Anybody familiar with auto racing knows that drivers fight for the pole position, spot number one, when qualifying for a race. This position secures their credibility as the best driver for that event. But what if someone could qualify ahead of the pole position? Everyone has to follow the pace car until the green flag drops. Many marketers work to get their content into the “pole position” on a search engine results page (SERP). But we should really strive to be the pace car in position zero. How do we get there? We’re finding out today with topics like:
Position zero, also called a featured snippet, is the information search engines pull from their indexes to display above the first organic result on a SERP. You’re likely most familiar with featured snippets on Google, but other services have them too. Google creates some content for position zero itself with rich answers, but those don’t qualify as featured snippets. The featured snippets pull content from third-party web pages that relate to the user query.
The sources for content in the featured snippets typically appear on page one of SERPs, but are not always in the number one organic spot. Featured snippets also have links to the web pages of the pulled content. This gives the searcher the opportunity to click and read more from the content shared in position zero. You can’t buy your way into position zero either. You can buy pay-per-click (PPC) ads, and while these appear above regular organic search rankings, they don’t qualify as position zero.
Search engine optimization (SEO) isn’t all about pleasing the search engine bots and crawlers. It’s equally important to create content that appeals to the searcher, the real human behind the screen. When you’re writing content to target position zero, you’re honing in on things that are most relevant and valuable to your audience. You’re trying to figure out exactly what they want or need to know and provide the answers.
When Google pulls your content for a featured snippet and sets it above the rest, it’s subliminally but not subtly suggesting that the position zero content is “the best” for that search topic. Think of it in terms of social media. Position zero is like Google’s verified checkmark, their stamp of approval that says, “yes, searcher. We’ve pulled this content and we think it’s best for you.” Other reasons to target position zero with your content include:
Search engine positioning matters. FirstPageSage found that the link in position one in SERPs gets about 40% of the clicks for any query. That’s more than the ads and more than the content in every subsequent spot on page one. But how does that change when the query has a featured snippet?
Image via FirstPageSage
According to data from Smart Insights, when a keyword has a featured snippet, the CTR of the first organic search result decreases by about 5%. Why? Because people click on the content in position zero.
Image via Smart Insights
We already talked about how getting into position zero is like getting Google’s stamp of approval. But it also influences how searchers and your audience see your content and company. When your stuff is good enough to get pulled for the featured snippet, it makes you look like the authority on the subject.
This helps build your thought leadership status in your field and your brand recognition. Then, when people search for information on similar topics and see your content pop up, they’re more likely to click. They already have a basis of trust with your brand and care about what you have to say.
Programs like Siri, Alexa, and Google Home use featured snippets to answer user questions. Most products and services not under the Google brand use Bing to answer user questions. We talk a lot about how to reach featured snippets on Google, but they’re not the only search engine to target. Content from your internal web searches also affects voice search and your positioning in SERPs. Those provide even more content areas to review and optimize to get your information into position zero.
Did you know at the end of 2020, 65% of all Google searchers got answers to their questions without ever clicking on a results link? There isn’t new data on this topic yet, but we can assume with Google’s constant updates that this metric has increased. This concept may sound frustrating. Especially when your content and SEO goals are to get people to click on your results and come to your website for more information.
But using the featured snippet is also a way to weed out unqualified leads. If someone is looking for a simple answer, they’re satisfied with a zero-click search. They get what they need and move on. But someone who is serious about finding a product, service, or solution is more likely to click valuable content from position zero or anywhere on SERP page one because they’re ready to convert. This helps narrow down your lead pool to people who are in the frame of mind and position to make a purchase.
Because this zero-click statistic can seem daunting, just remember that with more than 5.6 billion searches happening on Google per day, there are almost 2 billion searches that do result in clicks. Your efforts are not in vain.
Zero click searches are queries that don’t send searchers to a third-party site, off the search engine, to get an answer. When the information in the featured snippets and rich data is so complete, people don’t have to click to get that answer. From a user perspective, this is a great feature of Google and other search engines. It does the work for you and saves you tons of time.
But as a business owner, marketer, or content creator, this likely doesn’t make you happy. One of the biggest reasons you do content marketing and work on SEO is to get those top SERP positions and reap all the benefits. Google works against you in some ways because it’s trying to market to searchers, too. The longer it keeps people on its own services, the more time it has to advertise and the more revenue it generates.
Take the below screenshot, for example. In it, you’ll see that Google has answered our query all on its own. There is no website that Google is linking to. Google has positioned itself as the authority of the answer to this question. You don’t have to go anywhere else to get additional details. This is also position zero, and this kind of position zero is a tough one to crack through, if not downright impossible. Your best bet in these cases is to create content that answers the “People also ask” section and describes the value of the content right from what a searcher sees on the SERPs.
Unfortunately, as Google gets better at its job, zero-click searches will happen more and more. But that’s not the end of the world as you know it. You’ll be fine. Remember, position zero and zero-click searches actually help narrow in your qualified leads. While zero-click searches and features may impact your CTR or your pageview numbers, the quality goes up, and quality is a better metric anyway.
