Friday, August 18, 2017

How to escape Google’s filter bubble

For some people the personalization of their news apps and other content feeds online is a manual, conscious decision.

They want to be displayed certain topics due to their interests, which is completely understandable. Cut through the noise by making sure that you get given what you want.

For a lot of us, though, while personalization can make the considerable amount of time we spend scrolling through social feeds more entertaining, most of the automated personalization we encounter on a day-to-day basis is not necessarily requested – and is wider spread than one might initially think.

In a Ted talk, Eli Pariser discussed what he called the ‘filter bubble’. For those who have never heard of the filter bubble, it is a similar theory to that of ‘echo chambers’. Essentially, the focus of providing and consuming content that is closely aligned to your preferences results in the creation of a bubble or chamber, restricting your view of the wider picture.

Bubble floating against white background with the Google logo imposed on it.

As our internet ecosystem has evolved, we have shared increasing amounts of personal data with services we use every day, from social networks to search engines. They then use this data to tailor the content they provide us with to what they think will be most appealing, engaging or relevant. Google in particular has gradually increased the extent with which it tailors results to the user with innovations like Hummingbird and RankBrain, the inclusion of social results in search, and semantic search.

To many users this personalization of search results is helpful and convenient, but an increasing number of users are disturbed by the extent to which the sites they encounter are being shaped by forces outside of their control. If you are one of them, you may be wondering: How can you stop this from happening? How do you escape the filter bubble?

In this article, we are going to look at ways in which you can partially escape Google’s filter bubble, as well as how SEOs can penetrate it to make sure their sites are surfaced to as wide an audience as possible.

How do you escape Google’s filter bubble?

Disclaimer: If you want to be completely free of Google’s filter bubble, the only real way is to stop using Google. Know this, though – the rest of your treasured social feeds and news outlets will be no different, and who would want to stop using Google?

Do what you can to hide from the Big G

You can always log out of Gmail, delete your search history/browser cache and use an incognito browser (to prevent a level of browser caching). Again, though, you will not be completely free.

The filter bubble is not just specific to personal activity online; it also takes into personal factors that are not dictated by the individual such as device and location. You are also potentially not free of Google’s own internal bias, shown by their recent fine from the EU.

The outlook appears to be pretty bleak, huh? Well not entirely. Escaping Google’s filter bubble (and to an extent, all other platforms’ bubbles) is less about attempting to erase your internet history or privacy settings, and more about simply being aware of the bubble.

Awareness is critical

Take it upon yourself to find different sources and take an objective view. Let’s face it: echo chambers were around long before Google and Facebook. Newspapers have spent decades reporting the news with their own bias – you only need look at the differences in how The Independent and the Daily Mail provide commentary for the goings on in the world to see this in action.

Depending on how conspiracy theory-led you are, you could argue that this pushing of agendas comes straight from the top at a government level. The point is that the most powerful tool for escaping Google’s filter bubble is one’s own awareness of the situation. If you are researching important information, don’t take everything as gospel and verse. Research, utilize multiple sources, and try to look at the situation objectively.

All of us are culprits, including myself. We use a single news app because it is the easy option, thus our echo chambers are somewhat self-inflicted. That is not to say that we should necessarily start to use Ask Jeeves, Yahoo or DuckDuckGo.

The point is that we should look deeper than the first results, and utilize alternate sources to investigate key topics.

How can SEOs penetrate Google’s filter bubble?

Whichever side of the fence you are when it comes to the personalization of content and its effect on our ability to have complete access to information, the Google filter bubble presents a predicament to SEOs and marketers alike.

Compared with the deeper moral arguments surrounding the Google filter bubble, it may seem somewhat trivial to discuss how SEOs can flog more of their wares via Google. However, the filter bubble has a real impact on both consumers’ lives and companies.

So how as SEOs do we penetrate it?

How specific are target search terms?

We did a test in the office here with three different individuals off two different devices each (mobile with wifi turned off, and laptop), all logged in to their Gmail accounts. We tested both broad and more specific search terms, and were not displayed different results.

This is not to say that the filter bubble does not exist, but it did get us thinking. Pariser’s Ted talk used the example of two individuals searching for ‘Egypt’ and being returned very different results. The issue here? Egypt is an incredibly broad search term and whilst SEOs may look to target ‘broader’ search terms within their strategy, the majority will have a very different view of ‘broad’ when compared with searching for ‘Egypt’.

