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Featured Snippet Optimisation: The Gateway to Position Zero and Voice Search


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Fernando's deck

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Tristam: Good afternoon, everyone. Today we will be discussing and be presented to by Fernando and Andraž and they'll be talking about the Featured Snippet Optimization and the Gateway to Position Zero and Voice Search.

I'll just hand over to you guys, introduce yourselves to everyone who's viewing us at the moment, and we'll move on from there.

Andraž: Yeah. Hi. My name is Andraž. I'm the CEO of Red Orbit and this is a digital agency based in Slovenia. I started working with SEO in 2001, 2002 and then slowly moved to different platforms as well, so Google, Facebook Analytics in the last few years. I've kind of seen different phases of development at Google and so on.

Fernando: Well, hello, everyone. My name is Fernando Angulo. I'm the head of International Partnerships here at SEMrush.

The rise of voice search, voice assistants, and voice commerce

Andraž: I'm just sharing my screen, give me a couple of seconds. A funny thing is happening in the last few years. More and more people started to have conversations with their devices; with cars, springs, phones, and so on.

As Google announced earlier this year, there are more than 1 billion devices now connected and available through Google Assistant. Google Assistant and voice search is really trending right now. Home assistant devices are really popular with this younger generation.

When we actually see the statistics, we'll see that at the end of this year, more than 50% of millennials will own a voice assistant device at home and, of course, even older generations like Generation X and baby boomers are closing to 25, 30% of penetration.


Of course, search is slowly moving—because of these new devices; mobile phones, car assistants, and so on—towards voice as well. There is a statistic that Google actually showed last year that more than 20% of searches on mobile devices on Android in the US are already done by voice, which was quite surprising for me.

There's another statistic... that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be done by voice. But then if we look into that really huge number, we see that it was meant in China. So I'm not sure that we can really expect 50% of all search has been done on voice by the end of this year.


We are actually using voice devices, the new Google Assistant devices in different periods of the day for different stuff. In the morning, we connect, ask Google what's the weather outside, what's the traffic on route to my office. We ask them about what's on my schedule and so on.

So we are more focused on productivity, maybe the weather, and so on. If you're following some news, NBA, or stuff like that, you might be tracking the news as well.

But then when we move more towards the office style, these requests change from weather to more communication and productivity and local searches; asking for nearby restaurants for lunch and so on. So it really depends on the period or hour of the day which kind of requests on devices we can actually expect.

But then here are a couple of different objections all the time regarding voice. "Voice is just for fun. It's great to check the weather, but it doesn't really affect the bottom line of the business. So we don't have to invest in it."

Maybe that's true, but there has been research done two years ago in the United States and in the UK on voice commerce, so actually purchases done through voice devices and through voice actually were close to $2 billion in 2017.


It's not only limited to one specific category, but it's also actually spread throughout different categories. So it's kind of easy to say to Alexa to add specific products on the shopping list, or even Google, add this to a shopping list. It's entertainment; it's electronic; it's clothing. So every aspect, different industries are actually being affected or will be affected in upcoming years by voice search.

Google released a statistic that assistant queries are 40 times more likely to be action-oriented. Meaning we are talking to Google and saying things like, "turn out the lights," "set alarm," and so on, and we are not doing this on typed search.

Even if we analyzed all the queries that are kind of connected to, and request that kind of connected to voice, we see that the majority of them are not related to search. They are more related to creating to-do lists, shopping places, managing calendars, checking new sports, and so on, and in the fourth place, we have some search related information.

That's why in my opinion, again, voice search currently is not yet replacing typed search because voice is actually driven by assistant devices and IoT, so talking to your fridge, talking to your, I don't know, vacuum cleaner, and so on.

The characteristics of voice searches

So the big question is: how are the voice queries different? What we are seeing, and Google can actually confirm this two years ago, that majority of queries that they actually analyzed on voice are much longer and they kind of consist of more natural language, which we typically are omitting, keywords that we are omitting when we do web search, because we are just too lazy to type all the keywords.


Another statistic that came from Google and then actually was published by Moz is that the majority of voice searches are a bit longer. So more than three words up to nine words in a specific query.

