How do you rank in an answer box?

What do you have to do to gain an answer box result and rank in posi­tion zero?

Chris Smith By Chris Smith from Equator. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Answer box­es, some­times known as posi­tion zero, are a gold­en goose when it comes to SERP real estate. There are three main types of answer box­es: tables, lists and para­graphs. Many experts argue that being includ­ed in any of these results can help you with both CTR and gen­er­al expo­sure.

But how do you rank in an answer box?

There’s no set for­mu­la, but you can increase your chances by doing the fol­low­ing:

  • Know your user’s inten­tion;
  • Answer the ques­tion direct­ly with­in the first 100 words;
  • Answer ques­tions they don’t ask;
  • And house your answer in qual­i­ty, struc­tured con­tent.

Look­ing at the answers above, the cri­te­ria Google employs to select answer box results might appear quite ambigu­ous. And you’d be right.

With answer box results, there is no secret for­mu­la – only a set of prin­ci­ples to adapt to your web­site and to your users. Even once you’ve applied these changes, it’s unlike­ly the results will be instan­ta­neous – unfor­tu­nate­ly, Google doesn’t do mag­ic switch­es. All you can do is fol­low this advice and hope you’ve adopt­ed it suit­ably enough to catch Google’s eye. It’s all about under­stand­ing your user’s intent and act­ing on it. That way, both the con­tent provider and the end user ben­e­fit from it.

Understanding user intent

Because search results are arguably ranked by their abil­i­ty to answer a query and pro­vide the user with the best infor­ma­tion pos­si­ble, under­stand­ing user intent is para­mount.

Pro­vid­ing val­ue to the user should be at the top of your to-do list, regard­less of whether you want an answer box result or not. By doing this, you’re putting your­self in the best pos­si­ble posi­tion to gain a com­pet­i­tive rank­ing. This might seem like old news, but you’d be sur­prised the num­ber of peo­ple out there still writ­ing con­tent for search engines rather than users.

Algorithmic direction

Google has already told us RankBrain is one of its most vital rank­ing fac­tors. So user intent is a rank­ing fac­tor, essen­tial­ly. It’s not often Google straight up tells us things, so you need to make sure you’re tak­ing action when it does.

Think about what your prod­uct or ser­vice is. Try work­ing in reverse to under­stand what a user real­ly wants when they land on your web­site. Under­stand­ing the thought process that brings a user on to your page is a key part of any type of site opti­mi­sa­tion.

Help with user intent

You can use tools such as Answer the Pub­lic to get an idea of pos­si­ble search queries. Line these up with what you already know about your customer’s jour­ney. Why are they work­ing? Are there sim­i­lar ques­tions you’re not address­ing? And how can you accom­mo­date these addi­tion­al search queries?

There is a lot of uncov­ered ground out there, as well, and this presents an oppor­tu­ni­ty for you to snap up some of this extra search traf­fic just through sim­ple user research.

Answer the question directly and quickly

Expec­ta­tions of how quick­ly con­sumers can get infor­ma­tion are con­stant­ly ris­ing. As tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tions allow us to share more quick­ly, the patience of users is becom­ing short­er as they search for infor­ma­tion they need.

Online stream­ing ser­vices are a great exam­ple of this. Peo­ple were get­ting tired of hav­ing to trav­el all the way to the video store or hav­ing to wait days for their rental to be post­ed out. Step in ser­vices like Net­flix and Now TV, RIP Block­buster and Love­Film.

My point here is that the time peo­ple are will­ing to wait on some­thing is con­stant­ly decreas­ing and search engines are just the same.

Getting to the point

Answer the ques­tion right at the begin­ning of your con­tent – ide­al­ly with­in the first 100 words. If you go back to the start of this arti­cle, you’ll see the answer to ‘how do you rank in an answer box?’ is with­in the first 100 words of this arti­cle – in a list for­mat.

When crawl­ing a page, Google will recog­nise that the most impor­tant infor­ma­tion is like­ly to be with­in the first 100 words. It will be able to tell that the infor­ma­tion has been pro­vid­ed con­cise­ly and prompt­ly for all to see, putting the user’s needs first. The answer to the ques­tion posed in the title isn’t hid­den with­in screeds and screeds of text, hop­ing to raise time on page. Google recog­nis­es this, and rewards sites that use this for­mat with answer box results.

Back up your answers

Now, while Google appre­ci­ates you answer­ing queries effi­cient­ly, it also appre­ci­ates jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. By going into fur­ther detail about your answer lat­er on in the arti­cle, Google will recog­nise that you’ve pro­vid­ed even more infor­ma­tion to help the user out.

This way, you’re answer­ing the ques­tion quick­ly, and then pro­vid­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty for the user to dive even deep­er into your won­der­ful answer, but only if they want to. It’s the per­fect way of pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion.

Answer questions they’re not asking

This might seem like a bit of a point­less exer­cise, but from a holis­tic point of view, it makes sense. While you can research for a sol­id month, and leave no stone unturned, there’s always a chance new stones will wash ashore. The point here is that there’s always some­thing new out there, or anoth­er way of look­ing at some­thing.

But if you play you cards cor­rect­ly, you should be able to answer the ques­tion, and then some.

