A question (and answer) of ranking higher in Google search
Over the last 12 months I’ve been in front of the better part of 250 businesses, whether that’s been through marketing consultancy, one-to-one mentoring, or group training. During the course of my work, among the questions I’m most frequently asked by business owners and managers is “how can we get to the top of page one of Google?” or “how can we rank higher than our competitors in Google?”
I love this sort of hunger... however – and here’s the paradox – among the countries in the UK, we’re the least likely to google terms like ‘SEO’.
Of course, there will be a number of reasons for this, including a lack of understanding of what ‘SEO’ actually means and its role in “getting to the top of page one of Google” or out-ranking the competition. That’s okay. It’s my job to help businesses understand these things.
Another possible reason is that some businesses may be afraid of all-things SEO. That it’s something only ‘computer geeks’ can do. Even though that’s far from the truth, that’s okay, too. The truth is that basic SEO can be learned and carried out by pretty much any of us and I hope this short article proves that!
But there’s something that bothers me: I don’t like the idea that our interest in the subject is the lowest in the UK. Does this mean that we care less about performing well in Google search than businesses in England, Scotland or Wales do? Or, for that matter, the Republic of Ireland? If that’s true (and I really do hope it’s not), that can’t be okay, can it?
Anyway, back to those frequently asked questions:
“How can we get to the top of page one of Google?”
“How can we rank higher than our competitors in Google?”
First thing: beware of anyone who “guarantees” to get you to the top of page one of Google!
More often than not this is over-promising and under-delivering.
Of course, there are ways you can improve how you rank in Google search… maybe even get to the top of page one. And the good news is you can do much of it yourself. (Really!)
One of the biggest things you can do is providing a great answer to a potential customer’s search query. The better you can do this, the happier Google will be. And the happier Google is, well, as they say, “you do the Math…!”
This short article will show you one way you can rank above anyone else just by giving the best answer to the googler’s question.
Okay, here we go…
Here, I’ve googled the question “how often should a fire risk assessment be carried out in Northern Ireland?”.
That very nice box at the top of the search results is known as a ‘featured snippet’ (also know as an ‘answer box’ or ‘Position Zero’). This answer appears at the very top of the results page, ahead of everything else (hence the name ‘Position Zero’).
This example, by the way, comes from my work with local fire safety consultancy, Fire Risk Assessments NI
So, what’s happening here?
Simple. I’ve asked a straightforward question and Google has determined that the best answer to that question can be found within Fire Risk Assessment NI’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page.
In this case, the featured snippet is a paragraph, but they can also be lists, tables or video.
It’ll come as little surprise that this sort of Google result enjoys a high click-thru rate. A proof-point of this comes from Hubspot who found that they got twice the click-thrus when they appeared as a featured snippet.
So, a very good thing then.
How might we appear as a featured snippet?
It all begins with research.
Normally, when we think of keyword research, we think of Google’s Keyword Planner. While there’s always a place for the Keyword Planner, when it comes to understanding the sorts of questions people are googling, we can use some other tools.
The first of these is answerthepublic.com
Using our ‘fire risk assessment’ example, here’s what answerthepublic.com looks like…
And here’s a sample of the sorts of results it generates…
All these results are pulled in from Google Suggest (and, it has been suggested, from Bing).
By and large, the darker the green dot, the more popular the term in search.
Needless to say, the questions produced in the result greatly informed the content for the FAQs page of the business’s new website.
We’ve already seen how that was a good call!
Because it’s summer, let’s try using answerthepublic.com for some sunshine stuff.
Think how useful this would be if we were writing content for a sunglasses shop’s website!
Next, ‘spray tan’…
Again, think how valuable this would be if we were writing content for a tanning salon’s website.
So, by using these basic terms we can quickly and easily see the sorts of questions people are searching for so as to allow us to write the sort of answer content that can appear as that coveted featured snippet; for example…
You can have up to three free searches per day on answerthepublic.com. Once you hit your daily limit, you need to wait until the next day. (Of course, you could go with their Pro version but my focus here is on free!)