How do we actually optimize for voice? The quick and the simplest answer is we don't, because voice is actually really connected to rich and featured snippets. We'll discuss this a bit later in Fernando's presentation.


But to start this discussion, the majority of voice (searches) are actually informational. So they are not transactional, but they are informationally connected to questions like what, where, who, where, when, why, and stuff like that. So they start with a question. Lots of them include keywords that, as I mentioned before, we are kind of omitting when we type our queries into the typed search. So "do," "to," "much," "what," "how to," and so on.

Finding voice search queries and keywords

If you analyze your search or queries, you can actually quite easily see which queries are used or could be used on voice devices. In my opinion, the best approach to voice is actually to optimize for questions. One easy approach is actually to see on desktop devices, if you type in a specific query, specific question related to your product or service in Google, you will see this snippet in the results, "People also ask."


These are actually the questions that Google is analyzing, they see that they are quite common for other users. So if you are able to actually answer those questions with your content on the website, it's more likely that your page and your answer could be featured in a snippet.


The second tool that we are usually using is Answer the Public. It's a really nice free tool. If you have a specific topic into the tool, it will basically show different questions and different topics, connected questions, connected topics for our specific query. I used here “Brexit” because it's a kind of trending topic nowadays. So we can see different questions connected to why Brexit, no deal why Brexit will be good or it's not good, then questions related to how can I do something. So, different phrases.

You could also use Quora or Reddit as, let's say, more community spaces where people actually are having discussions or actually asking different questions around specific topics. You can use search, you can search for your topic or a specific topic that you try to optimize and see what are the most popular questions that people are actually asking on those platforms.

The next step, I guess, it would be to go into your search result for Google and then do some filtering. So what you can do is actually get all the queries, but then filter out all the queries that are related to a specific question.  

So querying words, which includes "how," or "what," or "where," and so on, and then compare it by device. This will enable you to actually see which queries are more popular on mobile devices, have more impressions for mobile devices versus desktop devices. If you can find out the query which has a lot of impressions but maybe not so many clicks, you can see for which queries, for which questions you could optimize.

It's quite easy to analyze different types of queries in Google Search Console involving misfires, and Ok Google, and hey Google as well. You can see if you have increasing numbers of misfires in your account, that means that people are actually using Google Assistant in Google voice devices to search for topics, keywords related to your brand, related to your topic, and that your industry is actually or users in your industry are actually targeting to use voice, so it's getting more important for you.

The importance of Featured Snippets for voice search optimization

Majority of voice search answers are coming from featured snippets, as I mentioned before. What Google is actually doing is, Google will analyze a website, but when Google analyzed your website and content in your website and displays these featured snippets on the desktop device, it's actually using this to answer the user on the voice search as well.

So I made a voice request "how to make bread" and Google actually displayed or answered with the exact same text copy that it is using in the featured snippet on the desktop device.

Majority of these snippets are built around questions, prepositions, and comparisons. If you can kind of tap into the right direction, kind of build content around those three different types, it would be best or you have more chances to actually appear into the featured snippet.

If your page is really loading slowly, there's no way you could appear inside the voice search and featured snippet. You should be on HTTPS; of course, the majority of websites already are. Google is actually using domain authority ranks to see if your domain is popular. If your domain rank is high, you have a much higher chance of succeeding to be featured in the snippet.


That's it for my side, but as I said, Fernando will go more into details about how to optimize your content on your website.

A guide to Featured Snippets

Fernando: Let's take a look first on why do you need featured snippets? First of all, they are really, really good on the branding stage of your company. They're gonna be placed in the first position, well, in position zero, the so-called position zero on Google results, and they're gonna bring you more traffic. So if they're gonna be clicks over there, they're gonna increase your share of your keywords and, of course, that's gonna bring you more revenue.


Let's try to understand featured snippets and their anatomy. First, the paragraph featured snippet. As you can see here in the example, you can see a beautiful paragraph. That is the result of the search query "how to get a featured snippet." Of course, you have some words, you have an image, you have a URL, which is really great for having a preview of the content that you are looking for. That's the first type of featured snippet.

The second one is the featured snippet list. You can see there the points, all with their respective numbers, and all the information that is responded to my search query “how to get rich snippet”. You see there point number one, number two, number three.

