How to rank in position zero

Some call it position zero, some call it the answer box, Google calls it a featured snippet; whatever terminology you choose, the fact is that it’s doubled in prevalence in 2016 and has increased fivefold since it launched in 2014. If you can secure position zero, you stand a chance at achieving a 114% boost in click-throughs from organic search for high volume terms. Clearly, this is something SEOs need to be focusing on for their campaigns. So let’s find out more about position zero and how to get there.

What is position zero?

As the name implies, position zero refers to an organic result that comes before position one. The result is in the form of an answer to a question (or implied question) the user has asked Google.

Direct question: position zero direct question

Implied question: position zero implied question

There are three formats for position zero: paragraphs, lists (numbered or bulleted), and tables. Paragraphs are the most common, making up 53% of featured snippets.

This is likely due to the relationship between position zero and voice search. Searchers are more likely to ask questions rather than use short phrases when performing a voice search. Digital assistants that use voice search technology generally provide a single result – this is taken from the featured snippet in search. Paragraphs provide the best format for this question-and-answer search.

There are three main benefits to achieving a position zero ranking:

  • Greater visibility in Google results. Only around 30% of pages at position zero also rank at position one; targeting position zero is a quick way to jump to the top of search results.
  • More traffic to your website. SEMrush saw a 500% boost in traffic to an article from 2015 after achieving position zero.
  • Greater impression of trust and credibility for users. Google shows a vote of confidence by choosing your website as the definitive answer to a search query; the implication is that you’re providing quality content for the user.

How can I rank in position zero?

According to Google’s guidelines, there’s no simple solution or mark-up to highlight your content as a featured snippet. Google “programmatically determines that a page contains a likely answer to the user's question”. But they’re not choosing webpages at random, either. Looking at the trends among web pages in position zero can inform how to optimise any web page to rank there.

The first thing to consider is which of your keywords already return a featured snippet in search, whether it’s for you or a competitor. A number of keyword tools can give you this information, such as Searchmetrics or AccuRanker.

Then, if it’s not clear, you need to identify the questions that users are asking. These can be found using in-depth keyword research or by analysing the keywords used within your internal site search function. A lot of the higher volume terms – such as the example I used, “current accounts” – are short phrases, rather than full questions. Looking at the answer in position zero, it’s clear that the implied question is, “What is a current account?”

Generally, the questions you want to target are those that have an in-depth answer. Questions like “how tall is Beyoncé” have a single, simple answer which Google presents without any links to websites at the top of their results. Position zero answers provide more detail and a link to the source website.

The next step is to answer these questions on your website in a way that Google understands. Larry Kim refers to this as a “snipp-able format” – trying wherever possible to answer your target questions in 40-50 words. It’s important to use the wording of the question (or implied question) within your “answer” content. This helps Google to marry the information you’re presenting with the questions users are asking. You can even take it one step further by using the question itself as a subtitle within your content.

Finally, although Google says you can’t mark-up your content to appear in position zero, you should be using structured data mark-up to help search engines understand your content. This is particularly relevant to items which fall under a schema item. Places, products, reviews, events, people – everything that can be marked up, should be. Note: this does not mean applying mark-up to everything willy-nilly. Ensure your mark-up is considered, accurate and follows Google’s guidelines.

You can also use HTML mark-up to highlight tables or lists that might be relevant for position zero results. As always, headings, paragraphs and other generic formatting should be marked as such to highlight themes and relevant keywords within.

So while Google suggests you can’t magically rank in position zero, there are certainly steps you can take to improve your website’s chances. As with any successful SEO campaign, it’s essential to figure out what fits the users’ needs and work back from there. After all, for Google, the user is number one.

Struggling to find that position zero magic? Get in touch to chat about how we can help.