Another good way to see what sort of questions people are googling is through the use of question-and-answer sites, such as Quora
To search Quora for questions relating to any subject, we could do what’s known as a site search. All this means is putting site: directly in front of the domain, i.e. site:quora.com
We can then refine this with our subject – in this case, ‘spray tan’ so that it now looks like this:
site:quora.com spray tan
Here are the sorts of results this gives us…
Alongside our answerthepublic.com results, we can get a very clear sense of what people are searching for… and, therefore, the sort of answer content we can create for our websites.
And, staying with our summer theme, one more example…
In this example, I’ve also highlighted the ‘People also ask’ results – this is another great place to look for the sorts of things people are searching for.
Before we move on, there’s one other very important – often overlooked – place we can learn the sorts of questions people are asking: our own people.
For example, think about a car showroom – nobody knows the sorts of questions customers are asking better than the team on the showroom floor!
Once you’ve done your questions research, the next thing is to try searching for them in Google. This way you can see if the featured snippet space has already been ‘taken’. If it has, that doesn’t mean you can’t take that place with a better answer!
Once you’ve decided on which questions you can answer best, the next thing is to review your existing website content to see where it can be refined in line with the research you’ve carried out.
If your content doesn’t answer the sorts of questions people are asking, you might want to think about adding a FAQs page to your site. This is what we decided on for the new Fire Risk Assessments NI site…
The next thing is to write your answer content. Here are some tips to help you get going…
- Include the question (e.g. How often should a fire risk assessment be carried out?)
- Keep your answer short and sweet. A number of sources suggest around 50 words. Research by SEMrush showed that the most common length of content in featured snippets is between 40-50 words.
- Try to write conversationally.
- As well as your answer content, you should also make use of meta-tags, i.e. page title-tags and H1 tags. For example:
<title>How To Tie a Tie</title> (title-tag)
<h1>How to Tie a Windsor Knot</h1> (H1 tag)
This is well explained by Noisy Little Monkey over at https://www.noisylittlemonkey.com/blog/how-to-get-a-google-answer-box-in-5-simple-steps
A note about voice search
There is one other benefit of featured snippets we should mention: the potential value in voice search. According to the Voice Search Ranking Report by digital agency ROAST, up to 80% of answers on Google Home devices are drawn from these snippets in response to voice queries. https://econsultancy.com/5-ways-optimise-content-voice-2019/
Give it a go!
I’m not guaranteeing that you’ll get a featured snippet, but what I can confidently say is that, with the little time investment I'm suggesting in this article, your website content will be a whole lot better than it was before, and that can only be a good thing.
I genuinely hope that I’ve proved how easy it can be to make a positive difference.
I also hope I’ve got you interested in discovering what else you can do to improve how visible you are online.
This is just a flavour for the sorts of things we’ll be covering in a workshop in Belfast on 19th September. Just like what we’ve seen here, the day will be packed with things you can do yourself to help your business rank higher in Google search.
Find out more and book your place over at:
Thanks for reading.
About the author
Damian Donnelly, Principal at Ad_Man Creative Marketing is an award-winning advertising, marketing and communications professional with some 27 years’ experience in the business. During this time he has worked with everybody from senior government officials and marketing managers for international brands, to owners of start-ups and micro-businesses… and everybody in between.
He has designed and delivered 1000s of hours of marketing, digital marketing and social media consultancy, training, coaching and mentoring to 100s of businesses and organisations (public, private and community/voluntary sectors) across Ireland, both face-to-face and through seminars, workshops and keynote talks.
He also develops and delivers master-classes and workshops on a range of digital marketing subjects, including social media, copywriting, Search Engine Optimisation, digital marketing planning, content marketing, and web and social media analytics and listening.
He holds a CAM Chartered Institute of Marketing Diploma in Digital Marketing and is an Enterprise Northern Ireland Premier Adviser.
Damian Donnelly, Ad_Man Creative Marketing, Belfast, Northern Ireland
To enable comments sign up for a Disqus account and enter your Disqus shortname in the Articulate node settings.