Also, you can see an image, the URL, and of course, the title of that featured snippet. Again, this is my favorite because you have a lot of information that is very actionable. If you are searching for something really fast, you will have it.

The third type of featured snippets that we find is the table. This is a beautiful one. Why? Because you have a lot of information in one single featured snippet. For example, World Series MVPs. Here, you can see the year, and in the first column, all-star MVPs in the second, and in the third column, with the name of the stars. So a lot of information in one single place.

Why do you need all of them? Let's try to understand a little bit more about the type of keywords that actually have featured snippets. Let's go with the type of keywords. The first keyword that we found out is, again, the question type of keywords, the majority of the featured snippets.

If we're thinking, for example, in the business model, in the customer journey, you can see here that this actually makes sense. The question keywords are always for information for brand awareness and you can see a lot of people searching for this one. So the first part of the channel, first stage, brand awareness. The preposition and the comparison, which are also selected for the next stage of the final consideration and decision.

Let's take a look a little bit how they are structured; question featured snippets. Number one, let's think about brand awareness informational search queries. The most popular search question word is, "how" and the type of featured snippet that is activated is the list featured snippet.

If we go we with other question keywords like "why," "are," "will," "does," "do," et cetera, the majority of the results are the paragraph featured snippet. So for all those question keywords, you can have those type of featured snippets. That's precisely when we are trying to understand something.

For example, if you are trying to buy a bicycle or something, you need to understand which one is the best, how to buy online, how to pay with card, or do you need to pay with cash, for example. All those questions about a certain product or service. The reality is that 41% of all question keywords, they have already featured snippets and this number is just increasing.

The second one is the preposition featured snippet. Here, when you already know something about the product or the service, but here you can ask about some details. For example, the preposition snippets are being activated but these propositions, for example, "for," "like," "to," "with," "without," the majority of them are activated, the paragraph featured snippet and also the list, as the second majority of the results.

For example, let's take a look at this search query: iPhone without sim card. Here, in the buyer/customer journey, your buyer persona is actually already taking some decision to say, "Okay, maybe this is a good one." Let's see how I can differentiate the product that I want to acquire or the service.” In preposition snippets, you can break that information to your final user.

The last one is the comparison featured snippet. This is the final stage of the buyer journey. Here you can see those words like, "compare," "pricing," "price," "comparing." This is the final stage when people are actually searching for the numbers, for the price.

Of course, you can see here are the results, you can have the paragraph as well. The information that is going to be here is actually very useful for those people, for those users who are in the last part of the funnel.

Formatting content to win Featured Snippets

Okay. How you can format your content for featured snippets? Let's take a look at this. So the average words that you need to introduce in paragraphs are 46 words, 272 characters. Don't go with more.


The next one, of course, you need to be succinct. You need to avoid giant walls of text. Just try to write the average number of words. No more than 60 words. Actually, go always with the average to be sure that you're going to be shown over there.

Of course, here you see the content, the structure of the content needs to be really well designed to explain to Google and to users what are the aspects of your service or product. So that's why you need to use several headers and sub-headers. So the information needs to be very clear, very simple to understand.

Some other characteristic is most of the pages that we have analyzed, 83%, they have implemented already HTTPS in their technology and the average Flesch-Kincaid, which says how easy for the user needs to be the text is 83.6. So the label is for seventh grade. So very, very informational and very easy to understand. That's the way you need to write all the text.

On average, we found 12 images and all of them, I repeat again, all of them they had ALT text in there. Of course, Google understands exactly what is on the picture, but you need to write it down as you did 10 years ago, or 15 years ago, with the ALT text content.

Of course, we found out also the average number of external links that are on every single page is 33. So you need to collect a lot of information. The content that is gonna be matched for ranking for featured snippet needs to be really, really good, a lot of citations.

For the list snippets, there is something that you need to know. You can use more than, for example, eight items. Google is going to truncate that result and you're gonna see that button, the More Items or the See More and, of course, this button is gonna send users to your website. That's a really good option for you. This is something that you can use for attracting more people.

If you're gonna put a list in your content, put more than eight items. So create more than eight items so Google will truncate these results and you will have more clicks, more people go into your website.