We would bet that the data would show a less powerful filter as the searches become more and more specific, especially for more traditional transactional search terms harbored by SEOs.

Penetrating the bubble

One of the main issues of the filter bubble for SEOs is that it takes users down a self-fulfilling path: the more you engage with a certain website or topic, the more likely you are to be shown similar information. As such, penetrating the filter bubble is the number one priority.

A constant improvement in your site’s authority will help prevent your website being shut out of people’s filter bubbles, but alternate marketing channels should also be utilized:

Social media

Capitalize on highly shareable content to expand your degrees of separation and drive traffic to your website. You will be competing against each social platform’s own version of the filter bubble, but this is somewhat mitigated by the ability to share content.

Paid search and social

If the bubbles are proving too strong to penetrate, incorporating paid search (Adwords) and social media advertising will give you a foot in the door for new prospective customers.

Email

Direct mail is often shunned by those of us that are dedicated to the Inbound Methodology but is another effective way of driving action from consumers. Use behavioural automation to take your campaigns to the next level and drive action.

Trust in the process

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater here; what we are saying is nothing new. Trusting in the quality of your campaign and ensuring that you diversify the marketing channels that you employ should be part of the agenda regardless of filter bubbles. It might require a revisit of some of your core pillars but this is something that should be completed time to time anyway.

Really understand your buyer personas – these are the individuals who will become customers. Dig deeper into their drivers and satisfy their queries, questions and concerns. As always, value for the user is at the forefront of what we as SEOs should be providing.

Diversity of content and link building – again, no surprises here. Spread the net a little wider and assess how diverse the content is that you are providing. Is it too specific to a certain buyer persona and therefore somewhat neglecting other (also valuable) prospects?

Furthermore, high quality link building can gain you exposure on relevant sites, therefore widening the net further.

Keep people coming back

All of the above is great for your SEO campaign but don’t neglect the need to keep people coming back. The continual improvement of your user experience and a higher percentage of returning visitors will ensure that your users are furthering their own self-fulfilling Google filter bubble prophecy.

Combine this this with a widening diversity of content, and you put your website in a great place to mitigate the effects of the filter bubble.

 

If you enjoyed this article, check out some of our other pieces on similar topics:

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The 15 best Google Chrome extensions for SEO

Google Chrome has taken a dominant position as the world’s favorite desktop browser, with almost 60% market share and rising.

Its central role among Google’s vast suite of digital software and hardware has driven this growth, but users also love how customizable the browser is.

It can be dauntingly customizable, in fact. With tens of thousands of extensions available, finding the few that will aid you on a daily basis is an all-consuming endeavor. In one store, you can find everything from Nicholas Page (an extension that turns any page Nicholas Cage-themed) to a variety of income tax calculators.

Somewhere in between those two extremes, there are hundreds of SEO-themed extensions, some much more useful than others.

There is a little bit of a learning curve to using some SEO Chrome extensions, but once they become habit, they will save plenty of time in the long run.

Therefore, within this list we have distilled this down to the 15 extensions that will simply make you more effective at the core areas of SEO.

Chrome extensions for a quick site review

SimilarWeb

The SimilarWeb extension is a great place to start with a quick site analysis. It provides a broader view of a website beyond just SEO, taking into account all traffic sources. The extension does this by analyzing clickstream data from thousands of internet service providers, SimilarWeb’s own web crawlers, and their clients’ data.

As a result of these calculations, you can get reasonably reliable stats on a brand’s audience demographics, how much they spend on paid media, and which countries their traffic comes from.

All of these factors affect SEO, of course, so this provides invaluable insight when analyzing a brand’s digital presence. The Chrome extension is free, but a paid account does give access to a more complete data set.

MozBar

We couldn’t really have an SEO Chrome extensions list without including MozBar. As an all-in-one tool for a quick SEO site overview, MozBar is still the best on the market. Once a user is logged into their Moz community account (it’s free to sign up, for those that haven’t opened an account), MozBar springs into action on websites and search engine results pages.

It contains an extensive list of analyses, covering technical SEO, on-site content, social media engagement, and backlinks. MozBar can cause sites to load a little more slowly, however, so it’s best to enable it only when you need to assess a website’s SEO metrics.

Impactana

Impactana is a content marketing toolbar that offers the social media analysis you would expect, displaying share counts for each page on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, et al.

