What Does the Rise in Rich Answers Mean for the Future of SEO?
Rich answers, those non-linked informational entries that appear in certain online searches, are increasing in prevalence in Google. According to a recent study, there’s been an 8.6 percent rise in rich answers across all queries for this year alone. With no end in sight for the increasing trend, it’s time for search marketers and webmasters everywhere to prepare for the inevitable SEO changes that will come about in a rich answer-dense world.
What Are Rich Answers, Exactly?
Rich answers take many forms, but all rich answers share a common purpose and form. Rich answers are basically “direct” answers that Google provides searchers, taking the place of links to pages that would otherwise provide that information. They can take the form of immediate answers, such as when asking how many cups are in a gallon, descriptive encyclopedic entries, such as when searching for a specific movie or notable historical figure, or miscellaneous formatted entries, such as a chart when searching for movie times.
Some notable specific examples of rich answers include:
- These are bits of information that Google has extracted from third party websites, such as 2- or 3-sentence long answers to a direct question.
- These are numbers, definitions, and other simple factual data that can be used to answer simple user questions.
- Encyclopedic entries. These are often found for specific subjects, such as celebrities or pieces of art.
- Charts and tables. These can be used for a variety of different queries, but often deal with times and places.
Other, rarer types of rich answers also exist, and there will likely be more varied forms in the future.
The Pattern of Growth
Rich answers weren’t always a part of Google. However, since their inception, they’ve grown in prominence almost every year. The jump from 2014 to 2015—8.6 percent—is one of the biggest we’ve seen, and there’s no sign that this rate will decline anytime soon. Currently, Google provides rich answers for 31.2 percent of all queries, meaning almost one-third of all queries are provided with some kind of rich answer. That’s a lot of prominence, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Google’s ultimate goal is 100 percent availability (or as close to that as they can get). Google has also gradually introduced new and better forms of rich answers, using more powerful technology and more sophisticated algorithms to find and present them.
Three Major Effects
As Google continues to add new kinds of rich answers and provide rich answers for a greater percentage of user queries, webmasters are going to notice three primary effects. The better you understand and prepare for these effects, the better shot you’ll have at beating the competition as the search world becomes more complex.
1. Organic visibility and visits are decreasing (and will continue to decrease).
As you might expect, a rise in rich answers means a corresponding decline in organic visibility. Rich answers always take prominence at or near the top of search results, and often serve as a replacement for an actual site visit. For example, let’s say you’ve written an article answering the question “how do you cook pasta?” Even at the top of the organic ranks, a healthy majority of users will never see you because they’ve gotten a simple answer from Google and have no need to venture to your site. However, this also means that the visits you do get will be more meaningful—the find-the-answer-and-leave crowd will be pre-filtered out before they even get to your site.
2. Easily answerable questions are no longer valuable content targets.
One of the biggest and longest-running trends in content marketing has been writing content that provides answers to common customer questions. Because users often search for these questions, your long-tail keywords will automatically make you a more prominent entry in SERPs. However, now that Google can answer more of these questions directly, this trend carries less value. Simple questions with simple answers are practically worthless in an era of rich answers, so either find new types of content to fill your editorial calendar, or focus on more complex, less easily answerable questions that algorithms will have a harder time processing.
3. Microformatting of meta data is more important than ever.
With the exception of entries that Google pulls from public domain, such as word definitions and numerical formulas, the vast majority of rich answers are actively pulled from a third party site by leveraging properly structured meta data. Google always acknowledges this source above or below the rich answer, giving you a bit of extra free visibility. Accordingly, it’s in your best interest to use microformatting to ensure Google can easily crawl and interpret the content of your site. Doing so will provide a boost to your domain authority, and will make it more likely that your site content will eventually become a snippet in the SERPs.
There are some who argue that the increase in rich answer prominence in Google and other search engines will eventually spell the end of SEO entirely. In a world where answers can be provided immediately, people will have little use for individual websites. However, I don’t personally believe that SEO will die. Instead, it’s going to transform. Different kinds of content will become more valuable. Different kinds of traffic and visibility will become important. The key is knowing what direction the industry is headed; there will always be some opportunities to get more organic visibility for your brand.
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