Google’s answer boxes – what’s it all about?

google-answersThis month, we thought we’d turn our attention to the growing prominence of answer boxes which are increasingly turning up on Google’s search pages when you type in a question. And they are also appearing more regularly – in fact an upsurge of 44% according to the Moz.com blog – because we’re using longer strings of words when we’re looking for something online.

Google's search quality evaluation guidelines have recently found their way onto the internet. These are the criteria by which Google’s human website testers judge the quality of a website. Although this leak of information from inside Google HQ doesn’t exactly breach any national security measures, it nevertheless proves a valuable read for those with an interest in maintaining their online presence.

The human touch

As you might know (and we’ve mentioned this before in other blog posts), Google really really likes great website content. Within their guidelines, you stumble across the use of ‘expertise, authority and trust’ (EAT) as part of their methodology for evaluating websites. So we take this to mean that an excellent website must be trustworthy and radiate authority in order to show up in searches.

It’s good to know that Google uses real live humans, and not just robots, to distinguish between what’s good and bad in search results. What the human testers find is then used by Google engineers when they roll out search updates.

Following Google’s Hummingbird search update last year, the number of searches which use longer strings of words – or conversational searches – has increased greatly. Google is now delivering search results by taking the way we’ve changed how we search and giving us answer boxes, as well as articles and knowledge graph search results, as the reply. And what appears on a search page hinges increasingly on having expert quality content.

So what does an answer box look like?

Answer boxes are the framed boxes that appear at the top of the organic search results and are Google’s attempt to answer the question you’ve typed in. To show you how this has grown in significance, it’s worth looking at what this looks like.

Taking the mortgage industry as an example, a relatively typical query such as ‘what is an offset mortgage?’ returns the following result:

As indicated by the red arrow shown above, the content for this answer is taken from the second result on the page. Answers obtained from sites such as which.co.uk and moneysupermarket.com, as on this search results page, are well known as sources for Google's answer box results as they are large and authoritative websites.

Therefore, there is a good chance that the content that explains offset mortgages on the moneysupermarket.com website has positively checked enough boxes on the ‘EAT’ scale to warrant Google using it over and above its usual sources.

The link to the page is included under the definition, and so it’s highly likely that large volumes of organic traffic (i.e. not paid for) will be driven to the website as a result.

The offset mortgage example shown here covers the range of ‘what’ and ‘who’ type of queries that generate answer box results. Of course, most of these queries exist around answers with a base in solid fact, but Google's current focus on understanding the meaning behind searches and how prominently they are displayed means that ever greater importance is placed on high quality content.

If you are a business or a brand that wants to promote itself through your website, then it’s worthwhile considering harnessing the power of providing the answers to those niche search queries within the content of your site. The terminology we’ve demonstrated from the mortgage example is a case in point, but can just as easily be applied across many other sectors.

As always, the way of ensuring that your business moves up Google’s search result pages, is to create expert content on a website that it is trustworthy and authoritative.

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