People also ask: what it is and how to leverage it for SEO positioning

Have you ever searched for something on Google and seen a box titled “People Also Ask” on the search results page, containing questions related to your search? Well, this box is the “People Also Ask” (PAA) box and represents an excellent visibility opportunity for web page content that every SEO specialist should know about!

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In this article, we will delve into a very specific topic of the SEO world, and you will discover:

  • the characteristics of the People Also Ask box;
  • how to leverage it for SEO purposes;
  • how to position your content within it.

Are you ready? Let’s start with the basics…

The characteristics of the People Also Ask box

Before we delve into the practical part and understand what to do to position your pages inside the “People Also Ask” box, it is essential to know its main characteristics and its evolution over time. Like all topics related to Digital Marketing, SEO is continuously changing, and it’s good to know its changes to better understand the trends and be prepared and timely in adapting.

The People Also Ask box is no exception. Since its appearance in the SERPs, it has piqued the interest of SEO experts worldwide. Furthermore, as you will read in the rest of the article, it has evolved. Understanding its peculiarities and the changes it has undergone will help you familiarize yourself with it and understand its advantages, so you can then take action and leverage it in your SEO strategy.

How the PAA box is structured

The “People Also Ask” box is an example of a rich snippet, a special result in Google’s SERP that has the function of collecting related questions to the user’s search query. In short, when you perform a Google search and the PAA box appears in the SERP, it shows you questions previously asked by users with a similar search intent to yours.

people also ask google

For each question in the Google box, there is a corresponding answer, which is extracted from the web page considered the most relevant in providing that answer. Google also provides the link to the web page from which it extracted the text and the “Search” link, which takes the user to the SERP related to that specific query; thus, the user has several opportunities to explore and deepen their search, obtaining a richer experience compared to other snippets present in the SERP.

people ask questions

Where it is located in the SERP

Unlike other snippets, such as the featured snippet that always appears at the top of the SERP or the classic “Related Searches” found at the bottom of the page, the “People Also Ask” box does not have a specific position and could seemingly appear anywhere within the SERP.

  • for example, for the query “how much does an SEO manager earn,” the PAA box is in the 2nd position, just after the featured snippet.

seo manager salary

  • for the query “how to create a website,” it appears in the 7th position.

different positions paa

However, this is a rarer case. In fact, according to a study by SEMrush Sensor, the “People Also Ask” box appears in the top 3 positions of the SERP in 75% of cases.

 

paa box postion serp

featured snippet vs paa

Even rarer is the case where this particular snippet does not even appear on the first page of the results. Since its debut in Google’s SERP in 2015, the “People Also Ask” box has become increasingly prevalent: according to the aforementioned study, the number of SERPs containing it has grown by 42% to date, and it appears in about half of all searches, especially in the case of searches from mobile devices, and about 6 times more frequently than the featured snippet.

Results are further supported by a study conducted by Britney Muller, Senior SEO Scientist at Moz, which shows how the presence of the People Also Ask box in SERPs has grown at a much faster rate compared to the Featured Snippet.

paa box increase

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Dynamic nature of the People Also Ask box

When first introduced in 2015, the PAA box only displayed 3 or a maximum of 4 questions related to the user’s search query. Over time, the box has been refined, and starting in 2017, it became even more interactive, enabling dynamic loading of results. Its distinctive feature is its dynamism, meaning it can change its appearance based on the user’s interaction. So, how does it work in practice?

When the user types a query of interest in the search bar, the SERP might include the PAA box, initially showing 3 or 4 questions related to the keyword used in the search.

serp questions

When the user clicks on one of the questions in the box, it expands, revealing more related questions to the one they clicked on, in an infinite process. This system allows users to explore results more quickly than traditional search interaction and enables them to discover results related to questions they might not have initially thought of, thus increasing their chances of finding the precise information they are seeking.

Furthermore, as the box expands, other results on the SERP are visually pushed down on the page, making them less visible (and clickable!) to the user.

Content formats in the PAA box

Similar to the featured snippet, the People Also Ask box displays results in various formats. Several international studies have identified the following types of content:

  • textual paragraphs;
  • bulleted or numbered lists;
  • tables;
  • videos.

