Google’s ‘People Also Ask’ (PAA) Boxes: Research, Analytics and SEO Opportunities

Google’s ‘People Also Ask’ (PAA) Boxes: Research, Analytics and SEO Opportunities

In 2015, the appearance of the Google People Аlso Аsk (PAA) has changed the search result page structure. This has become a new challenge for SEO-specialists. The standard criteria for an appearance at the top of the search, as well as the expected traffic level, have both had to be reconsidered. Knowing the principle by which the People Also Ask block works and it’s potential, it’s possible to greatly expand the ways in which organic traffic is attracted. 

What is People Also Ask?

The first conversations about PAA began in April of 2015 when Google released a new function on a trial basis. The search result page, apart from using the standard list of links, showed users a box with similar questions. The search engine showed different options, with the help of which users could find the necessary information, and suggested they access suitable websites.

 

 

Three months later, a Google representative confirmed that the box would have an alternative name, also known as Related Questions. This feature is becoming increasingly more functional and is cementing itself as an interface element of SERP.

 

 

In a short time, PAA/Related Questions picked up momentum, and, based on the data of MOZ, in less than five months demonstrated growth in search result presence by 501%. By December 2015, PAA, People Also Ask, had spread to represent 8.1% of search results about commercial queries.

 

MOZ

Gradually, Google refined the functionality of PAA, increasing its volume of presence in the process. The page became more dynamic and allowed users to quickly go through variations of the question, widening the scope of the search. When clicking on the box next to the Google People Also Ask question, one can see a short-form answer and an appropriate link to the recommended page:

 

 

At the end of 2016, SEO specialists began to increasingly pay attention to the new Google box and to attempt to evaluate its potential. Soon, within the professional sphere, conversations started about the so-called SERP black hole, meaning the widening of the search scope through PAA. The number of question variations and links suggested by the system sometimes reaches hundreds. Typically they are off-topic with respect to the initial search query. 

 

 

In February 2017, a research study conducted by an agency STAT demonstrated a growth in the PAA box presence of 57%. It was present in 32% of search results. Also, the number of questions in the PAA box grew; on average, one search result generated four related questions.

 

STAT

In 2018, questions generated by the feature were present in 50% of search results.  Today, PAA is applied to 85% of user queries. Given this expansion, it is important to understand how to use this tool in the framework of an SEO strategy.

People Also Ask vs Featured Snippets

At first glance these functions of Google are similar. But on closer inspection, differences become evident:

  1. Location in SERP.
  2. Ranking factors.
  3. Impact on traffic.

The objective of both features is to simplify the process of information search, to help users navigate the virtual environment. However, the format and mechanics of the search differ significantly.

The search function of Feature Snippets allows for a short-form answer to a search query. It is displayed at the top of SERP, in position zero. The greatest likelihood of appearing among this premium range of pages have those that are among the top 10 of search results:

 

 

In order to come in sight of the feature, one needs to analyze keywords and phrases which allow strengthening content. The most effective way to do this is to study the websites of your competitors that occupy a favorable position. In order to determine their snippets, one should use an analytical service, such as the resource offered by Semrush.com.

 

 

 

You can see the website statistics and organic keywords, in particular, those that allow them to occupy position zero. Applying this to optimize content, you can significantly improve your rating.

The Basic Parameters Which Are Influenced by Features Snippet:

  1. Position in SERP.
  2. Brand awareness and information spread.
  3. Greater number of clicks.

In the top position zero, only one website can be located and this can strongly impact the rating of the competition. Occupying the best position, this site can not only attract users but harm the clickability factor of your competitors. SEO consultant – Marcus Miller – gave an example of how the traffic of a website, which had occupied the #1 position in the search result, decreased by two after a Featured Snippet was located above it. After a while, the snippet disappeared and the rating became even.

 

 

In order to obtain a comprehensive picture, it is important to not only ensure the top position but to analyze traffic indicators. These indicators can be adversely impacted by the appearance of Featured Snippets in search results.