For the table, the average number of rows and columns is five and three. Again, here you can force Google to do the truncation and people are gonna go from the featured snippet to your website to see more items, which is great.

A lot of times we can see that in the featured snippets results, there is a piece of content and there is an image and sometimes the image doesn't belong to the original URL or to the original content. So Google is publishing an image from other websites. Why? Because the image from that content or maybe that content didn't have any images, you need to format the correct size of the image. Google says that the correct image or the landscape for the tree, we find out the average size for all images, and this is the results, 600 wide and 425 high. That's the correct image that you need to use for acquiring images that are gonna be published within your Featured Snippet.

You can use this information and start formatting your content for acquiring featured snippets.

You can use tools like position tracking. Here we're gonna give you the ideas, the opportunities ideas to acquire more featured snippets, the ones that are in your niche. The second one, you can check, of course, the search features, all the search features in featured snippets from the organic search position on SEMrush within all your search keywords.

That's all for me. Hopefully, it was useful for you.

Tristam: Fantastic. Thank you very much both of you, that was pretty awesome.

Will voice search kill SEO?

We've got some awesome questions coming in. One, just on voice search, how will voice search change search marketing? The dreaded thing that a lot of people say, is it gonna kill SEO? I'll just throw that out to you guys, what are your thoughts?

Andraž: Okay. In my opinion, right now it is not affecting search marketing or SEO at all. We can use SEO approaches and how we actually are trying to optimize for featured snippets and that is affecting voice search but how people are actually using voice devices, voice assistants, it's not actually replacing what we are doing on the desktop devices.

I have owned Google devices or home assistants for almost two years, a bunch of them for the testing purposes in my home and in office as well. But what I've seen from my perspective of my usage of Google home assistant is that I'm not actually replacing what I was doing and I'm still doing on desktop devices with voice search.

What we are doing there and in the near future, I don't think it's going to replace the typed search at all.

Fernando: I need to support that because I was also using voice search for the last, I don't know, I was using Dragon Voice since I had 16 years or something, the voice recognition tool. It was very old. Right now it's beautiful. You can understand everything. But I'm just using for creating text.

I'm not trying to find a new kind of stuff or doing big research with that, I use Google for that. So I will not change in the nearest future the way I'm doing my research or the way I'm living with a voice search. So in my opinion, it's not gonna affect it in the nearest future.

Andraž: Yeah. As I said, I think voice search is actually driven by IoT devices.

Basically, what we're using it is actually we are just too lazy to stand up and turn on the light. So it's, "Hey Google, turn on the light, turn off the lights, TV, and so on." It's basically like a proper assistant to us.

Tristam: Excellent. I've always had the thought where if we move with the internet of things and like vehicles, cars, sort of become a bit more voice-enabled, whether this would be possible, but how this would sort of just affect like search marketing? If you're in your car and you want to find a local shop that sells Levi jeans, would you be able to ask your car that would be connected to the Internet?

Andraz: Yes. I think that that's a good point. We are using voice in our car and so on, where we are in transition. Actually, I think using voice is, again we were not able to do the same stuff for the same query as before, so now of course because we have voice and mobile devices in the car as well.

But again, is this actually really affecting or is it killing SEO? No. Is it changing how we should do SEO in the near future? A bit. Local is becoming even more important because of it. So, yeah. The local fact, even more important, and voice search is actually driving the traffic to the local results and whatever, the local SEO is doing.

Tristam: If anyone's watching this now, what's the best way that they can start looking for voice search queries? Is Google search console the best place they just need to start dipping a toe in the water, start understanding what search queries are out there?

Fernando: Well, I believe the first and the most important source of search queries, voice search queries are questions of the customers or question of the users. If you have a customer team or customer success team, you have the frequently asked question, that's the first source of information. You don't need to go to any other tools to understand what are the most important questions that your users are having because they already know what they want to ask from your business. So that's the first source.

But if you want to amplify the potential of the search queries, yes, you need to go to other resources, for example, AnswerThePublic, SEMrush, or any other keyword research there are on the market. But if you know very well the model of your business, you definitely need to ask your users first.