Featured snippets come in all shapes and sizes. It’s important to know about the types that exist, and what qualifies as a featured snippet, so you can target them. For example, rich answers aren’t featured snippets. In the example of the search for “what is the time in New Zealand,” the rich answer is the result. This is position zero, but it’s not a featured snippet because Google isn’t gathering the answer from any particular website. If the answer comes from Google and doesn’t give credit to a third-party source, the content isn’t a featured snippet. So what does count as position zero?:
These snippets answer the 5 Ws and 1 H questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. They have simple sentences or short paragraphs highlighted with the information you want to see. For example, if you search “why should I do content marketing,” you get a text answer in position zero.
Tables give you more information about data-heavy topics in a way that’s easy to read and compare. Google may pull these snippets for financial figures, like earnings, revenue, or pricing. Tables are not as easy to trigger because text snippets are the default. Even if you intend to target a table snippet, your content may appear as a text snippet with a statistic or figures instead.
These featured snippets are exactly what they sound like, a list of items on one topic. From your content, Google may pull ordered and unordered list content to put in this position zero. You may be more likely to trigger a list snippet if you use these elements in your content, too.
Did you know that YouTube is also a search engine? Yes, its internal site search functions like any other search program. And because YouTube is a Google property, it gets top billing for pulling video content for featured snippets. Optimize all your videos, but especially your YouTube videos, for search.
Like videos, depending on the search query, Google pulls image pack featured snippets. These show photos, illustrations, and GIFs related to the subject of your search. You can target these packs by optimizing your image titles, alt text, and other metadata.
Knowledge panels are bars that appear to the right of the SERP. Bots and crawlers scan their structured data to collect information about people, brands, topics, and products from across the internet. Then they share all those facts and links in one place. You can trigger knowledge panels for brand names, well-known products, and authoritative or famous individuals or groups.
Carousel featured snippets include a text snippet and then also provide a carousel list of related topics to click and see more information. People Also Ask (PAA) snippets provide additional 5 Ws and 1 H questions related to a search topic in a drop-down menu. Both types of snippets offer suggestions to take users further into a search query and find additional information. Each carousel bubble or PAA question is a chance to rank for another featured snippet keyword or phrase.
Sometimes Google displays two featured snippets for the price of one search. This happens often when the user’s search intent is unclear. If Google doesn’t know exactly what someone is looking for, it may provide two options that cover related information with slightly different intent. For example, depending on the query, it may recommend a definition and a list of products. As more people search for that topic, Google learns the true search intent of the question based on the most-clicked snippet, and it can update its algorithm accordingly.
Different from double snippets, this type pulls text from one source and an image or video from another to share space in position zero. This gives you the chance to rank in that top spot in more than one way. It also shows the importance of optimizing all your content, not just your words, for SEO and user experience.
Use these tips to help you target the SERP space in position zero:
In general SEO, it’s easier to rank for some keywords than others. Appearing in a featured snippet is no different. Long-tail keyword variations are some of your better options for triggering and appearing in featured snippets. They answer questions and allow Google to provide a full-sentence answer above the traditional search results to provide a better user experience.
The good news for marketers is that oftentimes once people get one question answered, they have another. They may stop at a zero-click search, or they may click your content from position zero and see if you can answer their follow-up questions. Make sure your content is optimized to do that.
Get a head start at answering those questions by finding your content gaps with the CopyPress content marketing analysis report. This document takes your digital content and rates it against that of your top three competitors. Then it provides a list of keywords and topics to fill your gaps. This allows you to target the content your audience really wants to see and the questions they have, giving you a better chance to trigger and appear in a featured snippet.
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Figuring out why people make a search helps you figure out what they want to find on the results page. And if you can figure that out, you have a better chance of creating content that targets the featured snippet. Position zero is all about user experience. Google can say what it wants, but at the end of the day, intentional or not, featured snippets result in more zero-click searches. They’re making it easier for people to find answers with less effort.
But if you can get into the minds of searchers and discover what they really want, you have a better chance of appearing in featured snippets. People conduct searches to get facts, browse information about products or services, find locations, and buy things. Determine which purpose best aligns with your keywords and goals to create content to match these expectations.
You know featured snippets aren’t just for blocks of text. With video results, lists, and image packs, you can use more than just your paragraphs to target position zero. Make sure you add media, visuals, and other interactive elements to your written content to target more types of snippets. The best way to play position zero is to hit as many user-experience aids as possible for the same keywords so you get more exposure and more chances to increase your CTR.
It also helps to make your content more scannable with lists or tables. These make it easier for users to scan, but also for bots and crawlers to find your information and pull it for snippets.
You can jump through hoops and follow every optimization trick on the internet. But the best way to rank on SERPs and reach position zero is to produce good content. When you’re sharing actionable tips, verified facts, and content people want to see, you have a better chance of rising in the SERPs. And getting pulled for featured snippets. Using words and language that’s easy to understand and short paragraphs make this easier.
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