How to Use FAQs for SEO: In Search SEO Podcast
Ashley Segura the mad hatter of Top Hat Rank joins the podcast to offer a fresh look at FAQs for SEO!
Plus, we look at CTR on the SERP when ranking above the fold vs below the fold!
The data we’re about to get into has been brought to you by a good friend of the podcast, Nati Elimelech, who asked Mordy if JP has data on what the clickthrough rate (CTR) looks like for organic SERP listings above the fold (ATF).
But first some background. This was a very hard study to track the data for. The problem is you can’t just take a URL ranking at #1 on the SERP and compare its CTR to a URL that appears below the fold (BTF). Why? Because how do you know how much of that CTR is because it’s above the fold or because it’s the top result on the page? In other words, how can you specifically pull out the impact of being above the fold vs being below the fold on CTR?
What you really need to do is compare a position on the SERP and its CTR when it’s above the fold vs when it’s below the fold! To do that, you have to find positions that at times appear ATF and at times appear BTF. So for this study, we took data from positions 3-5. All together Mordy looked at 1500 URLs for this study!
The results? Complicated. Overall, URLs appearing in position 3-5 ATF had a 30% higher CTR in aggregate than when they appeared BTF. What’s complicated is when you start looking at how fast CTR drops from one position to the next. For example, moving from position 4-5 BTF, CTR dropped just 9.5% which is just half of the drop in CTR from 3-4.
To get past the numbers, CTR fell off twice as slowly between a URL that ranked #4 BTF and a URL that ranked #5 BTF and there was a similar pattern ATF. Meaning, there is a dramatic difference between the CTR between positions 2 and 3 and the CTR between positions 3 and 4 but not a very big difference relatively between the CTR between positions 4 and 5!
So Mordy went into the study looking to find the difference in CTR between ATF and BTF and he did, but the real takeaway is that users love positions 1-3 and there’s a big drop in CTR from positions 3-4 both ATF and BTF. So once you move to position 4 no one cares which is why the CTR fall-off from 4-5 is not as dramatic.
What does this mean in theory? There’s a big drop in the CTR from positions 3-4 because the top 3 results have a certain association of authority. We all believe that the top 3 are super relevant to varying degrees, but once we get to the 4th spot, we view it differently. It’s not as authoritative or relevant as the ones above it, which is why the CTR difference from 3-4 is so big and once you’re irrelevant, you’re irrelevant. In other words, there’s not that big of a difference in being irrelevant at position 4 then there is being irrelevant at position 5 so the CTR doesn’t drop off to the same extent because no one is clicking anyway.
Think about it like this. Let’s say 20 million people watch an NFL game, 15 million an NBA game, 10 million an MLB game, then there’s a huge drop-off with only 1 million people watching golf, and then the next lowest has a relatively small drop-off with 800,000 people watching tennis.
Why is the drop-off between golf and tennis so small? Because they both suck [ED. Mordy’s opinion]. There’s going to be a major drop off between the great and the good between positions 2 and 3 but between two options that no one wants, there’ll be a small CTR fall off between positions 4-5.
Now, just because the CTR falls off doesn’t mean that the CTR and the traffic you get at #5 or even at #10 isn’t significant. That can still be thousands of visits. We’re not trying to demean anyone ranking at #5. Even for us, we get a lot of traffic from keywords where we rank at #5 or #6 and that’s really helpful to us so don’t take it the wrong way. Our point is that ATF plays into CTR but so does user perception.
Mordy: You are listening to another In Search SEO Podcast interview. Today we have a Mad Hatter. She’s the co-founder of Top Hat Content and Top Hat Social. She’s currently the VP of operations at Top Hat Rank. She’s an industry speaker and an author of all. She’s Ashley Segura.
Ashley: Thank you so much for having me. I’m super excited to be here.
M: Obviously, happy that you came on. I have to ask you a really obvious, possibly stupid question. What is your favorite hat?
A: I absolutely love that you’re asking that because I just rediscovered it in the closet a couple of days ago and now I just have it sitting on my dresser just waiting for when I can go out again. It’s a top hat I got from Ireland. My whole brand for so many years has been mad house matters and wearing top hats. Now I work with Top Hat Rank, Content, and Social. So it’s a top hat from Ireland and it’s the best hat in the entire world.
M: Where do you wear that? Where do you say, “Hey, it’s time for the top hat.”
A: Most likely at a brewery or a concert.
M: Cool. So today we’re talking about content and FAQ. To get everybody on the same page, please enlighten us on why FAQ is important for SEO.
A: Certainly, so there’s a handful of reasons but some of the biggest is because of the way people are searching these days. They either want a question or they want to be entertained. Either they’re asking a question or they want something that’s going to fill their time. From an FAQ standpoint, if you have a few pages on your site or multiple blog posts into individual FAQs, that’s helping address questions that people are actually searching for. And of course, that’s the whole goal of SEO, to optimize your website to what people are searching for. And as user behavior changes, as users have gotten more intuitive with how to type in words and what kind of terminology to use in order to get the results that they want, they’re asking more specific questions. And that’s where FAQ marries that.
