For a few years now we’ve witnessed Google focusing on better understanding and answering users’ questions. Google has started giving good answers additional exposure in search, suggest related questions, and try to answer questions in various visual ways (i.e. knowledge graph and carousels).
Hence giving the best, most useful answer to your audience’s questions will help you achieve more search visibility, more clicks and more brand awareness.
Here are the whys and hows of optimizing your content for questions.
Google and Questions
We’ve seen questions and answers featured in search results in at least two separate sections:
Google “Answer Boxes” / Featured Snippets
Google is doing their best to answer users’ questions right within their SERPs. For most informational queries (and all question-types search queries) Google will show a box containing a quick answer.
These featured snippets as Google calls them include a link to the website where they got the info from.
This is an incredible traffic generating and branding opportunity. Being featured may result in a tenfold increase in traffic once your website appears in the answer box for a competitive phrase. That’s how we noticed that IMN website has been placed in a quick-answer box: By a sudden search referral traffic boost to a few of our blog posts which we spotted via Google Analytics daily email report.
Answer boxes can come in a few styles:
Now, I’ve seen people rightfully criticize Google’s practice of using part of their content within SERPs.
Google does allow a way to remove your site from featured snippets but use it at your own discretion:
“You can opt out of featured snippets by preventing snippets on your page using the <meta name=”googlebot” content=”nosnippet”> tag on your page. This will remove all snippets on your page, including those in regular search results.”
I for one have that “if not us, then them” philosophy in this respect, meaning that if you are not there, your competitors are, so it’d better be you! We’ve got to go with the flow!
Note: A recent study from Ahrefs shows that featured snippets steal clicks from “organic” search results which is something we all suspected anyways, so if there’s a featured snippet showing up for important terms, it’s obviously better be you featured than your competitor.
Google Related Questions aka “People also ask”
Google suggests related questions for many informational queries allowing people to refine their search.
You can click each of these questions to expand the line and see the answer. The answers offer a link for further reading and invite the users to run another search for this question in Google.
Note: In many cases (although not always), the page linked to from the question box has that question almost verbatim in the page title and / or its heading.
Once you start expanding those lines to read the responses, Google will offer more and more questions dragging you down the rabbit hole where you’ll find yourself expanding more and more questions to find the answers:
Whether you are featured or not, it’s important to be aware of these “special” results because they are most likely affecting the click-through and visibility of non-featured results. For example, for some (though not many yet) SERPs, it doesn’t even make sense to fight anymore, because there’s too little or even zero visibility for organic results.
There are two tools out there that effectively monitor these two “featured” results within Google SERPS:
Serpstat uses visual labels to flag search queries triggering all kinds of featured and “universal” results including “People also ask” and answer boxes. You can filter keyword suggestions to only show you particular types of featured results:
SEMRush has a similar feature showing you how “special elements” are distributed within search queries.
Optimizing Your Content for Questions
Tools to Research Questions
Serpstat has a handy “Questions” section that pulls Google Suggest results and identifies questions. You’ll also see a neat tag cloud showing you which words tend to appear in questions for your core keyword. It’s a very helpful way to dig deeper into those queries and organize them to plan your content strategy:
Clicking any word in the tag cloud will take you to the list of questions mentioning the word:
Answer the Public
Answer the Public breaks your core query into related questions, visualizing the report and even grouping it by the question word. The questions are organized by question modifiers:
Grouping questions in such a visual way helps creativity a lot. It acts almost like a mind map:
BloomBerry has been recently launched by Buzzsumo and I have found it one of the most unique and useful tools out there. It doesn’t research keywords, unlike other tools on the list, but it does something more:
- It analyzes your base word to figure out related terms
- It goes through hundreds of discussion boards (including Amazon q&a section which is my favorite) to find which related questions people ask there:
This way the tool helps in two ways:
- Discover more terms to work with and create content around
- Find more questions (beyond those enough people type into the search box for those questions to get into Google Suggest results).
