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Mastering Google’s answer box: How to optimise for featured snippets

Posted by Violet Myers
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Google’s answer boxes (also known as featured snippets) are changing the way we search. That lovely little box is the perfect remedy for searchers in need of quick answers. After all, it’s 2018, who has time to trawl through search engine results pages?

While answer boxes are great for the user, they’re pretty good news for us content creators too. Research has found that by optimising content for featured snippet placement means content as far down as the 10th position can jump right up to the top spot.

This means that with effective keyword research, strategy and formatting, your content can earn a VIP pass to the front of the queue.

Cool, right? But how can you earn this illustrious position? Here’s what we know.

The evolution of Google’s answer box

Answer boxes have actually been around since 2013. However, since the evolution of voice and mobile search, these quick snapshot answers have exploded in popularity.

Types of Google answer boxes

Answer boxes fall into three main types:






As you can see, there are no limits to the queries that can be answered with an answer box. Google is the master of user experience, after all, and it knows that when it comes to working out the meaning of life, taking over the world or finding a ruddy good pipe, we need answers fast.

Of the three examples above, paragraph answer boxes are the most popular type - 81 percent of all answer boxes come in this form.

Google answer boxes increase traffic

Ben Goodsell is an SEO guru who got incredible results by optimising a client’s webpages for an answer box. He found that pages with answer boxes have increased click-through rates (CTR), from two to eight percent. Better yet, organic traffic for these pages skyrocketed by 677 percent.

What’s really exciting is that there are literally billions of queries currently without answer boxes. With Google expanding this feature all the time, there are plenty of top spots with high search traffic up for grabs.

How to optimise for Google’s answer box

Much of the advice we can give you about optimising for answer boxes is the same as good SEO practice. So check out our ultimate SEO guide here.

Keyword research, readability and user experience are all important ranking factors, however, there are a few key tips you can try that are specific to getting an answer box.  

1) Select your best performing content

According to data supplied by Ahrefs, it is 99.5 percent positive that Google only creates answer boxes for pages that already rank in the top ten. This means it’s pretty unlikely any of your lower ranking content will shoot up to featured snippet status. However, this is great news for your content that is ranking well, but not well enough to sit at spot number one.

2) Adapt your language

Adapting your content title to feature certain keywords could boost you to answer box status.

Ahref’s research has revealed the top 30 most frequently met words in search queries that have featured snippets.


While the word ‘recipe’ (or by the same logic ‘chicken’) may be hard to place into a tech blog, words such as ‘best’, ‘vs’ and ‘cost’ would be effective additions to your titles.

3) Consider your length

Research from SEMrush has found that most answer box results are between 40 to 50 words. However, this is contradictory to good SEO practice, which suggests longer content is more effective for high ranking.

So, what does this mean?

The way we understand it is; content should be formatted into short, bitesize paragraphs - especially when you’re answering a specific question. However, you shouldn’t be afraid of creating longer, more in-depth content. Just be sure to format it in such a way that can be digested easily.

Further research from Moz suggests the optimal length for a list is four items, with the max being eight. The same research also found that the optimal size for a table is approximately three rows by two columns.  


4) Answer questions

When SEO gurus SEMrush analysed 6.9 million answer boxes, they discovered 41 percent of them were questions.

So, what does this tell us?

As well as providing succinct lists such as ‘How to take over the world in 6 easy steps’, answer boxes (as the name suggests) are perfect for answering questions.

Consider some of your top performing pieces, could you reframe them to answer a question? Further, when ideating new content, make sure you know the questions your audience want answers to. Check out the ‘people also ask’ feature on Google results or Answer the Public to find out what your customers want to know.

5) Be mobile friendly

The domination of mobile and voice search has led to the popularity of Google answer boxes, therefore, make sure your content is mobile friendly.

The average mobile friendly score of Google answer boxes is 95/100, while the average usability score is 96/100, so aim for the highest score possible. Check out Neil Patel’s great blog on creating mobile friendly content.

6) Format clearly

Make your content easy to read and easy to crawl by formatting correctly.

  • Optimise for an answer box list by numbering your points clearly.
  • Make your primary keyword prominent. Put it in your opening paragraph and naturally throughout your content.
  • Label your H1s, H2s and H3s.

7) Use an image

Research from Stone Temple found that more than a third of featured snippets include an image.

Choose a relevant and engaging image that adds to your story. Make sure to compress your image so it doesn’t detract from your mobile friendly score.

Be reader focused, then reap the rewards

When optimising your content for a Google answer box, it helps to remember Google’s mission statement:

Our mission is to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.

With the introduction of the answer box, Google is working towards providing succinct answers at a faster rate, the sort of answers that are optimised for mobile devices.

With this in mind, consider your top performing content. How can you make sure it answers user queries quickly? Can it be read and understood in an instant, and display perfectly on a mobile? In short, be sure to:

  • Use the most accessible language
  • Create short yet impactful paragraphs
  • Answer relevant questions
  • Use effective formatting
  • Make your site as mobile friendly as possible

Select your top-ranking content and experiment with these techniques. If your content is useful, readable and accessible, you may be rewarded with some fresh organic traffic and a prestigious top-spot answer box on Google.New call-to-action

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