This was sometime after Christmas but before the New Year, I remember waking up one morning (11 a.m. is still technically morning, no?) to see my computer still powered on, playing Mac Miller’s Swimming on repeat, and my phone nowhere in the vicinity. I was so out of it that day that I actually typed in ‘where is my phone’ into Google. To my surprise, Google actually have an answer for that and showed me that my phone is somewhere inside my building, which didn’t actually help matters.
My moment of transgression aside, that episode perfectly crystallizes just how sophisticated search engines in general have become. I could pretty much type in any kind of question to Google and 90% of the time, they would have an answer for it. It might not exactly the answer I was looking for but it won’t be for a lack of trying. It’s this increasing sophistication search engines have when dealing with questions that SEO services could take advantage to direct traffic to a specific website.
Optimizing for questions
It used to be that search engines acts more like a pointer, showing you a list of places where you might find the answer to your question but years and years of development have lead to search engines actually showing you the answer to your question. The search engine itself doesn’t actually have the answer, all it does is to present you with the information sourced from the internet that it thinks give you the answer you’re looking for.
For example, if I type in ‘how to put on cufflinks’ to Google, it would directly show me videos from Google-owned YouTube on how to do exactly that. In another example, if I type in ‘who is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’, Google would show me a snippet from her Wikipedia page. I could even type in a random question like ‘who is the tallest ATP player’ and Google would have an answer for that and apparently, it’s not John Isner but the Croatian Ivo Karlovic at 2.11 m, also sourced from Wikipedia.
Obviously, when it comes to the more general questions like the ones above, Google is going to scour more credible sources like Wikipedia for an answer but it’s when we’re dealing with niche and more specific questions that your website might have a shot at. Optimizing for questions isn’t exactly easy but given the prominent placement for Google’s Quick Answers, which is situated right at the top of the SERP, it’s definitely worth the effort and to make it easier for you, here are some guidelines to help get you started.
Research the relevant questions for your business
It’s a bit of a no-brainer but if you want to optimize your content for questions, you might want to know what questions you are optimizing for in the first place and luckily, Google could also give you a hand on that as well. To start, type in a question that you think is relevant to your industry. Since this is going to be our starting point, start with a general question first and we’ll work our way down the list.
Okay, once you’ve typed in your starting question on Google, you should see that directly below the answer Google has provided, there’s a box containing related questions labeled ‘People also ask’. The box would originally consist of three or four questions but as you click on those questions one by one, the list would expand to include questions that are related to the ones you’ve clicked. You can use this to expand your repertoire of questions from just one to dozens in just a short amount of time.
Categorizing these questions
Once you’ve collected those questions, the next step is to group those questions into several categories and choose the ones you want to optimize for. To make things simple, we’re going to categorize these questions into basic, how-to and transactional questions. If we’re talking desserts for example, the three questions would be ‘what is a panna cotta’, ‘how to make panna cotta’ and ‘where is the best panna cotta around me’.
Now this is important because depending on what type of business you’re running, one category would be more important to you than others. The basic question would probably apply to every business but if you’re say; running a cooking blog or anything that involved the process of cooking, it’s the how-to questions that might be of greater importance. On the other hand, if you run a food blog or the actual dessert bar, it’s the transactional questions that you’re going to want to keep an eye on.
Adding questions to your content strategy
Now that we’re finished with the preparation, the last step is to actually create content based around those questions depending on the type of question itself. A more generic question for example could be included in a simple Q&A in one of your landing and/or main pages. Basic questions don’t need anything more than a short explanation so you don’t have to dedicate a separate page for it but it’s when we’re dealing with the other types of question that things start to get a little tricky.
How-to contents for example must be answered in detail, preferably with a set of animations and/or videos for the sake of clarity; the website Wikihow or the plethora of how-to videos in YouTube could be used as an example. Transactional contents, those that could push potential customers into giving you their money, should be both appealing and persuasive but it should sound as natural as possible to avoid them from becoming nothing more than a sales pitch.