The secret to successful SEO: answer questions searchers are asking

There are 2 million blog posts created every day. The volume of content we see now has a term: Content Shock. It is the time you realize you can’t possibly keep up with all the content. With so much content available on the web, how do you rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs)? How do you make sure your content is read? And when they do it, how do you make sure your readers take action on it? The secret to search engine optimization (SEO) is to answer questions.

It is really quite simple.

Find out what your audience wants, what they are searching for, and how you can help them. And then answer their questions with your content. It is that really simple? The secret to SEO is just to answer questions? Yes.

Start with really understanding SEO and where it is going

Start with SEO or the practice of optimizing your websites for search engines. SEO is one the best areas where you can see the return on investment (ROI) with your digital marketing efforts. SEO can be complicated, especially the technical parts of it.

And search engines like Google and Bing have become more sophisticated over the years. For example, Google now uses machine learning for its search algorithms so it can better understand web pages, how useful the web page is to users, and how quickly it can answer the questions its users want to know.

It is about understanding what the search engines are trying to do. The secret to SEO is to answer a searcher’s questions quickly.

The power of searcher task accomplishment

It starts with understanding that Google has one goal: searcher task accomplishment.

Google 1 GoalWhat is search task accomplishment?

Google learns each time a user searches via Google Search. Google wants to give each searcher answers to their question(s) as soon as possible. They are going to reward websites that quickly help the needs of their searchers.

Google is making an effort to go above and beyond to address a searcher’s initial question and then they try to think ahead for the searches with what questions may come next. They are using their historical data to help searchers answer their questions quicker.

The Google Knowledge Graph

Google’s Knowledge Graph is its own database, where data has been collected from tons of Google searches.

Google makes certain info quickly and easily available to searchers with the Knowledge Graph. You see the Knowledge Graph section on the right-hand side of a search engine result page (SERP). For example, I typed into Google: Charlotte Digital Summit.

Knowledge GraphOn the right-hand side, I see high-level information about that event. Google is looking to provide accurate and relevant information to your search queries in the shortest amount of time. This has given rise to position 0 or the featured snippet.

What is position 0 and a Featured Snippet?

A feature snippet appears in approximately 13 percent of search results but the number is rising, according to RankRanger, a free research tool that can help you benchmark and explore the presence and trending of what appears in the SERPs. These featured snippets appear above the normal search results. That is why they are called position 0. These snippets fall above position 1.

Position 1 is no longer the holy grail of SEO

The snippet contains a “snippet” of content from a relevant and helpful web page to quickly answer the searcher’s query. For example, I typed in “how to network at a conference” and I get 6 steps on how to be successful from WikiHow.

Position 0 on GoogleHow does your website content become a feature snippet or become position 0? Make sure your website content answers a searcher’s questions and doesn’t use PDFs.

Move away from PDFs

PDFs are not optimal for Google and you. As a webmaster, your users can’t reach other pages on your website that are related to the info in the PDF, you can’t optimize the images for search in a PDF, and you can’t apply structured data to them (search engines use structured data to generate snippets).

As search engines move toward snippets, your PDFs are holding you back from reaching position 0. And they don’t help you quickly answer the questions a searcher has. If you are a searcher, would you like to get your questions answered via the Knowledge Graph or look long and hard through a PDF?

If you are a searcher on Google, would you like to get your questions answered via the Knowledge Graph on a search engine page or would you like to spend a lot of time looking through a PDF to find the answer to your question?

A case study in answering questions

The secret to SEO is to quickly answer questions with your content. You should do what Marcus Sheridan did. He is one of the earlier adopters of content marketing and he is known for his revolutionary marketing strategy of answering his customers’ questions.

Marcus SheridanImage source: Jay Paul for The New York Times

Remember, Google has one goal and one goal only: give people the best search results possible. It is always improving its algorithm (it makes over 500 changes every year) to make sure its search results help answer the intent of the searcher.

Each change impacts the way Google indexes your website and Google is heading toward a mobile-first index in phases. With Google getting smarter when it comes to processing search results, how do you improve your SEO and keep up?

The secret to SEO: answer questions

Here are five tips to help you:

1. Write headlines that answer top questions your clients and prospects are asking

Headlines are important because only 80 percent of your readers will read the headline and they lead to more web page views. But your headline needs to do more. It can’t be just clickbait titles.

Your headline needs to answer the intent behind what your audience is searching for. It needs to answer the primary question while the content below your headline answers that question and their related questions.

If you do that, you have a great chance a ranking on page 1 of Google.

How do you know what questions your clients and prospects are asking?

Start with your sales team and your social selling efforts.

  • What questions are they getting asked?
  • Do you have a database of those questions?
  • Are you creating content to answer those questions?

You can also use websites like Quora to do research on what questions are being asked.