Where it stands apart from the competition is in its use of proprietary metrics to calculate the ‘Impact’ and ‘Buzz’ of each piece of content. These metrics incorporate user engagement signals to assess not just whether content has been shared, but whether people have interacted with it too. As such, it makes for a great starting point when analyzing the effectiveness of a competitor’s content marketing campaigns.

Chrome extensions for technical SEO

User agent switcher

In this mobile-first age, we need to make sure we are optimizing for a variety of screen sizes and device types. That’s pretty hard to do with just a desktop to hand, unless you have a user agent switcher downloaded.

This extension will give you the option to view web pages as they would appear on a wide variety of devices and operating systems. It’s an essential extension for developers, but it’s very useful for anyone conducting SEO analysis too.

Scraper

Quite often, we need to pull elements from a range of individual pages or websites for large-scale analysis. There are a few different ways of doing this, such as using IMPORTXML code to pull structured data from websites into Google Sheets or Excel.

The Scraper Chrome extension speeds up this process, using the XPath query language to export HTML data elements from a page, along with similar data from across the website.

It take a little getting used to, but there is a handy step-by-step guide here. Once you get accustomed to how Scraper functions, it saves a lot of time during any technical SEO audits.

META SEO Inspector

If we want to understand how a search engine crawls and indexes our websites (and presumably, we all do), we need to get to grips with metadata. META SEO Inspector goes beyond the narrow, SEO-focused definition of metadata as the ‘meta’ tags defined within the HTML source code.

The extension also facilitates analysis of XFN tags, canonical tags, and various microformats. It is also updated quite regularly to stay abreast of any amendments or additions to Google’s best practice guidelines.

Tag Assistant

This Chrome extension from Google isn’t the most glamorous tool on our list, but it is one of the most useful. Tag Assistant acts as a trouble-shooter, verifying the installation of Google tags such as those used for Google Analytics and Remarketing.

The ability to record sessions and analyze the implementation of tracking tags through user journeys is perhaps Tag Assistant’s main USP. It gives the extension a lot of potential for frequent use, beyond the occasional spot checks to verify if tags are implemented correctly or not.

Page Load Time

As we discussed in a recent article, speed is of the utmost importance as Google continues to prepare its mobile-first index.

Page Load Time helps SEO keep an eye on this essential ranking factor, without being obtrusive in the way that other Chrome Extensions can be. Every time a page loads, it highlights the amount of time it took in seconds.

Users can then click on the extension’s icon to see a breakdown of the elements required to load the page’s content. For quick insights into page speed, it makes for the perfect starting point.

Chrome extensions for on-site content analysis

Page Analytics

Many of the entries on our list focus on assessing competitors, but this Google extension allows you to view data from your Google Analytics account while you browse your website(s). Once a user is logged into GA, they can view metrics from their account in real time by opening the extension.

The metrics available in this snapshot include bounce rate, unique page views, and average time on page. With the increasing prominence of user engagement factors in a RankBrain-driven Google search ecosystem, this extension is a very handy way to keep an eye on how each individual page is performing without visiting the Google Analytics platform.

Keywords Everywhere

Some things never change in SEO. We still need to understand which search queries our target audience uses, but gaining access to accurate search volumes has grown increasingly difficult. The Keywords Everywhere extension doesn’t quite solve this riddle entirely, but it goes some way towards providing a bit of clarity.

By pulling data from Google Keyword Planner, Google Search Console, and UberSuggest, the extension displays approximate search volumes within results pages. From there, SEO professionals can start to consider for which queries they want to optimize their content.

This extension shouldn’t be used in isolation to conduct larger keyword research tasks, but it has enough handy features to make it a worthwhile addition.

Spark Content Optimizer

This extension is ideal for getting different teams to incorporate SEO into their daily routines. Everyone from copywriters to developers can benefit from Spark, a Chrome add-on that scans content to assess how comprehensively it covers a topic and how well it makes use of popular search queries.

This can be a tricky area of SEO, as we want to provide a search engine with clear signals about our content, but also need to tread carefully to avoid stuffing in keywords to the detriment of content quality. Spark provides some hints without being overbearing, making it a worthy addition to any SEO armory.

