Google has become increasingly prone to changing the structure of its search engine results pages (SERPs). This is often at the detriment to search engine optimization (SEO) professionals who are still focused on the traditional 10 organic listings. Although the famous “ten blue links” still play a major role in capturing organic traffic, their influence is diminishing as Google tries new ways of satisfying users’ searches.
Many, if not all, of these new structural changes from Google attempt to provide the information users are searching for directly on the SERPs. This reduces the need for a user to click through to the site, and thus reducing the website’s traffic massively (think, timeanddate.com). But with new SERPs features comes new opportunities for SEO professionals and savvy content marketers.
In this blog, we explain how to extract value from the “People Also Ask” (PAA) section of Google.
PAA sections have exploded in the past 18 months or so, but are still somewhat of a mystery to SEOs. According to Moz, PAAs are now appearing in 79 percent of SERPs, but what are they? These boxes usually, but not always, appear at the top of the search results and offer the user additional information related to their search. They do a pretty good job of providing answers to multiple questions that, in theory, should leave the user more informed about their search.
A search for “how did Alexander the Great conquer Persia” brings up a PAA box, which quite clearly attempts to add to my initial question while providing related information. The information is presented in an accordion fashion on both desktop and mobile to keep the real estate down to a minimum. A quick click will expand the box and display the answer.
We mentioned that PAA boxes usually appear at the top of Google, but this isn’t always the case. Unlike featured snippets which always appear at the top of Google, PAAs can appear in other areas too but they are still generally towards the top of the page.
Why does this matter though? Well for SEOs looking to dominate a funnel, understanding the position of the PAA box may influence your strategy. If it appears right at the top of Google, it’s probably worth optimizing your top of funnel content to appear in a PAA. If the PAA box is further down, then maybe it’s worth writing for a featured snippet or producing some video content.
Google is providing excellent information to marketers here, but in what ways can this information be put to good use?
Tools such as Screaming Frog can be used to scrape and extract the questions that appear. Without an efficient way of extracting these questions to help inform content strategy and structure in a meaningful way, you’ll be spending too much time manually copying and pasting them into a sheet.
Screaming Frog provides a useful guide on how to scrape search features, which is well worth the read, but we’ll summarize things here as well.
Configuration > robots.txt > Settings > Ignore robots.txt
Configuration > User-Agent > Present User Agents > Chrome
Configuration > Speed > Max Threads = 1 > Max URI/s = 0.5
Note: There are generally four initial questions show for a PAA query, with each having a separate XPath syntax.
There you have it. A quick guide to extracting the data, but for a more detailed do check out the full version on Screaming Frog.
The PAA Section of Google generally groups up related questions that can help inform a broader content strategy. In addition to just eyeballing the never-ending questions, tools like Answer The Public can fill in any gaps and be used as queries to generate more related PAAs. With this information, a list of titles and topics can be generated to build out a strategy can, in theory, cover every stage of a sales or education funnel.
PAAs provide SEOs with an excellent opportunity to have their clients content rank highly in SERPs. Most importantly their clients can end up above competitors who rank highly in the organic listings. As PAAs provide the URL along with the answer, it’s quite easy to identify pieces of content that you could improve upon. If you create better quality content then you should begin to position our content into the PAA.
It’s important to identify the types of answers displayed for a PAA. Matching content to keyword intent is obviously always important in SEO, but it is absolutely critical to secure PAA placements.