As a business, internet marketer, SEO expert or Webmaster, it is likely that the number one goal for your website is to rank #1 on the first search engine results page (SERPs).
After all, this has long been the “holy grail” that can catapult your business to significant success. But what if I told you that a number one search engine ranking really doesn’t matter? Or at the least, it’s not as important as it used to be.
The way users search for information online is increasingly changing and Google’s introduction of functions such as Featured Snippets/Direct Answers and the Knowledge Graph has changed the way users access information at any given time.
Given these changes, being in the top position on the SERPs may not always guarantee organic traffic to your website. Does this mean you should not strive for higher rankings? Of course not— your SEO efforts should still be focused on effective optimization of content to attract the right traffic to your site. However, these changes also present a new challenge: creating simple, natural content that provides the precise answers that people are looking for.
Over the years, Google has refined the way it helps users find answers online. This has culminated in the display of ‘quick answers’ on the SERPs in the form of featured snippets and direct answers. Quick answers allow users to view the best possible answers to their questions without requiring to click through to a website.
Google sorts through its knowledge base and other trusted sources to display direct answers. Direct answers are mostly quick facts and answers to simple questions.
Direct answers, also known as Featured Snippets are small chunks of relevant information sourced from authoritative websites. These snippets are prominently displayed just above the first search result.
What is really interesting here is that direct answers/featured snippets are not always sourced from the #1 ranking site on the SERP. On the contrary, Google sources and displays the answer from the site that it considers provides the most appropriate and relevant answer while providing a link to the source site.
The answer is displayed prominently above the first result on the SERPs and below paid results. This new positioning of results has implications for SEO.
Ideally, the first organic result would attract the highest click-through rate. However, the inclusion of snippets above the fold of the SERPs significantly takes away traffic from this first organic result. There is an especially significant consequence if the answer is not sourced from the top ranking organic search and is instead based on content from lesser ranking websites.
Users are naturally looking for a way to easily sort through and access answers to their queries and direct answers/snippets help greatly with this. This does not mean that users no longer click through to the actual source. It just means that users may not always click through the first organic result when they already have the relevant answer displayed right above the fold on the SERPs.
How should you respond to the changes in how users search and how Google displays results? A good place to start is optimizing the content on your website, video and social properties. “Well-done” optimization enhances the relevance and authority of your content, increasing the chances of Google displaying this content as a featured snippet/direct answer.
Second, the basics of content optimization still hold true. For starters, structure your content in a way that it provides relevant, easy to understand information that answers specific questions based on your keyword research. This could enable Google to display your content as a Featured Snippet thereby boosting traffic to your site even if you are not on the top organic result.
To optimize for direct answers, search Google for long-tail keywords in the form of questions. Look at the direct answers and the sites associated with these answers to see how they have structured their content. It could be that you need to redesign your site to dedicate individual pages to answer the long–tail keyword queries relevant to your vertical.
While ranking position #1 could reward your SEO efforts, the continuing changes in Google Search make being a Direct Answer/Featured Snippet more important. Users are looking for information sources that provide useful, natural and easy to understand answers to their queries. Structuring your content in this way could offer you the double whammy of ranking #1 and being a direct answer or a featured snippet. Either way, you will be a winner.