Chrome extensions for backlink analysis

Link Research Tools

This toolbar from Link Research Tools overlays backlink data as users search and browse. It’s great for getting a quick look at a site’s backlink profile, although it does require a paid account to gain access to some of LRT’s more advanced features.

Much is the same fashion as MozBar, the LRT toolbar overlays backlink data onto search engine results pages too. This is very beneficial for taking a backlink-based look at why particular sites perform well for a keyword.

LinkMiner

LinkMiner is probably the best Chrome extension for identifying broken links. Once activated, it will highlight the number of outbound links on any page, highlighting in green those that are active, and in red those that are broken. It makes for an easy way to share issues with the development team and get links fixed.

Through its integration with a range of indices (including Ahrefs, Majestic, and Moz), it also creates a simple overview of the ratio of inbound to outbound links on each page.

Majestic Backlink Analyzer

Majestic remains one of the heavyweight SEO software packages, and this Chrome extension provides much of its functionality without having to visit a separate URL.

The Backlink Analyzer provides insight into the quantity and quality of backlinks pointing to any page, along with their topical relevance to the source material. Majestic’s index is larger than Moz’s, so this makes it a more robust reference point when conducting backlink analysis. You will require a paid Majestic subscription to avail of these benefits, however.

Buzzmarker

Engaging with influencers can be a fantastic way to gain relevant, authoritative backlinks. Nonetheless, as anyone who has worked in this field will know, the pursuit of those all-important backlinks can bring with it a lot of time-intensive, manual work.

This extension from outreach platform BuzzStream aims to simplify the outreach process. It helps with prospecting, by highlighting key social media metrics on a potential partner’s website. It also makes it easier to bookmark influencers and add them into the main BuzzStream platform.

Once more, this will require a paid BuzzStream account, but if you already have an account, then downloading this extension should be a no-brainer.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Why site speed is as important as ever on the visual web

In 2017 there has been a lot of focus around the impending mobile-first index and serving content through HTTPS. But there have also been two other important unfashionable topics lingering in the shadows: cybersecurity and site speed.

Since 2010, Google have publicly acknowledged that they take into account page load speed and site speed, and with tools like Page Speed Insights (along with a number of other third party solutions) we’ve been able to monitor and analyse our seconds.

However, balancing a quick page load speed and a great user experience hasn’t always been easy. As the internet has become a more and more important part of our daily lives, our online experience has evolved and we (as users) prefer much more visual content.

Big visuals also mean big image files, video files and potentially a lot of JS and CSS to fancy up the written text. This also means that there is more to load, therefore increasing load speed.

The reason that this is becoming more of an issue is because in 2015 mobile traffic overtook desktop traffic in a number of verticals, and mobile users browse everywhere; when they’re on the Wi-Fi at home, at work or using roaming data on the go. Users are noticing slow-loading pages; which means Google have noticed users noticing slow loading pages – and now Facebook has noticed slow-loading pages.

Identifying site speed issues

At the moment, with the noise surrounding mobile responsiveness and HTTPS, a lot of webmasters and development teams are being overwhelmed with changes. It’s also worth remembering that not everyone runs modern stacks or has a clean website; there are still a lot of big websites on legacy platforms.

That being said, there are a number of checks you can carry out that could make a big difference to your page load speed by refactoring your code.

JavaScript Libraries

I’ve encountered a number of websites that run big JavaScript libraries that aren’t used on a lot of pages, but they still have to load on every page.

Making excessive calls to a large amount of unnecessary JavaScript and CSS files slows down the overall page load speed.

You could move all of these code elements towards the end of the code, meaning they are called last. This would only really impact the user if you’re using dynamic phone numbers that change an element through JavaScript, but the flicker is often only a twentieth of a second and minimal.

Image optimization

Images and graphics play a big role in both delivering the message of the content and improving the user experience on a website. Getting rid of images isn’t viable, but compressing their file sizes is.

In some scenarios, the delivery of the images could also be optimized. If your images are quite far down a piece of content, utilize lazy-load solutions or even better, utilize a CDN like Cloudflare or Amazon CloudFront.

System fonts

Another (and slightly less common) solution to improving page load speed is to utilize system fonts.

System fonts are the fonts that come pre-installed on your device. These are great options as they don’t have to be loaded, you simply call the system fonts in your CSS. That being said, choosing a system font can be tricky.

System fonts generally fall into two categories, optimized for screen and optimized for print. The main difference between these fonts is the detail. The only other issue with choosing a system font is that they are really over-exposed.

