In updated research across a sample of 6.3 million keywords, we found there are over 2,100 unique possible features on Google SERPs (search engine results pages). Google’s Answer Box is one unique SERP result that is powered by the knowledge graph or scraped from a site that provides an adequate answer to a user's query.
Also known as a Featured Snippet, it is typically displayed at the top of Google's results page above the organic results. Featured Snippets usually appear as a box with a brief text answer and a source URL. This is Google’s attempt to quickly answer questions without the need for the searcher to find and click a Google search result.
Really, SERP features are Google's way of enhancing the user experience.
Here is an example for the Google search query "internal vs external links" and its respective Answer Box:
If users did click in the Answer Box to navigate to the specific webpage, that would still count as organic traffic to the site. The only thing that's different is the presentation of the webpage listing on the SERP.
The Featured Snippet can also present itself as a list or a table, depending on the query.
Take a look at this list of the best streaming services:
For some content marketers, winning the Answer Box is the ultimate goal. But before you focus all your SEO strategy toward securing it, it's important to know the Answer Box has been rocky in the US.
A few years ago, there seemed to be no stopping the growth of the Answer Box: In early 2018, 23% of all search queries triggered one. Then suddenly, the numbers fell.
(Algorithm updates and other factors can change the appearance of SERPs.)
After reaching a low of 8%, the frequency of the Answer Box began to slowly increase again, but it will most likely not reach the levels it once had. In late summer 2020, there was yet another decline, and it continued to decrease well into March 2021.
One consistent insight the data shows us is that these numbers are always in flux. These numbers are based on a sampling of our Research Grid data set in the US - we took a look at more than 100 million keywords.
Fluctuations in the Answer Box should not discourage you from seeking it out altogether, but you should be aware that the prevalence of the Answer Box varies by industry.
Be mindful of the numbers below before you make it an ultimate goal to secure the Featured Snippet.
We categorized our dataset into multiple industry categories, and it comes as little surprise that the Health industry leads the way. After all, WebMD was the original that everyone learned about Answer Boxes from.
So before you put all effort toward securing the Answer Box, realize that – depending on your industry – it might not be the most valuable digital marketing strategy.
There are a few best practices to follow in order to increase your chances of winning the Google Answer Box.
It is essential for you to connect with customers at the right moment. Google outlines the following moments that every digital marketer should be familiar with: I-want-to-know moment; I-want-to-go moment; I-want-to-do moment; I want-to-buy moment.
Be clear and concise, and give the users what they want!
Review where competitors have won the Answer Box for valuable opportunities for you to write content that you want to answer for. Competitor insights reveal great Feature Snippet opportunities. Like with any content marketing, proper keyword research is required.
Your FAQ page should provide answers to common questions that your users may ask. By figuring out what questions your customers are asking, you can create the type of content that they are most likely to find useful.
Think about how searchers use Google. There are a few question stems that everyone uses: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How! So directly answer these questions in your content. The data also showed some other important trigger words including Best, Can, Is, and Top.
Focus on content that details steps and how to complete tasks that relate to your product or service. "How to" and "What is" contain significant lead over other trigger words.
Create buying guides that help aid the decision making process in list and bullet point format to demonstrate the best options for customers.
Placing a sentence that answers a question at the top of your content that answers the "What" question helps Google automatically find answers.
Use formats that work for your customers and structure the content to the right intent. Consider using tables, ordered lists, bullet points, and video.
Always use the best SEO practices by placing your keywords and key phrases in your header, metadata, URL structures, and alt tags. Also consider Schema markup. Schema structured data helps you highlight specific information for search engines. It tells Google what information means, not just what it says.
In your SEO efforts, you must never forget that content is the most important thing. Be sure to create relevant content that provides in-depth answers to the questions your target audience is asking.
To help our clients explore and understand every content opportunity, we introduced the Research Grid. It’s the most up-to-date and in-depth solution to provide insights on content gaps, opportunities, and performance for any domain, subdomain, and URL.
