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Answers boxes: the holy grail of search optimisation?

We take a brief look at answer boxes: what are they, why are they coveted and what are the latest insights.

It has become second nature to turn to Google whenever we require an answer to a burning question. When we enter a search query, we will be presented with an abundance of search results. With so many to choose from, it’s likely that our attention will be focused on what is known as an ‘answer box’.

In this article, you’ll discover the fundamentals and latest news about this feature. You will learn what they are, why they’re worth obtaining and how they can give your business a significant boost.

What are answer boxes?

The answer box that appears for the search query, “Ten largest animals”.

 

An answer box, also known as a featured snippet, is easily distinguished from the other search results due to both its appearance and positioning on the page. They are found in what is known as “position zero”, which appears above the top search result for a search query. It pulls through from the source page a selection of copy that (hopefully) provides an effective and concise answer for the searcher. According to an Ahrefs study, around 12.29% of all searches feature an answer box.

Importantly, the algorithm doesn’t necessarily pull it’s content from the top ranking listing (position one). The algorithm could draw from any page ranking on page, although it is usually from the higher spots. This of course, all depends on how concise and suitably formatted your answer is. 

Crucially though, occupying the top spot via a featured snippet will jump your organic listing from wherever you are on page on, straight to position zero. This is the main reason answer boxes (and other similar featured snippets) are so highly coveted. 

What content tends to feature in answer boxes?

Google is notoriously tight-lipped about how exactly they are selected by their internal algorithms. They do, however, state that a publisher cannot directly request one: “Google systems determine whether a page would make a good featured snippet for a user’s search request, and if so, elevates it.”

That being said, there are certain types of content that tend to feature in answer boxes. To put it simply, content that answers the user’s query in a non-convoluted and direct way tends to be rewarded with this holy grail of search optimisation.

Answer boxes come in three primary variations:

  1. Paragraph snippets tend to appear when Google believes a certain page has a succinct section of copy that answers the user’s intent – an ‘in-a-nutshell’ answer
  2. Table snippets pull through a table from a page that’s relevant to the search
  3. List snippets answer the query in either a numbered or bulleted list. Sometimes this will be a list taken directly from the source page, but it can also be one that’s generated by Google from various sub-headings.

There are many resources that offer hacks for obtaining a featured snippet. Considering that there’s quite a lot of groundwork that’s needed to enter the race to get a featured snippet, many publishers choose to outsource this job with agencies like Further.

Why should my brand care about getting an answer box?

It’s well worth your while optimizing your content for answer boxes. (Image credit)

 

Answer boxes can help drive traffic. The Ahrefs study mentioned above found that if an answer box is on a search results page, 8.6% of the total clicks on that page will go to the snippet – stealing clicks away from the first ranked page. If your site is ranking low on page one, optimising for a featured snippet could boost traffic significantly.

Of course, if Google does its job properly, it may be that the searcher’s intent is met without even clicking through to site. While you may not get the volume of traffic you hoped for, position zero for one page can (depending on your other optimisation activity) help it, and other pages, rank higher for other search terms. It is a sign that Google trusts your content!

Also, you may not get clicks, but if you optimise for multiple answer boxes for a range of related keywords, your brand may in time become synonymous with that topic.

How is voice search impacting answer boxes?

Voice searches aren’t going anywhere soon⁠—and, in fact, they are projected to rapidly increase to represent 20% of all searches by 2020. (Image credit)

 

With 20% of mobile queries now made through voice search and 20% of searches in the Google App made by voice, it’s no wonder why voice searches have been a game-changer for marketers. This is particularly evident in relation to answer boxes, as voice assistants often turn to snippets to answer the user’s query when they ask something that isn’t pre-programmed.

Compared to typical typed searches, voice searches tend to be lengthier and use more colloquial language. By implication, it is now necessary to ensure that any content we create not only caters for typically typed queries, but also for queries made via digital assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home.

As Moz explains, it is vital to “build out long-tail, natural-sounding keyword lists to track and optimize for,” in an effort to obtain featured snippets via voice searches. In short, failing to optimize content for voice searches will mean that your company will not only miss out on opportunities now but will continue to lag behind with the projected proliferation of voice searches takes place.

Are there sites that achieve answer boxes more than others?

 

Microsoft and Wikipedia have the highest share of featured snippets, but there’s still plenty of the pie to share around. In fact, it was reported that Wikipedia lost 21% of their traffic after the launch of featured snippets as other sites were featured above them.

The implication is that there’s more than plenty of opportunities for other sites to obtain a featured snippet. And it is a particularly opportune time to work on this task, considering Google recently announced that they are planning on increasing the number of them that appear in search results. They are also constantly experimenting with new types of snippets.

The caveat to all of this is that in-depth SEO knowledge is essential for you to determine the best opportunities for your site to secure the coveted position zero. Further is happy to discuss your options. Get in touch using the contact form below.

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