As every computer and device in the world (near enough) has them, they are not unique; so if typography is important to your brand, use custom fonts. But if Helvetica, Garamond or Seravek will do, use them.

Is AMP really the solution?

I couldn’t go through his whole article without mentioning AMP. AMP allows webmasters to create their slow, heavy pages but essentially serve their content through a new AMP page, that canonicals back to the original slow page.

Accelerated Mobile Pages seems on the surface to be an easy solution, especially for the big content publishers. But it’s not really a solution to the problem, more papering over the cracks.

What made these big sites slow and heavy in the first place is often tied very closely to how they generate revenue, advertising. Big banner adverts, banners spliced into content, overlays, auto play videos in the sidebars (yuck), all there to get your view and edge the website ever closer to another CPM payday.

With AMP, you don’t get to do it to the same extent and will lose out on potential revenue and ad views. How content is formatted is also very controlled, and the fact that Google hosts the content makes it a weird position to put the content publisher in.

Google is obviously willing publishers to utilize AMP and take advantage of the ranking benefits (AMP v non-AMP), but it still an odd situation to be in. A lot of webmasters have migrated to AMP as they manage large web properties that command a lot of traffic, but not because it is a logical business sense to do so, but because they are too afraid not to while their competitors make the move.

AMP is the right move for a number of websites, but I would assess all options first to speed up your website before boarding the AMP ship.

In conclusion

Producing a modern website that works for both SEO and users is not easy. It requires a lot of careful technical planning and development to ensure it contains useful, valuable content; that it’s secure; that it works on mobile; and that it’s fast.

Site speed can often be overlooked as a lesser priority, but it’s an extremely important part of the quartet. There are a number of free ways to test your site speed as well, and a lot of them provide good guidance on how to fix a lot of the issues.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Switching to HTTPS: Is it really worth it?

Ever since Google made the announcement that HTTPS is a ranking signal, there has been a lot of discussion around whether that extra ‘s’ is really worth the hassle.

There are clear benefits to obtaining that sought-after green padlock, but there is also a lot of nervousness around actually making the switch.

The apprehension is understandable; as with any big change to a website, mistakes have the potential to be extremely costly – both to the user experience and to search visibility. Any risk of a drop in rankings has SEOs quivering in their boots.

However, this is not reason enough to avoid the change. There has been an almighty push towards creating a more secure web. There is a pressure for website owners to take responsibility for the security of their sites; those who do will be duly rewarded by Google.

What does HTTPS actually mean?

HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure; not that this will help you understand it any more than you did a few seconds ago.

As Google explains, HTTPS “protects the integrity and confidentiality of data between the user’s computer and site.” This involves three layers of protection: encryption (goodbye eavesdroppers), data integrity (goodbye corrupt data) and authentication (goodbye attacks).

In short, HTTPS is essential for ensuring a safe and secure experience for users of a website. This is of paramount importance in an age where internet security is coming under increasing threats from all angles.

Having said all that, it is worth mentioning that HTTPS does not make your site an impenetrable fortress. Even with the best security in the world, a site can still come under attack.

That’s just an unfortunate reality of our digital age – look at the recent ransomware attacks across the globe. Nevertheless, HTTPS sure does help.

Benefits of HTTPS

First and foremost from an SEO perspective, Google considers site security to be a ranking signal and will favour websites with HTTPS. Although it is currently only a ‘lightweight’ ranking signal and will therefore only affect a very small number of search queries, we expect this to evolve.

Much like the shift towards mobile-friendly websites, which started gaining momentum and then suddenly slapped us in the face with the (albeit underwhelming) #mobilegeddon and mobile-first indexing, it is only a matter of time before secure sites become more of a priority. In addition, we love the theory of marginal gains so every little helps!

The effectiveness of a move to HTTPS will likely be determined by the type of website. For example, ecommerce sites will certainly benefit the most from a switch to HTTPS. Where payment or the exchange of sensitive data is involved, security becomes critical.

Migrating to HTTPS may not yet be as important as high quality content or link-building prowess but it would be foolish to dismiss its importance on these grounds.

There are further benefits, too, in the realm of user experience; visitors will be more trusting of your website and confident in its ability to provide a safe browsing experience for them. Plus, let’s not forget the peace of mind it will bring you knowing that your site is protected with that little ‘s’.