It is important to understand the intent behind the queries that trigger a Universal Rank Type, including video, PLA, People Also Ask, and local. Look at high-ranking pages for keywords that have awareness and consideration intent on behalf of the person conducting the search.
Thinking about the awareness and consideration phases of the buyer’s journey, and optimizing content to answer those questions or respond to the pains your audience has, will help you capture the Answer Box for desktop and voice search.
As always, it is essential that you track performance against your strategy and objectives.
For further reading on Answer Box optimization head over to How to Track Answer Box Opportunities With an Answer Box Strategy
To dive deeper into Answer Box statistics, take a look at this in-depth research conducted in 2017:
To find out more about these nuggets of knowledge we took a look at over 40 million (!) keywords. For this
That equates to about 9.5%, so the percentage of search results with Answer Boxes is certainly significant. This presents a great opportunity for all sites, as the click-through rate (CTR) and traffic
Google tells us there is more to come for Health Answer Boxes on mobile as well. Finance has some representation with Investopedia, and this industry has plenty of room for more in the future.
These top 10 domains are all recognizable and are, by most accounts, logical choices as resources in their respected areas. One major way a search engine could discern
By taking a look at the Majestic scoring metrics for these domains we get a better understanding of why these domains appear in Answer Boxes more frequently than others. The average for both trust and citation flow for these top Answer Box
Visualizing the approximately 4 million keywords that trigger Answer Boxes by search volume groups shows a heavily logarithmic chart. We saw occurrences of 56 unique instances of the estimated 85 keyword search volume buckets. This graph indicates that Answer Boxes are more frequently occurring for mid to long tail keywords, or those where the search volume range is less than 1,000.
To garner a clearer picture of this, we can take a look at the count of words per query. This shows us that a good majority, over 65%, of queries that display Answer Boxes contain between 3-5 words. This imperfect bell curve gives an idea as to what the length (in words) of queries
Nearly a quarter of all Answer Boxes include question specific words such as: who, where, when, why, what and how. These inquisitive words were commonly seen as the starter words of the query (first 2 words in the query).
The top 10 most frequently occurring starter words and their percent of total queries can be seen below:
Some of these were more prevalent in domains in the Health industry, such as WebMD, which saw a majority of its queries follow the pattern above where their top starter words were “how to” and “what is”.
Not all domains followed this pattern though. For example, in the Financial industry, Investopedia saw a majority of its queries start with “what is” and then “definition of”. This makes it apparent that some phrases are more specific to certain industries, which makes sense logically.
Are Answer Boxes the same between devices? Instant answer: Not always. When Answer Boxes appear for a query on both mobile and desktop, more often than not they are identical. But there are exceptions, such as with the example search for the query "seo and sem".
The desktop Answer Box displays a source URL from www.reliablesoft.net, whereas the mobile Answer Box displays a source URL from blog.hubspot.com. The first 3 results (seen in the desktop image) are identical between devices. Is this because
Not in this case, as both URLs passed the mobile test based on Google’s
While all YouTube desktop URLs displayed with HTTPS, the mobile YouTube URL (m.youtube.com) displayed as HTTP 99% of the time. These all redirect to their HTTPS counterparts though, indicating Answer Boxes might not be updated often. As most
There are also cases of IP addresses as the Answer Box URL. This is the case of the Canadian Revenue Agency, whose web presence is located at 184.108.40.206 and can be seen when searching for “
In the end, Google has logic for dictating which queries display Answer Boxes. Determining what it is and how it is processed isn’t as straightforward as one might think, though.
This logic, as we saw, is different between desktop and mobile devices. It also doesn’t have to be a traditional web URL, such as an IP address or FTP location. Video descriptions such as those found on YouTube can also be used. The frequency of Answer Box updates, such as the URL display, seems to vary.
Conversely, answers that are simplistic in nature likely won’t drive traffic if the answer can be viewed and understood within the SERP. This means a bit of research should go into reviewing the search query to get a perception of intent.
Interested to know what keywords your domain ranks for that trigger answer boxes? Request a demo!
-- Ryan Heuser, Product & Technical Services Manager, seoClarity