What Are Google's People Also Ask Boxes and How to Use Them for SEO

“How do I factory reset my Samsung Galaxy S8.”

That is what I Google’d just this morning as I prepared to trade in my old device for a shiny new Samsung Note9. I had never done a trade in before, as no device prior to my current one had ever been top of the line enough to warrant it. I have also never had technical issues requiring anything as final as a factory reset.

In other words, I had no idea what I was doing.

As per Google’s featured snippets, I was immediately given the steps listed in bullet form. Under that were a number of similar (or identical) questions. When I expanded one to see if there was an alternative method to a hard reset within the settings, it opened up another group of optional questions. Then from there another set, each new one related more closely to the last expanded query…

 

 

For those who don’t know the official name of this Google SERP section, it is People Also Ask, another form of featured snippet that first rolled out in 2015.

A Growing Metric

GetStat decided to look into their own results when it came to People Also Ask (or PAA’s, as they call them). They found that the use of these featured snippets has been consistently growing, even within their limited scope of research.

In 2016, for example, they got 364 pages with PAA’s, while in 2017 that number increased to 574.  These are spread between both desktop and mobile platforms.

What does this mean? That the SERP tool is expanding and has done so even more in 2018. How often do you get results anymore without PAA’s? Which brings us to our most important question:

In what ways can People Also Ask results improve our SEO strategies?

Understanding The Multiplying Nature of People Also Ask

I mentioned above the way that People Also Ask will create new questions to answer based on whether or not you are responding to a different (even slightly different) topic. You may not have known it will do that, even if you had become aware of the basic feature itself.

For example, if I search for “Is brown rice healthy?” I get my first five People Also Ask. If I click on “Is brown rice a bad carb“, then close it or scroll down, two new PAA’s generate at the bottom.

The main thing here is that the new questions that popped up will somehow relate to “bad” concepts in the question you chose to click.

Is brown rice a bad carb? ->

  • Why brown rice is not good for you?
  • What are the side effects of brown rice?

Now, if you click “Is brown rice good for you when trying to lose weight?“, Google will suggest more questions, this time somehow relating to losing weight:

Is brown rice good for you when trying to lose weight? ->

  • Can I eat brown rice every day to lose weight?
  • Is brown rice good for losing weight

Going one more layer, if we expand on the last of those queries, we get a new layer that doesn’t even include [brown rice] – our initial query – in them any more. Those will be extension of “weight loss” and “dieting” topics:

  • What foods help burn belly fat?

People Also Ask help us understand Google’s thinking and how it interprets related concepts and follow-up questions.

 

 

So we have reasons to like the People Also Ask. It is creating an auto generating list of results, above the line of usual results, which may just include one or more of your own pages.

People Also Ask Results Keep a User Playing with SERPs FOREVER

I have known about People Also Ask since they first started to appear but didn’t understand their power until about a year ago. Brittney Muller on Moz had done her own experiment – she calls it an obsession – with People Also Ask and found that not only are they “infinite”, they are live.

In other words, all of the results you are seeing are highly relevant search results that are happening right now and latch onto those patterns. Your content is going to be put to the test as it is gaining traction, not once it has hit a certain level.

 

 

Why does Google want people to spend more time on individual SERPs (instead of looking at several)? Could they charge more for advertisements on SERPs with these sticky, expansive PAAs? Might they eventually start putting ads in PAAs?

Authority Pays

The biggest way that you are going to get the most out of these snippets is by having (and building) authority. Each presented page is from a source that has proven itself to have the traffic clout and reliability of a major site.

Going back to my original rice searches, for example, we have pages from Health.com, Lifehacker, SF Gate and other high authority domains that are immediately recognizable to most of us.

But here is the thing: these help you to build authority, too. So while you will have to start out with some level of prestige (not the highest, don’t worry), you are going to see your authority growing with each People Also Ask. Especially if the quality is high and the content you write is

Answer Those Questions in Your Content

What have you noticed about the People Also Ask you use? For one thing, they are well written. But more that just being a high quality type of information, it is to the point and condensed.

In order for Google to use a snippet of your content as an answer to a question, it has to know you are answering it succinctly and efficiently.

That part of the text should be set apart, preceded by the question wrapped in a H2 / H3 tags, and clear enough for the search engine to locate the response.

Greater details have their place but it is for clicking on the link. For instance, my very first example when I was searching for a factory reset did not have the Settings option I was looking for. Searching more, I found it but it only had part of the instructions. I waited until I found the one that showed it could answer my specific question then I clicked on the link and visited the page.

See how that works? We all want organic traffic and that is one great way to get it.

To Schema Or Not to Schema?

This is one area I haven’t been able to find a clear answer on, in my own studies or others. Do we need a Schema code in order to rank in a People Also Ask box? No, we don’t need one because I have personally gotten many People Also Ask boxes on pages without them.

But could it help your chances? Again, I don’t know. I have tried running them on some pages and not on others I was targeting for rich snippets, both types ended up with People Also Ask and I saw no specific indication that either was more likely than the other.

Google has been experimenting with showing answers based on structured data which shows they are looking at structured data to better understand Q&A and FAQ content types.

It’s too early to tell which impact structured data may have when applied to question-and-answer content but it will definitely never hurt. Consider adding structured markup (when applicable). It helps Google better understand your pages and can get your site featured in more of Google experiments:

 

 

That being said, it can at least help with other SERP potential, so I say use a Schema code. Check out this infographic for instructions, or check out these generators that will give you free Schema codes to use.