Fast Track to the Top on Google - Answer BoxesType searches in Google—especially questions in whole phrases like “how much is a …”–and the pages that come back increasingly lead off with a box that displays a short answer to the question. Google may be trying to make its results pages more friendly to people speaking their search terms on a mobile phone.

Google pulls the content for these answer boxes (official name: “featured snippets”) from web pages that match up with the language of the question. The source websites may also rank well on the search page but not necessarily.

Opportunity knocking, people. With some relatively simple content like a short list, your site could dominate the search-return page. Let’s take a look at some…

Examples of sites that hit the snippets jackpot

Here’s a chart answer box. Check out the original page. The source is a simple table.

Snowboard Size Chart Snippet on Google

A how-to list, from the Facebook page of an Avon rep in Trinidad that beats the major jewelry chain Zales for top position:

How to Size a Ring Snippet on Google

Many snippet boxes are short, specific answers in text form, like this from garage plans maker Behm Design (see the original). Also beat a large chain store:

Garage Cost Snippet on Google

And Google shows many other types of answer boxes extracted from websites, including restaurant menus and photo carousels (see examples catalogued by SEO consultancy Stone Temple).

Ask Google for the cost of a product and it may also answer with product ads on top of a snippet.

Sump Pump Cost Snippet on Google

But add a city name and it looks like Google swaps snippets for local listings:

Blow Dry Dallas SERP on Google

How to take your best shot at getting into a Google answer box

Official answer from Google: “You can’t. Google programmatically determines that a page contains a likely answer to the user’s question, and displays the result as a featured snippet.”

Unofficial answer from Google watchers:

  1. Research questions you can answer on a page on your site, the more specific the better. Good sources for topics include the search boxes on Google or Amazon: Start typing a question and see how they finish it for you. Or check the bottom of the Google search page for the list of related searches. Better, take careful notes on the questions your customers ask.
  1. Answer questions with lists, charts or tables. Make them too long to fit in a featured snippets box to encourage searchers to click through to your site for more (see how Google adds “17 more rows” to the snowboard chart above).
  1. Add some simple html coding for tables and lists or paragraphs so Google’s search bot recognizes them. Close by, add the target question in html header tags.
  1. Set these snippet-ready lists or charts in pages with lots of other relevant information to give credibility to the page. A list alone won’t cut it; Google takes into account the whole page.
  1. To compete on text snippets, a page of answers to frequently asked questions is a good format. Here’s how to write an FAQ page.

For more educated guesses on how Google runs the featured snippets lottery, see these posts from Google-watchers HubSpot, Stone Temple Consulting, Search Engine Land and Andrew Shotland.

But here’s the bottom line. All these tips add up to what you should do anyway with your business website to have any hope of ranking in Google: Add some thoughtful content that directly answers customer questions. Google just made the reward more valuable.