If you’re regularly in the front end of Google, you’ve probably noticed that more and more often you see the ‘People also ask’ module: about 4 questions and when you click on them you get to see the answer and the source. How does this module work, what is special about it and does it offer opportunities or does it mainly cost you clicks?
PAA a.k.a People Also Ask
The People Also Ask appears more and more in the SERP, do a random search and chances are you will see it. Initially you will often see 3-4 questions and if you click on the down arrow, you will see the answers to the questions.
The more you click, the more you get
Of course, all these questions are very interesting and so I started clicking on them. The more questions I clicked on, the more questions were added. The result after 3-4 clicks, you can see in the following screenshot:
How do you get into People Also Ask?
That’s the big question. I notice that Google regularly shows different queries, but as far as I can manually monitor I do see the same source for the same query each time. So it could be that you are there today, but tomorrow your competitor is. It could also be that you are there for a longer period of time. Most likely Google is selecting you based on relevant content on your website. You don’t have to have structured data on your website and you don’t necessarily have to have a question and answer set up. In fact, later in this article, I’ll show you that Google is perfectly capable of coming up with its own questions for random answers on the net.
If you ask me, I think it comes down to; relevant content that seamlessly connects to possible questions people have in their customer journey and a little bit of luck.
What’s in it for me if I’m in PAA?
I think that depends on the situation; it could be that Google shows you with a crazy question in the People also ask and the user is triggered to click through, looking for more information. It could also be that the user has had enough information and no longer feels the need to click through. In that case, you are missing out on a click.
Does the PAA also provide opportunities?
It can cost you clicks, but it can also bring you something. Remember that the PAA can now often show a minimum of 4 parties where you would otherwise only have seen 1 organic result. So in that sense you suddenly have more chances to get good visibility on important search terms (because that is where you almost always see the PAA).
What my SEO colleague Bas Beijk noticed is that you see relatively often smaller players in this that would normally never be able to rank for such a top keyword. Just look at these screenshots. For the question ‘The best cat food’ you can see how voerwijzer.com ranks with fairly unknown brands such as Celtic and Orijen. Prominent visibility for relatively unknown brands.
Another example. In this one you notice that you see a reasonable small player ranking and not an Aktiesport, Zalando or any of the other parties dominating the SERP.
So it seems that the People also ask can be very interesting for small players to become visible. The question is whether or not they will be clicked through and if not, what that is worth.
What does the PAA mean for SEO?
I still -unfortunately- don’t work for Google and so I can only guess at what this means for SEO, but one possible consequence is of course that SEO will be pushed further and further down. After all, the PAA is often somewhere above the first SEO result or just below it. How many more users will scroll further to click on an SEO result below? How many have had their answer and are done? And how many will scroll back up and click on an ad? I don’t know, but I think it’s worrisome for regular SEO results. Especially at top positions, you may wonder what it’s worth to rank high when there’s such an elaborate module above you with interesting information.
Another consequence is that it may suddenly be possible for small players to become visible in the SERP and thus it offers good opportunities for these players…. Or is that short-lived and will they still be replaced by the big players as soon as they start creating good content?
How we make Google smarter with the PAA
There is still a snag that I need to get off my chest: Google now knows exactly which questions I find relevant when I search for “rollerblades”. In n=1, this is never so impressive, but just imagine how much data is being collected on a huge number of keywords. Google will soon be able to assess which questions people may find immediately interesting when they enter such a keyword. It could mean that on a transactional term like “skate” you will suddenly see more valuable content ranking, perhaps in a different form than a list of websites as we know Google. For example, it may be that Google will start to better visualize certain questions and answers on these types of keywords or show featured snippets just below the ads, putting SEO even more out of the picture.
Google can also make even better connections: people search for rollerblades and then click on questions about losing weight. Follow this on a large scale and you immediately know who to show which ad to. In this case it could be that people searching for rollerblades could also get ads about losing weight more often within Google’s network. After all, Google now knows that people who search for rollerblades may also be significantly more likely to be involved in weight loss. A whole new application of advertising in the See phase it seems to me.
