Google Answers on the Rise. Friend or Foe for Web Publishers?

As we’ve previously discussed Google is increasingly becoming an Answer Engine. By this we mean Google is providing “rich answers” within their search results, rather than simply listing websites that searchers need to click through to get their query answered. To see examples type into Google something like “time in paris” or “arrival time nz101”



A very interesting study published this week by Stone Temple Consulting shows that Google rich answers in search grew significantly over the first half of 2015.

The study involved a set of 855,243 queries focused on questions that had a strong chance of generating a rich answer. The same queries were run in Dec 2014 and again in July 2015 to see if the number of rich answers provided by Google changed. And change it did, jumping by over 8% from 22.6% to 31.2%.


This has concerned some web publishers who fear that as Google increasingly provides answers there will be less of a need for searchers to click through to external sites and so web publishers’ traffic from Google will drop.

Whilst this is a valid concern, it’s important to recognise that for the great majority of search queries Google doesn’t provide rich answers. There are only certain types of queries for which Google provides answers. Many of these queries are who, how, what and when type questions, such as the examples below:

google-answer-rwc google-answer-banana-calories

Remember the queries used in the study featured questions that had a strong chance of generating a rich answer. So while 31.2% of the queries in the study generated a rich answer, this certainly doesn’t mean that Google shows rich answers for one in three of ALL search queries (only Google knows how many).

Given that many of Google’s answers are pulled from Wikipedia and other high authority sites, many web publishers think the chances of their site being used to provide Google Answers are limited. However, the good news is that isn’t necessarily the case. The study examined the authority of all the domains from the data set that were used by Google for rich answers:


As you can see 54% of the domains used by Google have a Domain Authority score of 60 or less and there are even some sites with a very low Domain Authority of 20 or less. So, contrary to what some think, high Domain Authority is not essential to having your site used by Google to generate a rich answer.

Why should you care?

At this stage Google Answers is unlikely to impact most websites detrimentally and in fact can be leveraged to drive incremental traffic.

About 75% of the answers provided by Google include an attribution link to the site Google has sourced its answer from and so this can drive incremental traffic to sites that get used for Google Answers (particularly if the answer Google provides is not complete). When Google extracts a rich answer from a third party web site, Google refers to this as a “featured snippet.”  Below is an example from the study which shows there can be a positive impact in Google referral traffic when a site gets used by Google to provide a featured snippet.


So how do you get your website included in Google rich snippet answers? The study by Stone Temple Consulting details an experiment they did to successfully get rich snippet listings and is well worth reading. Basically it boils down to

  1. Identify a simple question
  2. Provide a direct answer
  3. Offer value added information
  4. Make it easy for Google and users to find.

However, be aware that Google doesn’t provide attribution links in its answers about public domain information (such as “new zealand gdp”) so your efforts to secure rich snippet listings for these types of questions will be wasted.

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About the Author Mark Sceats

Mark is a Partner and Senior Consultant at SureFire which he founded back in 2002. Prior to establishing SureFire he worked for KPMG Consulting. Today Mark heads up SEO, embracing the challenges that can come with complex website implementations. Outside of work, his interests beyond his family are running, snowsports, diving and fishing (badly).

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