Let me set the stage for you. It’s September 2016, Rob Bucci of STAT Search Analytics has just taken the stage at MozCon. As unsuspecting attendees, we didn’t quite know what we were in for. What he delivered, in my opinion, was the starting pistol for what has become the featured snippet gold rush.
It was all anyone could talk about during the break, and people were still buzzing about Bucci’s talk days later.
Of course, forward-looking SEOs have known for some time that snippets are a huge, largely untapped opportunity. But having Bucci bash us over the head with his in-depth study on snippets snapped several thousand SEOs out of their reveries. Well, at least, that’s what it did for me.
Since then, I’ve been thinking (read: obsessing) a lot about featured snippets. I’ve been trying to figure out the best tools to use to get more of them. And I’m pumped to say I’ve found one. It’s a free service called AnswerThePublic.
It’s already helped me get results and earn snippets like this one for the question, “What is a business dashboard?”
In this post, I’m going to walk you through my process for snagging featured snippets using AnswerThePublic.
Aside from being a frank and humorous post, Larry Kim’s nine crazy predictions for SEO in 2017 was another important reminder to me that organic search positioning is increasingly reliant on your ability to provide value to the end user.
That is what search is all about, anyway. Query-based learning is such a natural way to learn. That we type terms into Google using short-hand terms is unnatural. Would you walk up to a friend and, devoid of any emotion, say “Chicken Recipes”?
I hope not. Like the fast-growing percentage of voice searches, you’d say something like “What’s a good chicken recipe?” And Google’s RankBrain is preparing for the fact that you’re increasingly more likely to use a search engine to ask real, human questions, such as: “What’s a good chicken recipe that uses lemon and basil and maybe is cooked on the BBQ?”
Optimize for that!
Keyword research is the foundation of good SEO, which is why so many SEOs are depressed that Google seems intent on obscuring keyword data. What do we do!?
The answer, for me at least, is to demote the importance of keyword volume data and focus on the opportunity to answer user queries in a meaningful way. Let’s use search to establish a relationship as opposed to pulling top rank.
That’s why AnswerThePublic is such a valuable tool. The technology is simple. It looks at the auto suggest results from Google and Bing, and automates the capturing of those results (Read in full here). The end result is a one-page report that is full of brilliant insight.
This matters because we’re going to see SEO move away from surgical keyword targeting to topic ownership. Couple this with the advent of RankBrain, voice search, and featured snippets, and you’ve got a compelling argument to optimize for answering questions as opposed to exact match keywords.
AnswerThePublic has become ingrained in my keyword research. It’s the first stop on my journey to understanding the intent behind a particular topic, and the insights are always illuminating. I use AnswerThePublic to complete the following three tasks:
Search queries that start with an interrogative word are much more likely to generate a featured snippet, according to STAT’s snippet research. These types of inquiries offer the best chance for Google to answer your question within the SERP.
When you enter a term into AnswerThePublic, it will show you information for Questions, Prepositions, and Alphabet. Last year I helped our Dev Manager perform some keyword research for a blog he wanted to write on “Hackathons.”
Here’s what I get for results on that search:
Tip: If you don’t feel like contorting your head to read all the questions, you can click the “Data” tab at the top section to see an easy to read table of values.
This question wheel is a gold mine for potential snippets. You can click on questions to go directly to Google search results and see what’s being ranked, and if there’s a snippet on that term. Instead of trying to boil the ocean, we decided to focus in on the “how question” and do a great job of answering “how to run a hackathon.”
Check out the seed for hackathon and you’ll see it’s dominated by hosting hackathons, corporate hackathons, and how to win them. It can be overwhelming at first, but your objective as an SEO isn’t to tackle them all; it’s to succinctly and correctly answer a searcher’s question.
So seeing a giant list of terms is useful for narrowing your topic through exclusion. We made an active effort to avoid certain terms in our research because we wanted to provide value to a specific audience, and didn’t want to get lost in the vast material available for folks participating in popular hackathons.
AnswerThePublic provided great guidance as to what terms are related to running hackathons. Combine this with a bit of audience profiling, and I was able to identify a few questions which would add value to the article:
Based on this research, we decided a step-by-step guide would provide the most value.
I do see SEO as a form of constrained writing; it’s the process of writing content in a way that reflects what people are looking for. If you’re trying to rank for “Chicken Recipes,” you’d be silly to write an article on “fowl dish instructions” even if it satisfies your literary yearnings.
AnswerThePublic lets you see what words people actually use when performing a search. Sometimes it takes a little course correction, like choosing the phrase “run a hackathon” over “launch a hackathon.” Or it can be more substantial like focusing in on “hackathon” vs “hackday.”
The Preposition section gives you the pertinent information you need for understanding what the topic is really about. Remember, prepositions indicate movement or relationships within a sentence. I see this section as getting to the heart of the relationship between your topic and the reader’s intent. Check out the results for the “to” section for “hackathon.”
Your dictionary is a guidepost for what types of terms users expect to see when searching for a particular topic. I don’t see a dictionary as a secondary keyword list that I need to jam into my content. Instead, it offers guidance when I’m thinking about my content and what will be useful to users.
Questions trigger featured snippets at a much higher rate than other terms. AnswerThePublic is a brilliant tool for analyzing the questions that users are actually asking. Now, I’d argue that you can’t just rely on what you see in the AnswerThePublic results. You need to read between the lines and rely on a bit of your SEO intuition.
The results will speak for themselves. With a little bit of on-page SEO and content tweaking, we were able to snag snippets for our piece on Hackathons, and have seen big changes in traffic. Integrating AnswerThePublic into our keyword research has dramatically helped drive results for our scrappy digital marketing team will have. I think, regardless of the size of your team, it can do the same for you.
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