Historically, the most coveted position within Google’s Organic Search results was the almighty number one spot (which is still obviously a great place to be). However, recently, another contender for the prime real estate at the top of Google’s search results has appeared; the Rich Answer Box.
Google’s Answer Boxes could technically be considered as being ‘position 0’ result, which means that you may not even have to climb the ranks of Google to appear at the top of the page for your target queries. Just one example of an answer box result can be seen below –
The page returned in the answer box result is from Moz, who are a well known authority on all things SEO, however they don’t rank in position one for the keyword ‘answer box’ organically, but instead rank in position three (including the answer box, and the People Also Ask box, it’s more like position five!).
It’s not uncommon for pages which rank even further down the results organically to still own the answer box for their target queries, and what it boils down to is the actual content on the page and how it’s presented. Ranking in the answer box for a query, not only pushes you to the top of the results, it also doubles your presence within the search results (however Google are doing some tests around removing pages featured within the answer box from the core results, so this may not be the case for much longer).
To understand why Google favours certain pages for its answer box results, we need to understand how the answer box results are generated.
What Is An Answer Box?
Google’s answer box results are featured snippets which appear above the organic listings within Google’s search results. The purpose of these featured snippets is to answer a user’s questions within the SERP directly, thus allowing them to get the information which they need without having to navigate through to sites listed within the results. Currently, it appears the Google will only use pages which rank on the first page (position 1 – 10) for answer box results, but this still essentially means if you rank at the bottom of page one, there’s still a chance to also be at the top of the page.
The obvious concern with answer box results for many site owners however, is whether or not these results will reduce the click through rate (CTR) for the pages which own them, as users will have the answer they are looking for without having to actually visit the website. Of course, there is always a chance of this happening, but most webmasters who have had owned answer box results have actually reported increases in traffic, and this makes sense as owning an answer box makes positions you as an authority on the subject, which means users may be likely to click through to learn more on the topic.
As it stands, there are currently three different types of Google answer boxes; paragraph answer boxes, list answer boxes, and table answer boxes, and according to a 2016 study conducted by STAT Search Analytics, where approximately one million queries (999,868 to be precise) were analysed, 92,832 returned answer box results; a rate of 9.28%. This rate varied for different query types, with some queries contain certain words such as ‘average’ and ‘does’ having an answer box return rate of 77.71% and 69.94% respectively.
Paragraph Answer Boxes
These types of answer box results appear to be the most common, with 82% of all featured snippets being returned in the paragraph format. Below is an example of a paragraph answer box result for the query ‘how to cook rice’ –
This page, which ranks at number two organically, is from the BBC Good Food website, a trusted source. Typical queries which return paragraph answer box results include terms such as ‘what’, ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘when’. Often, paragraph answer box results provide the user with a straightforward and concise answer to their query. However, although the majority of paragraph answer boxes are concise snippets of text taken directly from the body text of the page, text formatted in different ways can still be condensed by Google and returned as a paragraph (as is actually the case with this example).
List Answer Boxes
These types of results are the second most common type of answer box results returned by Google, with 10.8% of results being returned in the list format. Below is an example of a list answer box result for the query ‘how to make pancakes’ –
This page, is from the popular recipe website Allrecipes.com, which ranks at position three organically for the query. The answer box provides numbered results in this instance, but bullet point list results can also be returned. Typical queries which return list answer box results include adjectives such as ‘best’ and ‘top’, but also ‘how to’ questions in which the answer involved multiple steps.
Table Answer Boxes
These types of results appear to be the least common out of the the three, with 7.3% of answer box results being returned appearing in the table format. Below is an example of a table answer box result for the query ‘cost of ingredients for cupcakes’ –
The page which this is taken from is on Savings.com and ranks at position four organically within the search results for this long tail query. Although similar, table answer boxes often included more in depth answers than list results. These results often answer queries which require a value, statistic etc. against the item, e.g. the name of the ingredient (item) and its cost (value). Common queries which return these types of results include include terms such as ‘types of’, ‘cost of’ and ‘list of’.
How To Optimise Your Page To Claim Answer Box Results.
Although Google hasn’t really released information regarding how it populates these answer boxes (much like the vagueness surrounding all of its inner workings) there are still some key steps which can be taken to increase the likelihood of being featured in one these snippets.
What Are People Asking?
The first thing you need to think about when targeting answer boxes for specific queries, is if your content can actually answer the user’s question. In order to understand user’s intent, it’s beneficial to conduct some keyword research and generated some long tail keywords around your topic. This will help you to see the way in which users are searching for answers within Google. A great tool to use for this is Answer The Public, which generates long tail keywords based around questions. So for example if you own a recipe website and are targeting ‘rice’, this tool will use Google’s predictive search to generate ‘how’, ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘who’, ‘when’ and ‘where’ questions around your target keyword. This is then presented in a nice visual chart (see below) or can be downloaded as raw data in a CSV file.
After generating the questions surrounding your topic, it’s advisable to run the list through Google’s Keyword Planner, as this will give you the search volume surrounding the long tail keywords which you have found.
If you want to know more about this stage of the process, we have previously written an article which provides a quick guide to generating long tail keywords, which you can find here.
Structuring Your Content
Once you have established the kinds of questions which users are asking around your product, topic etc. as outlined above, you need to figure out how to present your content in the best way to answer these questions. Some steps to take include –
- Changing the page’s meta title and H1 title to mimic the question being asked by users. For example, if your page is an article about changing light bulbs, the title of this page could be ‘How To Change A Lightbulb’. Writing page titles in such a way will allow Google to see that the content which you are providing attempts to answer the question being asked directly.
- Make use of subheadings (H2, H3 etc.). This is ideal for when you want to target list answer box results. Sometimes, Google pulls through the subheadings from the article and present them as bullet points or a numbered list within the answer box snippet. If you are creating/editing list articles or guides which include specific steps for example, ensuring that the subheadings are clearly presented and uses the correct ‘H’ tags may help to increase the chances of Google to return it as a list result.
- Make use of <p>, <li> and <table> tags. If you’re wanting to answer a question directly as a paragraph, including the answer within it’s own separate section (this could be an abstract at the beginning of the page, or a brief conclusion paragraph), marked up with <p> tags may help Google to pick out this snippet as a direct answer. This also applies for targeting the list answer boxes and table answer boxes. Using the correct HTML markup around your text will ensure that Google fully understands the structure and context of the copy on page.
Although there is no guaranteed method to claiming an answer box within the Google search results, understanding how users are asking specific questions and answering them directly in the most appropriate manner (paragraph, list or table), alongside using the relevant HTML markup, should go a long way when it comes to helping you claim the lucrative ‘position 0’. Optimising your pages can not only help you to claim existing answer box results, therefore taking traffic away from your competitors, if your content is structured and written well enough, it may allow you to claim an answer box result which didn’t even previously exist!