How to Win Google SERP Features and Optimize for Visibility

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Think of your content as a boat. If you just slap something together, it won’t take you very far. In fact, it will probably sink. But, when you plan carefully, you can build something to last in stormy weather and keep you afloat.

Similarly, just a little content planning can help you win a Google SERP Feature and stand out among the ocean of blue links.

These special results include: 

  • Knowledge Panels 
  • Featured Snippets 
  • Local Packs
  • Google Ads
  • Rich Snippets
  • People Also Ask questions
  • Image Packs
  • Video Carousels
  • Sitelinks

In order to get a SERP feature for your brand, you need to optimize your website’s content accordingly. This means making sure your content is clear, helpful, and organized in a way that Google will understand immediately.

If you feel a little green when you see your competitor’s content showcased in any of those special SERP features, all you need is a plan.

In this guide, we’re going to cover some of the most popular SERP features, how they work, and a plan to get your brand featured in them with a little bit of optimization. 

Why Should You Care About Winning a Google SERP Feature?

You should care about winning a Google SERP feature because it helps you take up more space on the SERPs. Think about it: why do people mostly click on the first few results of the SERP? 

It’s because they want their answer now without scrolling through the endless ocean of pages or even past their initial viewport. 

Answers to queries before the fold are more popular (in part) for this reason. Taking up more SERP Features also makes it easier to bring people to where you want on your site.

Different types of Google SERP features you can win.
Imagine if all these SERP features were linked to your site.

Plus, it goes beyond ranking just your website on Google. 

A featured snippet may include a video you posted on your YouTube channel. Although a searcher may not pop on to your website, they’re still watching your content. 

This shows Google that your content is worth promoting and it increases brand awareness at the same time. 

How to Win SERP Features 

In order to get a SERP feature for your brand, you need to optimize your website’s content accordingly. This means making sure your content is clear, helpful, and organized in a way that Google will understand immediately. 

One way to make your content clearer in the eyes of Google is by using structured data, which we’ll show you lower in this post.

It also means earning Google’s trust, by establishing your website as an authority on your subject matter and following Google’s guidelines. 

Optimizing for SERP Features

If your website is trusted by Google, and you offer content that is clear and helpful, you can target some SERP features with some simple practices. 

We’ll show you how to:

  • Do keyword research to find SERP features opportunities 
  • Make your content clear and answer the searcher’s query
  • Implement structured data to help Google understand your content
  • Submit your sitemap to Google
  • Use a tool to optimize your content and track

Do this, and it’s smooth sailing to the top of the SERP. 

What’s the Difference Between Paid and Organic SERP Features?

The difference between the two when it comes to SERP features is one relies on spending (potentially lots of) money to get the first ad position (Google Ads and Product Listing Ads); the other on great content and clean code. 

There are two conventional approaches to growing your online visibility in search results: paid and organic. 

Of course, you’re welcome to try both, but it can be more cost-effective to focus on getting traffic to your site organically. 

Plus, there are many ways you can optimize your site for SERP features organically versus only a few with paid. 

Keyword Research for SERP Features

With a keyword research tool like Semrush, you can quickly discover the exact queries that trigger the rich snippets and special results you’re after.

First, you can look for rich snippet opportunities in your competitor’s keyword profile. 

If your site can provide something better than your rivals occupying a rich snippet, Google could replace your competitor’s snippet with yours. 

Go to Organic Research and type in a competitor’s website to start.

Semrush Organic Research Tool
Semrush Organic Research

In the Positions report table, find the SERP features column. It shows all SERP features that are triggered by the keywords that the analyzed domain is ranked for in the chosen country.

Semrush Organic Research Positions
Semrush Organic Research Positions

You can use the SERP features filter above the table to see all the keywords where your rival occupies a rich snippet (domain ranks in blue), as well as the ones where they don’t (domain doesn’t rank). 

Optimize for SERP Features with Structured Data

Because schema markups and structured data help search engines understand your website better, implementing it can lead to Google giving you rich snippets on the SERP. 

Follow these steps to get started:

  1. Study structured data and how it works.
  2. Learn how to build, test, and release your structured data.
  3. Choose the content assets on your website that you want to target SERP features with.
  4. Follow the General Structured Data Guidelines and apply them accordingly.
  5. Mark up the content on your webpages usingschema.org properties. These may apply to reviewsFAQsjob listings, etc. If you already have information in the Knowledge Panel but want it to get updated, use Google’s guide for that. 
  6. Run Google Rich Results Test to check if your content is optimized for SERP features. If implemented correctly, structured data may enable special search result features and enhancements for your website’s content. 