Concerns with HTTPS

But – and there’s always a but. Just the thought of migrating from HTTP to HTTPS is enough to strike fear into those responsible for the move. What if I accidentally block important URLs in robots.txt? What if it slows the speed of my site? What if my web applications aren’t compatible with HTTPS? What if I mess up the redirects and canonical tags? What if the rankings of my site plummet, never to return? What if my website just DISAPPEARS off the face of the digital ecosystem?

These are (mostly) legitimate concerns but they should not stop you. Here at Yellowball, we recently decided to make the move.

We had similar concerns, especially that we might see an initial drop in rankings and weren’t sure how long this would last. But alas, we made sure that those responsible for the move knew exactly what they were doing and we followed the best practices (getting to these shortly).

So, did anything terrible happen? We have seen a slight drop in rankings but these are already climbing back to normal and we expect to see an overall improvement in the long run. So no, nothing bad happened and now we can all relax in the knowledge that the big move is done.

HTTPS migration checklist

Mistakes can be made during a migration, so it’s important that you do your research and ensure the process is handled correctly. If you follow this step-by-step checklist and enlist the help of someone who knows their stuff, you’ll be just fine.

  1. Obtain a security certificate (usually referred to as an SSL certificate). Ensure you choose a high-level security option: Google recommends a 2018-bit key. You can get these certificates from a certificate authority but we recommend buying one from your hosting company, as they will usually help you install it.
  2. Set up redirects to ensure that all of your old HTTP pages redirect to the new HTTPS pages. There may only be one tiny difference of an ‘s’ but this still makes the URLs completely separate. Create a URL map that lists all of the old URLs with their corresponding new ones. If you have been wanting to make any tweaks to your URL structure for a little while then now is the opportune time to do it. Be sure to use permanent 301 redirects (rather than temporary 302 redirects).
  3. Update internal links so that these all point directly to the new HTTPS pages, rather than having to redirect.
  4. Update all other resources including images, downloads and other scripts, as these will all need to point to the correct HTTPS locations too.
  5. Avoid blocking your HTTPS site from crawling using robots.txt and avoid the ‘noindex’ tag.
  6. Reindex your site via Google Search Console and submit your new sitemap. Note that you will have to create a new property, due to the different URL. You cannot just submit to the old property and expect it to work.
  7. Test all is working correctly using this SSL Server test. If there are any technical issues then get in touch with your host or a developer to resolve problems quickly.

This is not a comprehensive list so it is worth enlisting the help of an expert. Remember that you can check the data in your Google Search Console to find out whether there are any URL or crawl errors.

Conclusion

All in all, it is clear to us that the benefits of migrating to HTTPS outweigh the potential pitfalls. Having a secure site will only become increasingly important and there’s every possibility that we will eventually face the HTTPS equivalent of mobilegeddon (securigeddon?).

Having said that, there are times where making the move may not be necessary. For example, if you run a personal blog, get only a small number of website visitors and don’t expect this to increase dramatically in the new few years.

However, if you are expecting to see a rise in traffic, or if you already see high volumes of traffic then our advice is to make the switch.

In short, Google says so. So do it.

Monday, August 14, 2017

How to optimize your content for Q&As

Google is perpetually improving its understanding of natural language. Google Featured Snippets and the rise of voice search optimization has made optimizing your content for question based queries more important than ever.

You may have seen these Featured Snippets pop up in position zero after asking or typing a question in Google’s search bar. The benefit of earning a snippet is now clear to businesses and brands. In fact, Google Featured Snippets have an estimated worth of $3 million dollars, according to snippet research presented by Rob Bucci.

We all know what a snippet is…

How do you get a snippet for your site, product, service, or blog content?

The quick answer: Optimize your content for Q&A’s. However, there are no guarantees – even Google noted that there is no simple way to mark a page for a Featured Snippet:

Google’s Featured Snippet support page explains that, “What’s different with a featured snippet is that it is enhanced to draw user attention on the results page. When we recognize that a query asks a question, we programmatically detect pages that answer the user’s question, and display a top result as a featured snippet in the search results.”

People are searching with more LSI question-based queries to find exactly what they want answers for. Knowing where to find the questions your target audience is asking, and how to answer those questions to help Google choose your content for position zero, is essential.

Let’s take a deeper look into the “HOW” behind Q&A content optimization for your next Featured Snippet.