Andraž: Yeah, and I would agree. Just getting lots of different ideas from a different perspective, from different sources is the best approach. What we are doing with a couple of our clients are actually talking to their sales teams because sales teams are on the field, they know what their customers or potential customers are actually asking.

The second great resource is actually call centers. These are again people who are constantly on-call with customers, potential customers, and they have really lots of knowledge of what are the most common questions. Then you start with that, expand with different tools, as Fernando said, and you're good to go.

Tristam: Excellent. Fascinating. Just sort of carrying that on, we've got another question saying, "Do you believe special HTML formatting is necessary to get in featured snippets or make you more eligible? Let's say putting product features into tables or lists. Is that more of a necessity, do you feel?"

Fernando: I will say that, yes, of course, you need to make Google understand. It's a robot, right? You need to understand, a robot, this is a table, this is a list, you open your deep chain table, content, and you need to close that. Yes, you need to specify this is a list, this is a table, and Google will understand that, of course. So, yes.

How do Featured Snippets impact website traffic?

Tristam: Awesome. Just a question I want to pose because it's something I'm always quite interested in, is how do featured snippets affect website traffic? When I originally started seeing featured snippets, in the back of my head I was thinking you're in a sense reducing sometimes traffic coming to your website. So, yes, you've got that position zero, awesome, people are seeing impressions of your website. But then if someone's not clicking through you're kind of maybe losing out on that traffic.

Andraž: In my opinion, we need to understand what Google will actually do. Google is really about users and they want to create the best user experience ever. So for Google, the speed, how fast they can actually satisfy the user need is really important. That's why they are looking into solutions how can actually they present information on the search result page.

So in my opinion, Google does not have a clear intent of sending all the traffic back to your website. They just are trying to satisfy user needs on the result page. So it's a sneaky move from their side and we need to kind of figure it out how to still get...the visitor to the website.

But as Fernando mentioned before, if it's a list or a table, you can build a longer list so Google will actually truncate it and show the link to our website and so on. It's kind of call-to-action for the user. Show more, they will go to the website.

Fernando: It's part of working with Google. You need to adapt to their strategies because they want to have the best experience for the users and to show more information, just a bit of information about the best result.

That's why I was mentioning that "Okay. For this type of keyword question, you need to use the customer journey because they are good for brand awareness". Not all the featured snippets are good for brand awareness. Some of them are good for the final stage; that is the decision.

If you want to purchase something, you're not going to ask about the properties or the characteristic of the product; you're going to ask about the price. If you don't have that price in the featured snippet, people are gonna go to the second, third result, or even they're gonna go to Google My Business, the third result in Google My Business.

That's why you need to use that kind of information wisely. I heard a lot of agencies saying, "Oh, no. Featured snippets are stealing the traffic for our pages." That's not the situation.

Tristam: Yeah, definitely.

Andraž: I can agree on some points. Yeah, with weather and traffic and so on, I totally agree. But then you have other cases like recipes. So I see the recipes that ... I'm not going to the website again because Google will use the content from the website, display as a result in voice or on the display and they are not getting any benefit.

Fernando: Most of the bloggers out there, they don't even know they have already featured snippets. That's why they are losing that precious traffic.

Andraž: Right. I agree.

Tristam: Well, we've literally run out of time now.

This webinar will be available to re-watch on YouTube SEMrush. The guys there will post that up. So make sure you're following them on Twitter et cetera, see when this goes up.

But yeah, any closing points, guys?

Fernando: Well, actually there's a great post in SEMrush blog that it's called Advanced Techniques to Be Featured Snippet by Jason Barnard. If you want some advanced techniques, that post is for you.

Andraž: Yeah, I totally agree. What SEMrush did with the research, it really has a lot of value, some great insights. Also in my presentation, there are a couple of links at the bottom of the slides to additional resources. I would love to connect with you on LinkedIn or Twitter and have a discussion about this if you want.

Tristam: There we go. Fantastic, guys. Well, we've hit the hour mark. Thank you to you two. Thank you for everyone that's joined in and watched us today. Wherever you are in the world, because we've got the whole globe tuning in, good morning, good evening, and good night. Have a good day, guys. Thank you.

Fernando: Bye.

Andraž: Thank you, Tristam. Bye.


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