Question-based queries help guide your content strategy and dominate Google’s featured snippet top spot, so it’s important to have a full understanding of what your customers and prospective customers are asking. Ann Smarty takes us through some of the best question research tools available, and the steps required to help you increase your local search visibility.
With new technology, new ways of searching, and new tools processing data, your optimization strategy should innovate.
Question research is one of those newer tactics that should become part of your search optimization routine.
Why Research and Optimize for Questions?
1. Niche questions help you understand and consequently serve your target customer better
Question research can give you a great deal of insight into your target audience’s struggles and how to serve them better. Questions are easier to relate to than keywords, so building content around questions is much easier than building content around keywords. By nature, questions are much more inspiring than keyword matching which makes them the perfect content ideation source.
2. Niche questions help you optimize for featured snippets and consequently voice search opportunities
As we already know, most queries triggering featured snippets are questions. Optimizing for questions means optimizing for featured snippets.
Furthermore, including questions in your content is also a great way to optimize for voice search because people tend to talk to a smart device in full sentences (more often than not, those are interrogative sentences).
Question research and optimization helps you optimize for both featured snippets and voice search.
3. Niche questions streamline your customer support and local marketing management
Question research helps local businesses create a unified resource of all relevant questions, which makes customer support much more productive. It also makes in-house training and outsourcing easier because having a well-organized knowledge base can become the perfect training material.
The goal is to turn your website into an ultimate resource, so that your customer is more likely to find their answers there, rather than going around the forums to ask their questions there.
How to Research Niche and Local Questions
Before we start getting tactical here, let’s categorize questions that may potentially be useful for your local business:
- Location-based questions: These are generic questions around your location that could help your business be discovered even when your target customer isn’t necessarily interested in your product or service just yet. These questions build local brand familiarity and leads, and sometimes direct conversions too.
- Business-based questions: These are actual questions your current or future customers are asking about your business and products.
- Competitor-based questions: These are questions people are asking about your competitor(s). These are useful for many research purposes, from gaining competitive advantage (learning how to build a better product/offering) to learning to avoid your competitors’ mistakes.
Based on the types of questions we are researching, here are some tools and tactics you can use to collect the data:
Tools for Researching Location-based Questions
Depending on what it is you are doing, your specific question research may vary a bit, but this can generally be approached as the local keyword research you are already doing.
The easiest tool to start your research is Text Optimizer, which utilizes semantic research to analyze Google search snippets and extract related concepts and questions. Simply put your location in TextOptimizer’s “Topic Ideas” tab and scroll through the popular questions it’s extracted:
Other sources of question-based keyword research include:
- The ‘Questions’ section inside Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer
- The Answer The Public tool
- The ‘People Also Ask’ report inside Featured Snippet Tool
- Serpstat’s ‘Questions’ feature
Depending on how large your target location is, you may want to use as many tools as you see fit. If you use a lot of sources and hence generate a lot of (similar) questions, use Serpstat’s keyword clustering feature to classify them by relevancy and then form an actionable plan on how to implement them (as well as how to more easily identify those that match the local business best):
Serpstat groups keywords based on how many overlapping URLs rank for each specific query, making it easy to make sense of long keyword lists
Tools for Researching Navigational (Brand- and Competitor-focused) Questions
There are several ways to collect questions around your and your competitors, and it’s a good idea to use all that apply:
- Your company’s own customer support emails (encourage your customer support and sales teams to record these using a shared document)
- Your online reviews and customers’ questions
- Your online competitors’ reviews and their customers’ questions
- Twitter question monitoring, especially for bigger brands. Type [“business name” ?] (with the space in between) in Twitter’s search box to get the real-time feed of all questions around you or your competitors
How to Optimize Your Local Business Site for Questions
Now that you have a good list of questions that relate to the local business you’re working with, what exactly should you be doing with it?
I’m glad you asked. Here you go:
Step 1: Get Organized
Running the clustering analysis is the first step to getting those questions organized. The next step is to create an actionable content roadmap, detailing what to do with each group.
When organizing my keywords or questions in order to put together my content plan, I use the following labels:
- Search intent (informational, commercial, navigational, or a possible mix). Search intent determines both the page type (e.g. article or a commercial landing page), the call-to-action (a ‘Buy Now’ button or a lead generation form) and the on-page content tone
- Content action (whether it’s going to be new content or part of existing content)
- Content types. Possible content types when it comes to question optimization include:
- Article: This is usually the best choice for generic location-based questions
- FAQ / Knowledge Base / Help Center section: This is usually built based on brand-focused questions (both around your own brand and your competitors). It’s a good idea to keep building this section up on a continuous basis. This will provide the customer services team with a central point of truth to refer to.
- Product Q&A: This is a good tactic to get your money-page featured in Google
- Seasonality, i.e. if there’s need to time this content asset better:
For seasonal content you can use a spreadsheet to plan that out right away.
Step 2: Optimize content for questions
Now that you’ve created your content plan, how do you actually optimize your articles? Because featured snippets and voice search are both so important for Google search visibility, making sure your content is optimized for both is very important.
The best way to ensure your page appears in both featured snippets and “People Also Ask” boxes is to create a clear content structure using H2 and H3 subheads:
- H2 subhead: Parent question #1
- Followed by the concise on-point answer…
- H3 “subtopic” question #1
- Followed by the concise on-point answer…
- H3 “subtopic” question #2
- Followed by the concise on-point answer…
- H2 subhead: Parent question #2
A structure like this helps Google to quickly locate the answer and feature it as a list in a featured snippet.
Another good tactic is to evaluate the best possible format that could satisfy each question query best. For example, if the question is something like “What are the most affordable things to do in XX?”, it is quite clear that the search user would expect a list in the answer, so that’s what you should create.
Genuinely trying to provide the best possible answer goes a long way in featured snippet optimization.
Step 3: Go the Extra Mile by Implementing Schema Markup
While it’s been made clear structured markup is confirmed not to influence Google’s rankings and their featured snippet algorithm, implementing schema markup is still a good idea (even if one specific type isn’t yet officially supported by Google).
Schema.org helps Google understand your site better which is always a good thing.
When it comes to question optimization, the three solid schema.org types to implement are:
All are already being routinely utilized by Google in order to provide better-structured answers to their users.
Using schema.org markup is easier than you may think (there are a variety of advanced plugins that can handle that for you, and for larger brands, scalable solutions like Schema App are perfect) and even while it may not improve your rankings, it won’t definitely hurt.
Have you been optimizing local business websites for questions? Please share your tips and results!