You can also type into Google potential questions you think they may be asking and then go to the bottom of the search results and look at the “searches related” section at the bottom of the SERP. For example, take a look at the related searches for “cloud vs. colocation.”

Related SearchesYou can see the other questions that are related to “cloud vs. colocation.” If your content can answer the related questions as well, you will be ranked higher.

If you answer all these questions all in one piece of content, you will want to create a series of content that does answer these questions. You need to cover topics from different angles and provide the best answers.

2. Write longer blog articles

The more value your content provides, the better the change it will rank higher in the search engines.

How do you provide more value?

You write longer pieces of content. Why? You are more likely to answer the questions of your clients and prospects.

And you are more likely to get more social media shares, get more backlinks and have them convert to your call to action (example: subscribe to your email newsletter).

Your content should be more than 3,000 words. ‎Marketing consultant and speaker Neil Patel writes blog articles that are more than 4,000 words and he averages 100,000 visitors a month to his website:

Top search results have more than 2,000 words

According to research from serpIQ, the content makeup of the top 10 search engine results in Google all had more than 2,000 words.

Avg Content Length of Top 10 Results

Additionally, Buzzsumo and OkDork researched the social share counts of more than 100 million articles and found that the longer the blog articles, the more social media shares it gets.

Shares-by-Content-LengthSpecifically, the sweet spot was 3,000 to 10,000 words. This content got the most average shares.

Longer blog articles also increase conversion rates. CrazyEgg increased their conversion rate by 363 percent by

CrazyEgg increased conversion rates 363% by switching to a long-form page. Longer content also increases the number of backlinks, as shown by Moz’s research.

Moz - wordcountWithout changing the order of the data, there is a correlation between longer content and links.

links-based-on-wordcountIn summary, the longer your content, the better the chance you are to get more social media shares, convert more on your call to actions and get more backlinks.

3. Improve readability

It is important to create content that is easy to digest, scan and comprehend. Without easy-to-read content, Google will not rate your website high in its search results. It wants to help its searchers quickly find what it was looking for.

To figure out how well your content reads, you can use tools like the Hemingway App. Also, Google analyzes the readability of your website so that it matches its searchers’ intent. If a website’s content does match the search engine user’s reading level, it will not be difficult to read and visitors will lose interest and leave the website.

So what is the sweet spot for a reading level? Your content should be at an 8th-grade reading level.

Reading Level

This grade level can bring complex ideas to audiences who read at a lower reading level.

The best writers write the simplest. However, it needs to be more than just simple, it needs to be interesting and compelling.

It is a fine line that will take some time to master.

4. Add read time to your blog articles

In addition to writing headlines that answer questions, writing longer and making sure it is readable for an eighth grader, it is important for readers to understand how long blog articles are before they start reading.

Why should you add read time?

Add Read Time

Adding read time increases engagement. Don’t take my word for it. Look at Fast CompanyMedium, and HubSpot. They all include read time.

But they didn’t start this trend. The New Yorker did.

Why? It is as simple as this:

The more we know about something — including precisely how much time it will consume — the greater the chance we will commit to it.”

The New Yorker

Now you need to add read estimated time to your blog.

How do you add calculate estimated reading time? If you use WordPress, you can use plugins or you can use code snippets to automatically calculate it for you. If those options don’t work, you can manually add it to your blog articles.

Research varies but generally, a person reads from 200 to 250 words a minute. So, if you write a 2,000-word blog post, it is an 8 to 10-minute read.

Pick a word count (200 or 250 words) and use that to calculate your read time.

5. Make sure your blog articles are mobile-friendly and load fast

With Google moving toward a mobile-first index, your content needs to be fast and mobile-optimized.

How do you ensure your blog articles meet the Google standards?

Use the Google Mobile-Friendly Test, a free tool from Google, to test if your web pages are mobile-friendly.

Google Mobile-Friendly Test

And use Google Page Speed Insights, a free tool from Google, to make your websites fast on all types of devices.

Google Page Speed

Being optimized for mobile and having a fast website are key factors in Google’s algorithm and where your website ranks.

Site speed and mobility are just two of 200 Google ranking factors in Google’s algorithm, but they are two important ones.

Bringing it together

Google learns every time a user searches via Google Search. They want to give each searcher answers to their question(s) as soon as possible. Is your website content helping Google help its search engine users? If so, Google will reward you. Google is making an effort to go above and beyond to address a searcher’s initial question. Are you going above and beyond by answering initial and related questions with your content?

As Google gets smarter processing search results, you need to get smarter with your content and your SEO strategies. If you answer your clients and prospects questions with your content and follow the recommendations above, you will be successful. The secret to SEO is to answer questions of your audience.

It is that simple. What’s your secret to SEO?