Answering multiple questions

Pre­vi­ous­ly we talked about back­ing up your answers – pro­vid­ing the long-form con­tent Google holds so high. While this is some­thing you should def­i­nite­ly do, these pro­ceed­ing sec­tions are also per­fect for cov­er­ing some more ground.

Let’s take this very sim­ple query as an exam­ple: “How do I build a table?”

The answer is: You attach four long pieces of wood (the legs) to a large, flat piece of wood (the table top).

We can all agree that while extreme­ly fun­da­men­tal, this is the answer to the ques­tion. But while it answers the ques­tion, it’s not pro­vid­ing any fur­ther val­ue. This is where your long-form pro­ceed­ing con­tent comes into play. To give the best val­ue to the user for the ques­tion, I’d then look to answer the fol­low­ing ques­tions:

What tools do I need?
What’s the best type of wood to use?
What’s the best kind of wood paint?

It’s very straight­for­ward but by think­ing of ques­tions relat­ed to your ques­tion, you now have the begin­nings of a very use­ful con­tent piece that answers how to build a table and then a lot more.

Take a bit of ini­tia­tive and go beyond the fun­da­men­tals.

Finding the further questions

As it says above, the best place to start is to just use your intu­ition – if you’re writ­ing nat­ur­al con­tent, then these fur­ther ques­tions should come to you nat­u­ral­ly. But, as with any­thing in dig­i­tal, there’s always some­thing out there to help you.

One place to start is Google itself and its “peo­ple also ask” and “relat­ed search­es” func­tions. Here are some exam­ples using “how do I eat an apple” as a query:

There are def­i­nite­ly some answers there that you could use to improve and fur­ther your own con­tent. But even if you don’t think that these would imme­di­ate­ly work for you, they’re cer­tain­ly good jump­ing-off points for you to do some fur­ther research.

Creating quality content

Now, none of the above would be use­ful if you end­ed up just shod­di­ly throw­ing some­thing togeth­er that kind of cross­es off all of the box­es. You need to make sure your end prod­uct is a qual­i­ty piece of con­tent and not just a means to an end.

The old SEO axiom states that con­tent is king. While you might think this is just anoth­er cliché, it still holds a lot of truth. When you real­ly think about it, the Inter­net itself is con­tent. Whether it be in the form of arti­cles, blogs, video, music – it’s all con­tent! And this is why yours needs to stand out.

Structure and length

It’s gen­er­al­ly regard­ed that qual­i­ty con­tent is at least 1,250 words long (assum­ing it’s an arti­cle.) If it’s less than that, you’re not real­ly going to have the nec­es­sary plat­form to pro­vide the need­ed infor­ma­tion.

The struc­ture is just as impor­tant. You can’t just have an absolute­ly mas­sive wall of text. No one is going to want to read that. You need to break it down into sec­tions, and if you can, break those down into fur­ther sub-sec­tions.

This is where H Tags are your friends. Get your H1 in place, which is also ask­ing the ques­tion, of course, have your H2 tags answer the ques­tions and your H3 tags break­ing down your H2 tags. It’s a very sim­ple but effec­tive tem­plate to fol­low.

Picking the right content

As I said before, con­tent exists in many dif­fer­ent forms. So it’s vital you pick the best type of con­tent for your audi­ence. Not the type of con­tent that you think is cool, or the type of con­tent that you saw some­one else pro­duces. The type of con­tent that your own audi­ence will get the most val­ue out of. If your audi­ence is con­sumers, then your con­tent should be a bit lighter and more digestible. If you’re B2B, then maybe some more tech­ni­cal- and results-dri­ven data. There’s plen­ty more advice on B2B con­tent on Inked if you need a refresh­er.

If you’re writ­ing a long-form arti­cle, there are dif­fer­ent ways you can answer your ques­tion. I’ve men­tioned them before: lists, tables and para­graphs. Decide which of these will suit your answer best. If your answer is a step-by-step guide to some­thing, maybe you should use a list. If you’re pre­sent­ing sta­tis­tics and num­bers, maybe a table. It all depends on what the best fit is for your answer, and, in turn, your audi­ence.

Summing it all up

Like I said before, there is no mag­ic switch that you can turn on for an answer box or posi­tion zero result, unfor­tu­nate­ly. If there was, every­one would be using it, and the rank­ings would end up a mess. There’s no guar­an­tee you will get an answer box result, but what you will def­i­nite­ly get is sol­id, use­ful and valu­able con­tent for your users.

Luck­i­ly, not every­one will fol­low the advice above. Peo­ple are still churn­ing out con­tent, stuffed with key­words and just assum­ing it will work.

It won’t.

Google is too smart for this now. Google puts user expe­ri­ence at the top of its pri­or­i­ties, and to give the best user expe­ri­ence, know­ing their needs is vital.

Under­stand your audi­ence, answer their ques­tions, give them the best infor­ma­tion pos­si­ble, and present it in a way they’ll under­stand. These are the rules to abide by when cre­at­ing con­tent for your site.

What do you think the chances are of this arti­cle gain­ing an answer box?

Chris Smith

Written by Chris Smith

Outreach Manager, Equator

Chris is the Outreach Team Leader at Equator, one of the country’s leading digital innovators. Specialising in brand exposure and creative content marketing, he works with multiple blue-chip clients in the financial and travel industries.

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