In the vast majority of cases (approximately 79%), the results shown in the PAA box are textual paragraphs taken from website content, increasingly combined with other types of content, such as images.

Next are lists (13.8%), tables (4.3%), and videos, which are much rarer (3.3%).

Alright, so far, so clear. But what are the requirements that this content must meet to appear in the “People Also Ask” box? Keep reading the article to find out!

Why to use the “People Also Ask” box

There’s a humorous phrase that all SEO specialists know: “If you want to hide a dead body, hide it on the second page of the SERP.” Beyond exaggeration, this phrase clearly expresses that ranking among the top search results is considered crucial to significantly increase the likelihood of driving traffic to your website.

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The highly desired blue links on the first page are, however, limited to just 10, considering the millions of pages on the web. Additionally, SERPs today have a different appearance and more complex anatomy compared to a few years ago. SERPs have become richer with boxes and special sections, such as featured snippets, knowledge graphs, carousels, shopping ads, and, of course, the People Also Ask box.

Being able to position yourself in one of these special spaces is, therefore, a crucial opportunity today to gain visibility. Furthermore, in-depth analysis of SERPs and the results contained in special snippets, particularly the PAA box, allows for improving your content strategy. Let’s explore all the advantages together.

Appearing on the first page of SERPs

As mentioned earlier, everyone aspires to rank on the first page of search results. However, is there a correlation between ranking on the first page and the possibility of being featured in the “People Also Ask” box? Research conducted internationally on the subject shows that in 74% of cases, pages featured in the PAA box do not appear among the top 10 results on the SERP.

sites position paa box

Additionally, an interesting aspect revealed by research conducted by GetStat is that a single People Also Ask box can appear in various unique SERPs (the research identifies 21). This means that by appearing in the PAA box, the content not only has the possibility of appearing on the first page of the SERP but also in various SERPs within the same semantic domain.

All of this translates into a great visibility opportunity and first-page positioning for sites that have not yet reached the authority to climb positions within the SERP.

Increasing brand awareness

Another advantage offered by the “People Also Ask” box is the opportunity to achieve better results in terms of brand awareness.

When the user clicks on one of the questions in the People Also Ask box and sees the answer, they are exposed to a brand. For instance, if the search query is about a curiosity regarding a particular wine production process, the content produced by a website of a small wine producer could answer that query, be included in the snippet, and increase brand visibility.

examples serp box

Improving content strategy

The “People Also Ask” box can be considered a gold mine to be exploited to produce your content. Firstly, the box can provide excellent ideas for finding new content.

As mentioned earlier, the box provides information about related questions, highlighting real user searches related to a specific topic. By exploring these queries, you can understand user search intent and develop more in-depth and detailed content centred around the identified queries.

Another advantage of analyzing the PAA box is the opportunity to obtain ideas for new keywords. The more you expand the box and dig deeper, the more long-tail keywords you’ll discover that you might not have thought of before.

brand strategy paa

Moreover, an excellent opportunity involves branded queries, which are all searches containing the name of a specific brand. Exploring PAA boxes related to branded queries can provide you with valuable information whether you are the owner of that brand or analyzing a competitor’s brand. In the first case, you can intercept user search intents to optimize your content and leverage them to encourage users already in your sales funnel to convert or simply to address their doubts, reduce the distance with them, and maintain a good brand reputation.

On the other hand, if the branded query concerns a competitor’s brand, you can capitalize on your competitors’ shortcomings and provide the answers they are seeking: an excellent opportunity to get noticed by the user, increase brand awareness, and be considered a valid alternative!

Finally, the PAA snippet can provide very useful information for optimizing existing content, as we will see in the following paragraphs.

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What to do to appear in a PAA box

If you want your content to appear in the “People Also Ask” box, you need to optimize it specifically for that purpose.

The specific factors determining the positioning of the content within the People Also Ask box depend on search engine algorithms, and no one knows exactly what needs to be done to secure a position.

However, SEO experts have identified patterns, elements, and good optimization practices to increase the chances of positioning within the box.

So, how do you proceed? Here are the steps to follow…

Identify keywords

First of all, you need to start by identifying focus keywords and checking if they trigger any People Also Ask boxes.

