3 Ways to Find Answer Box Opportunities

Answer boxes are a hot topic in our industry right now. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock on Mars for the last couple of years,  I’ll briefly go over what an answer box is.

An answer box is a type of a rich snippet and represents a  snapshot of an answer to a searcher's query. It comes in a format of a paragraph, a list or a table and includes a link to the site it is taken from:

What makes it so so interesting is that by appearing in an answer box you get to take over the first search result even if you aren’t the top organic result. Doesn’t it remind you of the good old days when you could just tweak an on-page copy and outrank your competitors?

Ranking in the answer box space brings all the same benefits an organic position number 1 would have - including the increased traffic, click through rate and much more display space! Don't despair if you are currently  ranking number 1 - you can still occupy both the answer box and the first position:

This post will suggest three ways in finding opportunities on where you can leapfrog competitors in SERps and if you are already ranking #1 - also occupying position 0:

  1. Do any of the keywords I am ranking for trigger answer boxes?

  2. Do any of the keywords my competitors are ranking for trigger answer boxes?

  3. Are there any long tail keywords nobody is yet targeting (and are related to my site)  but which can trigger answer snippets?

Do any of the keywords I am ranking for trigger answer boxes?

If you can get access to Stat (https://getstat.com/) - it is great for finding opportunities for keywords you are already tracking.  A free alternative is SEMRush which will also help us find new opportunities and is discussed a little further down.  

Step 1: Upload a list of keywords your site is currently targeting  to Stat - leave them for at least 48 hours (If you are using Stat you have most likely done that).

Step 2: Select “Show/Hide” and check “Universal Search Results”:

Step 3: Filter by Universal SERP result type, in this instance "answer box":

Step 4: Download the spreadsheet - you will end up with a list of search terms that you are tracking that are displaying answer boxes:

Next, filter by position - If you want to see which featured snippets you are already receiving, filter for position 1 in Google Rank Column.

These are the keywords you want to defend and make sure you continue ranking for them. Any other results indicate a competitor is ranking for that term. These are your opportunities.

Drill into competitors that are ranking for the box. What are they doing on-page that can be replicated or improved?

Do any of the keywords my competitors are ranking for trigger answer boxes?

SEMRush is a free alternative which allows you to see if any answer boxes are being displayed by Google for keywords your domain ranks for.

Step 1: Firstly, if you haven’t used GetStat you want to enter your site to see which keywords that you are  already ranking for can trigger rich snippet. Enter your domain name in the top box and choose the organic positions option:

In order to see which answer boxes you are already occupying download a report under SERP Features Linking to domain- ‘Featured snippet’:

To see what keywords that you are ranking for are currently occupied by your competitors (therefore are linking to somebody else’s domain), download both ‘knowledge graph’ and ‘answer boxes’ reports. With the free access you will get a limited number of results in the report.

Step 2: Next, you want to repeat the steps above, but this time analysing your competitor’s domains. This is like keyword research 2.0 - are there any terms out there that are relevant to your business which you are not targeting yet? Can you create relevant pages for them? Can you create better pages for them so that you end up occupying an answer box?

Future Answer Box Opportunities (aka long tail keywords nobody is yet targeting but which can trigger answer snippets)

After the first two stages, you might find that within the keywords either you or your competitors are ranking for, not many are triggering answer boxes. Does this mean that there are no opportunities for answer boxes in your industry?

No - on the contrary. Google is always updating their answer box results and testing this space for search queries that could be fulfilled by a quick answer. ANY content can be optimised for an answer box if it answers a question that is being frequently asked. The fact that there is no rich snippet appearing now could mean that nobody has yet produced the relevant content or presented it in the format which would allow Google to recognise it and pull it out.

Google is more likely to be triggered to return an answer box result for queries that come along with  a ‘Common Search Query Modifier’ or a word that would indicate that the query is a question. These include words such as ‘what’, ‘average’, ‘when’, ‘cost’ etc.

However,  bear in mind that for the queries that do not include explicit question indicators, Google may still match the content as if the query includes one.

For example, it can be seen that ‘green flowers’ and ‘what are green flowers’ are returning the same result in the answer box:

Google tends to assume that the queries like ‘green flowers’, ‘anniversary flowers’, ‘valentines day flowers’, ‘black flowers’, etc when entered in search can imply either:

  • ‘Do’ intent – an intent to purchase anniversary flowers/to purchase valentines day flowers or

  • ‘Know’ intent – an intent to find out ‘what are black flowers?’, ‘what are valentines day flowers?’

Step 1: Create a list of potential questions that can be asked about your ‘keyword’, or its attributes.  

Answer the Public is  a free visual keyword research that allows you to find the right questions for the specific keywords you want to target. It looks pretty good too:

Step 2: This tool also offers an excel export. Upload the questions from the generated list to the keyword planner and check whether there is a substantial search volume for them. The low volume does not only mean that the keyword is twice less likely to trigger an answer box, but also that it is not a valuable use of your time to optimise for a keyword that will only attract 10 people/month (unless it makes sense for your margins).

Closing thoughts: So what do I do with all these opportunities next?

You should end up with the list of queries that do or could trigger answer boxes. Now the fun part is to answer those questions on your existent pages (or create some new ones) in a way that is clear and easy for Google to recognise and pull out.

GetStat’s white paper discusses in a lot of detail as to what on-page elements might help you with that. In short, the main things to look out for are:

  • Presence of search query in <title> tag

  • Presence of search query in <h1>

  • Presence of Schema.org code snippets

  • Presence of <ol> or <ul> lists or <table>

In addition, you should carry out your own  industry-specific analysis. Look at what your competitors have done to get an answer box.  How did they format their content - did they use a table, a list or maybe a specific combination of terms in the answer? In the best case scenario you will end up ranking in the position zero, in the worst, you will begin future-proofing your content for machine readability: win-win!

More resources:

This blog article was heavily inspired by Get Stat’s white paper: https://getstat.com/blog/featured-snippets/

In-depth explanation on how the answer boxes are being pulled by Google: http://www.seobythesea.com/2015/06/how-google-may-trigger-answer-box-results-for-queries/

If you are interested in ranking beyond the blue links:https://www.distilled.net/resources/how-to-audit-a-site-for-structured-data-opportunities/

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About the author
Maryna Samokhina

Maryna Samokhina

Maryna joined Distilled in September 2015 and works in our consulting team in London as an analyst.   read more