A Google answer box is a clear “box” of information that appears at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs). Google pulls through this information in this rich snippet format because it deems this content to be the most relevant to the query at hand.
Google is trying its best to be helpful; providing you with a quick and easy-to-digest answer. It also uses these rich snippets as a basis to answer voice search results. Hence answer boxes are also known as ‘position zero’, a ‘featured snippet’... or an SEO nightmare for those trying to compete.
Why is this important?
Optimising your website to rank organically in Google is essential in today’s digital world. Not only will it enable new prospects to find you online but, with a natural growth in backlinks, an active online presence, and a variety of credible pages on site, it will demonstrate to Google that your website is trustworthy with content that is useful to your audience.
Ranking well in Google is wonderful, especially when it is for a wide variety of search terms that are relevant to your business. However, what happens when one of your competitors achieves an answer box for a search query you were previously ranking for? Well, it’s likely your clicks-to-site will fall off a cliff for your chosen keyword(s) (especially if you were near the bottom of page 1) and you’ll probably have to push paid traffic harder as a result. Simply put, the real estate of a Google answer box is very hard to compete with organically…. Or is it?
Fortunately for you, there are many different ways you can get to the top of SERPs via a featured snippet. Here, we uncover 5 simple steps that you can use to build your Google answer box strategy and achieve some (hopefully!) phenomenal results.
If you're more of a visual learner, you can see this blog in the following slides:
Here are the five steps to get a Google Answer Box:
Conducting keyword research is the essential first step to getting an answer box. Identify queries that ask a question, then evaluate those which your business can answer. Some great tools to do this are answerthepublic.com, Google AdWords keyword planner and Google’s auto-suggest feature.
Think you’ve found some good ones? Now run them through Google and see what featured snippets appear.
NB: It is likely that many of your queries won’t reveal an answer box, or Google will pull out a rich snippet that doesn’t answer the question very well. Both of these should be considered opportunities! Google is never static, the algorithm is constantly analysing and improving. Therefore, if an answer box is performing poorly, it may decide to abandon that one and trial a different one. You need to be that second option.
Step 2: Be specific and concise with your answer
Whilst fluff and jargon may sound beautiful, Google wants to be able to pull out an answer that is relevant and specific to the query at hand*, so you need to optimise your content around this. For instance, if I wanted my content to be featured in an Answer Box for the question “What is a website audit?,” I would definitely include a sentence that begins, “A website audit is…” near the top of the page.
*Brevity is also crucial here - Google only wants to pull out a short amount of information in an answer box, so don’t go writing an essay!
Step 3: Have a clear content structure
There are 3 different types of structure that you will see in featured snippets at the top of search results. These are: paragraphs, lists and tables (or graphs).
For the best chance of achieving position 0, you need to pick one of these structures and optimise your copy around this. My best advice for this step? Think “What would Google do?”
For instance, if Google wants to answer a question beginning with “how much, what, who, when, where” then it’ll likely pull out a paragraph answer box. Whereas if the search begins with “How To” then position zero will likely be a series of steps in a list, such as a recipe. If the question begins with “Best” then you may see a list, but you may also see a comparison table.
Important side note: Leverage Google’s maximum snippet length to your advantage. Ironically, if people find your answer too quickly on SERPs, then you will likely end up having a low click-through-rate, and so may lose the answer box as a result. A cruel prize for being too efficient!
Entice visitors to click through by having:
6+ items in a list or table
Paragraphs that continue to the next one
Step 4: Optimise your text
Optimising your title tag, header tag (<h1> tag), sub headers and copy is essential for giving your audience (and Google) an instant answer. You can do this by conducting some keyword research and including target search queries in the page title, like so:
<title> What is a Website Audit? </title>
If you are targeting a “list answer” rich snippet, then your subheaders (<h2> and so on) will need to be clear and concise. If you are targeting a “paragraph” answer box you should include your answer in a paragraph (<p> tag) immediately after the header tag containing the question you wish to answer:
<title> How To Peel A Banana </title>
<h1> How Do I Peel A Banana? </h1>
<p> Hold your banana securely and make a small break at one end by pinching then using your fingers to peel….etc </p>
For SEO best practice, make sure all of your content is spelt correctly, linked to reputable sources, aligned to your buyer personas and sits on a page that performs well technically.
Step 5: Leverage schema
As Google is looking for specific information when creating featured snippets, you should make an effort to help the search engine figure out your content. This is particularly worthwhile for data-oriented searches e.g. comparing job titles and salaries, different shops and prices.
In many answer boxes, you’ll see featured images alongside the featured snippet. While these images are sometimes pulled directly from the content in the answer box, that’s not always the case. Sometimes these images are not even affiliated with the text!
Before you click publish, make sure you create an awesome image that speaks to the search intent of the keyword and represents your brand. Make sure it has alt text, and is optimised to the correct proportions.
A featured snippet is powerful in eclipsing all other answers in search engine results, so you need to be wary of the competition. Your Google answer box strategy may work in getting you to the top, but you need to monitor and continue to fine-tune the results after this!
Want more top tips on how to optimise your website content for Google? You’ll probably want to download the free guide below!