This process can be done directly on the SERP, simply by typing the keyword into Google’s search bar and then recording the results returned by the SERP on a spreadsheet for organization and analysis.

This process, however, can be very time-consuming, and there are various widely-used SEO tools like Screaming Frog, Ahrefs, or SemRush that allow you to obtain in-depth reports providing PAA questions related to specific keywords much faster.

Analyze the SERP

Once you have identified the keywords and the PAA boxes they trigger, you should analyze the results and try to answer the following questions:

  • is my content relevant to the related questions that appear in the People Also Ask snippet?
  • does my website page related to the specific content I am exploring appear in the People Also Ask box? What about my competitors’ pages?
  • what is the main theme of the websites that are positioned as the source of the answer provided in the PAA box? What are they about?
  • what is the format of the content that appears as answers in the PAA box?

Once the analysis is complete, you can move on to the editorial strategy.

Optimize the content

Based on the answers you provided during the analysis, you will have a guide to proceed.

content strategy seo

Is my content relevant to the related questions present in the People Also Ask box? If the answer is yes, it means you have identified the related questions and the search intents relevant to the topics covered on your website. Otherwise, the identified related questions are off-topic and should be discarded.

Does my content appear in the People Also Ask box? If the answer is yes…. congratulations! You have succeeded in being considered by Google as the appropriate source to answer that query and have positioned yourself within the snippet! But if the answer is no, and your content is not among those results…. simply put, you need to optimize it to make it suitable and relevant to answer that particular query.

Depending on how the question is structured and the level of depth required, you can evaluate whether to create new content or reorganize your existing content. In both cases, the important aspect to focus on is the form and format.

And shape your content in a question-and-answer format. Include the question within your content, making sure it has a complete and straightforward answer.

For format, as we saw in the section of the article dedicated to content formats in the People Also Ask box, you can choose between paragraphs, bullet lists, tables, or videos. To understand which one to choose, you need to identify what Google shows as an answer to that specific related question.

During the analysis, you might ask yourself: What is the format of the content that appears as answers in the People Also Ask box? If your analysis revealed that “bullet lists” are the format that appears in the box as a response to the specific query, you will need to structure your content accordingly to align with the format chosen by Google to display answers.

Additionally, SEO experts worldwide have identified some recurrent patterns and key factors that allow you to further optimize your content for positioning within the “People Also Ask” box. Here they are:

seo query strategy

Query types: queries with the highest probability (about 86% of cases) of producing a SERP with the People Also Ask box are “question” types, which start with “who,” “what,” “how,” “when,” “where,” and “why”;

Query length: international research on a large dataset indicates a strong correlation between the length of a query and the appearance of the People Also Ask box in the SERP. Specifically, a long-tail keyword of 10 words returns a SERP with PAA in 72% of cases, while for two-word queries, this percentage drops to 28%;

Paragraph length: the average number of words in a paragraph-format answer is 41 words.

Bullet list (or Numbered List) Length: as for list-format answers, the maximum number of elements is 8, and the minimum is 2.

Table length: there is less data on this format, so conclusions are less certain. Potentially, a table in the PAA box can have 14 rows and 3 columns. However, the most common result is tables with 8 rows and 2 columns.

Implement structured data

Another measure you can implement is the Q&A schema. On this point, SEO experts agree that it is not essential.

However, implementing it does not produce negative effects and allows Google to extract relevant information more quickly.

Monitor the results

To monitor the performance of PAA listings, the tool to use is Google Search Console.

However, data on impressions and clicks is provided only when the PAA box is expanded by the user to view the answer. Additionally, the positioning of the result will be the same as the “People Also Ask” box for all links within the box. In other words, if the box appears within a specific SERP in the third position, your result will also be considered in the third position, regardless of whether the answer is the first originally generated by the box or the fifteenth generated by user interaction with the box.

My advice is to perform a cross-analysis, examining the data provided by Google Search Console along with how the result is actually displayed within the SERP.

Conclusions and final tips

The “People Also Ask” box represents an excellent opportunity to rank on the first page of the SERP and increase traffic to your website. However, you can’t rely on chance alone. To optimize your content appropriately and make the most of this opportunity, you need to adopt a data-driven approach and proceed systematically, using SEO techniques.

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