Sitelinks are the additional blue links that accompany an organic search result, leading to different areas of the same site.

This SERP feature can give your brand more room on the results page while also giving users more options on how they’d like to enter your website. 

You can optimize your structured data for sitelinks with what Google calls WebSite structured data. Do this by implementing this type of structured data on your homepage.

If you do, Google might reward you with a sitelink search box to get potential searchers that much closer to browsing your site. 

screenshot of sitelinks

More ways to encourage Google to give your website sitelinks: 

  • Submit your sitemap (and make sure it’s clean) 
  • Create breadcrumbs to help crawlers navigate your site 
  • Validate your website’s search box 
  • Use canonicals correctly 
  • Use JSON-LD to create structured data (per Google’s recommendation) 

Sitelinks are an easy way to take up as much real estate on the SERP as possible. Taking the time to optimize for sitelinks could boost traffic to your site because searchers tend to click on what’s above the fold the most (they’re trying to go snorkeling, not scuba diving). 

How Do You Get Rich Snippets?

Rich snippets (or rich results) are any type of search listing that displays visual or interactive data. So, not every piece of content on your site needs structured data to gain SERP features. 

These include ratings, event info, data sets, FAQs, and more. They can appear on any search engine results page. 

You can improve your chance of snagging rich snippets with structured data. Inserting these data markups into the head of your code is an easy way to make sure search engines understand what your article is about and understand the connections between concepts and pages on your site. 

And that means a greater chance of winning some more SERP features for your site. 

Recipes 

Have a site that features recipes? Structured data will be your best friend. 

Use JSON-LD to create structured data on your recipe’s page to optimize it for the SERPs: 

example of structured data code for a recipe schema

Google also mentions that reviews and visuals (especially videos) can help increase those chances of turning your plain link into a rich snippet. 

Though structured data optimization doesn’t guarantee that you will be present on search result features, following these steps may raise the chances for your content to get them. 

Reviews 

Example of recipe rich snippet that adds a review preview you can optimize for

On the topic of recipes, do you notice those 5 stars right above the sitelinks? You can also use structured data to display review ratings as a rich snippet in the form of a recipe schema

This helps show trust to your readers and is another way to take up more search real estate with clean code. 

As you get more into structured data, you can use the Semrush Site Audit Markup report to check your markups and see what percentage of your website uses Schema. 

Where to click to see a domain's use of schema
Dashboard of Site Audit that shows a domain's use of schema

Optimize for featured snippets by creating content that is better than your competitor’s. Easier said than done, right? 

While it’s never easy to overtake a strong competitor, there are some simple methods to encourage Google to pick your page for a featured snippet. 

First, it’s important to know the most common types of featured snippets. These are:

  • Lists 
  • Tables
  • Videos
  • Paragraphs (e.g. definition box)

Part of creating content that’s better than your competitor’s content is making it easy to read. Lists, tables, and videos can all be easier to digest than long paragraphs. So, to target a featured snippet, make sure your content is in bite-size chunks. 

The easier it is for people to read, the easier it will be for Google to understand your content. 

You can make your content easier to read with the help of tools like the On Page SEO Checker (featured below) and the SEO Writing Assistant (SWA). 

The SWA tool can grade your readability score as you write in real-time, helping you hone in on hard-to-read sentences and make them easier to read. 

The On Page SEO Checker analyzes the readability score of top-ranking pages in the SERPs (shown below). It helps you understand whether or not you need to make your content easier to read to have a better chance of beating your SERP competitors. 

Win Google SERP features with SEO On Page Checker to see your content's readability

Making content easy to digest often depends on how you structure your content. That includes: 

  • Chunking up your content into bite-sized paragraphs 
  • Using numbered or bulleted lists where it fits 
  • Making your content easy to skim with headers (including h2s, h3s, h4s, etc.) 
  • Adding images, GIFs, or videos that add meaning to your content 

Optimizing for lists and tables can be straightforward. Use the right HTML format for tables and lists along with better content than your competitors and there is a good chance you’ll snag the snippet. 

Google favors content that makes it easy to find answers. 

How so? 

Making it easy to find the question (aka query) that’s at hand and making it just as easy to find the answer. Try to structure your content in a Q&A format to grab the definition box and secure position 0. 

Featured snippets that feature videos seem to function in the same way: make it easy for Google and readers to identify what question you’re answering. 

