How to appear in answer boxes in Google
You don’t have to be an SEO professional to recognize that not all search results appear the same.
For example, if you enter “Why are crows bad?” into the search, Google will feature a paragraph of text above the first search result. These featured search results are called answer boxes, or reverse search results if you ask Google.
The goal of answer boxes is to provide you with an answer to your search query with zero clicks. Answer boxes help Google provide searchers with fast, accurate (most of the time) answers. If your content appears within an answer box, you can get more clicks and visibility for your firm’s website.
Why rank in Google’s answer boxes?
Most people with even a cursory knowledge of SEO understand that being visible in search results is paramount. As the old SEO adage goes, “The best place to hide a dead body is on the second page of Google search results.”
When we search online, we don’t have enough patience to scroll to the second, third, or fourth page of search results. We want an answer as fast as possible, and Google’s answer boxes usually give it to us.
When your content appears in answer boxes, you rank above the first 10 organic results, which increases your chance of new clients viewing your content and discovering your firm.
Even though it’s debatable if click-through rate (CTR) actually improves SEO or merely correlates with top-ranking results, one point remains true: More clicks to your website are always a good thing.
If you’ve structured your content well, you’ll answer people’s questions and start building trust. That’s the first step of the modern client journey.
Types of answer boxes in Google
There are many types of answer boxes that may appear on Google’s search results pages, depending on your search query. Each type of answer box formats data from top-ranking web pages in a way that Google believes will best answer your question.
Paragraph excerpts are the most common type of featured snippet and are triggered by queries, including questions and open-ended queries. Depending on your query, paragraph answer boxes can even show relevant images from the featured web page. Paragraph answer boxes are also used for definition-focused queries, such as “Define animosity.”
Here are some tips to help you target paragraph snippets:
- Target long-tail keywords, including 5 to 10 words. As any good SEO guru will tell you, keyword phrases help you understand the search intent so you can provide better answers.
- Look for question-based search queries. Queries starting with “why,” “do,” and “can” are usually questions that are best suited for a paragraph answer box in Google.
- Write content that’s concise, clear, and neutral. Google wants to give people clear answers—not annoying ads—in its answer boxes. Be as clear and concise as possible, and don’t insert your name into every nook and cranny (whatever those are). Semrush’s 2020 study on featured snippets suggested writing answers between 40-50 words, or 250-300 characters.
If you’ve searched for tutorials on how to cook lasagna or start grilling in your backyard, you’ve likely come across list answer boxes.
Lists can either be numbered or bulleted, and usually contain between six and seven items. If there are more items in the list, Google will show a “more items” link below the list that takes people straight to the list within your content. If you’ve used an entire article to list items, such as “9 best vacation spots in Florida,” Google may pull your subheadings to create the list answer box.
Here are some tips to rank within a list answer box:
- Make each list item as short as possible, without sacrificing clarity.
- Use headers, subheading, and metatags to logically structure your content.
- Include “list,” or a specific number within your content’s title.
If you search “NBA final scores” or other comparison queries, the featured snippet will appear as a table. This answer box is best suited for data comparisons like scores or trends, which may be a reason why this is the second most popular type of answer box for Google queries.
Since Google algorithmically selects table answer box content, there’s really one tip that I’d recommend for increasing your chances of ranking: Use schema to structure your page.
This is an SEO best practice that you should implement, even if you aren’t targeting the coveted featured snippet. If you’re new to schema markup, it’s basically about labeling key elements in your content, so that Google and other search engines can understand their purpose and context.
If you want to learn more about schema markup, you can use this great guide by Moz.
Images and videos
So far, we’ve talked about lists, paragraphs, and tables. But there’s two more types of results that Google can show you: Images and videos. I’ve grouped them into one section because there is a lot of overlap between the steps you need to take to appear in video and image-rich search results.
Here it is:
- Use alternative text, whenever possible. Alternative text descriptions allow those who are blind, or have difficulty seeing, to understand your visual content.
- Use YouTube for videos. If you search “video of man jumping,” you’ll see that the top video results are from YouTube. Even if YouTube isn’t a main channel for your business, it’s worth repurposing videos onto YouTube if you’re targeting video results for a keyword.
- Use alternative text for images. When you post images online, include alternative text that naturally (no keyword stuffing) describes the content of your image. This will increase your chances of appearing in Google Image search. The quality of image results has greatly improved because Google has invested more resources into its image recognition technology—Google Lens.
May the SERPs be ever in your favor
About three years ago, the current “featured snippet-geddon” was predicted by some savvy SEOs, who understood that appearing in a featured snippet increased visibility and click-through rate for businesses. As I mentioned earlier, there’s no sure-fire way to appear in the answer box.
Search engines like Google use algorithms to select which content is featured. However, you’ll greatly increase your chance of appearing in answer boxes by following these tips, which I’ve either gleaned from studies done by other SEO professionals or seen throughout my own years in SEO.
Some of these tips may require advanced SEO help, but they’re sure to help you claim the answer box spot and secure more visibility and clicks for your firm’s website.