People Also Ask: Optimizing For Google’s Increasingly Dynamic Mobile Results

For years, Resolution has helped brands learn from and adapt to Google’s changes to their search results. With hundreds of updates rolled out each year, savvy marketers are keen to observe and quickly reverse-engineer the fluctuations in rankings they’ve come to expect. Today, marketers find themselves in a familiar position with new tools at their disposal to understand search user behavior and improve content orchestration efforts.

With previous updates like Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird, marketers saw shifts in webpage location and rankings within results, but the interface remained mostly the same. In contrast, today’s search user is presented with organic search results that have multiple features interspersed throughout, including Featured Snippets, “People Also Ask” (PAA) boxes and, under the right conditions, an evolved form of “Related Searches” called “People Also Search For” (PASF).

What is “People Also Ask”?

First spotted in the Summer of 2015, these SERP “Related Questions” became wide-spread by the following Spring, offering two to four questions that Google thought were related to the query entered, and an option to jump to a full page of results for that suggested question. In the Spring of 2017, the first “infinite” or “dynamic loading” versions of PAA started to appear, and they’ve now been officially released for both desktop and mobile search.

Similar to Featured Snippets, People Also Ask boxes have been shown to select segments of text and links from results that would appear on the first page for their respective query, but weren’t necessarily the top organic result. How closely aligned these questions are to your original query may vary, but with a placement typically right below the Featured Snippet, or between the first and second organic result, it’s certain that these questions are receiving a healthy number of impressions. Given that the majority of Featured Snippets, and thereby PAA, are triggered by long-tail keywords, following the trail of these questions can help flesh-out your content approach and certainly do a better job of meeting user’s needs.

What is “People Also Search For”?

Within days of announcing the dynamic loading PAA function, Google rolled out a new feature that only appeared when a user wasn’t satisfied with their first result option. Now, when you use your browser’s “Back” button to return to Google Search, you’ll notice a feature labeled “People Also Search For” just below the result you previously selected. On a desktop, this feature displays in a similar fashion to traditional, organic site links. However, in mobile they appear as smaller “card” shapes in a horizontal scroll container.

What is the Difference?

There are three key differences between PAA and PASF, including:

1. PAA boxes are question-oriented, while the options found in the PASF section are terms normally found at the bottom of the page in the “Related Searches”, and are likely to include more keyword-centric terms.
2. The only ways to view PASF results is to use the back button on your browser, or to re-enter the exact same search term in the Chrome Omnibox. Search users who open multiple tabs at once won’t see this feature appear even after closing their new tabs and returning to their search results tab.
3. While Google has now set PAA boxes to be infinitely expanding, a user who repeatedly clicks a result then returns to the SERP will only see one instance of the PASF box, even if the keywords shown in the box vary from result to result on the same page.

How to Capitalize on Changes and Deploy a Winning Strategy

Overall, when viewed in conjunction with Featured Snippets and Paid Search, it is clear that there are an increasing number of options for search users to choose from when selecting content to view. Marketers can no longer rely on a solid organic position alone. Moving forward, savvy marketers will take one or more of the following five routes to position their sites as best as possible:

  1. Use Google Results to Help Content Strategy – Depending on the vertical, mileage may vary when it comes to applicability of PAA or PASF terms as additions to your content orchestration. However, these features do show how Google is grouping topics and where connections should be made between what may be separate parts of your information architecture.
  2. Look at your top and bottom performing pages – Strategic content expansion and refinement can be a powerful tool for improving your best and worst pages. Leveraging PAA results can give clues towards new subsections to add to your strongest pages (and potentially acquire new Featured Snippets). Additionally, PASF keywords can help feed your favorite third-party keyword discovery tools to flesh-out poor performing pages.
  3. Examine your direct competitors – Assuming you’ve already unpacked all you can from their on-page content, take a walk through the PAA and PASF results for those pages that you want to beat.
  4. Speed is a factor – When users navigate from one search to another via the “more results” below a PAA, Google will serve them a Featured Snippet right away. Make sure that your most impressive results aren’t held back by technical debt or other factors slowing down page speed.
  5. Understand that this is Google training users for voice search – As we see more and more users turning to Voice Search, it is in the search engines’ best interest to help users have a quality experience through voice, the same way they’ve focused on with mobile for the last several years. PAA boxes help users see the progression of search refinement, while also training them to use terms that Google already understands.