Owning the Google Answer Box: Can you usurp your competitors?

Sometimes, when the SERPs gets so crowded with features and ads, the only way to stand out from the crowd is with a Google Answer Box. But is it game over once your competitor owns that real estate?

Here’s a screenshot from my Macbook for a recent search for a pair of chinos.

An example of the Google Answer Box for the query: ‘What are the best chinos for men?’

Google Answer Box above the fold for search term: what are the best chinos for men

If you’re hoping to return for this result, your only chance of being seen anywhere above the fold organically is within this nice Google Answer Box from HiConsumption.com (highlighted in green), and that barely makes it, encouraging a little scroll as well as a click with the ‘More items…’ link.

It’s nice! I’d click on it. So don’t worry about all the rumours around losing clicks and position zero getting less than a 50% CTR. It’s how you do it that’s important!

Google Answer Box or ‘Answer Cards’ (as we tend to refer to them at Pi) used to be pretty static, and once you were there you could relax and put your feet up, as long as you maintained a position on page one.

That’s no longer the case, as Google is much more likely to replace you with a different card if you don’t keep an eye on things and stay on top of your game.

This means maintaining and monitoring your visibility daily, and keeping an eye on the relationship between your Answer Cards and your Classic (blue) Link real-estate at all times.

And if you don’t believe me, here’s a little story of how HiConsumption.com came to own that Google Answer Box!

Subscribe to Jon's Shed News

Subscribe now

Who else owned a Google Answer Box in this space?

google answer box owned by gearhungry.com, despite its lower ranking

The website Gearhungry.com originally owned the Google Answer Box for the query ‘What are the best chinos for men’, along with multiple other Answer Box’s for similar clothing queries, despite a modal position lower than several big name competitors.

By ‘modal position‘, I mean the ‘most frequently appearing position’ across all search terms and SERP features within this category, over time (August 1st – 31st).

Because of the increasingly dynamic nature of the SERP, and the increasingly difficult task of standing out from the crowd, monitoring your feature presence over time is absolutely critical.

 

Gearhungry.com owned multiple Google Answer Box’s over time

Gearhungry.com displayed an upward trajectory of Google Answer Box / Card ownership for a group of clothing queries.

Here we’re looking at the total number of Answer Cards owned on a week-by-week basis.

Google answer box ownership over time: Gearhungry.com

So far it’s looking good for Gearhungry.com. It owns multiple Google Answer Boxes, and that figure is only increasing over time.

However, another key metric to seriously consider when optimising Google’s Answer Box / Cards, relates to opportunity.

Rather than adopting an isolated view, it’s important to understand the real-time opportunity available to appear in a SERP Feature for each of your categories of terms, to understand how your content is performing.

Gearhungry.com didn’t have a large share of the total Google Answer Box opportunity

Here’s a snapshot looking at content performance against opportunity in August 2019.

Google answer box presence: Gearhungry.com

Here we can see that, despite Gearhungry.com’s upward trend in Answer Card ownership for the month of August alone (seen in the chart above), in total the Answer Card was present in search for 87.9% of the time, and Gearhungry.com was only present for 14.2% of that!

Clearly, this was a missed opportunity. Gearhungry.com simply needed to:

  • Take the terms that they ranked on page one for
  • Identify the terms that they didn’t own a Google Answer Box / Card for
  • Within that, identify the terms with:
    • An Answer Card missing
    • A competitor owned Answer Card

And target optimisation for those specific terms, to have a greater chance of owning Google’s rich SERP Features.

Subscribe to Jon's Shed News

Subscribe now

Gearhungry.com owned a Google Answer Box in a hugely competitive landscape

Here’s the Pi Datametrics SERP Matrix view, showing a feature rich SERP in which it is increasingly challenging to perform above the fold organically. 

page one serp features dominate above the fold

In this landscape, it was even more important to own a SERP Feature, to stand a chance of appearing above the fold. But this was great news for Gearhungry.com, who owned the Google Answer Box.

Despite being positioned below GQ, Fashionbeans and Men’s Health in the Classic Links, Gearhungry.com still had better organic visibility and, I would argue, a better chance of click-through off the back of that rather nice Answer Card.

So what happened next was very unfortunate…

Gearhungry.com were wiped out of Google’s Answer Box immediately, after dropping off page one

Dropping off page one for its Classic Link, even for a couple of days, meant that Gearhungry.com lost its Answer Box for good. Don’t believe that this can affect Google Answer Box ownership? Read my short study on the relationship between page one Classic Links and Answer Card ownership and you may change your mind!

Despite owning position zero for all of July with a nicely optimised page, a drop in mid June had a devastating effect on Gearhungry.com, and even though the site quickly crawled back onto page one, the damage was done and the Google Answer Box had been taken away.

Google took a day to adjust, resulting in no Google Answer Box on the 14th.

Check this out this slideshow for the full story:

  • gearhungry loses the ac when it drops off page one

 

On the following day (see slideshow image 2) Google opts for the obvious next in line, GQ, which was in position one organically – but after only 48 hours (perhaps the Answer Card wasn’t up to scratch) – it was replaced with HiConsumption.com (see slideshow image 3).

Interestingly, HiConsumption spent July on page two, before leapfrogging seven positions onto page one (just above Gearhungry.com), and ultimately replaced GQ after 48 hours in the Google Answer Box – Just a reminder – That’s the only piece of organic real-estate to make it above the fold!

If Gearhungry.com wanted to maintain its Google Answer Box, it should have:

  • Tracked the SERP Feature trend (in this case, the Google Answer Box) for its category of search terms, to see whether its position zero real-estate was growing week on week, or declining.
  • Monitored its daily organic visibility for its Classic Link results, to spot when this started to decline.
  • In the mean time, it should also have been checking the overall opportunity available across the landscape to grow its Answer Box real estate.
  • And if all else failed, it should have turned back to SERP Feature tracking to spot the competitor that had replaced it, and devised a strategy to win that Answer Box back!

So, can you knock your competitors out of the Google Answer Box?

While we analyse a bigger data set, the verdict is out on Google’s exact motives in the above examples, but the answer to this question is an emphatic YES. 

In this instance, HiConsumption.com may have got lucky, or this may have been their cunning plan all along!

Whatever the case may be, if you’re:

  • Tracking SERP Features
  • Maintaining your organic page one visibility
  • Identifying the existing presence and opportunity of SERP Features, and…
  • Optimising for the right search terms

You most definitely can knock your competitors out of position zero and own the Google Answer Box yourself!

 


If you found this interesting, keep checking back, as I’ll be working on more tests! In the meantime, if you haven’t already done so, check out my recent video on How to Own Google Answer Cards.

And for even more content like this, you can do one of a few things:

Thanks for reading 😉