This article is part of an SEO series from WooRank. Thank you for supporting the partners who make SitePoint possible.
In an attempt to improve its user experience, Google is constantly developing its algorithm to display more relevant results in its search results pages (SERPs). So when someone uses a search term that looks like they are looking for an answer to a question, Google will often display a featured snippet, also known as the Answer Box. What are featured snippets? What do they mean for SEO? How do you get featured? Find out in our four-step guide to the Google Answer Box.
What Is the Google Answer Box?
The Quick Answer Box is a featured snippet that appears at the top of SERPs when Google is able to determine that searchers are looking for an answer to a question. It includes the text Google thinks answers the question, the title of the webpage that contains the content, its URL and a link.
Featured snippets have been around for a few years now, but are becoming more prominent and common as Google is better able to figure out search intent. They are particularly common for event schedules (sports games, movie times, concerts, etc.), recipes and bacon numbers.
Pope John Paul II’s bacon number is 2, by the way.
The Answer Box is a bit of a mixed bag, marketing wise. On the plus side, if you’re able to get your content into a featured snippet, you’ll leapfrog everyone in front of you and get your site right at the top of the SERP. On the other hand, there is some concern that answering a searcher’s question right in the search results will deter them from clicking through as they no longer have any need for visiting the page. However, pages that get picked for featured snippets have seen huge increases in both sessions and click through rate. We’ve found that positioning yourself as an authority on a subject actually encourages people, not only to click through to your page, but also to return to your site whenever they have other questions or are more likely to convert.
Step 1: Research Queries that Trigger an Answer Box
The first step to appearing in a featured snippet is to figure out what queries trigger a featured snippet. Officially, the Answer Box appears “when a user asks a question in Google Search.” But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Not all searches in the form of questions trigger an Answer Box, and not all searches that display an Answer Box are in the form of a question. For example, the query “who eats the most pizza in the world” doesn’t display one:
While at the same time, searching just for “pizza popularity” triggers a featured snippet summarizing pizza’s popularity in the United States:
Going back to our first example, searching just for “link juice” will trigger the Answer Box summarizing WooRank’s SEO Guide to link juice.
There are two ways you can go about identifying opportunities to appear in featured snippets. The first is to figure out what questions people are asking that are relevant to your keywords, and then optimize your page for the answer (more on that later). There are tools you can use like Answer the Public to find questions asked about your topic. This tool appends question-related words — who, what, when, why and how — to the front of your keyword and uses Google Suggest to create a list of questions. You can then download the list of questions as either a CSV or as an image file.
Find questions your audience are asking outside of search engines with faqfox by WebpageFX. Faqfox crawls popular forums in a particular niche for questions asked about your keyword. If people are asking questions on reddit, they’ve probably already searched Google for them.
Do a bit of keyword research to make sure relevant questions get enough search volume to be worth the effort.
Your second option is to find your keywords that already display a featured snippet in the SERP and create content to take the current answer’s spot. This might be a little more difficult because Google’s already decided that piece of content is trusted and authoritative enough to use in an Answer Box, but it’s possible to find answers that maybe aren’t quite right for the question.
Step 2: Optimize and Structure Content to Answer Questions
Obviously, one of the most important factors in appearing in featured snippets is to write content that authoritatively answers the question. The language you use here is important — Google is looking for content that reads like the answer to a question, a how-to guide and a step-by-step process. So, if I want to get my site in the Answer Box for “what is search engine marketing,” I would be sure to include a sentence that starts with “Search engine marketing is…” near the top of the page. If I wanted to be featured for “how to make the perfect pie crust,” I would create a numbered list laying out each step of the process (mix flour, sugar and salt, add butter, etc.).
Once you’ve created detailed, authoritative content, optimize the rest of your page elements around the answer:
Title tag and
<h1>tag: Normally best practice is to use your keyword in your title tag. However, to optimize for featured snippets, use the entire search query in the page title. For our two earlier examples, you’d want your title tags to look like this:
<title>What is Search Engine Marketing?</title <title>How to Make the Perfect Pie Crust</title>
Just like with traditional SEO, Google relies on the title tag to determine if the page content will answer the question. Give it a nudge in the right direction by including that question in the tag.
Subheads: Google doesn’t always use body text for featured snippets. Sometimes they pull subheads (
<h6>) and list them in the order they appear on the page. This is particularly common for searches looking to learn a process, how to complete a task or an answer that can be summed up in a list (like the steps to appearing in Google’s featured snippets, for example). If you’re targeting these searches, explicitly lay out each step as a separate subhead and elaborate in the body text.
Body copy: If you are targeting a “what is” question, use your answer in a
<p>tag right after the header tag that includes the question. The ideal length for your snippet content is between 50 and 60 words (not characters, for once).
Step 3: Use Schema Markup
Semantic markup isn’t going to directly get you into featured snippets — Gary Illyes said so last year after fellow Googler John Mueller stated that schema markup does help with featured snippets. So why should you bother with it? Two reasons:
- Google uses schema markup to figure out what your page is about and what sort of information various pieces of content contain. Since the search engine is looking for specific information when creating featured snippets, any sort of help you can provide to help figure out content, is a bonus.
- Using the rel=”publisher” tag will tell Google to associate your content with a credible source. Since it’s looking specifically for authoritative and trusted websites to feature in the Answer Box, strengthening your credibility is very important. Note that the rel=”author” tag used to be helpful here too, but Google no longer even looks at authorship.
Use Google Search Console to test your structured data to avoid any errors that block search engines from properly reading your page. The structured data report in Google Search Console in Structured Data under Search Appearance will tell you if you’ve got errors on your page. Test your code using the structured data testing tool.
Step 4: Use Google+ and Wikipedia
If you’ve got a newer site that hasn’t had a lot of time to build up authority and trust, you’ll face an uphill battle to get into featured snippets. Google relies a lot on trust when deciding what sources they use for featured snippets, which makes sense since they have to be confident that a website is going to give a helpful, in-depth and, above all, correct answer. The good thing is that there are a couple of ways you can help make your site look more authoritative.
The first is to create a Google+ page for your business. When you create your page, use the name you go by online, which is how most people know you. So, for example, if you’re UPS, your Google+ page should use that name, not United Parcel Service, Inc. Keep your profile active by posting regularly and do some work to get +1s for your content.
The second thing is to request a page on Wikipedia. You’ve probably noticed that featured snippets often read a lot like a Wikipedia entry, and are very likely to actually come from Wikipedia. That’s for two reasons: Wikipedia ranks very well, consistently in the top five and very often in the top two results. Take advantage of this ranking power to get your name in front of a larger audience than you could normally reach on your own. The second reason is because Wikipedia is very trusted thanks to reliable citations like newspaper articles, press releases and academic sources. Getting your page accepted by Wikipedia can be really hard, particularly when you’re asking for a page for your business, so really follow their guidelines and read through the Organizations FAQ section for details on writing articles and disclosing potential conflicts.
Note that this step isn’t about creating content that Google will use in its featured snippets — Answer Boxes aren’t part of the Knowledge Graph, which does use Google+ and Wikipedia data. What this step will do is help make you look like a credible and trustworthy source of information.
Optimizing content for Google’s Answer Box is still somewhat of a new technique, so there could be huge opportunities for you. With everyone trying to get into first place, you can use featured snippets to get to “position zero.” It’s a very effective way to drive visitors to your site, improve brand awareness and increase your reach. Of course, writing great content is necessary, but follow our four steps to make sure Google is able to properly interpret and feature your content in its featured snippets.