Search engine results pages (SERPs) work like leaderboards. The search provider’s algorithms crawl through web pages to determine which ones best match the statement or question the searcher typed in, and those top options appear in order.
The results at the very top of the page draw the lion’s share of clicks. So, that means you should be aiming for position No. 1, right? In many cases, yes. But in others, there’s another option. Your web page can achieve what’s known as “position zero” status, with a little snippet of text excerpted from your page popping up on the SERP.
Achieving position zero is a way to set your site apart from competitors and show that you have the info to answer searchers’ questions. But how does this ranking work, and how can you write content that will achieve the desired results?
Position Zero, aka the Featured Snippet: What Is It?
Google doesn’t actually use the term position zero. Rather, pieces that receive excerpts on SERPs are called “featured snippets.” These entries flip the usual format of a Google search result, putting the snippet ahead of the headline and web address.
Not every SERP contains a featured snippet. That’s simply because some kinds of queries lend themselves to easy, one-stop answers and others don’t. Searchers who enter a general string of words like “content marketing agency Brafton” will likely just receive their Google search result list as usual. Ask a question like “what is a content marketing agency?”, however, and that may be a featured snippet opportunity.
The text on a featured snippet comes directly from the web page in question, rather than being something specifically written to appear on SERPs. When searchers click through on a featured snippet, they arrive at the exact part of the target web page where the snippet originated.
There are a few requirements around featured snippets, but they should be easy to meet for a company operating in good faith. All the content that appears on them has to fit Google’s overall content policies against displaying violent, hateful or deceptive info on SERPs. Furthermore, pages that seek to spread misinformation about “public interest topics” will be disallowed from producing featured snippets.
Then, there are cases when instead of displaying one position zero article at the top of the results page, the Google algorithm will determine that a different type of featured snippet is warranted. Some special circumstances and SERP features include:
- Multiple featured snippet results: This is relevant when one quick answer won’t be true for all permutations of a search query. Google’s blog gives the example of a searcher asking how to set up a phone plan feature, then being the option to toggle between different carriers to find out the sequence of steps that applies to them.
- Multimedia featured snippets: Content such as tutorial videos on YouTube could become fodder for featured snippets if the query is best addressed visually. Google cited a hair styling tutorial as a possible example.
- Related-question featured snippet results: This is a type of stopgap measure, when a question may be too specific to have its own featured snippet, at least yet, but the algorithm determines that searchers may find related info useful.
- Featured snippets elsewhere on the page: Featured snippets may appear in the “people also ask” section of a SERP or the knowledge panel on the side, rather than only popping up at the top of the results page.
The zero position can mean many different things depending on the type of information in question, and the best way to find it, as determined by the sometimes-mysterious Google search algorithm. In short, becoming a featured snippet is a way to appear in a unique way, set apart from standard results among special SERP features.
Learn more about user intent to figure out how to capture your audience’s attention on SERPs.
Why Ranking at Position Zero Matters
The worry with SEO marketing is that a web page will be lost in the shuffle on a busy SERP. This is why competition is so fierce to rank in position one, and it’s also why becoming a featured snippet is a positive development.
When Google first introduced featured snippets, way back in 2014, the search giant acknowledged some fear that if it implemented this easy way to get a quick answer to a question, people wouldn’t click through results. That kind of effect would weaken the whole process of SEO marketing.
Fortunately, as Google stated in its update after several years of featured snippet usage, that prediction didn’t come true. Searchers were still clicking links on SERPs with featured snippets. Furthermore, the sites that received the snippets were often the ones that received the clicks.
If your brand becomes the featured snippet about a topic, that demonstrates your authority and expertise. You’ve literally become the definition of that specific concept — this is a kind of positive reinforcement that’s hard to come by.
In addition to flexing your knowledge on a specific topic, achieving featured snippet status can help in another way: reaching searchers who aren’t using a PC. Google specifies that position zero results are especially useful for people using voice search or typing in a query on a mobile device.
Helping these mobile device users find the information they’re looking for is a great way to prove that your brand is helpful and authoritative. You’re not just informing them, you’re saving them clicks.
Want to know more about what Google’s algorithm prefers? Look into E-A-T.
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How to Create Content that Ranks at Position Zero
Unfortunately, there’s no 100% effective formula for creating position zero content. Rather than designing content that will definitely spin off a featured snippet, you simply have to create good web pages about topics that lend themselves to this treatment.
In Google’s own FAQ, the search giant answers questions about how content creators can nominate their pages as featured snippets with a simple “You can’t.” As with so many aspects of Google’s proprietary search algorithm, the process of “elevating” specific web pages to position zero is somewhat of a black box.
Perhaps wanting to ensure businesses don’t game the system or taking into account that the processes under the hood are often changing, Google’s official explanation of how featured snippets are chosen is vague. It simply states that its systems “determine whether a page would make a good featured snippet to highlight for a specific search request.”
In an interesting twist, while you can’t mark a page as a featured snippet, you can make a page ineligible to be chosen. This works by turning down the “max-snippet” rule so low for that page that Google will no longer find it useful.
You don’t have to be a giant company or a search powerhouse to have a featured snippet opportunity. You simply have to create content that answers a common question or gives a piece of information a searcher might be looking for.
Think about the concepts your company is an expert on. What is the core of your business? What products, services, regions, concepts or processes can you explain well? Creating informative content around those is a way to aim for position zero.
The good news is that creating these materials will benefit your brand whether you achieve featured snippet status or not. Working alone or with SEO experts, you can generate a wide variety of informative quality content, encompassing blog posts, landing pages, videos and more.
It’s important not to treat achieving position zero as the only marker of success for your SEO strategy. After all, this is a complex process with unclear rules. One day you may have created a featured snippet, and the next day it may have changed. Fortunately, the content is still a valuable piece of an inbound marketing strategy, even if it’s simply on page one instead of in the zero position.
Ranking well takes a lot of effort — learn all the best practices.
Launching a Balanced SEO Marketing Campaign
Position zero can be a good lens to view your content marketing strategy through. Do you have quality content pieces that could conceivably become the featured snippets for any topics? If not, maybe you should focus on creating those materials.
The prevalence of position zero says something important about modern searchers: they’re looking for answers to their questions. Some of these queries are for mundane, everyday concepts, but others can become the crux of your content marketing strategy.
If customers are wondering about the types of products or services you provide, you can become an authority on the subject with a featured snippet. Of course, this holds another lesson: They’re looking for information, not a sales pitch. That’s a reminder that there’s a place in SEO marketing for in-depth knowledge bases rather than wholly proprietary sales content.
These are the issues that may only come up if you devote enough time and effort to the multifaceted process of SEO marketing and keyword research. Committing to SEO and inbound marketing can be a way to draw attention to your business. And who knows? You may just end up at position zero while you’re at it.