Position Zero SEO: A Guide to Optimizing for Featured Snippets in Search

A position-one ranking in search results for an important keyword used to be the holy grail of SEO. But today, the page that ranks in position one is not necessarily the first organic search result displayed.

For many queries, Google now displays a featured snippet above the number one spot. Featured snippets appear in position zero, displaying site content and a link above all other page-one results.

Featured snippets don’t display for all queries, but when they do, optimizing for them is crucial. Nearly one-third of all clicks go to the first result, so earning a featured snippet for important keywords can result in significant traffic increases.

What Are Featured Snippets?

Featured snippets are special blocks of text that appear above search results and provide quick answers and/or instructions. A selection of text is taken from a page-one search result and displayed to the user, along with a link to the page providing the content.

In some cases, an image is also displayed. Featured snippet images and content do not necessarily have to come from the same site.

Featured snippets are designed to provide quick answers to common and related questions. And while they often display for keyword phrases written as questions, they can populate for any query.

Some examples of featured snippets found in search results include definitions, lists, tables, and instructions:

  • Definitions provide quick summaries of a topic. They often populate for concepts where users are looking for basic, introductory information.

  • Lists and tables provide an overview of the items pertaining to a query. They often populate when users are looking for multiple pieces of information or a variety of solutions to compare.

  • Instructions appear when a user is looking for information that helps complete a task. They commonly populate for recipe queries, do-it-yourself queries, and how-to queries.

Featured snippets include more text than typical search descriptions, encouraging increased click-through rates when users want more information than what’s presented in the search result snippet.

Why Is Optimizing for Featured Snippets Important?

The biggest reason to optimize for featured snippets is the ability to drive increased traffic by displaying above all other organic results. In fact, featured snippets are often pulled from results 2-10, allowing lower-ranking results to drive the highest amount of traffic to their sites even without a position-one ranking.

For this query, the featured snippet is pulled from the content in position four of results, displaying above the Yoast SEO result in position one.

But a position-zero ranking is just one of the benefits of a featured snippet result:

  • The content in featured snippets are used to provide answers for voice search queries. If a user asks a question that populates a featured snippet answer, Google replies by reciting the text in the featured snippet.
  • Featured snippets help build brand recognition. When using text-based search, the featured snippet includes the name of the website or brand where the information is being pulled from. In voice search, it prefaces the answer with “According to [website/brand].” This helps build recognition by associating the information needed with the providing brand or website.
  • Featured snippets establish authority. With the exception of a few recent high-profile misses, Google has a long history of providing authoritative answers to searcher’s questions. If Google is featuring an answer in search results, users are more likely to view the source as credible.

One common concern webmasters have is that the featured snippet will fully answer users’ questions, and then they won’t need to click through to the site to read more. However, studies have shown that featured snippets significantly increase site traffic.

For direct-answer questions like “When did World War II begin,” the featured snippet may provide all of the information needed. However, few complex queries can be fully satisfied with a few lines of text, requiring users to click through to the content to fully satisfy the query.

Identifying Featured Snippet Opportunities

Not all queries populate featured snippets, so optimizing for featured snippets starts with identifying opportunities. A good starting point is to review the keywords your site is currently ranking for and determine if featured snippets appear for those keywords.

You can find keywords that populate your content as results in Google Search Console. Open Google Search Console, expand “Search Traffic,” and click “Search Analytics.” Additionally, make sure to select the checkbox for “Position.”

Look for search terms that populate your content in results with average positions between 1 and 10. While it’s possible for featured snippets to be pulled from content in ranks 11+, it’s rare.

Pull all of the keywords that populate your content/pages with high average positions, and then conduct a depersonalized search for each. Make note of any of the keywords that populate featured snippets—these will be the keywords that provide you with opportunities to earn position-zero rankings with existing content.

New content can also be optimized for featured snippets. When planning new content, conduct a depersonalized search for the keywords you’re targeting, and see if any populate featured snippets. If so, you can make sure to optimize new content to overtake the featured snippet.

You can also find potential featured snippet keywords using Moz Keyword Explorer. Conduct a search for one of the broad keywords you’re targeting, and then filter by keywords that are questions. Since featured snippets are often answers to questions, keyword questions may be more likely to populate features snippet results.

Optimizing Content for Featured Snippets

Google has not—and probably never will—provide clear information on what its algorithm looks for when choosing content for featured snippets. The single bit of information Google has provided is that featured snippets have nothing to do with microdata or Schema markup.

However, several companies have conducted studies to determine the qualities of content that earn display in the featured snippet box. That information can be used to create an optimization plan for featured snippet display:

  • Surround concise answers with valuable content. If you’re optimizing for the keyword “what is email marketing,” it’s not enough to just write a definition and publish it in isolation. The definition must be surrounded by other content that’s valuable for users who are looking to understand email marketing (Search Engine Land).
  • Use question keywords as sub headers, followed directly by a paragraph that provides the answer to that question. Try to keep the definition in the introductory paragraph concise. Subsequent paragraphs can expand on the definition to provide more context and clarity (HubSpot).
  • Structure pages for the snippet. If the existing snippet is in list format, content should be structured in a list. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to use ordered or unordered lists within content. Google’s algorithm is advanced enough to identify sub headers as items in a list, and can parse data to include list items even when there is content between them (HubSpot).
  • User engagement is critical. Backlinks are less important when ranking for featured snippets than engagement signals. High click-through rates and high time-on-page values seem to contribute to earning featured snippets. In addition to optimizing the content you want to appear in the featured snippet, the content of the entire page may need to be revised if engagement signals are low (Moz).
  • Include more items than what appear in featured snippets. If the featured snippet displays 10 items, make sure your list includes at least 11 items. This will earn the “More Items…” text at the bottom of the snippet, encouraging higher click-through rates (Moz).
  • Provide the best answer. Ideal opportunities for overtaking existing featured snippets are when the current featured snippet is low-quality or unclear. By updating your content to provide a better, clearer, or more comprehensive answer, you may be able to overtake the competition to win the featured snippet for that query (Content Marketing Institute).
  • Use unique and relevant images. Often, the content and image used in featured snippets are taken from two separate websites. Including original and relevant images in your content that are optimized for featured snippets may increase the chances that your content and image will appear in the featured snippet, reducing the likelihood that you’ll lose clicks to an image featured from another website (Moz).

By providing clear and concise answers to both direct and implied questions, creating surrounding content that satisfies related queries, and building engaging content, you can earn featured snippets—and all of the benefits that come with ranking in position zero.

How to Track Featured Snippets

While Google is expected to eventually add featured snippet tracking to Search Console reports, the feature has not yet been launched.

In the meantime, there are a few approaches you can take to track featured snippets.

A free way to track featured snippets is to build a spreadsheet of keywords you’ve either earned featured snippets for or are targeting featured snippets for. In some regular increments (monthly, weekly, etc.), conduct a depersonalized search for those keywords and see if your content appears in a snippet. By doing this, you can track when you’ve earned position-zero rankings, and when you’ve lost them.

Conversely, you can use a paid service like Moz Pro to track featured snippets without the manual effort of updating a spreadsheet each month.

Getting Started with SEO for Featured Snippets

Optimizing content for featured snippets can drive increased traffic to your site, build brand recognition, and position your content as authoritative. It allows you to rank in position zero—above the content in the number-one spot—without forcing you to engage in major link building campaigns.

A good place to start is by looking for opportunities to optimize existing content for featured snippets. If you have content that ranks on the first page of results and produces a featured snippet, consider how the content on your page could be improved to provide the best answer and the most engaging content.