The main feature of People Also Ask is its dynamism and the quickness of the display of large volumes of information, while simultaneously widening the scope of search results. At the same time, the number of questions in the box can fluctuate from a few variations on the search topic to a very long list.

The Main Features of РАА:

  1. It can be displayed in different SERP positions. Depending on the specific theme of the search query, it can include advertising pages, photos, videos, and PPC-segments. It is vital to take this element into account, especially when it comes to the presence on the small screen of a mobile phone.
  2. It is capable of widening the volume of output up to hundreds of pages. The questions displayed are often duplicated. This can increase the likelihood that the user will pay attention to the page which is replicated.
  3. It can produce a link to a video in search results. Normally this happens when the search query has to do with action and begins with such words as “how,” ”why,” “where,” and so on. This ability of Google People Also Ask should be considered when optimizing corresponding content and video materials for YouTube. 
  4. РАА questions can be synchronized with Featured Snippets. The same formulation can be applied to different keywords. Depending on the context, the search results can differ essentially. 

The example below demonstrates the simultaneous production of Featured Snippets and PAA: 

 

 

As of today, the presence of PAA in search results is estimated to stand at 84-85%. Featured Snippets make up 12%, however, it is they that guarantee consistent traffic growth and considerable CTR volume. Having said that, according to forecasts  in 2020 over 70 million households in the US will be using voice assistants Google Home or Amazon Alexa.

For these services, the most relevant function is the widening of the search results of PAA. Understanding the specific algorithms of PAA can help you utilize this tool and increase the effectiveness of your SEO strategy.

What Can Result In PAA for SEO

The first and the most obvious benefit which PAA can bring to SEO is the ability to optimize content. Studying popular queries that accompany search results can help you choose the most relevant and useful keywords. Furthermore, attention should be paid to those answers that Google selects for PAA, to understand the style and format of the information displayed and that the search engine favors.

Undoubtedly, PAA does not appear as effective as Featured Snippets that place the page at the very top of SERP, circumnavigating top search result positions and obtaining up to 30% of their CTP. However, according to the opinion of  a number of professionals, analysis of PAA is needed to comprehensively evaluate organic traffic and CTR. This can help you understand what elements are influencing search results in your specific case. Moreover, you will be able to determine what advertising pages are using your keywords, drawing away traffic.

Another benefit is the ability to track indirect competitors. Due to a variety of reasons, some pages may not show up at the top of search results, but may still be displayed in the PAA box, which increases their presence within SERP.

Unique Functions of People also Ask

One of the first attempts to understand the algorithm of PAA was the research carried out by an agency STAT. Having studied search results, they noted frequent iterations of questions and multiple uses of keywords. 

To determine what principle guides keyword ranking and formulation was not possible. But it appeared as though the algorithm’s goal was to better understand the search query of the user. That, in turn, may lead to the user spending a great deal of time on the search results page, and possibly, responding to an ad.

When tracking the arrangement of URL addresses, it became clear that to answer different questions that fall within the same theme, PAA frequently produced a link to the same resource. This means that having appeared in the Google People Also Ask box once, you can quickly and cheaply secure your presence in search results in the long-run.

There have been instances of the reverse situation when the same URL address was presented for different questions. This is a rare case, characteristic of authoritative websites and popular platforms. In the Getstat study, such a position was frequently occupied by Wikipedia.

In 2018, the SEO research director of the SEO by the Sea agency, Bill Slawski, also became interested in the principles and algorithms of PAA. He conducted a study, attempting to find the consistency of factors of output in PAA. As a result, he found a Google patentGenerating Related Questions for Search Queries”, which, in part, described how the PAA box is assembled. Google views and analyzes the received query, upon which it formulates one or multiple themes selected from previous queries that are stored in the database of the system.

The selection process of formulating Related Questions consists of multiple stages:

  1. Identification of corresponding search queries and search results. 
  2. Ranking of search queries based on the number of user inquiries and sorting of resources based on how often users selected them as answers.  
  3. The most highly-rated queries are placed in Related Questions according to the hierarchy that is based on their frequency. 

