Operate "Individuals additionally ask" (PAA): Uncover the hidden gem from Google

30 second summary:

  • PAA boxes signal rapid growth and are now available in half of all SERPs.
  • Since 75% of PAA results are shown in Google among the top three results, the PAA block opens up opportunities for visibility for websites that are struggling to get to the first page of Google SERP.
  • The key to PAA's success lies in creating PAA-friendly content that adapts to PAA best practices – from handling longer searches to focusing on brevity and including question words.

With the advent of voice assistants and Google's mission to transform itself into a "knowledge engine," we can see the proliferation of Google's SERP features to aid these shifts. To take these trends into account, SEMrush decided to dig deep into Google's PAA (People Also Ask) feature and analyze its pros and cons to help companies become more visible with PAA boxes.

This article presents the main highlights of a recent SEMrush 2020 study “People Also Ask”, which analyzed over a million keywords for the United States. He offers insights into developing a PAA-centric SEO and content strategy.

The rise of the "people also ask" function

According to SEMrush Sensor, the number of SERPs with a PAA box has increased by 40-42% since the feature was introduced in 2015.

PAA appears to be present on half of the search results pages, with a slight increase when viewing mobile search results. In fact, Google is now six times more likely to return a SERP with a PAA box than with a featured snippet result.

Note: The decrease in the graph is due to the adjustment made by Google in March 2020

While noteworthy, this trend towards PAA expansion is not consistent across all industries. With the lowest PAA presence in the real estate industry (9.5%), the highest number of PAAs was found in the Computers & Electronics category (64.2%).

For the full industry breakdown, see the study.

The nature of PAA

On average, the initial PAA block contains four questions:

Number of questions in the field

While in 58% of all analyzed cases the PAA box is displayed after the first organic result – be it a regular blue link or a featured excerpt – it is listed in the top 3 results in 75% of the cases.

Hidden Opportunities

Although 13% of the websites that make it into the PAA box have a top 3 placement, 74% are not even on the first page of the SERP. This means that the PAA feature opens up opportunities for websites whose organic ranking cannot be immediately improved to appear on the first page of search results.

However, to take advantage of this opportunity, they should understand the inherent characteristics of PAA and meet some of the key requirements that we have identified.

Unleash the power of “people also ask”

In order to understand how you can use the PAA function for your website and for the whole company, we need to examine which functions affect the occurrence of a PAA block and which “content factors” influence Google's decision on this or that content in the PAA box.

"External" factors or PAA-centered keyword optimization

1. Length of the search query

PAAs are usually triggered by longer keywords or complex searches. With a clear correlation between the length of a search query and a PAA, we can see that a 10-word keyword triggers a PAA 72% of the time, while search results for a two-word query only show a PAA in 28% of the cases :

Probability of triggering a featured snippet together with PAA

2. Search query type

Questions or queries usually generate SERPs with a PAA block. In 86% of the cases, search queries that begin with question words such as “What”, “Why”, “When”, “Where” and “Who” trigger a PAA.

SEMrush PAA Blog Graphics 20200930_Types of queries that use the

Inside factors or PAA-worthy content functions

79% of the PAA fields are filled with paragraphs from the content of the website, followed by lists (13.8%) and tables (4.3%).

People also ask (PAA) result format

1. Heel length

The average number of words in a paragraph in PAA is 41 words, which means that brevity is a valuable asset when creating content for a website.

2. List length

No lists containing more than 8 elements were found in our data set, although the minimum length was only two elements.

3. Table length

A standard PAA box can hold 14 rows and three columns, although we've seen tables where only one column and two rows were shown. Because the tables are less popular, we were unable to draw any conclusions about best practices for creating tables specifically for PAA.

Action plan for companies that are ready to optimize for PAA

If optimizing for PAA is a need of today, it could be a need of tomorrow, as search is already aimed at giving users instant responses to their first command, be it voice or text.

The best thing about PAA is that it is often a faster winning strategy than a longer-term traditional "blue link" ranking optimization.

In short, PAA optimization consists of the following key steps:

  • Checking existing SERP functions, It all starts here by analyzing whether your target keywords are currently triggering PAAs.
  • Discover lack of opportunities by investigating whether your or your competitor's website ranks for the keywords that generate a PAA block within the SERP but are not shown in the PAA field.
  • Uncover ideas for PAA-worthy content by incorporating the keywords in the PAA field into your keyword strategy and using the PAA block as a gold mine for content ideas.
  • Make sure your content is as SEO optimized as it gets.

Olga Andrienko is SEMrush's Head of Global Marketing. Olga can be found on Twitter @Olgandrienko.

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