In the twenty plus years since the internet was made publicly available and a decade since the iPhone made it possible for us to access the internet almost all the time, we now rely on the internet for almost everything. We use the internet for dating, to watch a film, to listen to music, to order food, to get a ride somewhere or to simply talk among ourselves. Because of these various roles the internet has now filled within our lives, it’s easy to forget what it was designed for in the first place, to provide an easy mean of exchanging information.
Technically, exchanging information is still what the internet is primarily used for. The various social media platforms available are an extension of that but it’s the kind of thing that people tend to easily forget given just how versatile the internet now is these days. Whenever I stumble upon a word I don’t recognize in a book or when I want to check some trivial information about a famous person, the internet is what I use to answer those questions. To help answer a question remains one of the most popular uses of the internet and knowing how to take advantage of this fact could be very useful for SEO services and marketers.
The changing roles of a search engine
It used to be that when you’re trying to find an answer to a simple question, like “how old Nicole Kidman is”, you type the quoted phrase into a search engine and the search engine will show you a list of pages where the answer to that question might be found. Usually, you’re just going to be led into the Wikipedia page of Nicole Kidman, where her detailed birth date can be found. However, if you type that phrase into Google now, you’re going to be presented with a direct answer (she’s 51 years old FYI) plus a short biography taken from Wikipedia for good measure.
Search engines no longer act as a signpost that tells you where something can be found, they’ve begun to act more and more like a place where those answers can be found, even if technically, they pull that answer from other places. By taking advantage of this feature, it is possible for a page from your website to be featured prominently, above the rest of the results, on a given search engines results page (SERP), which can potentially draw a huge amount of web traffic your way. If you’re thinking of optimizing your content for questions, you might want to take note of the following.
Avoid optimizing for questions with short, easy and direct answers
The Nicole Kidman’s age question above is an example of this. Because of the nature of the answer, Google could simply pull the answer out of your page and display them on the SERP, which is going to effectively stop any traffic coming your way. Sure, the URL for your website might get some prime real estate at the top of the page but have you ever actually paid any attention to the URL when you’re using Google? I honestly don’t know anyone who does.
The idea is then to look for questions commonly asked of your industry that either can’t be answered in a single sentence or one that would need to be backed up by a solid argument. On the other hand, you’d want to provide a summary of sorts for Google that partly answers the question while giving a tantalizing glimpse of what users might found on the actual page. You want to give them enough to be interested but not too much that they’re satisfied with what you’ve already given them.
Use the inverted pyramid approach
The inverted pyramid approach is what I like to call good journalism. In this age of clickbait and misleading headlines, it’s very common to see overly melodramatic article titles that don’t really tell you anything and whose sole purpose is to entice unsuspecting users into seeing the story, which tends to have an anti-climatic result. The oft-cited headline ‘Man tries to hug a wild lion, you won’t believe what happens next’ is one example of a clickbait headline.
This ultimately meaningless headline is in contrast with the practice of quality journalism, which tends to be forthcoming with the gist of the story and uses the article to fill out the details. As I’m typing this for example, a headline in The New York Times simply states ‘Alternate Brexit plans rejected, Theresa May offers to step down’. With the inverted pyramid approach, you already have an idea on what the article is going to tell you.
In this approach, you start with an answer and then fill in the rest with the details and the context of how that answer came to be. This approach fits in with the point above, by giving out a summary or a shortened version of the answer, you provide enough information to the readers but in order to understand the big picture, they’re going to have to read the rest of your article. As with journalism, this approach helps build your credibility as publication that has to resort to clickbait headlines is never going to be taken seriously.
Take advantage of the ‘People also ask’ feature in Google
So you’ve landed on a popular question with no easy answers related to your field of business that has a potential to draw traffic to your website but optimizing the content for your website around a single question isn’t practical so you’re going to have to find more questions to optimize for. The good news is that you can use that one question in your repertoire to find related questions easily by using the ‘People also ask’ feature in Google. Try typing that question into Google and see what happens.
In Google, right under the featured answer at the top of SERP is the ‘People also ask’ (PAA) column, which is a list of expandable questions that are related to the question you typed into Google. If I ask Google on ‘who is the best F1 driver of all time’, the PAA column list questions such as ‘who is the most successful F1 driver’ and ‘who is the highest paid F1 driver of 2018’. Clicking on those questions will open up more questions relating to the ones I’ve just clicked.
By taking advantage of the PAA column, you could land on an ever-growing list of questions in your industry that you could optimize for. Combine this list of questions with keyword research tools to ensure that the question you’re optimizing for is actually getting some heavy traffic. What’s also great about the PAA column is that each of the questions listed there also have their own featured answer, giving SEO services and marketers more opportunity to be featured in a given SERP.