People have always gone to search engines with the intent to seek specific information, which makes it no surprise that more and more people are using search terms that are in the form of a question. Recent search trends show that as we turn the corner to a new year, the number of question-related search queries is increasing, but why?
Below you can see the United States percent increase for each question-related search term (“?”, “how”, “why”, “what”, “who”, “where”, and “when”), according to Google Trends. The search volume data below represents the amount of searches that have been conducted with each question-specific term, related to the total number of searches conducted on Google over a period of time. The numbers are calculated with a fixed mode of scaling, meaning “the data is scaled to the average traffic for your term during a fixed point in time.” (Google Trends)
| ||2006||2007||2008||2009||% Change|
|?|| 0.95|| 1.04|| 1.42|| 1.79|| 84%|
|how|| 1.09|| 1.21|| 1.52|| 1.88|| 73%|
|why|| 1.06|| 1.15|| 1.45|| 1.89|| 77%|
|what|| 1.08|| 1.11|| 1.41|| 1.84|| 72%|
|who|| 1.05|| 1.10|| 1.33||1.54 || 46%|
|where||1.01 ||1.10 ||1.47 ||1.87 || 84%|
|when||1.24 ||1.33 ||1.73 ||2.16 || 74%|
Searches that included a question mark (“?”) recorded the largest increase (shared with “where”), which most accurately substantiates the claim that question-related searches are on the rise.
Why the increase?
One reason Google has experienced an increase in question-related queries is the shift in market share from niche websites such as Ask.com (formally AskJeeves.com). Once a popular site that encouraged users to ask questions, the search audience has since flocked to one of the big three search properties (mainly Google), where almost 95% of searches are done on Google, Yahoo!, or Bing, according to comScore December 2009 data, which is up from 85% in 2006.
More importantly, search engines today are returning more relevant results with websites that answer your questions. With the help of user-generated content and the social media revolution, sites such as Answers.com and Yahoo! Answers are loaded with vast amounts of question and answer content, which is indexed by search engines. The authority these sites hold with the engines and the contextual match to your search queries is why they rank so often.
Bing (and recently Google) has been advocating in recent advertising campaigns that their search results provide answers. Microsoft labeled Bing a “decision engine” that allows you to make “smarter, faster decisions”. Google’s recent television ad, “Parisian Love” showed a searcher using question-like queries like “how to impress a french girl,” “what are truffles?”, “who is a trufaut?”, and “how to assemble a crib."
So, the engines are certainly confident that their results can satisfy the intent of the millions of different questions that can be asked.
Can this trend be leveraged for SEO purposes?
Yes. Here are four ways marketers can leverage this current trend:
- Add questions and answers to your website content: Write blog posts that ask and answer a question. Title the post with the question and provide a detailed answer in the post. Incorporate your question into the meta title and URL string.
- Create a FAQ section: Don’t ask and answer questions just about your business. Instead, ask and answer around more general topics that people are talking about in your field.
- Implement a discussion forum on the site to get users involved and interacting: User-generated content, if properly managed, can do wonders for your site by adding content and aiding in increasing search engine rankings.
- Answer questions on other sites and link back to yours: By providing answers to users’ questions on other websites, you create exposure and can help drive more traffic to your site by including a useful link.
As data suggests that users are progressively more apt to enter a question into the search box when seeking information, now is the time to leverage this current trend by utilizing the tips above and measuring the results. New enhancements to the SERP are sure to take place in an effort to better answer our questions in the future, so stay tuned for updates.