The days of stuffing a page full of keywords and having it rank in search results are long gone. As search engines have evolved to incorporate advanced technologies and produce better results, content is more important than ever in SEO.
Search engines – including (and maybe especially) Google – can be notoriously tight-lipped about the factors they consider when ranking search results. And we could dedicate hundreds of blog posts on why SEO is important and different ways to incorporate it into your overall content marketing strategy.
But as SEO evolves, one thing is certain. You can have the best keywords in the world, but if your content isn’t good, you won’t rank well in search. Your content needs to address a need your audience has, and it can’t be all about you.
It’s that simple – even if it isn’t simple to put into practice.
One interesting SEO strategy marketers have been focusing on is trying to win the Google Answer Box. I’ll try to help you understand what the Answer Box is, highlight why it can be so important for marketers, and end with a few tips to start making your content Answer Box-worthy.
What is the Answer Box?
Back in 2015, Google introduced a feature to display search results called the Answer Box. The Answer Box isn’t like Google Answers, a similarly named feature that was basically a database. Instead, the Answer Box extracts information from a piece of content that answers a particular query, with a link to the full piece of content. Essentially, it answers the question you’re searching for without you needing to click on the result deemed to have the best answer.
The Answer Box can be extremely valuable for marketers. It appears above the #1 ranking piece of content, so it’s the first thing someone sees as a result. It has a high clickthrough rate of 30 percent. And Answer Boxes can be pulled to answer queries coming from voice searches. There aren’t heaps of data out now about voice searches, but we can expect the number of voice searches to grow.
How did we get here?
The Answer Box wasn’t the only feature Google released in 2015. Google also introduced Rankbrain, a machine learning and AI algorithm. Rankbrain has been learning such things as how people search and the differences they expect in results if they use different wording for similar queries – and it then incorporates its learnings so results keep improving. Rankbrain can be a long, fascinating subject, and you should learn more about if you want to get better with SEO. But here, it’s important to understand that Rankbrain can play a role in how the Answer Box pulls content for certain queries.
There’s one final thing to note. Answer Box content doesn’t necessarily have to come from the content ranking at #1: the content in the Answer Box and the content ranking as the #1 result can be different. Rankbrain has helped the search engine pick up on subtle nuances, so if the #1 result doesn’t best answer the question or query for an Answer Box, Google will pull something else that does.
Better position yourself to earn an Answer Box
Now that we have a basic understanding of the Google Answer Box, what steps can marketers begin taking so they get in a position to have content start appearing in the Answer Box?
Do sample searches to get an idea of what Google is pulling into its Answer Boxes. These sample searches don’t have to be related to what you’re searching for, but they can be. Doing this will give you an idea of what kind of content is getting pulled into the Answer Boxes, and it also gives you a chance to note any patterns that emerge.
Ensure your piece of content is optimized for a phrase or a question people are searching for. Again, this is about addressing what your audience needs. You can’t make up your own keyword phrase and expect it to rank if your audience isn’t searching for it. There are different recommendations about the kinds of phrases to optimize for, and you could potentially optimize a piece of content with a full question as the keyword phrase. But generally speaking, the recommendation is to focus on long-tail keywords. There are lots of tools and vendors available to research what kinds of phrases people search for. My go-to in a pinch is the free Chrome extension Keywords Everywhere, which shows monthly searches for a phrase, similar or related searches, and what the paid competition looks like.
Your content needs to answer the question it sets out to answer. The answer you include in your optimized content should be clear, concise – and correct. Google can learn if your answer is incorrect, and that could potentially affect how other content of yours ranks in search. Some resources recommend including a short version of the answer within the first 50-100 words of the page, so feel free to try that.
Be patient! Winning a Google Answer Box doesn’t happen overnight. If you really want it, keep an eye on how the content you’ve optimized is ranking and any changes in how it ranks. You can also make small tweaks to your content to see if it helps you get closer to the Answer Box. And, as I mentioned, you can leverage some of the many available resources to learn more about SEO and including it in your content marketing. Two of my favorites are Conductor and Search Engine Land.
You can choose the best keywords in the world, but if your content isn’t good, you won’t perform well in search. If you can ensure your content is high quality audience-centric, not only will you put yourself in a better position to win the Answer Box, but you’ll improve how you rank in search.
After all, why publish your content if no one can find it?
Find more marketing tips in the assets on our Resources Page.