Featured Snippets: New Insights, New Opportunities

Takeaways:

  • More than a third of featured snippets include an image
  • In almost 90% of included results, the featured snippet was identical to the organic snippet associated with the search result
  • Google seems to A/B test some sites for a large number of new featured snippets

Bonus: A reintroduction to Google's featured snippets by @searchliaison / @dannysullivan

Finally, a remarkable insight by Google's Danny Sullivan on how Google's Featured Snippets work and what their future holds:

  • Featured Snippets are here to stay and Google will keep working on the algorithm
  • Featured Snippets help with mobile and voice search as they are being spoken in reply to the voice search query (In this case the source URL is given within the Google Home app, so people can click and learn more)
  • Featured Snippets do indeed drive traffic.
  • Google uses searchers' and raters' feedback to tweak the algorithm as well as individual results
  • Google uses near-match queries when they think that question was implied:

When near-matches can be helpful

  • Sometimes Google clusters results in Featured Snippets to give you a better answer range:

Featured snippets

Bottom Line: Optimizing for Featured Snippets

So how to get featured?

The best answer is: Do your best to answer the query, each time.

Analyze Currently Featured Results

Do pay attention to how your competitors are doing. Here are tools to help.

Analyze and Organize Your Keywords

Work with your keyword lists more to better organize them and understand intent behind each query. Serpstat's awesome clustering tool is there to help. It uses Google's SERPs to organize keyword lists by how similar search results they trigger giving you lots of insight into what each query stands for:

Serpstat cluster

This keyword grouping exercise will help you optimize your page for a number of related questions and thus increase your chances to get featured.

Make Use of Those H2/H3 Tags

Google seems to pay a lot of attention to those! One quick tweak to your H2 subheading to include your keyword in there may get you featured!

Be Factual

Google loves numbers, lists, and tables. When applicable, be as factual as you can: Include years, time-to-cook, number of results, price, etc.

Publish More Q&A Posts

Google loves question-and-answer format and it gets picked up for the featured snippet fairly easily. So answer more of your customers' questions! You can go as far as creating a separate section for that or you can simply post more articles discussing popular questions on a similar topic.

Don't be afraid of covering basic questions and defining simple concepts: There are newbies in every niche and they will find your content useful! This article format from Mark McDowell over at Primal is one shining example of how this can be approached:

Have you been featured? Share your tips!