What scared the h*ll out of me
However, there was something that shocked me when I was clicking away. I clicked on the first result and got the following response saying:
Q: Is skating good to loose weight?
A: if you go skating regularly and be a little bit concerned about what you eat, you will see results right away. Did you know that with one hour of skating you already burn up to 600 calories? You will not only loose weight if you go skating regularly but you will also become slimmer and see more muscles.
Because I was curious to see what that page looked like, I clicked through to the shop. I was curious if all the questions were formatted with Structured Data or not and was surprised at what I saw. Namely the following.
What’s remarkable and shocking about this is that I didn’t see a question and answer list anywhere, indeed I didn’t see any questions at all, let alone detect any structured data. So Google found information on this website and came up with a question and an answer themselves. To be fair, they did a pretty good job of matching the question with the answer. They also did not just copy the entire paragraph, but they were selective and took content from two paragraphs. Pretty shocking how well they did that here.
However, Google does not always know how to come up with the right question, as you can see in the following screenshot. I personally don’t think the answer is really a good one, but at the same time: what is a good answer to the question of what is better?
Q: What is better 3 or 4 wheels skeelers?
A: The frames for skeelers with 4 wheels are often longer than the frames for skeelers with 3 wheels. The more frame you have, the more surface you have to push yourself forward. A longer frame means more pressure on the asphalt which enforces you to give more power.
Honestly, I personally think this answer is too technical for the consumer just wanting to know whether 3 or 4 wheels skates are better.
All in all:
- You often see the PAA above the regular SEO results.
- How the content is created is not clear, probably it is about relevance and very good content for the user.
- The more you click, the more you get.
- We see small parties ranking relatively often.
- The question is whether it costs you clicks or gains visibility .
It also tells us something about what Google is doing, how smart Google already is and what a gold mine this could be:
- Google can think up the (right) question for a piece of information itself and turn it into a question-answer model.
- In theory, Google will soon be able to do this for all content on the web, including content of which you have deliberately not created a question-answer model or implemented structured data.
- Google will soon be able to make connections on a large scale (e.g. significant amount of people searching for rollerblades, click on questions about losing weight --> people searching for rollerblades, want to lose weight). This will allow them to serve even better ads (i.e., ads about losing weight).
- Google can use this information to improve the SERP and directly show answers to frequently asked questions in the form of featured snippets, the question is whether this is smart on such transactional terms or that Google will lose revenue.
What the impact of this really is on SEO will of course remain to be seen, but it is clear that expanding the questions will push the other SEO results down even further. In addition, it may be that they now know from me that I do really like going through FAQs and so I get them more often. In that case, it may be that people who “love” FAQs will also see them more often. If many people use them, it may be that Google will soon be able to show even more questions or show the right question. It remains to be seen what that means for CTRs and the SEO billing model. If you as a content marketer have created fantastic content in the hope of attracting traffic, you may be disappointed. Perhaps we are a step closer to the time when we should start to judge SEO on presence in the SERP (reach) instead of clicks or even revenue. The fact is that reach will not be a very popular payment model.
While we’re on the subject of the SERP
Also interesting as a little addition and reflection: when we talk about SEO on top terms and the possibilities that are still there on those terms, take a look at the entire SERP on the word ‘skates’, see the screenshot below. You will probably see that only the number 1 position is still really interesting, if you are not there then in a SERP like this you are really struggling. There are still chances if you happen to be in one of the 4 blocks at the top between Bol, Marktplaats, Trustpilot or Facebook or if you are included in the local results. And then the question arises: how feasible is that number 1 position? I think that for 99% of the website that sell skates, that spot is not feasible. And if you are there: how long do you stay there? How long does it take before the competitor realizes that he has lost his position and starts link building just that little bit harder than you have already done? An untenable battle it seems to me. Is this your daily reality? Then read on about the alternative strategy: horizontal SEO.
By the way, it is striking that in the People also ask module there seems to be room for B-players, my attentive colleague Bas Beijk compared several People also ask modules and saw that Google always took the content of small players and not of the big parties. Have a look around in this module yourself and click on some questions. The question is, of course, how long it will stay that way and how often Google will change sources.