For any marketer focused on driving organic traffic, getting content to the very top of Google search results is the single most important task they have. While page one is a great place to rank, getting your content into the top 3 results on page one will mean your click-through rate will skyrocket. In fact, data shows that ranking #1 can lead to as high a CTR as 30%.
But as the SERP has evolved, we’ve seen new elements added to the top of page one. Now, to get to the top of Google search results you’d be a fool to ignore the only target more elusive than ranking #1: the answer box.
What is Google’s Answer Box?
In 2015, Google introduced a new rich featured snippet to their SERP results: the answer box. The answer box is meant to provide quick and easy answers to questions by featuring a snippet of information from one of the pieces of content on page one (not necessarily the content ranking #1) in a box at the very top of the SERP, above even the organically ranking page results. In the three years since it debuted on the SERP, the answer box has become a top target for SEOs. That’s not suprising, because content featured in the answer box has the highest CTR of any piece of content on the SERP.
Why Does the Answer Box Matter?
Because the answer box is featured above all other results, the chances your link will be clicked on is MUCH higher if you appear in an answer box versus anywhere else on page 1. For example, Apmex, the number one seller of gold and silver online, used Conductor Searchlight to identify answer boxes they should target with their price pages, and saw a 700% increase in traffic to those pages in just 90 days.
Not to mention, digital assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Cortana pull their voice search results from answer boxes. Securing answer boxes is the best way to start preparing for voice search.
So, it’s important. But how do you win one?
How to Win an Answer Box
Getting your hands on the answer box, that holy grail of SEO, is more a science than an art. You’ll want to include specific elements to your content and be careful about where you place your answer in order to win over the featured snippet. Here are six tips to get you started:
1. Target Keywords that Already Have Answer Boxes
By targeting keywords that already have answer boxes you can ensure that you’re putting your effort behind a keyword that Google believes can be answered simply and directly in the SERP.
Don’t make more work for yourself. While new answer boxes are regularly appearing in search results, you’re better off targeting a keyword you already know has an answer box on its search engine results page.
SEO technology can make easy work of identifying keywords that produce answer boxes. For example, in Conductor Searchlight, Content Type Explorer can tell you exactly which features appear in a SERP for a specific keyword or group of keywords – whether that’s answer boxes, images, or videos.
Once you’ve found a potential answer box to target, look at the information in the featured snippet. From there you’ll need to evaluate whether or not you can write content or already have content that better answers the question.
Despite the presence of answer boxes on as many as 15% of all Google search queries, many answer boxes are filled with content not perfectly aligned to what the searcher is looking for. Look for vulnerable answer boxes where the content in the featured snippet doesn’t quite fit, and target those.
2. Target Questions as Keywords
In essence, the answer box exists to provide clear answers to questions people are searching for on Google. So evaluate which questions your business can answer and investigate whether those questions produce answer boxes on their SERPs.
Featuring these questions as H1 or H2 tags in your content with direct and short answers beneath them will let Google know that your content offers an answer to the question, and increase the likelihood that your content lands in the answer box.
For example, when we added a simple H2 tag to our content, Your Guide to Customer-First Marketing, we were able to secure a new answer box for a keyword that was important to our business: “what is customer-first marketing?”
3. Answer the Question Clearly, Quickly, and in Under 100 Words
In the race for answer boxes, short and succinct answers win the day. Best practice is to keep your answer to under 100 words or no more than 3-4 sentences.
Take the time as you write or optimize to make sure you’re explaining your answer in the clearest terms. Not only is that what Google’s looking for, but providing clear answers will increase the value your audience gets out of your content.
In addition, you’ll want to answer your question at the very top of your content. The biggest secret to winning answer boxes is to be direct, so don’t beat around the bush. If Google’s going to feature your content up front and center, you need to get straight to the point.
4. Make Sure Your Answer Is Correct
Think of the pursuit of an answer box as a test. You’re in competition with everyone else writing content about your topic, and the winner is the person who provides the best and most accurate answer to the question. So, do your research. Make sure you are offering up the absolute best information to the searcher.
You’ll have the best chance of landing in an answer box – and keeping it – if you provide an accurate and complete answer to the query.
5. Include Numbered Lists
For specific queries, numbered lists can help your content land at the top of Google search results. For example, many keywords that begin with “how,” produce answer boxes with numbered how-to lists.
A little while ago we published a piece of content on local SEO tips. After a few weeks, we realized that in order to win the answer box we should restructure our piece to include a numerical list of tips viewers could use to improve their local SEO. By making a few changes to that piece of content, we were able to secure a related answer box and drive brand new traffic to our page.
6. Create a Table or Graph
For some informational queries, a table will help you provide the best information to the searcher. By investigating the answer box you’re targeting before you write, you’ll be able to identify if your query warrants a table in your answer. Oftentimes keywords around numerical information, like salaries, research, or data, will feature tables in their answer boxes.
7. Make a Rich Piece of Content
Last but certainly not least, you’ll want to create a rich piece of content. Keep in mind as you write that while the featured snippet in the answer box may only display 100 words, Google wants to serve up the best content at the top of its SERP.
If you find your content is a little light, beef up your piece of content with additional information related to your answer box target. You can find ideas for related information from the People Also Ask box, and the related searches listed at the bottom of the SERP.
While this list will get you far in winning answer boxes, there are a few other things to note as you start strategizing.
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 affiliated at all with the text in the answer box. If you’re looking to win an answer box but think it’s out of reach, start by winning the image. Create an awesome image that speaks to the search intent of the keyword, and optimize it properly.
While the CTR is not as great on images in answer boxes, there is branding power in having a presence in the answer box in any form.
Monitoring Progress and Making Adjustments
The result featured in an answer box can change in a mere second. So, if you’ve won an answer box, don’t rest on your laurels. Make sure to track the keyword using an SEO technology and check back in to make sure you’ve maintained your spot at the top of Google. Nothing’s worse than bragging to your CMO about a new answer box, and then finding you’re no longer in it when they go to search for it themselves.
Take time to mourn the loss of your answer box.
In addition, making small tweaks to your content on a weekly basis can help you not only climb the ranks but test out new answers that might help you land the featured snippet. Because the contents of an answer box can change in the blink of an eye, small changes to your content can have a huge effect in a very short amount of time.
Targeting Local Answer Boxes
Don’t forget that, as with all the content on Google SERPs, the location where you’re searching from will greatly affect what content appears in a featured snippet or answer box. You’ll be in competition with different content, and speaking to a completely different audience when targeting an answer box in New York versus one in Wichita.
Being Number One Isn’t Everything
Last but not least, you do not have to be ranking #1 on the SERP to win an answer box. As you work your way onto page one, don’t discourage if you’re ranking fourth for a keyword. You can still win the answer box if you optimize correctly.
You’re ready to win some answer boxes! Follow our tips for how to get to the top of Google by winning answer boxes and get ready for some tangible results. Remember that the answer box, along with all of Google’s universal search result types, is ever-changing and constantly in flux. The strategies to help you win an answer box will change as well. So, as you start to play (and win) the answer box game, let us know what has worked for you, and keep checking back here for the most up-to-date answer box tips and tricks.