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Large-Scale Study: How to Rank for Featured Snippets in 2018

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Large-Scale Study: How to Rank for Featured Snippets in 2018

A.J. Ghergich
Large-Scale Study: How to Rank for Featured Snippets in 2018

In a study conducted by SEMrush and Ghergich & Co., we analyzed 1.6 million featured snippets. Furthermore, we analyzed 80 million keywords. The goal was to break down featured snippet percentages by keyword group.

Our focus was on questions, prepositions, and comparisons search phases. I have seen great success earning featured snippets in these three areas. But I wanted the data to back up what I saw on the ground. Now, thanks to SEMrush, I have it. TL;DR Raw Data Linked at the bottom of this article.

Let's start by looking at the power of question keywords.

New to Featured Snippets? The data says start here!

Questions show a 480% increase in the percentage of keywords with featured snippets

Something shocking happens when I remove questions, prepositions, and comparisons from our large data set. Contrary to popular belief, only 7% of generic keywords have featured snippets. Small studies show higher numbers, but 80 million keywords is the largest study I have seen.

(Generic keywords are any non-question, preposition, or comparison keyword.)

You can see in the chart that 41% of questions have featured snippets. Comparison and preposition keywords are also more likely to show featured snippets.

If you are starting to look at featured snippets, side with data and optimize questions.

Questions show a 480% increase in the percentage of keywords with featured snippets.

Featured Snippet Question Findings

Featured Snippet Questions Findings

What jumps off the page is how well questions do at earning paragraph featured snippets. The main exception to that rule is “how” phrases. “How to” keywords are fantastic at earning featured snippet lists.

Featured Snippet Preposition Findings

Featured Snippet Preposition Findings

Look closely at preposition keywords, and you can see what I mentioned about “how to” keywords. Prepositions are a great opportunity to optimize ordered and unordered lists.

Featured Snippet Comparison Findings

Featured Snippet Comparison Findings

Our analysis of comparison keywords is a bit tricky to break down. On the surface, it seems they are well suited for paragraph featured snippets. But that is because there are not a lot of well-structured comparison tables for Google to pick from.

I have had success formatting pricing comparisons into tables and earning featured snippets. The content did not change — only the way we presented the data. Pricing keywords are the type of end-of-buying-cycle keywords that tend to have high conversions.

Featured Snippet Overall Breakdown

Featured Snippet Overall Breakdown

The chart shows that if you try to rank for questions, go for a paragraph featured snippet. If you are trying to rank for prepositions, use a list. Pricing comparisons perform well in tables.

Now you have the data on what type of featured snippet to optimize for. Let’s look at how to optimize your content for featured snippets.

How Long Should Featured Snippet Content Be?

Optimal Featured Snippet Paragraph Lenghts

As a good rule of thumb, I tell copywriters to create paragraphs in the 40–60-word range. You need to be succinct and avoid giant walls of text.

Optimal Featured Snippet Lists Lengths

You should use longer lists whenever possible, so Google is forced to truncate the results. You need to give the user a reason to click through to your site. If it only makes sense to use a short list, try to use enough words for each item, so Google truncates each list item.

That said, keep what is best for the user in mind. Sometimes that is a short, straight to the point list, and that is ok.

Optimal Featured Snippet Table Lenghts

Like lists, you should look to create tables that Google will truncate. Focus on end-of-buying-cycle keywords, such as price.

Optimal Featured Snippet Image Sizes

The takeaway is to use landscape images. We found that the most common aspect ratio for featured snippets images is 4:3. The media image size in pixels was 600w x 425h. Landscape images also look less pixelated when Google scales them down.

What is a Featured Snippet Hub?

What is a featured snippet hub?

A featured snippet hub is an internal URL that has earned 10 or more Google featured snippets for a single page.

I coined this phrase to give a name to something exciting we saw in the data. You can’t really be in marketing without naming everything you come across.

We found individual pages earning 200-300 featured snippets for a single internal URL.