When formulating a base of queries, Google, first and foremost, focuses on question-type formulations. Words such as “how,” “why,” “where”. Another factor of arrangement can be the frequency of word repetition. The themes of related questions come not only from search results but also from sites that follow the “question-answer” format.

The Following Indicators Influence the Presence Within PAA:

  1. The quality of the answer that offers site source, the presence of keywords and corresponding meaning and theme of the search.
  2. The result of the ranking of search results to the query.
  3. Answer length, information volume and the number of symbols. Preference is given to brief formulations that give comprehensive answers. Expansive answers also give an opportunity for keyword inclusion.

To illustrate the algorithm of Related Question formulation, Google creates infographics:

 

 

On the search page (100) results of the search query are displayed (102). This page demonstrates two results (104 and 106), they are generated through standard search methods. In the process of search, each of the resources, including the names of pages (110 and 120) and text fragments (112 and 122), are identified with the query. Related Questions (108) are also generated by the system in response to the query (102).

When assembling Related Questions (108) the search engine identifies the initial query (102) and formulates the heading (130). Based on the search results (104 and 106), it also identifies with the query, upon which questions for PAA are compiled.

 

 

This image shows the search scheme and information arrangement. Users use the tool 204 to send queries into the search engine 214. Also, they can send the query directly through the network 212. The search engine 230 identifies resources through the search system 214, which includes the index base 222 and ranking engine 252, using the questions database 250. Following this, generated results are provided to the user in the form of output on SERP.

How to Make It into People Also Ask/Related Questions?

Given the high level of PAA presence (85%) on the search results page, the question is how to use it as an SEO tool. Even though there are no clear recommendations or algorithms, most experts agree that the PAA sector can influence site traffic and rating.

Most queries in PAA are formulated with the help of wide-scope snippets, such presence can significantly increase your chances of making it into the Related Questions. The most effective way is to simultaneously embrace both: the capabilities of Featured Snippets and PAA. But those who have been not only unable to master Featured Snippets but have had trouble making it into the top 10 of search results should try to come in sight of PAA algorithms. 

Let us examine the most basic tools that can help you make it into the РАА:

  • Clear and useful website structure, which structures content logically:

Schema.org platform was developed in 2011 with the help of the top search engines: Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Yandex. It allows for the creation of optimal strategies of systematic marking of the Internet environment. This gives advantages when it comes to the ranking and evaluation of the search system.

  • A clear and simple formulation of phrases, using the “question-answer” mold.

When creating content, use clear and simple language, concisely formulating phrases. They should include 5W questions: who, what, when, where, or why. These are the questions the search engine responds to most favorably.

  • Use popular search engine categories.

Monitorbacklinks’s recommends using common characteristics of products, services, and commodities, avoiding specifics. This will connect content with analogous queries in the search engine and insert it into the system’s base of search queries.

  • Increase content quality, aiming for expertise.

Content quality is one of the most determinative factors as to whether or not you will make it into the PAA. The most common links which are generated by Google are authoritative sites, official and expert platforms. Pay attention to your text, images, and video. As noted by Bill Slawski, recently, Google has been often using graphic images when generating People Also Ask results.

  • Use popular questions as titles, headings, and lists on the website.

In order to find the most optimal option, you should use the service of key phrases and questions selection. For example, the Semrush.com application Keyword Magic Tool: Find Question Keywords generates questions while taking keywords and analysis of Google search results into account.

 

 

Like many other Google systems of search optimization, PAA is, on the one hand, opening new opportunities for users and SEO professionals. On the other hand, it increases the level of requirements with regard to content quality, relevance, availability, and usefulness. You should not expect that PAA/Related Questions will become the main tool of SEO promotion. But you should take it into consideration at the planning stage, within the framework of analytic researches, as well as to effectively adjust the SEO strategy and evaluate its results.

 

Author

Leila Bergman Leila Bergman

SeoQuake content manager

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