It used to be that number one was good enough — and in most places, it still is. You won’t find any Olympic athletes or top-40 artists complaining about their number-one status. And even when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), position one is most often the best to target. But more and more people are now trying to attain featured-snippet status, which raises the question: what is position zero?
Featured snippets appear when Google determines that the user’s search intention can be best matched by immediately offering brief answers within the search results themselves — instead of on the third-party page. They come from the top handful of search results and tend to answer relatively simple questions.
A featured snippet covers half of a mobile screen, giving your brand unmatched visibility. While they only occur on 19% of search engine results pages (SERPs), they can have a huge impact when they do.
That’s why there are times it’s better to be a zero than to be number one. Read on to find out when, why, and how you can best take advantage of position zero.
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What is position zero?
While people often equate “position zero” and “featured snippet,” they’re not quite the same thing. Position zero is a location on the page, while a featured snippet is a format in which information can appear.
In a featured snippet, the excerpt or page information comes before the listing rather than after it. They can occur within knowledge graphs and the “people also ask” section, as well as within search results.
When a featured snippet comes at the very top of the SERP, it’s said to occupy position zero and is the first thing a user will see. Because snippets make the most important information immediately available, they’re particularly helpful when it comes to voice and mobile searches. This makes voice SEO important to featured snippets.
For example, if I search for “how many SERPs have featured snippets,” I get a page that puts the immediate answer to my question at the top of the page, in position zero.
Different types of featured snippets
While most featured snippets cite a single source, some draw from more. You can find double snippets and snippets that combine the text from one source with media from another.
Regardless, they tend to appear in one of the following formats.
The above example from the search “how many SERPs have featured snippets” comes in paragraph form. Only a few sentences long, paragraphs are by far the most common type of snippet.
The second-most common type of featured snippet is a list. Recipes and other types of how-to content often appear as numbered lists of steps. You can also find ranked and unranked lists of items in a category, such as “Best French Cheeses.”
Sometimes Google will extract information from a page in table form. You might find these data-heavy snippets as tables of rates or statistics.
When words aren’t enough, Google may provide a featured snippet in video format. If you click on the image, the video will play right in the search results instead of taking you to YouTube.
Ways to optimize for position zero
First of all, there’s no point in trying to optimize for position zero if you’re not already in the first handful of results. You first need to clear that bar.
But if you’re already there and want to land that coveted position zero, the most important actions you can take are just plain and simple good SEO: targeting the right keywords and matching searcher intent.
Look for long-tail keywords, particularly ones that are question-based and lend themselves to featured snippets. Then make sure that the information you provide matches the probable user intent of someone making that search.
In addition, you should follow these four rules when you write your content:
1. Use “what is” headings and “is” sentences
When you incorporate “what is” headings — for example; “what is position zero” — into your content, Google is more likely to provide your answer to someone posing that question.
You should also include simple sentences that use a form of the verb “to be” — for example, “position zero is….” Let Google know that you’re answering as well as asking the question.
2. Answer the question succinctly and completely
It’s not enough to provide the correct information. Your content must also offer Google succinct and complete answers that it can easily excerpt from longer pieces and display in a limited amount of space.
3. Target one of the featured snippet formats
You now know how Google formats featured snippets, so use them to structure your copy. Tailor content appropriately.
How? Use lists and tables when it makes sense to do so. Write short paragraphs that can stand on their own if need be. Answer questions within video descriptions as well within the videos themselves.
4. Avoid using first person and brand names
Both the first-person voice (I, we) and brand names will exclude your snippet from consideration. Google wants objective information, not personal narratives or advertisements. Keep potential featured snippets as neutral as possible.
Further tips for featured snippets
The above practices will help you optimize your content. But here are a couple more tips for you to consider when aiming for position zero.
Nab the featured snippet from a competitor
If you see an opening — a topic that doesn’t have a snippet in the top spot but should — so much the better. But if someone already has that prized position, you’ll have to steal it from them.
Identify a long-tail search term that makes sense for your business and research what’s in position zero for this term. Once you’ve found the current featured snippet, click through to the page and analyze the content there.
Is there any way that you can improve on this answer? Is there information missing or updated data available? Craft your answer accordingly.
Give browsers an incentive to click through to the website
Some SEO pros have started treating position zero with a little more skepticism about its value. Yes, it does increase your brand’s visibility, but does it steal from potential click-throughs by answering questions right on the SERP?
The answer is, sometimes. However, someone is going to answer that question, so it might as well be you. The trick is to make sure that your own page adds value beyond what a user can find in the excerpt.
Prepare to take over position zero
After learning what position zero is and how to obtain it, there’s nothing standing in your way from becoming a featured snippet. Well, nothing except competition from other businesses trying to do the same thing.
The first step is to identify what featured snippets are obtainable. Make a list of question-like search terms for which your business already ranks in the first five results. Then check each to see if that search already has a featured snippet.
Once you’ve located your target, you can take aim and fire.