SEOGoogle Answer Box strategy: The Dos and Don’ts

Google Answer Box strategy: The Dos and Don'ts

Recently, Google’s SERP has gone through yet another evolution, with the addition of a rich featured snippet known as Google’s Answer Box. The indication is that it's here to stay, which means it may well be worth devising a strategy to maximize your chances of achieving "rank zero".

There is significant evolution occurring, on an almost daily basis, when it comes to Google’s search engine results page (SERP).

Recently, Google’s SERP has gone through yet another evolution, with the addition of a rich featured snippet known as Google’s Answer Box. Since its initial launch, the Answer Box Snippet has continued to gain traction, but it wasn’t until 2016 that brands really started utilizing it.

To get a better understanding of how companies use it, our team at iQuanti ran an internal analysis across multiple enterprise SEO organic footprints in multiple industries, and found 4-6 times the growth of keyword terms now triggering an Answer Box result.

As we all know, Google tries to interpret search intent based on selected keywords and associated behavior models. Within this model, Google attempts to surface a relevant result and display it within the SERP as a highlighted boxed result – known as an Answer Box.

Google is known to test features, innovations and algorithmic updates often, leading us to question whether or not these tests will become a permanent fixture on Google. So is the Google Answer Box here to stay?

Right now, all indications say yes – not least the patent that Google has filed around the Answer Box intellectual property. This means that it could be well worth your time devising a strategy to maximize your chances of achieving a Google Answer Box.

Why is achieving a Google Answer Box important?

To answer this question, we might well ask in return: Why is any organic rank position important?

Rank positions attract search users‘ clicks – also known as “click-throughs” – which are measured in CTR, or Click-Through Rate. A higher rank improves CTR, which increases traffic to your website.

The absolute position of the answer box sits above all other rank positions and is now coined as “Rank zero”.  So what is better than being ranked first in Google search? Being in rank zero.

However, if that is not convincing enough, let’s dive into our data analysis. On average, the Google Answer Box secures an astounding 32.3 percent CTR.

This means that for the given term(s) triggered within your organic footprint, you are either securing approximately 32 percent market share of that volume, or losing it – which makes for a significant opportunity.

Is rank 1 still rank 1 with Google Answer Box present?

Short answer: No. Based on several data analysis across several keyword sets and vertical markets, our team concluded that without an answer box present, organic rank 1 position yields on average about a 25 percent CTR (branded and non-branded have different standard CTR curves).

However, what happens when an Answer Box is present on that same exact keyword? Our data shows on average that when an answer box is present, the average CTR for that same keyword in the same number 1 rank position drops to about an 18 percent CTR.

Looking at the chart below, we can see that without any loss of rank position (maintaining rank 1), the CTR for the six keyword examples declines rapidly when an Answer Box result surfaces into the equation is but not achieved.

Then, once the answer box is achieved, the CTR climbs back up, surpassing the organic rank 1 position to the upper echelon of 30-35 percent. This behavior is represented both in branded and non-branded keyword sets within the SERP.

This confirms that just as important as ranking top organically is to your enterprise SEO campaigns, you cannot overlook the integration of a strong strategy to acquire the answer box triggers.

5 easy steps to develop a Google Answer Box strategy

Of course it does not take much convincing on the importance of this rich featured snippet within Google’s landscape, but how does a brand start developing a sound strategy that can acquire these results?

Instead of just publishing another article about how powerful the Answer Box is, we came up with a simple 5-step strategy that will give brands a better understanding of how to implement a Google Answer Box strategy.

Step 1. The footprint triggers

The first part of this plan is to know and understand which keywords are triggering an Answer Box. Start by pulling the organic footprint of your brand’s domain, which is every organic keyword you are ranking for, regardless of rank position.

Then use a tool (like SEMrush or ALPS) to tell you which keywords are triggering a featured snippet. If you are really curious, you can map these data points across the last year and see how your own organic footprint has grown within the Answer Box landscape. It may just unlock some answers for why you have experienced traffic loss without an apparent cause.

After segmenting out the data for your own footprint, I would recommend doing it for you competitors as well. Everything is public knowledge so no need for guilt or be surprised when they do it to you.

By overlaying their data across yours, you can gain a deeper understanding of your competitive landscape. From there, you can also run a gap analysis to see which keywords within the competitive footprint are triggering the Answer Box that you do not have within yours. We will save this data for quadrant 4 of the prioritization matrix.

Step 2. 2×2 prioritization matrix

The second step is to prioritize and categorize all of this data. In order to do this, I recommend a simple 2×2 matrix.

In order to be considered for Google’s Answer Box, you need the proper authority and relevance. So for the first quadrant, take a look at all the keywords that currently rank in a top 5 organic rank position (authority needed to win a result). This means the web page in market for those keywords already have adequate authority signals.

The second quadrant would be the keywords filtered by highest volume and mixed authority (largest impact to traffic based on volume). What this means is that if you acquire an answer box result for high volume keyword terms, they will drive the most traffic to your website. However with mixed authority signals, you may need to work on building authority to those pages and key terms.

The third quadrant would be the keyword terms that have authority signals from rank 5+, or first page keyword terms and mixed volume. This means you will need to try to boost the rank and relevancy to get a payout.

Lastly, the final quadrant is those keyword triggers from your competitive landscape that we referenced above (new pages, new volume). These are keywords that you do not have any content or an existing rank for, which equates to new opportunity and new volume.

Step 3. A game of jeopardy

Now the fun begins. Having all of these keywords that trigger an answer box is one thing, but more importantly is knowing how and why they create that trigger for Google.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, Google is trying to interpret intent and understand what you are really looking for. So if the answer box is providing an answer, you just need to figure out what the question is. Welcome to Jeopardy!

This is subjective, however, as you also need to try and understand what question(s) Google is trying to answer, and then make sure your website is answering them. This truly is about the user experience.

Step 4. Answer elements – expanding your on-page content

According to Google’s patent that has been filed on Answer Box results, the algorithm is calculating “answer elements” and providing an accumulative score.

To translate this into simple terms, this means that if website A answers the mystery question with a paragraph of text and a direct answer, it receives a score.

If website B answers that same question, also with paragraph text in a direct fashion, however also answers it with expanded elements (tables, charts, graphs, etc.) then website B has answered the question with more answer elements, thus achieving a higher answer element score.

In addition, if website B expands and answers “halo” questions (surrounding or supplementing questions), then it is not only providing more answer elements but a stronger user experience. If it is good for the user it is good for Google.

To help illustrate this, here are a few of the many forms Google has introduced into the answer box where you can see different types of answer elements displayed.

Text Version

Bullet Version

Image Version

Table Version

Step 5. Understanding the role of authority: Do I have to be ranked 1?

How does authority or rank play a role? Can only rank 1 achieve an Answer Box? No.

I have seen up to rank 5 position still acquire the Answer Box within Google’s SERP. As with all SEO, there is a contribution of both authority signals and relevancy that make up the winning answer.

So yes, you will need to have enough topical authority to render your relevant content authoritative, but it does not look like you MUST be ranked in first position to secure the Answer Box result.

It is nice to see Google reward the most relevant result to the Answer Box versus just the large gorilla in the rank 1 position.


Wayne Cichanski is Sr. Director of Search Strategy at iQuanti.


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