The Question Is the Answer

This question and answer format has come to SEO as the featured snippet. These snippets, generated automatically by Google from the organic results, provide users quick answers to their questions. Sample questions that trigger a snippet are: “best chicken and dumplings recipe,” “what to wear to a funeral,” “how to remove a tick” and “when to use a semicolon.”

Unknown peopleFans of the long-running TV show “Jeopardy!” know that contestants must state their answers in the form of a question. Having watched this show many times over the years, it is startling over how many domains of knowledge answers can be stated as questions.

This question and answer format has come to SEO as the featured snippet. These snippets, generated automatically by Google from the organic results, provide users quick answers to their questions. Sample questions that trigger a snippet are: “best chicken and dumplings recipe,” “what to wear to a funeral,” “how to remove a tick” and “when to use a semicolon.” The featured answer snippet includes a direct link to the source and shows up above any of the other organic results. For the SEO, this is new ground to capture.

To be the featured snippet is to achieve a rank 0, so to speak. Is there an advantage to attaining this? How is it accomplished?

Why Have These Featured Snippets Proliferated?

As users migrate to mobile devices with smaller screens, search is changing to meet their needs. Gone is the user sitting at a desktop plowing through link after link for information on “how to remove a tick?” Chances are, the searcher is out on a hike or walking in the lawn and realizes that one of these disease-bearing insects has grabbed onto their body. A quick search on an ever-present phone will yield accurate instructions for the removal.

The rapid growth of voice activated search through Siri, Alexa and Cortana has brought a more conversational tone to search. “Siri, find me the best chicken and dumplings recipe?” These devices will continue to improve and so, too, must search. User behavior will demand it.

When Google first brought out the featured snippet, SEOs thought that it might be little more than a test or would only apply to certain types of information. It is not a test, and as “Jeopardy!” has shown us, a question and answer format can apply to many domains of information. Google has continued to expand the featured snippet with related snippets (headlined as — People also ask) that delve deeper into the topic at hand. Explore these, and you will find that layers and layers of instant information unspool before your eyes.

Is There an Advantage?

When the featured snippet first showed up on search pages, there were concerns that Google was seizing a site’s content, displaying it and removing the impetus for the user to come to the site. Experience has shown that the featured snippet provides an added impetus for the user to click through and get more information. It is as if the user has hit a rich vein of ore and wants dig out more quality information. Sites that are featured enjoy strong traffic generated by the snippets.

How to Be Featured?

How to be featured is the challenge. This is one of the many places where content and SEO must come together. It is dreaming to expect a page with little chance of ranking, mired in Page Four or Five of the search results, to magically pop up in the featured snippets for a competitive keyword question. However, a quick review of top-ranking pages — Page One or so — will give you some idea as to where potential lies. The next step is to generate questions that might fit with the pages. If your pages were built for users to find information, this task should, in fact, come quite easily.

  • Why did you build it?
  • Who did you build it for?
  • When do you expect users to find it?
  • How will they use the page?
  • What benefit will they glean from it?

As you may have noted, each of the phrases above is in the form of a question. It is not hard to generate questions. Then, make sure that the question and its attendant answer are infused into your content and watch the results.

Author: Amanda G. Watlington, Ph.D.

Amanda is the founder of Searching for Profit, a search marketing strategy consultancy; and CEO of City Square Consulting, a management consulting firm. Amanda is an internationally recognized author, speaker and search marketing pioneer. Her consultancy focuses on using organic search to drive traffic to customer sites. She is an expert on the use of language for search. Her clients have included well-known and emerging brands.
The purpose of this blog is to provide insights and tips for how to use search profitably. It will cut through the volumes of information that threaten to overwhelm the busy marketer and will focus on what is truly important for making search work.

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