Here’s some insight from How To Optimize for Google Featured Snippets [Research]

29% of keywords with a featured snippet started with a question-based word, such as “why,” “do,” and “can.” 

Boost your chances by phrasing your title and headers with question-based words. And, as always, make sure that the keywords you use match search intent. You can find this out with the Search Intent filter in the Keyword Magic Tool.

Also, look for long-tail keywords. Keywords like these tend to be more specific, which translates into more specific search intent. 

According to the study we conducted in 2020, 19% of SERPs at the time had featured snippets. Another fun fact is that these featured snippets take up 50% of a mobile screen. 

The big takeaway here is that you need to optimize for featured snippets if you want to get your audience’s attention while they’re using search on their mobile devices. 

TIP: Read the Featured Snippets Report manual for more help.

Featured snippets, especially on mobile, take up a large chunk of real estate on the screen. And you can own that real estate with your organic content—potentially landing your brand a huge amount of visibility. 

Three Semrush tools in particular that can help you in this step are On Page SEO Checker, SEO Content Template, and SEO Writing Assistant.

We recommend using all of the three tools to optimize your existing pages and adding new content to your site to win those featured snippets. 

On Page SEO Checker

This tool lets you enter your landing pages and target keywords and then returns with specific optimization ideas you can take to help your existing pages both rank and acquire SERP features on your target keywords. 

SEO Content Template

This tool will outline a template for new content that specifically targets your keyword and SERP features. This will help you get started when you want to target a new keyword that you are currently not targeting. 

SEO Writing Assistant

Check the potential SEO performance, readability, and originality of your content pieces, based on recommendations given by SEO Content Template.

How to Get SERP Features with People Also Ask (PAAs) 

The best way to rank for PAAs is to optimize your content that is already performing well with question-based keywords. 

A study on PAAs we conducted in 2020 found that the overwhelming majority of content that went on to appear in this SERP feature was already ranking in the SERP’s top 3 organic results. 

If you’re already ranking in the 3, what’s the point of trying to rank for this type of SERP feature? 

Hint: it’s a point we keep harping on—web real estate. The more space your website takes up on the SERP, the better the chance is that people will click through to your site. Other than that, it also increases brand awareness. 

Unsurprisingly, the study also found that 86% of PAAs were triggered by question-based keywords. 

One way you can tackle this part of your winning SERP strategy is by looking at the PAAs targeted by a keyword your content ranks for already. For instance, if you rank for “use regular bananas for banana bread,” then consider turning that into a question to target the PAA.

Example of the people also ask SERP feature

How to Find Keywords for PAAs

Another way is by entering a core keyword in the Keyword Magic Tool, which will generate as many related search terms as possible. 

Then, you can set a Questions filter to turn a search query into a question-based keyword. Also, feel free to take a question you see on the PAAs and pop it into the Keyword Overview tool to see the potential traffic your content could get if it ranked for this SERP feature. 

screenshot of Keyword Magic Tool where you can see how to find question-based keywords

You can also find keywords that trigger a PAA result with the Keyword Magic tool with the SERP Features filter. It’s under Advanced filters and you can use it to see which keywords trigger all kinds of SERP features. 

Find keywords that rank for a people also ask snippet in Keyword Magic Tool

It can help to use the Questions filter with the SERP Features to find the best queries to target for your content strategy. 

You can pick the most fitting keywords for your site by clicking the button with the plus sign and sending them to the Keyword Manager to save your research. 

In Keyword Manager, you can gather all the keywords you are working with, and group them into thematic lists to groom your list of keywords. 

Screenshot of Keyword Manager to help find SERP feature opportunities

Track Your Progress as You’re Optimizing for SERP Features

From Keyword Manager, you can automatically send keywords to the Position Tracking tool by clicking the “Send to other tools” button and selecting Position Tracking to either create a new campaign or connect to an existing campaign. 

There, you can start monitoring your own, as well as your competitors’ rankings and all of the triggered SERP features.

See Which SERP Features Are Right for You 

Remember that success takes experimentation, data gathering, analysis, and of course, patience. Hopefully, you’re ready to navigate through the sea of SERP results right to the surface. 

Try out the following to get more SERP features: 

  • Use keyword research to inform your SERP feature strategy
  • Create and optimize content to make it readable and concise
  • Use structured data to help Google understand your content
  • Submit your sitemap to Google
  • Set up Position Tracking to monitor your progress

Now go try out some of these strategies and let us know what works best for you.

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