Three steps to feature in Google’s instant answer boxes

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By Rachel Handley, Head of Content Development at Glass Digital

Ever noticed Google provides an instant answer to your query on the search results page (SERP)? These content excerpts are featured snippets, or instant answer boxes, and they hold massive potential for online brands.

That’s because bagging a featured snippet can get your site in front of a huge audience. According to STAT’s analysis of one million keywords, answer boxes appeared on 23.35% of results pages in April. And when they did show up, they occupied the coveted first position 95.88% of the time.

Featured snippets are supposed to provide an instant answer, so they might not generate the same click-through rate as the top result on a snippetless SERP. However, these spaces are much less competitive, and there’s still potential to generate some serious organic traffic. Creating answer-box content has a whole host of other benefits, too.

A Google featured snippet

So, how do you go about creating content that’s worthy of the featured snippet spot? And which answer boxes should you be vying for? Check out my tips below.

Identify your target snippets

To create a shortlist of target snippets, you need to identify keywords that:

  1. generate featured snippets,
  2. are relevant to your target audience, and
  3. get decent search volumes.

Questions are a good place to start, as these are more likely to generate a featured snippet and are generally less competitive.

One option is to enter [commercial keyword] + [who/what/where/when/why/how/should/could/can/will] into a keyword research tool and see what you can find.

Alternatively, you can work backwards by starting with a question and then researching related search volumes. Need inspiration? Consider what your customers frequently ask you, or use a tool like Answer the Public to see what questions are most searched-for.

The last step is simply entering your keyword into Google to find out whether it generates a featured snippet.*

Analyse the competition

You now have a shortlist of target snippets, but you shouldn’t prioritise them by search volume alone. You need to consider what competition you’re up against.*

There are no hard and fast rules, but you have a better chance of usurping the existing answer if your website is more authoritative on the topic and your content:

  • provides a more relevant answer,
  • provides a more up-to-date answer,
  • provides a clearer answer,
  • generates more backlinks,
  • has a better format,
  • has better imagery,
  • is better written, and/or
  • is better optimised for search.

The more boxes you can tick, the better your chance of securing that featured snippet.

*Answer boxes come and go, and the content within them can change around. However, without specialist tracking software, the best strategy is to base your decisions on the results at the time.

Create snippet-worthy content

You’ve now identified a featured snippet that’s worth ranking for, and that you stand a good chance of ranking for. The next step is creating the content.

Remember that creating snippet-worthy content is beneficial regardless of whether you secure the instant-answer spot or not. As well as having a positive impact on rankings, traffic, and conversions, there’s potential for exposure within ‘People also ask’ boxes, which appeared on 32% of SERPs in February.

First, decide on a format. There are three types of featured snippets: paragraphs, lists, and tables. What Google is currently featuring is a good indicator of what format it prefers, but ultimately you should choose the most user-friendly markup.

Next, make sure Google knows what question your content is answering. It’s a good idea to have the target keyword in <h1>header</h1> or <h2>subheader</h2> tags, and rewrite the question in the following sentence. For example, if you were answering ‘Why is the sky blue?’, begin with ‘The sky is blue because…’.

Featured snippets only show a short extract, so you should attempt to provide an initial answer and entice a click-through within 40–50 words — prove to the searcher that your content is exactly what they’re looking for.

Otherwise, you should approach the content like you would any other: create something that’s ten times better than what’s already out there, keeping your target reader as well as search engines in mind; and promote your content to generate backlinks, social shares, and referral traffic.

Featured snippets present a great opportunity for SMEs to earn first-place rankings over bigger rivals. Follow these tips to ensure you’re focussing your efforts on the best opportunities, and creating content with benefits that extend way beyond answer boxes.