How to Fight for Direct Answers in Google's Featured Snippets

Have you recently searched for the time zones in Russia, a mortgage calculator or the Chicago Cubs baseball roster? If not, go ahead - your search results may surprise you! Google first started providing direct answers like these in May 2012. Over the years, the number of these featured snippets provided by the search engine has grown exponentially, with around 20 percent of all searches now yielding a direct answer.

Google Direct Answer

While direct answers may provide a better user experience, the growth of direct answers also has many companies worried their search traffic will suffer. After all, if a user can get an answer quickly without clicking a button, why would they?

Direct Answers: The Good

There is some good news about these featured snippets! Glassdoor recently found appearing in a direct answer box led to more traffic than previously when they ranked No. 1 for the same search query. If the findings hold strong for other brands and searches, appearing in a direct answers with a link could be more valuable than any other real estate on a SERP.

Direct Answers: The Bad

In addition to giving prime real estate to one brand, direct answers push down the rest of the results. In fact, some searches do not show standard organic results above the fold at all due to crowding from direct answers, advertisements and entity panels (see photo below). This means sites that are not appearing in the direct answer or first few standard organic results will likely see a sizable dip in organic traffic.

Understanding Google SERP results

Direct Answers: The Ugly

Right now, some of the direct answers provided by Google still include a link back to the source, but not all. If your site provides a lot of general, bite-sized information, you are likely going to see a hefty decrease in organic traffic. Any answer that is considered "common knowledge" will not include a link or source. Answers to questions like weather, celebrities, song lyrics and measurement conversions will be taken care of by Google.

Google Direct Answers 

How Can My Brand Win?

The changing landscape of Google's SERP will likely affect brands both large and small. So how can high-quality sites still take capture organic search traffic?

Become the Direct Answer

As the saying goes, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!" SEOs can see direct answers as an opportunity to gain prime real estate on Google. Some ways to optimize your content to increase your chances include:

  • Continue doing basic SEO well and avoid unhelpful markups.
  • Research direct answers you want to own and mirror the structure and format on your page.
  • Determine what specific questions people are asking, and then use clear language to answer them.
  • Use exhaustive lists. If you win a direct answer, Google will not be able to show all of the steps or bullets, so it will encourage link clicks.

How to Make Videos Rank in Search

Another way brands can help drive traffic to their site is through the use of video. Not only can brands take advantage of YouTube and other social sites like Vine and Instagram, but they can also optimize video content to appear in search results.

Google has pulled video content into search results for quite some time, but more recently the search engine has also started feeding videos into direct answers boxes. For example, if you search "how to make a fishtail loom" the direct answer provided by Google in an instructional video on how to create the bracelet.

Optimize Video for Google Direct Answer Organic Search

Some tips to optimize your video content for search include:
  • Create videos with the intent of answering questions and providing instruction.
  • Do keyword research around the topic to see the natural language being used.
  • Incorporate this language into your video so it is reflected well when you transcribe it.
  • Take advantage of the video title, video description, and even the blog copy that surrounds the video on your own site.
  • Transcribe your video to give search engines a better idea of your video's context.
  • Tweak your title slightly on each platform you share it on to avoid cannibalization of your SEO efforts.

Optimizing Photos for Search Engine Marketing

With the rise of image-based social platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, more and more users are turning to image-based searches. Hubspot was among one of the first marketing company to take notice of this trend and recently performed a test to see if they could optimize an image of a female CEO to get into the top 100 images.

The results are still coming in, but there were several key pieces of advice provided in their post to optimize your  for search, including:

1. Include Keywords/Entities in the File Name.

Before adding your image to your CMS, change the name of the file to a phrase that reflects not only what you are trying to rank for, but really describes the image. By leaving the title as image[1].jpg, you are losing out on an easy opportunity to tell Google what your image and surrounding text is all about.

Google also uses the file name in the image search snippet in most cases, so make your file name descriptive. Instead of blue-compass.jpg, we can use blue-compass-digital-marketing-iowa.jpg.

2. Add an Alt Tag

Alt tags are another simple way to let your reader, and Google, know what the image is all about. This is important for users if a page doesn't load completely or is being viewed on a screen reader. Be brief with your description (no more than 100 words), and make sure it is relevant to the image, not just the keywords you want to rank for.

3. Optimize Anchor Text

Although you can't control the anchor text other sites use to link to your pages or images, you can make sure the ones on your own site are optimized. Avoid linking words like "click here" or "learn more" and instead link from words that improve the content or description of where the user is headed.

Poor Use of Anchor Text: Click here to learn more about photo optimization.

Optimized Use of Anchor Text: Click here to view more information about photo optimization.

4. Use the Content to Provide Context

The page your image is posted to should be supported by the content on the page, and vice versa! When possible, place the photo near header tags and words that relate to the image, and reference the image when it makes sense. Add a caption to the image if it adds to the image or is important for explanation of the image.

5. Metadata Today for a Better Tomorrow

Although Google recently said it doesn't use metadata, or EXIF data, for search rankings, it could in the future. Apply EXIF (exchangeable image file format) only to images that are original to your brand, not to stock photos. You can apply EXIF data to images in Photoshop or using a tool like ExifTool.

6. Consider Image Size

Because speed and usability are ranking factors, make sure your images are the right size and format. If you only need a 300 pixel image, crop it prior to loading it to your site. You can also use save your photos for web in Photoshop and most other editing software.

If you are confused or unsure what to use, here is a helpful chart provided by Google's image optimization page.

optimize images for search Google's format

Have more questions about how direct answers and changing search results will affect your brand? The Digital Marketing Team at Blue Interactive is here to assist! Contact us today with any questions or concerns you have and to see how our SEO, SEM and social services can help continue driving quality traffic to your site.


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Drew Harden
Drew Harden

CEO and Co-Founder of Blue Compass, Drew Harden has grown and guided the company from a two-person startup in 2007 to one of the Midwest's leading digital marketing companies today. He's a published author, has been cited by PR News and USA Today, and has led web projects that have been honored by organizations like Adobe and American Design Awards.