Breakdown of Featured Snippet Hubs

In total, we discovered 3,800 URLs earning 10 or more featured snippets for a single page. Analysis on these featured snippet hubs shed interesting light on featured snippet optimization.

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Secure HTTPS Adoption is No Longer Optional

70% of featured snippet hubs have adopted HTTPS. This number shows a steep rise over the past six months.

Use Media to Break Up and Visualize Your Content

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Analyzing image use is hard because some images are for design purposes. To combat this, we only looked at images containing alt tags. On average, we found 14 images with alt tags per URL. Some of these images are still likely to be design-oriented, but the takeaway is pretty clear.

The days of using a stock photo at the top of your article and calling it a day are over. They should never have existed in the first place. Don’t fixate on the count, fixate on providing visual aids inside your content to drive your points home.

Authoritative Domains

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  1. Median Root Domains 3,500

  2. Median Awesome Score 60

Think of authoritative domains as relative to your niche. Few small businesses need to earn 3,500 root domains to be considered a topical authority vs. the competition.

Social Engagement

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89% of the featured snippet hub URLs have social activity. This does not mean social shares equate to higher rankings or earning snippets. What it means is that content we see in these positions shows strong user engagement signals.

Mobile Friendly or Die

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We ran all 3,800 URLs through Google’s Page Speed API. Site speed scores were what I expected, but the mobile friendliness and usability scores were off the charts!

The average Mobile Friendly Score is 95/100. The average usability score is 96/100. For a list this large, obtaining that high of an average score demands attention.

I do not believe the exact score matters in the end. What matters is that mobile users have an excellent experience on your site. They must be able to access answers quickly and navigate your site with ease.

Featured Snippet Hubs Have High Mobile Friendly Scores

HTML Elements

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95.77% of featured snippet hubs use lists. Not only one list, but many ordered and unordered lists per URL.

Anatomy of a Featured Snippet HubExample 1

The Anatomy of a Featured Snippet Hub (Illustration Breakdown)

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-lose-weight-as-fast-as-possible
This URL Earned 96 Featured Snippets

  • High User Engagement: 750 social shares

  • Mobile Friendly: 99/100

  • HTTPS Adoption: Yes

  • Media Usage: 12 health-related images

  • Word Count: 2,100 words

  • Clear Headers: 12 h1–h6 tags

  • Succinct Content: Average paragraph length is 42 words

  • Uses Lists: 7 ordered or unordered lists

  • Cite Facts: 48 external fact citations

Anatomy of a Featured Snippet HubExample 2

http://trendblog.net/how-to-track-your-lost-iphone-or-ipad-without-tracking-app/
This URL Earned 87 Featured Snippets

  • High User Engagement: 7,000 social shares

  • Mobile Friendly: 98/100

  • HTTPS Adoption: No

  • Media Usage: 15 iPhone related images

  • Word Count: 2,078 words

  • Clear Headers: 16 h1–h6 tags

  • Succinct Content: Average paragraph length is 34 words

  • Uses Lists: 6 ordered or unordered lists

  • Cite Facts: 6 external citations

This is a great time to mention that correlation is not causation. I do not look at featured snippet hubs as a black box that holds secrets to earning featured snippets. I am simply pointing out some common themes that I think are instructive for content creators. Understanding that, our findings make total sense from a search engine's perspective.

Let's look at a few things Google must do when sending users to specific content.

If you look at the common findings for these hubs, they align with a search engine’s goals.

1. Provide succinct answers

  • Average paragraph is 42 words

  • Lists are great for mobile

  • Clear headers for scanning

2. Use trusted sources

  • Strong external links

  • Strong social engagement

3. Establish thorough topic coverage

  • 48 external fact citations

  • 2,100 words

4. Focus on secure browsing

  • HTTPS

5. Ensure great user experience across devices

  • High mobile friendly scores

  • High mobile usability scores

Thanks to SEMrush, we have the data on what type of featured snippet to optimize for. You know the exact lengths you should use for each type of snippet. You also have insights into feature snippet hubs and why Google trusts their content.

