Answer Boxes, sometimes called Featured Snippets, are a very useful element of today’s SERPs. Google sees billions of queries every day, and many can best be handled by offering an answer or instructions at the top of the page. Some questions are explicit, like “how to change a tire.” Others are implied, such as “boiling point of water.”
In either case, Google determines that a searcher may not need ten blue links to get the information they’re looking for. That’s where Answer Boxes come in. The search engine scrapes the answer from what it determines to be a quality page, then displays it, along with a link to the source, above other organic links. As SEOs, we need to be prepared for when clients come to us seeking advice on features such as this. In the interest of helping everyone out, here’s a quick primer on optimizing content for Answer Boxes.
Q: What kind of content can appear in an Answer Box?
A: Most Answer Boxes only contain copy. Ideally, the text picks up right where the user’s questions left off. There are instances where an image will be included in the Answer Box, such as the result below. However, queries with a visual element are often better served by Google Images results.
Q: Does a page have to rank #1 to earn an Answer Box?
A: Nope! Earlier this year, Dr. Peter J. Meyers posted an extensive breakdown of data about Featured Snippets. He found that while your URL needed to rank on the first page of search results for a query, it didn’t need to occupy the #1 spot.
Q: How do I know which keywords to target?
A: Before we get into the details of optimizing a page for an Answer Box, we need to develop a way to identify keywords worth targeting. The last answer provided a clue; you should look at terms where your site shows up on the first page of results.
Once you’ve isolated these keywords, peruse the list for explicit or implied questions. It’s likely that customers in the early stages of the Consumer Decision Journey have questions about your products. A keyword like “how to clear drain” would be very valuable for a local plumber. An implied question, such as “mortgage types,” could help a bank or real estate agent win an Answer Box.
In reality, you may not rank well for those high-volume queries. There may, however, be long-tail variations worth targeting.
Q: How do I optimize a page for the Answer Box?
A: Once you’ve identified your page-one keyword, it’s time to critically examine your ranking URL. Since Answer Boxes are, by their nature, aimed at answering questions, it helps if your content is formatted along those lines.
Be blunt. If the URL covers only one topic, then use the question itself as your title tag and H1. On-page copy should rephrase the question while answering it. Here’s an example:
Title tag: How to Clear a Drain in 3 Easy Steps | M&L Plumbing
H1: How to Clear a Drain
Copy: In order to clear a plugged sink or shower drain, you’ll need some tools and elbow grease.
Despite all its advancements in semantic search and language processing, Google still craves structure. For this reason, it’s a good idea to literally provide your instructions in a step-by-step format. Use an organized list. Dealing with measurements or specs? Reach back into your 1990s web toolkit and bust out a table.
In fact, the Q&A format of this very article could lend itself to an Answer Box. Amazing!
Q: What if my ranking page covers more than one topic?
A: A comprehensive page may not be focused on only one aspect of your topic. To use the example above, maybe the page about clearing a clogged pipe also contains content about proper installation of a sink drain. You probably don’t want to change the entire focus of the page if it’s already performing pretty well.
In this case, use an H2 to highlight the question, and then provide the relevant copy beneath it. You’re essentially turning the article into a mini-FAQ page.
Q: What if this all changes tomorrow, and Google abandons Answer Boxes? Won’t I look stupid?
A: We all know that Google giveth, and Google taketh away. The smart money says Answer Boxes are going to be with us for a while, as they’re popping up for more and more queries. Even if the switch is turned off, what damage have you done? You now have well-formatted pages that will help your customers get answers to the questions they’re asking.