7 steps to optimising your content to appear in Google answers

7 steps to optimising your content to appear in Google answers

Charlotte Jenkins

Charlotte Jenkins
7th August 2017

Answer boxes are the rich snippets that Google ranks as position “zero” in its rankings. They’re usually found below search ads and above the organic results, and appear on both desktop and mobile.

The snippet is trying to give you a quick answer to an implicit or explicit question that you’ve typed into Google search, and it’s estimated that 15% of all search queries come up with one.

In today’s post we’ll look at the format of the answer box as well as how to optimise your content for Google Answers by:

1. Keyword research 
2. Competitor research
3. Ranking on page 1
4. Optimising headings
5. Answering the question accurately
6. Paying attention to format and language of content
7. Encouraging click-through

According to Stat research, the format of the content directly determines the format of the answer box, which can take three forms:

1. Paragraphs, which make up 82% of all answer boxes, and typically answer questions beginning with what, who, when and where:

2. Lists, making up 10.8%, answering how, have and best:

3. Tables, which account for 7.2%, responding to which, best and types:

Google answer boxes are a useful way of hiking you up the search rankings, allowing you to jump to position zero and above your competitors, without having to pay for search ads. As such, they allow you to a) be helpful to your customer base, and b) rank above your competitors in search, earning more traffic to your site.

How to optimise your content for Google Answers

1. Keyword research

The first step to getting your website to appear in Google Answers is understanding user intent. What kind of search questions are people typing into Google, and where are the opportunities for your content?

Your job is to identify the kinds of search queries in your niche that are implicitly or explicitly asking questions.

1. Follow the steps we suggest for ordinary keyword research in our SEO guide.

2. Use online tools such as SEMrush and Serpstat to identify which (implicit or explicit) keyword questions your site is visible for, and then use Google Search Console to discover for which search questions your website is found.

3. You can then begin to expand your list of search queries using tools such as Ubersuggest and Keyword Tool to find the opportunities for new keyword phrases/questions.

4. Choose the best keyword targets by taking your list and determining search volume versus difficulty – that is, identifying those search queries that are relatively specific (i.e. long-tail keyword questions), but that also gain a decent volume of traffic. Typically, easier search terms receive a lower quantity of traffic, but longer-tail phrases are more likely to be featured snippets.

Tools such as Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush, and  WordStream will help you with this step.

5. Whittle down your list to a short list of (long-tail) target keyword questions that you know receive a good amount of search volume.

2. Competitor research

The great news is that there is a lot of bad content out there that’s being pulled into Google Answer Boxes. This means more opportunity for you to snatch the top spot.

While you’re carrying out your keyword research, check what questions your competitors are ranking for, and then determine how well they’re answering those search queries. If they’re doing a poor job with their content, you are in a prime position to steal the answer box by providing more suitable content to respond to that search query.

3. Ensure you’re ranking on page 1

Interestingly, ranking #1 is not a prerequisite to appearing in an answer box, although you should be on page 1 of Google search listings. Taking one of our previous examples, you can see that the answer box for “best vegetarian recipes” was taken from a page listed #4 in the search rankings.

This suggests that the Telegraph, whilst ranking below Jamie Oliver and BBC Good Food, is doing a better job at providing an answer to the implied question “best vegetarian recipes” and is therefore jumping ahead of them to #0 and appearing twice on page 1 of Google Search. Not bad!

4. Optimise headings

Explicitly use your target question in your content title to ensure that you both stick to the topic in your content, and that the question itself matches the search enquiry. Your content can also adopt H2 and H3 sub-headings containing related questions to help your content appear in answer boxes for similar questions.

If you’re aiming for a list or table snippet, ensure you use an H2 heading with the target questions directly above the list, or in the first cell of your table.

5. Answer the question…accurately

Although this point seems obvious, it’s important that you answer your target questions directly and  accurately in your on-page content, ideally within the first 100 words. Google tends to favour reliably “accurate” sources over others.

If you have a topic you’re really keen to get picked up in Google Answers, then dedicate a page to a whole topic with unique content of at least 1,200 words.

6. Pay attention to the format and language of your content

Probably the most important tip for achieving the valued top spot is to ensure your format and language are suitable.

Make sure your content (lists, paragraph text and images/tables) explicitly answer your target question. You should also pay attention to titles, captions, labels and section headers, making sure that they’re directly asking or answering the target question.

You could consider dedicating a FAQ page on your site to answering questions you’ve identified in your keyword research. This way, both the question (in H2 headings) and answer will appear in your content, and are more likely to be picked up by Google as an answer box.

How-to lists are also likely to be picked up in Google Answers, so make sure you provide bullet points or numbered bullets to send a strong signal to Google that your content is a step-by-step guide or a list.

7. Encourage click-through

It’s argued that one of the potential downsides of appearing in Google Answers is that, because you provide information within the search results, people don’t need to click through to your site. However, SEMrush has found that, on the contrary, featured snippets actually increase traffic to websites by a massive 500%.

However, just to be sure, there are things you can do to ensure people click through to your site from your answer box.

Be conscious of the maximum snippet length for paragraphs (40-50 words), tables and lists (6+ items). For paragraph text, use one strong opening sentence, followed by another sentence that deliberately runs on, which will encourage people to click through to finish reading. With tables and lists, ensure you don’t just provide up to six items or rows, which will help encourage people to click through on the “more items” or “more rows” links to finish reading.

In summary

Increasingly, businesses are recognising that featuring content in Google Answers is a prime opportunity to gain the competitive edge. Not only do they allow you to be positioned “zero” in rankings, but they help you to focus your content directly on your users’ intent.

Although there’s no secret recipe for getting your content to appear in Google Answers, there are some simple SEO housekeeping techniques you can adopt alongside a focused content strategy to give you a better chance of winning the hot spot above your competitors.