A newer tool in my question research arsenal, Kparser takes longest to run but it returns so many results that you’ll be lost. Look out for the left-hand links to filter keyword suggestions by the question word:
Tools to Monitor Questions
SE Ranking is one of the most robust solutions when it comes to monitoring anything thanks to the sheer number of various tools it offers. To monitor questions in your industry, you can use:
- SE Ranking rank tracker to monitor your and your competitors’ rankings for the question-type queries you have been optimizing for
- SE Ranking social media monitoring feature allowing you to track which questions your customers ask on social media.
- SE Ranking page monitoring feature that allows you to monitor important q&a pages (it’s a good idea to monitor relevant Quora and Amazon Q&A pages to spot new questions and answers and discover new (trending) content opportunities).
Twitter + Cyfe
To monitor Twitter questions, use [?] operator which is supported by Twitter search. There should be a space between your keyword and ? for it to work:
Then set up the search in your preferred Twitter monitoring solution. Mine is Cyfe because it provides a minimal dashboard which I can use to monitor an unlimited number of Twitter searches.
Note: Researching and monitoring which questions your customers are asking on Twitter will let you create engaging up-to-date content. What’s more, you’ll be able to address your customers’ needs in real time. That’s what expected from you these days. The Northridge Group reported that 42 percent of consumers expect a response to their customer service inquiry on social media within the hour, with 17% expecting a response in minutes. Report from the same company in 2016 claims that even more people use social media to reach companies online.
So it’s a good idea to prepare a boilerplate message catered to each social channel that informs the customer that you’ve seen their comment and that you’re working on a resolution.
Optimize Your Content For Questions
Featured snippets present a great opportunity for ecommerce websites to gain some additional search visibility for non-commercial queries. The first step is to actually go ahead and start working on a solid question-focused content planning and creation strategy. There are a lot of questions to answer in any niche. We are talking months of time commitment putting all the answers in writing and publishing them to the site. Plan out your team time and resources.
General Optimization Tactics
For each related question you come up, create a separate page to answer in much detail. If the question is too specific (hence there’s no way to write enough content to sustain a separate page), use jump-to “anchor” links to point users and search bots to the specific part of the page where you are addressing the question.
Optimize each page:
- State the question verbatim on the page (It should be the title of the page, and / or a section heading, and / or an image alt text. Avoid keyword stuffing though!)
- Answer that question in no more than two sentences (within one paragraph)
- Below elaborate on the topic in a more detailed article
- Focus on facts: numbers, years, place names (i.e. entities). Google likes accurate, specific answers
- Structure your content well: Use lists, tables <table>, headings (h2, h3) and short paragraphs
- How to Appear in Google’s Answer Boxes – Whiteboard Friday by Rand Fishkin
- How to Optimize Your Content for Google Answer Boxes by Greta Hartsell of @seerinteractive
Identify Current Easiest Opportunities
In most cases, pages that get featured are those that already rank high for that search query (1-5 top positions), so it’s a good idea to find which question queries you already rank for. It’s the lowest-hanging fruit for your website.
Look into your Google Search Console “Search Analytics” section to identify your site pages with the highest potential to get included into the “answer boxes”.
To see your question-related queries in Google Webmaster Tools, go to Search Traffic -> Queries and there filter “Queries” by various question words you are researching. Keep “Position” checked because the higher the organic position, the better your chances to get featured in the Quick Answer Box):
Your next step will be addressing the copy and basic on-page elements of each ranking page to try and push it higher in search results and get featured.
Thoroughly research your niche answer boxes and related questions to discover more ranking opportunities.
Researching and optimizing for questions has lots of benefits which are beyond SEO: You get to understand your customer better and are able to better serve them. Besides, you build a linkable resource that can generate leads and bring repeat users to your site. So whatever your goals are, this guide will come handy.
Have you seen any of your pages rank in Google Answer or “People Also Ask” boxes? Please share your tips and results!