Direct Answers: How Should SEOs React? SMX Speakers Weigh In

If your site gets featured in Direct Answers in search results, it can really boost traffic to your site. Don’t think of them as the enemy, but as a friend! Eric Enge, Amber Fehrenbach and Ehren Reilly are going to share their key insights into how to make Direct Answers populate, with data and examples straight from their agencies/brands at this don’t-miss SMX East session!

Direct Answers session speakers
Ehren Reilly, Amber Fehrenbacher and Eric Enge

Latest Stone Temple Consulting Direct Answers Research – Eric Enge

Stone Temple Consulting’s Eric Enge (@stonetemple) shares an important quote from Google’s Amit Singhal: “The destiny of Google’s search engine is to become that Star Trek computer, and that’s what we are building.” Direct Answers are another step toward being the Star Trek computer.

Stone Temple Consulting ran 1.4 million queries through Google to see which would have rich answers including sidebars and which would have rich answer not including sidebars. The results? 35 percent rendered rich answers including sidebars and 29.4 percent rendered rich answers without sidebars.

How has this grown over time?

Direct Answers slide

That’s 38 percent growth in seven months. Enge fully expects this trend to continue. Rich Answers are growing.

Two thirds of the time, Google includes a link to the source of the information. The cases where they don’t supply the link, the information is either public domain (capital of Washington state, for example). In other cases, Google has licensed the data (for song lyrics, as an example).

So, if your SEO strategy has had a heavy dependency on public domain information, know that this is going to get taken away from you. Google has a right to publish it, and they have a mission to be that Star Trek computer, so they’re going to do so.

Also, 54 percent of the domains used by Google for Rich Answers have a Moz domain authority of 60 or less. Lesson? Authority doesn’t trigger the answer.

These examples of Rich Answers show many cases of sites getting more traffic, thanks to their sites. What wins when it comes to Rich Answers? Simple, direct answers.

Stone Temple Consulting’s Testing

Enge published five videos answering various search questions in May, complete with transcripts. Each of them gave more information than just an answer to the question. In addition to the direct, simple answer, there’s more valuable content to go along with it.

Enge shared one of the videos on Google+ and submitted the URL to Google Search Console. In three days, they had a Rich Answer result for “How do you implement a NoFollow attribute on a link?”

Out of the other four videos, he was also able to get one more Direct Answer via a video: a 40 percent success rate!

Enge’s Advice for Getting a Direct Answer to Populate

  1. Identify a simple question.
  2. Provide a clear direct answer.
  3. Offer value added info.
  4. Make it easy for users and Google to find.

Here are Eric Enge’s slides for reference:

[Study results published here:]

Turning Direct Answer Lemons into Lemonade – Amber Fehrenbacher

Amber Fehrenbacher (@afehrenbacher) is the CMO from Surety Bonds (specialty insurance company for bonds). After being hit hard by Penguin and Panda, Surety completely overhauled their marketing strategy and boosted their conversion rate and organic sessions, and decreased their bounce rate. Furthermore, within 30 days of the site redesign, Direct Answers started showing up for their content (even though the content itself didn’t change that much). Here’s what did change:

  • Responsive site redesign
  • Data-driven decision making
  • Developed in-house content team
  • Re-engineered user funnel
  • Aligned social strategy with content
  • Guest post

Surety’s Preferred Tools

  • Google Analytics
  • Search Console
  • MailChimp
  • Keyword Planner
  • Google Forms
  • PageAnalytics
  • Moz
  • Piwik

Optimizing for Direct Answers, According to Surety

  • Follow Google best practices on structured data.
  • Analyze user behavior in segments.
  • Derive content from keyword research.
  • Conduct qualitative research and pair with quantitative data to develop strategy.

Winning at Direct Answers – Ehren Reilly

Ehren Reilly (@ehrenreilly), the director of growth at Glassdoor, is next up to share his latest insights on Direct Answers. Here’s his slide deck so you can follow along:

Types of Businesses Struggling Since the Advent of Direct Answers


These services were useful, but not unique. This is no longer a viable business model. Nor, as Enge mentioned earlier, are lyrics sites.

Spoiler Answers: This is Reilly’s term for Direct Answers that share everything you need right on the SERP, such as an entire recipe. Publishers get upset over these situations as they lose traffic and ad revenue. But this is the reality. So how do publishers deal with it? Face reality and focus on the positive. You can show up above the No. 1 position if you can answer the question more directly than the No. 1 result.

Think Inside the Box:

  • Clickable Direct Answers are click magnets.
  • CTR on clickable Direct Answers derive twice as much traffic as a No. 1 SERP result with no Direct Answer.
  • If you’re No. 2 and not in a Direct Answer, you stand to lose half your traffic.

Kristi Kellogg is a journalist, news hound, professional copywriter, and social (media) butterfly. Currently, she is a senior SEO content writer for Conde Nast. Her articles appear in newspapers, magazines, across the Internet and in books such as "Content Marketing Strategies for Professionals" and "The Media Relations Guidebook." Formerly, she was the social media editor at Bruce Clay Inc.

See Kristi's author page for links to connect on social media.

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