Google constantly improves the search results page to help users find answers faster. That’s the exact goal of Google’s answer box, AKA the coveted featured snippet.
These prominently placed sections pull information from the search results to answer the user’s search query.
Before the answer box, users had to scan the search engine results page (SERP) for the most relevant source, hoping that the page answered their search.
Featured snippets surface the most relevant answer to a search query first — saving users a few precious clicks in the process.
Unfortunately for SEO’s and marketers, this useful feature means less real estate to work with and more confusing analytics with fewer clicks to highly authoritative pages. With ads, knowledge panels, shopping suggestions, image packs and other space-sucking features, getting anywhere near the top of the first page is increasingly difficult.
Table of Contents
- What is the Google Answer Box?
- What makes answer boxes so attractive?
- How does Google select a featured snippet?
- How to optimize your web pages for a Google Answer Box
- How do answer boxes affect clicks?
What Is the Google Answer Box?
Google’s answer box is a SERP feature that shows the most relevant answer to a search query above all results.
Known as position 0 or featured snippet, the answer box sits above all organic search results. It once sat above paid results, too, but things have changed!
Today, earning the #1 organic keyword ranking doesn’t guarantee that your listing is above the fold. Aside from paying for an ad, featured snippets are now one of the few ways to be seen first.
These large boxes can show paragraphs, lists, tables and images depending on the type of search.
Clicking through to a page from the answer box takes users to the exact section of the original web page. Users can see the highlighted portion of the text that answers the original query.
For users on mobile or searching by voice, these snippets are also key to a good user experience. As consumers lean into a mobile-first digital landscape, I see these features becoming even more of a priority over time.
What Makes Answer Boxes So Attractive?
Because Google scrapes content from the first page, you can occupy both the first organic search result and answer box for increased visibility and perceived authority.
Plus, earning featured snippets lets you leap frog top organic search results (often with minimal effort).
That means your brand doesn’t have to rank #1 to rank above all page one results.
As Google continually refines its algorithm, your brand has ample opportunity to show up above the first organic search result. And with Google Answer Box optimizations, dethroning the competition is pretty straightforward.
How Does Google Select Answers?
Multiple sites could have the same answer to a search query — so how does Google choose a result to promote?
Answer boxes pull from the Knowledge Graph (Google’s database of facts) to answer implicit (implied) or explicit (clearly stated) questions. For instance, Google can infer that someone searching for “yoga poses” would like to see examples.
The algorithm aims to "detect the most useful information," according to Google. The good news here is that there are ways to signal to the algorithm that your web page offers the best answer to a search query – a process you can do with a solid optimization strategy.
How to Get a Google Answer Box
About 12 percent of search queries produce a featured snippet. At Human, we know how to optimize a web page to give it the best chance at appearing in this prominent search spot.
After recreating our successes and testing these theories, we compiled these tried-and-true tips to snag Google answer boxes:
1. Find Optimization Opportunities
Upload your keyword list to sites like Moz and SEMrush to find phrases that return a featured snippet. These are the golden opportunities for your website.
Keywords already ranking on page one are the best place to start. Making a few quick optimizations can help you jump past competitors.
Here’s an example from SEMrush. The crown indicates there is a featured snippet for this keyword, but it’s gray because we don’t own it. We currently rank in position 2 for this keyword, making this an excellent optimization opportunity!
2. Introduce Your Snippet Content With a Targeted Subheading
When optimizing for featured snippets, make it as easy as possible for Google to find your answer and match it to the search query.
Adding the keyword to an H1 or H2 helps Google quickly spot and extract your answer.
For example, say you want to earn the answer box for “SMS marketing examples.”
Go back to basic SEO best practices and directly include that phrase in an H1 or H2.
To further optimize for the keyword, place the string in the page title, alt tags and throughout the content.
Read: How to Use Heading Tags
3. Align Your Answer Format to the Query
Correctly formatting your content is one of the easiest ways to earn an answer box.
You might have noticed that Google will extract paragraphs, graphs and lists in featured snippets.
Think logically with your format. If you’re targeting the phrase “cheapest hotels in San Diego,” searchers probably expect to see a list. If you’re defining an industry term, a short, pointed paragraph is perfect.
Using subheadings like H2s or H3s to denote each item also helps search engines pull your list and increases your odds of earning that coveted position zero.
4. Include Snippet Information High on the Page
You want Google to find your answer — so why bury it on the page?
SEO trends have moved toward longer-form content. You might be tempted to add a lengthy introduction and plenty of research and context before getting to the meat of your article.
Resist this urge.
Directly answer the featured snippet as early as possible so Google can easily find your answer.
5. Provide a More Accurate and Credible Answer
Google aims to surface the best answer in the featured snippet — so make sure your content is up to par.
Regurgitating information already on the web won’t get you far — especially if you’re trying to bump down a competitor.
Review current featured snippets before crafting your answer. Put extra thought and research into your answer so it provides more helpful information to users.
Search engines look for the best answer first, while credibility often comes second. That means if you’re up against powerhouse websites on page 1, you still have a shot at beating them out.
If competitors have snagged the Google Answer Box for a particular keyword, restructure your blog or webpage to directly answer the question. You’ll be surprised that it’s possible to bump down competitors with comprehensive, high-quality information.
6. Add Snippet Optimization to Your Content Creation Process
When writing content in the future, add steps to research answer box opportunities and optimize for them early on.
Use SEO tools to see whether snippet opportunities exist so you can plan content creation around them.
By keeping an eye on answer box opportunities for both new and existing content, you’ll drastically increase your visibility and drive more visitors in the process.
How Do Answer Boxes Affect Clicks?
While most can agree that answer boxes are a good thing, there is one final consideration here.
Initially, marketers had mixed feelings about appearing in Google Answer Boxes. If you give searchers a quick answer that doesn’t require them to dig further, why would they need to go to your page?
Featured snippets reduce overall clicks from SERPs by about 5.3 percent. However, earning position zero still gives you the chance to drive more organic traffic. If you rank low on page one, snagging the featured snippet allows you to steal traffic from higher-ranking competitors — without having to outrank them!
Overall, this information only proves that browsing habits and behaviors are not cut and dry. If you need help piecing together the ideal SEO strategy for your business, connect with one of our expert Humans to build your custom growth plan!