How to write answers or instruction steps for Google’s Featured Snippets

How to write government procedures for citizens that rank in Google Featured Snippets

This blog is especially useful if you write content for a website that gives:

  • central or local government advice for citizens, or
  • instructions on how to do or use something — online user manuals, technical documentation, business procedures or even recipes.

When people are searching online, they want short, concise, crystal clear content.

Screens and attention spans have got smaller and so must your digital content.

Sometimes people will happily read online for a sustained period. Perhaps they are researching a subject or maybe they are reading a story or an investigative article.

This blog is not about sustained reading on a screen. It’s about impatient searchers, who want a clear answer to a simple question or want ‘how to’ information.

Searchers on a mission want answers and fast. Nothing else will do!

Google knows this and rewards content editors who know this too.

As a digital content writer, your job is to find out your audience’s burning questions. And answer them!

Your web analytics will tell you what they are most interested in.

Your call centre will tell you too.

You can also ask for feedback or survey some customers if you can.

Ask Google a concrete question and it will display the answer at the top of search results — before the list of search result links.

Google calls these ‘Featured Snippets’. They are great for searchers and mobile users, because they serve up answers without having to click through to a web page.

Google uses Featured Snippets when there is one direct answer to a question or a clear set of steps to follow.

Websites appearing in the Featured Snippet box have a big advantage over others listed in the same search results.

When you write content for searchers, write content that would make an excellent ‘snippet’.

Even if you don’t make it into the top spot in search results — that is position zero, the holy grail — writing quality pieces of ‘micro’ or ‘modular’ content will serve your audiences better and is the hallmark of modern digital content.

Again, start with finding out your audience’s top tasks. What do they want to achieve when they visit your site?

Don’t guess! Go to:

  • your web analytics
  • keyword research tools
  • your call centre
  • your receptionist
  • your helpdesk
  • your UX or CX team
  • customer survey results
  • Google Trends
  • Google's 'People also ask' feature.

For questions that have a simple and concrete answer:

  1. Start your page with a descriptive headline (always use the H1 tag).
  2. Summarize the answer to the question in your first paragraph (use the <p> tag).
  3. Add a relevant image with descriptive alt-text close by.
  4. Use researched keywords in this content.

For ‘how to’ information, tasks, instructions and quick procedures, write a list of steps in order of sequence.

  1. Start your page with a descriptive headline (using the H1 tag).
  2. Follow with a useful page summary.
  3. Then write a list of clear instructions in sequence.
  4. Use the active voice.
  5. If one person does all steps, start each instruction with a verb:
    e.g. Do this. Do that.
  6. If different people do different steps, then says who does what:
    e.g. Person A does this. Person B does that.
  7. Number each instruction (using the <li> tag for ordered lists).
  8. Link to forms and tools when relevant to a step.
  9. Use researched keywords in this content.

So in summary, Google loves lists and short answers, aimed at helping searchers get what they want faster.

Following these blog instructions could help you jump the search results queue. Google can feature a well-written snippet in position zero taken from a website that does not rank in position one in the same search results.

Ask your inhouse technical team or technical supplier to help you find out if your content appears as a Featured Snippet using Google Search Console or other third-party tools. Or search for the question, your content answers, on a computer that you do not ordinarily use, and see who ranks in the top spot.

Learn these skills and more in Contented’s online courses for digital content writers

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