Use this study to re-optimize your best old content that ranks in the top 10, but lacks featured snippets. Put these findings in place for all future content production.

How to Upgrade Old Content to Earn aFeatured Snippets

Give search engines the answers they need. Use succinct formats, focus on mobile user experience, and you will reap long-term rewards.

Get the Raw Data (Save Google Sheet as Copy)

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A.J. Ghergich is the founder of Ghergich & Co., a marketing agency focused on creating and promoting high-end content to improve SEO. Follow him at @SEO on Twitter for SEO tips and cat gifs.
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Simon  Cox
Superb article! I think that most of us knew most of this but it is the first time I have seen clarity on a lot of the topics and this data really does confirm a lot of suppositions.
Ben
Wow! Thanks for taking the time to put this all together. Another strong reminder that trust, engagement, and user experience (speed, safety, mobile) are going to continue to grow in importance.
Thanks A.J., fascinating read and lots to chew on for setting up snippets on my site. One question about the questions, 'what' is not on the list. Is 'what' not a relevant question for snippet selection? My site is a rating site, so I was thinking that 'what is the best___' would be a popular search and snippet setup approach.
A.J. Ghergich
Jerald O‘Kennard
Hi Jerald, it was accidentally left out. However, I have run WHAT keywords in pasts studies and it was a Paragraph snippet 95% of the time. That is very likely still the case. Hope that helps.
Taral Patel
Hi AJ,

Thanks for sharing this insightful post.

I see it in the comment that a reader is asking about the role of Schema in Featured Snippets. I think a lot of people do have confusion regarding this. Wish you can highlight this point in any of your upcoming articles on this topic. Many people still have this misconception that either Schema or some kind of tools are needed to get a content in Featured Snippet.

I too got success with getting my content into Google Featured Snippets for which I wrote down a short article with a step by step explanation on how I did it.

https://www.e2msolutions.com/blog/how-we-got-our-content-to-appear-in-google-featured-snippets/

It would be great to have your review on this.
A.J. Ghergich
Taral Patel
Yep, you don't need schema to get a FS but still very useful to mark up you content. Great article by the way!
Nice one! Thank you
datingsitespot.com
very short and clear, TOP stuff !
Elias Filis
Very useful post, thanks AJ!

Which tools did you use in order to export 'geeky raw data'?
A.J. Ghergich
Elias Filis
Some in-house tools, a lot of Google apis, URL Profiler, and SEMrush's API
Jac Martin
Thanks AJ for sharing an article about Featured snippet, It is really helpful.
could you write an article about step by step process of adding a featured snippet to the website and how we can track the statue?
A.J. Ghergich
Jac Martin
I am talking with SEMrush about doing just that. Creating a step by step guide to earning and tracking FS. SEMrush has some great features already for tracking FS you or your competitors have earned.
Thanks for all of source
@AJ - great article, really knocked it out of the park. I notice there wasnt mention of Schema Markup in the study. Did you happen to measure this and find any correlations to Featured Snipped selection?
A.J. Ghergich
Matthew O.
I have not seen any direct correlation with Schema. Google has said this in the past...

How can I mark my page as a featured snippet?

You can't. Google programmatically determines that a page contains a likely answer to the user's question, and displays the result as a featured snippet.

That said...you should be using Schema as much as possible no matter if it helps for FS.
George
Wow! So much useful data! Thanks to AJ and SEMrush. There are so many insights in here! This is the best study on snippets I have ever seen. Thanks for all the hard work!
A.J. Ghergich
George
Awesome feedback! I know both our teams worked really hard on this so it's rewarding when people find the info valuable.
The final image was most useful.
Lisa Sparks
This is useful stuff, AJ. Thank you!
A.J. Ghergich
Lisa Sparks
Thx Lisa, it is a lot to unpack so let us know if you have any questions.
A.J. Ghergich
Big thanks to SEMrush for sharing a massive amount of data. Be sure to copy the Google Doc at the end of the article and notice the multple tabs :)

Happy to answer any questions!