A New Approach to SEO

Fitting in and standing out: How your content can earn page 1 rankings as an Extended Search Element

There is an art and science to SEO and lately the focus has shifted (yet again) towards creating quality content while adhering to the technical guidelines and best practices associated with Search Engine Optimization.

Why do I say “yet again”? Because the adage “content is king” never really went away. In fact, it’s an ever-evolving component of SEO and is one of the known ranking factors alongside links and RankBrain.

Here’s the best part, if you do a really good job creating unique and compelling content, it has the potential to be selected by Google to appear with the source link URL in a type of highlighted box. Known as Extended Search elements, the more common formats that currently exist are Direct Answers, Knowledge Graph, and Twitter Cards.

To illustrate, here’s a breakdown of the content optimization elements alongside the components of technical SEO:

  1. (Content) Make a list of five common questions consumers ask.
  2. (Content) For each one of the questions, provide a succinct, direct answer and, if it’s applicable, include any relevant or related information on the topic.
  3. (SEO) Make sure the direct answer to the question can easily be found by users and search engines on the page. Do this by structuring the page using a numeric list or organizing your text so that the answer is clearly stated within the beginning of your page content (not hidden within an essay of information).
  4. (SEO) Help Google index about your newly optimized pages faster by sharing them on Google+ and by submitting the pages in Search Console via the URL Submit tool.

Now, if you’re thinking I’ve just given you the silver bullet to content and SEO, think again. Don’t get me wrong, these tips are very practical but in my experience, there are no guarantees. Here’s what you need to know about the SEO guidelines and how to take advantage of optimizing content for page 1 rankings.

Pros & Cons of Direct Answers

This has been an area of experimentation for Google since 2011. In the Direct Answer element, the answer to the user’s query is displayed prominently above the organic results. How does your content surface here? Content that answers specific questions which users type into Google is likely to be featured here.

The thorns on this rose are hard to avoid. On the one hand, the answer box presents a prime opportunity to online marketers to generate additional organic traffic because it is literally the first result on the page, positioned above all other results. Period.

On the other hand, since the answer is visibly provided, there’s a chance the user has no need to click the listing (therefore negatively impacting CTR). So how do you make this rose bloom?

example of Google Direct Answer

In the same way that Title Tags and Meta Data are optimized to entice users to click on a listing, the same approach can apply to content that earns a spot in an answer box. You may not be able to directly influence what portion of your text Google will use, but you can help yourself by writing a compelling, valuable, unique and succinct answer.

“People Also Ask” /Related Question Box

There’s also an opportunity for your content to surface as another form of Extended Search integration known as the Related Question Box. A subsequent form of the Direct Answer, these typically appear midway through the desktop SERP as the “People Also Asked” box (shown below):

Example of Google "People Also Asked"

Since Related Questions are more prominent on mobile devices, it’s important for marketers to be able to delineate between mobile and desktop; which device is responsible for driving the majority of organic traffic to my domain? Direct Answers occur more often on desktop searches whereas Smartphones are more likely to surface Related Question boxes to users which means you should be more strategic about optimizing content based on the device type.

Fun fact: According to a Think with Google survey, search is the most used resource. 87% of people turn to their phones and search first.

Content is king—and “quality” is queen

In summary, you have to focus on quality. Valuable content and a superior user experience.  Google has over 200 ranking factors but useful, straightforward answers and comprehensive coverage of a topic facets of the quality factors that can be summed up by the acronym E-A-T (3): Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness.

In the same way that Google publicly deems page speed and mobile friendliness as ranking factors, webmasters can do no wrong making sure their webpages load quickly and function properly on mobile devices because doing so only improves the experience users have when searching on Google. The same is true with the various types of rich answers. One could say the reward for great organic content is earning a spot as an Extended Search element and being able to stand out from a list of blue and green links.

Further References

How to improve your page speed

How to see if your site is mobile friendly

Holly will be a panelist at our October 11 Signature Event discussing Top of the Funnel Awareness Strategies and Technologies. Join us then to hear lots more about SEO and other top-of-the-funnel topics!



About Holly

Holly Miller delivers SEO insights to some of the world’s largest brands as a member of the Searchmetrics Professional Services team. A true SEO lover, Holly draws her enthusiasm for search from a diverse set of professional experiences in online marketing from communications to creative agency work. Paired with her technical SEO expertise, she’s passionate about sharing her unique professional insight to help marketers improve their customer experience through the use of data.