“Google it.” If your friends, families, or colleagues are anything like mine, there’s a good chance you hear this phrase on a daily or at the very least, weekly basis. While it’s sometimes used in jest, the reality is, we can now count on Google to help us answer all types of questions.
Much of this thanks can be given to Google’s “Hummingbird” algorithm update, which focused on improving “conversational search” at its core. At the time of the announcement, Google said that Hummingbird would be paying closer attention to every word in a query, in an effort to better understand the true meaning behind the user’s intent.
Answer boxes are one of the features that have become much more prominent in search as Google has become smarter and aims to provide information quicker and more effectively than ever before.
The Google answer box feature is a welcomed addition to the SEO community as well. As a content marketer, I see the answer box snippet as an empty plot of prime real estate calling my name. If you’re unfamiliar with what I’m referring to, let’s take a look at what appears when we search “what is content marketing?” in Google. The portion outlined in red is the answer box:
What Is the Answer Box? (According to Google)
Google says the answer summary presented in the snippet outlined above is “extracted programmatically from a webpage. When we recognize that a query asks a question, we programmatically detect pages that answer the user’s question, and display a snippet as a featured snippet in the search results.”
For SEOs looking for ways to simply mark a page to be featured, Google says, “You can’t.” Not surprisingly, Google isn’t offering up much more detail than that.
In translation: If you want to appear in these answer box results, you have to get out there, do some research of your own, put on your content marketing hardhat, and get to work.
That’s exactly what we have done here at KoMarketing for a number of our clients, and we can proudly say that we have had some success.
Here are the steps we have learned to be critical (content marketing-specific), regardless of the question being answered.
- Select a Question to Answer
- Create Relevant Content
- Focus on Structure
- Remember SEO Best Practices
- Be Patient
Step 1: Select a Question to Answer
Before anything else is done, you must first identify a question to answer. Work across the organization (sales, marketing, customer service) to identify a handful of frequently asked customer questions.
From there, look for long-tail search queries that have volume (Keyword Planner is a helpful tool) and can be included in the question itself. Make sure this is a question that requires an answer with some depth, as Google is starting to bake answers to questions like “what time is it in California?” directly into its results, with no SEO value.
If you’re looking for some other ways to identify common customer questions, type a keyword associated to your business into Google and look for the “People also ask” results (see below) or use this tool, which is one of our favorites here at KoMarketing.
Step 2: Create Relevant Content
When creating content for the answer boxes, you must first and foremost focus on the question at hand. Make sure the piece of content (whether it’s a blog post or a landing page) is created with just the answer to that question and supporting detail in mind.
Sprinkling bits and pieces of an answer throughout a less-targeted post will cause Google to work harder to decipher your content and will reduce your chances of appearing in the answer box for the query.
The “quality over quantity” rule also comes into play here. Your piece of content does not have to be thousands of words long for it to appear in the answer box. In fact, we’ve had content with less than 500 words appear and drive an abundance of traffic to our clients’ websites.
Step 3: Focus on Structure
In addition to the overall quality of the content, I believe the format of the post is just as critical. When analyzing the results of queries that begin with “how to…” we typically see Google showing a result with a list, like this:
When analyzing the results of queries that begin with “What is…” we often times see content that provides a clear, concise definition in paragraph format, like this:
Before formatting your content, do some research around your question and see what formats (if any) are appearing in the answer box. Regardless of the question you want to answer, make sure you include it in the title of the content. Ideally, the title of the content (including the H1 tag) will be the question itself.
If you decide it’s best to use a list-style post, be sure to include the list towards the beginning of the post (like I did for this post). If you think the answer to the question is best suited to be presented in a paragraph format, make sure the answer is offered as early in the post as possible and in the most concise manner possible. To summarize:
- Include the question in the URL, title, and appropriate SEO tags
- Present the most critical information at the start (no fluff!)
- Think about using lists when answering “How” queries
- Think about using paragraph format when answering “What” queries
Step 4: Remember SEO Best Practices
While Google suggests they are simply looking for the best answer to questions with this initiative, SEO best practices should not be forgotten. Include things like links to reputable sources, well-optimized titles and tags, and Schema markup. Schema markup is code that’s put on a website to help search engines return more informative results. (For more information on Schema, give Derek’s post a read).
Most of the results we see appearing in the answer boxes come from a result on the first page of SERPs. However, you don’t have to be in the first organic spot to get the answer box result:
With this in mind, broader SEO factors like mobile-friendliness, link profiles, and domain authority also play a factor in the bigger picture.
Step 5: Be Patient
As is the case with most things related to SEO and content marketing, patience is critical. One of our clients was recently featured in the answer box for a competitive query a full year after the content went live. If you consider these above steps, and do the work to identify an opportunity that can be attained, there’s a good chance your content will be featured in what some now are calling “position zero,” and the benefits can be big.
There are a number of other posts on the web that speak to the best ways to be featured in Google’s answer box results, and we encourage you to check those out as well. But, from our experience in the field, the steps listed in this post are essential to success.
Have success stories or more questions? Drop a comment below or let’s get a Google answer box conversation started on Twitter!