How to Rank in Top If You Got Stuck in the Middle of SERP
You may feel good about finishing the race in the top ten. But the grand prize goes to the runner who breaks the tape on the finish line. SEO is like a sports competition. Ranking on the first page of SERP is a good result, but hardly helpful unless you are at the very top.
According to the Advanced Web Ranking data, the top three positions get almost 55% of all clicks, while the bottom results generate only 4%, around 1% per each one. So, ranking in the top ten is of little use if you are at the end of the list.
The good news is Google has a loophole for sites that lag behind. Thanks to featured snippets, they can outrank the top results without investing in long-term SEO campaigns. That’s why this SERP feature is perfect for business promotion on a small budget.
Let’s find out what a featured snippet is all about. In general terms, it is a block giving an instant answer to the search query.
Structure. Each snippet consists of a small portion of text, title, URL, and image. Sometimes, Google can omit the image or extract it from another site and show it with your content.
Placement. This is what makes snippets especially valuable. They appear above organic results or on the so-called “zero” position.
You may wonder how to mark your page as a featured snippet. Unfortunately, you can’t just сheck the box somewhere in settings and call it a day. Google determines itself whether your page is a good fit for it. What you can do is reformat your content for the snippet block.
Take these easy steps to increase your chances of ranking in featured snippets.
1. Use header and paragraph tags.
Tags are crucial in adapting your content to the snippet block. Here are two main tags to use:
- <h2> and <h3> to wrap the text with a search query;
- <p> to wrap a paragraph with an answer to that query.
Make sure the text in a featured snippet can generate some traffic. If it just answers a query, you won’t get any clicks to your post. There must be something interesting to get people hooked on your site.
2. Write short paragraphs.
Readability is not the only advantage of short paragraphs. Google also uses them as a signal to display pages in featured snippets. According to the study of over 4,700 search queries, most snippets are 54-58 words long. There are also many snippets that have 49-53 and 44-48 word counts.
Long paragraphs may be great for fiction, but not for the web copy. To fit the format, your paragraphs must be within 45-55 words. If they are too long, either break them down or paraphrase your text into more concise sentences.
3. Organize your content into lists.
The most common type of featured snippets is a paragraph. But lists and tables seem to become more and more frequent in search results. That’s probably because these formatting options make it easy to digest the info. And users’ comfort is what Google puts first.
Numbered lists are perfect for step-by-step tutorials, tips for do-it-yourselfers, and other posts answering how-to queries.
Bulleted lists can help you structure articles with the best, worst, new or, say, popular products.
Note that Google doesn’t reveal all the steps or products in a featured snippet. Only 5-6 of them come into view.
So, try to include the most helpful information there to spark people’s interest in learning more. If they see some cliched stuff, they will think of your site as of a third-rate resource and scroll down to your competitors.
4. Add numeric data to tables.
If you have some numeric data like prices of different products, organize them into a table. You will do a favor for both your readers, as they will find it easy to compare stats, and yourself, as Google may rank your post in a featured snippet.
5. Write posts in the question-and-answer format.
It’s not uncommon for users to ask Google full questions. That’s why it makes sense to adapt your content to the Q&A format. A.J. Ghergich analyzed 1.4 million featured snippets and found out the most frequent questions they had:
list snippets – how, have;
table snippets – which;
paragraph snippets – what, when, where, why, etc. (all questions are frequent in this case).
There are a few easy ways to learn what questions your target audience has. You can hang out on forums, social media communities, and Q&A sites such as Reddit, Quora, and Yahoo Answers.
You can also come up with question-based keyword ideas using Answer The Public. This free online tool generates a large graph of keywords organized into question groups.
Once you pick some cool keyword suggestions, Google will show you real case examples of their use. The engine has two options for that.
Autocomplete. Start typing your question in the search box, and Google will complete it in different ways.
Related Searches. You can find more variations of your query under the top ten results.
6. Use comparisons in your content.
A.J. Ghergich also found out that comparisons were great for earning featured snippets. Here are the most popular keywords for them:
list snippets – comparing;
table snippets – price;
paragraph snippets – vs, versus.
Besides questions, Answer the Public also has a separate section with comparison keyword ideas.
7. Include “status” words to your content.
The other signals Google takes into account are “status” words, e.g. best, new, top, etc. They are among the top 30 words used in featured snippets, according to the research of 2 million queries.
As you can see above, there are many other words to experiment with. While some of them are specific to a particular niche, e.g. recipe to cookery or iPhone to technology, there are words universal for any topic. They include definition, number, meaning, list, time, schedule, review, size, etc.
8. Target keywords with a low search volume.
When it comes to keyword optimization, you should use phrases that get less than 100 searches per month. 85,5% of keywords triggering featured snippets have a low search volume.
Make sure you don’t stuff your copy with too many exact-match keywords. Google closely monitors cases of keyword abuse. Instead, try to be natural in your speech. With the launch of Hummingbird, the engine is not focused on word-for-word phrasing anymore. Now, it can interpret the entire concepts and treats the following word forms equally:
singular and plural forms (buy a bread knife = buy bread knives, tooth whitening services = teeth whitening services);
words with the same root, but different endings and suffixes (install a security system = installing a security system = security system installation);
acronyms and what they stand for (business consultant in LA = business consultant in Los Angeles);
synonyms (cooking supplies = kitchen utensils, sports gear = sports equipment);
short queries and full questions (number of Netflix employees = how many employees does Netflix have).
If you pick a lot of similar long-tail keywords, you don’t need to use them all in a single post. For example, just one of the following keywords will be enough for Google to get your point:
online home based business ideas;
online business ideas from home;
ideas of online business at home.
9. Earn competitors’ featured snippets.
Your main competitors already show up in featured snippets of your interest. To learn what keywords bring them to the position #0, use one of SERP checking tools available out there. It will show you top-ranking sites with all the keywords that bring them traffic. Just filter those keywords as shown below to see which of them trigger featured snippets.
10. Create long-form content.
Google doesn’t bring sites lagging behind to the very top of SERP out of kindness. You must offer genuine value to reach such an advantageous position. Although paragraphs must be short in your post, it doesn’t mean the same goes for its entire length. Keep it long enough to provide an in-depth answer to the search query.
As a rule, SERP features only steal traffic. However, featured snippets have quite the opposite effect for sites that couldn’t make it to the very top. If you lag behind somewhere in the middle or bottom of SERP, don’t miss an opportunity to jump over your competitors.
The best thing is that it’s quite an easy win. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel or invest in expensive SEO services. Just add some tags, lists or tables, special keywords, and there you are. You can both reformat your current posts and write some new stuff with these tips in mind. Just don’t forget that you can appear in featured snippets only if you already rank on the first page of SERP.
Do you know any other SERP features that can help drive traffic rather than steal it? Feel free to share them in the comments. Paid ads don’t count, of course.
This is a guest post by Nick Campbell
About the Author
Nick Campbell is a content creator and marketer at Ahrefs with a passion for technology, SEO, and copywriting. Work up every idea from chaos to clarity is his motto.