 

1. Use Google to Your Advantage

Finding the questions searchers want answers for is simpler than you may think. In fact, Google will often provide a nice selection of alternatives when you search a query you think your target audience might use.

Remember this snippet from above? Sometimes, but not always, Google will display a list of “People will also ask” questions for you to draw from.

This is an excellent starting point for your question-based query research. As you click on each of these results, new questions may appear, until Google runs out of that cluster of related question data.

Another way you can use Google to help find appropriate questions around is to look at the LSI keywords at the bottom of SERPs.

You can usually find one or more question queries to investigate there. For instance, clicking on “what is seo and how it works.”

This will return another SERP Google Featured Snippet with even more question based queries.

This takes you even further down the Featured Snippet rabbit hole, allowing you to build a healthy list to use as a foundation for creating ‘snippable’ content.

But Google isn’t your only resource . . .

 

2. Use Other Tools and Platforms

Google is not the only place to find Q&As to optimize content around. There are a few other useful sites and platforms that will assist you in building your question based query list.

Quora

Quora is all about asking and answering questions. You can use this online platform to see what people really want answer for in your niche. It is also extremely easy to use.

First, type in your niche in the search bar . . .

This will take you to your niche’s board.

You will see the number of people following the topic and have more options listed for you to browse questions your target audience may be asking. You can also simply scroll down and get an idea of the latest questions being asked.

Create a database of potential questions on Quora that you can answer on your own website.

BloomBerry

Another useful online platform for finding questions for Q&A content optimization is BloomBerry.

You can use this tool to find questions in your niche, questions people are asking about products that may be similar to yours, as well as questions people are asking about your competitors.

Now that you have a few online spaces to find the questions your audience wants answers for, it is time to begin optimizing your Q&A content marketing initiative.

 

3. Optimize Content Around Popular Question Words

For obvious reasons, you want to begin your content using the question you aim to answer. This tells Google that you are indeed offering up an exceptional answer that is worth a Featured Snippet.

The How, What, Where, When, Who, and Why words need to be in your heading tags. Why? Google likes snippable content easy and concise.

If you are wondering which question keywords you should focus on, those question based queries beginning with “How” and “What” have the highest search volumes.

4. Optimize Content with a FAQ Page

You may have content optimized for Google Featured Snippets, but you simply aren’t getting the position zero results you hoped for. One way you can improve your chances is to improve search with a FAQ page.

Chances are, you are answering key questions your audience wants answers for. By creating a FAQ page with these timely questions can add value to your overall user experience, as well as maximize position zero chances.

Round up the articles that answer question based queries and create a FAQ landing page with outbound links to each of those articles.

Google can also draw snippable content from your FAQ page like this example from Stanford University . . .

And its corresponding Google Featured Snippet . . .

 

5. Snippable On-Page Optimization

If you still haven’t started your snippet campaign quite yet, there are a few important on-page optimization techniques you can easily employ to boost your position zero success.

Heading Tags

When developing your content for a Featured Snippet, begin with headings. Your Question based query should be in an h1 or h2 tag.

Paragraph Tags

Next is your body text under the question based query heading. This text should be in a paragraph (<p>) tag.

Word Count

Research on Google Featured Snippets has found a correlation between word count and position zero. An analysis by SEMrush found that 40 to 50 words is the sweet spot for snippets.

Try Different Formats

Google Featured Snippets come in a variety of formats. There is the traditional paragraph snippet, as well as bulleted snippets, table snippets, numbered snippets, “steps” and “rules” snippets, and even charts and graphs.

Charts and graphs

In the chart above, Brilliance created a simple diamond size chart to show the difference between MM size and Carat weight, which Google picked up the first few rows.

Numbered format

In the example above, Yoas has a number list with simple, short items, and people can click on “More items” to view the rest.

You get the idea. Paragraph snippets are often the easiest, but if you have a great step-by-step article you would like to optimize for Q&A content, give it a try.

 

Are You Ready to Optimize for Position Zero?

Intelligent marketers will start creating a Q&A optimization strategy, given the trend towards natural language processing, voice search, and Google’s quest to bring the world’s knowledge to people’s fingers right from the search results page.

By earning the snippet, you are giving people the information they want right away, which results in them clicking through to learn more and gaining trust over your information. It’s a powerful strategy that all marketers should be bringing into their mix.