M: That makes a lot of sense. Have you ever seen FAQ content end up in something like a Featured Snippet before?
A: Certainly, actually, quite a lot. What’s interesting is how it’s laid out. You see a lot of FAQ content on websites where, in the menu bar all the way over to the right, there’s a little tiny tab that says FAQ and a whole page dedicated to questions and answers. The ones that I see that ranked the best or become Featured Snippets are the ones that aren’t organized like that. They have content in them. They start out with context at the top with a couple of short paragraphs of what the topic, the service, or the product is and why people even begin to ask questions in the first place. It’s diving a little bit deeper into the business or the brand and then making each question more like a casual conversation instead of the standard, boring 25 questions that no one actually reads all of them which is why they call your customer service.
M: That’s really interesting. You’re going in-depth where you’re doing an FAQ that really explains the product and you’re giving the page a bit of an identity. You’re offering Google some context on what you’re actually talking about. You’re offering the reader something helpful.
A: Exactly. And it’s more of telling a story. As I said earlier, with users just being better searchers, they’re also digesting content on pages way differently. That’s when things like heat maps come in where you can actually see that they landed on this page and were only there for four seconds. They just wanted what they came for a very specific piece of information. Very rarely are they going to read all 25 questions and answers because they really want to know everything there is to know about your business or about your products and services. They usually just want their specific question answered.
M: Do you think that users read the content at the top of the page about your product. You wrote it for Google which makes sense, but will a user just skip over that?
A: It depends, of course. It really depends on what the user’s intent is. If they’re coming there to get a specific question, they may go through those first one-to-two paragraphs first just for context and then scroll down to find that question. But one of the things I recommend is there are a lot of larger brands who feel the need that no matter what they have to have an FAQ page because the CEO says it’s important. It doesn’t matter what it does for ranking, they just want it no matter what. In situations like that, to help the user, you can still have that format of question/answer but underneath each answer, have a link to a blog post that goes into more detail about that specific question. Then you’re giving the user somewhere where they can dive much deeper if they want more context versus having them go to your chatbot or picking up the phone and be another person on a customer service line.
M: That’s what’s so funny about this because you generally think FAQ is very standard. But if you start getting into why the user is coming here, how they are interacting with the page, and where they are going next, it becomes a totally different beast.
A: Yes, and tracking is a huge point there. After the FAQ page, did they do anything else with your website? Did they engage with any other content? Looking at what their behavior patterns are after can tell you a whole lot of what you should be doing. Say they go to your FAQ page, and then they go to a product page and they exit out. That can tell you that you’re still not giving them enough information about that product to make the closing sale. They’re still unsure. You need more content, you need to dive deeper, or you need a video about that product. You need something more to get to the user.
M: That’s a good point. So many FAQs don’t use images, videos, or media and that makes me insane because I like media. Does that make sense to throw in a video or to throw in an image or is it a bit too much?
A: Where I think it would make the most sense is if you’re going to have a link underneath each of the answers to dive deeper. Then you can have anywhere between a 30 to 45 second video explaining this question a little bit more. Having the option for someone to see it and then also having a full blog post underneath is fantastic. That’s the most ideal type of content right now because that’s satisfying both search and users. Google’s loving videos, users are loving videos. And then having all of the content underneath with around 500 to 750 words to accompany that video diving even deeper, even if you’re repeating some of the information, you’re giving both Google and the user different ways to digest how you’re answering this question so you’re able to satisfy both.
M: That makes a ton of sense. It satisfies coming for a quick answer or if people want more. You’re giving them the option if they want to explore further or not.
Sometimes you see these massive FAQs with every single possible question on every single possible aspect of the product on one ginormous page. At what point would you split it up or would your users prefer it to be all on one page?
A: You can structure it a few different ways if you’re still set on having an FAQ page on your site and then have links to blog posts or other content. On the blog side of things, one of your categories can be Frequently Asked Questions or Customer Service Tips. You can rename this and get really creative like Top Asked Questions by Fans so it’s not FAQs. Everyone sees the concept of FAQs and they just roll over. You can get creative with your tone and your brand and rename it something different. Categorize it into your blog and then have each of these posts inside of there. So people can explore deeper if they want to and have that option and know where to find that content while still having it in multiple areas.
M: That’s an awesome idea. So when do you really need to have an FAQ and when do you not need to have an FAQ?
A: I think most businesses need to have an FAQ. For example, an influencer can get categorized into the brand profile section. They don’t necessarily need to have an FAQ. But if you offer a service, if you have a product, if you are selling something, you need to have an FAQ because there’s an experience behind that. Anytime there’s an experience, people are going to be curious about what that experience is going to be like, what are some negatives, what are some positives, and what you need to expect in entirety. Even if it’s something like what’s the estimated shipping.
There are certain businesses that are going to have a ton more questions like a financial business, a bank, a post office, etc. Companies that offer services that are more in-depth are going to have a more in-depth FAQ. Companies that offer products such as clothing will ask questions like where do you source your clothing from? What kind of material? What are your size guidelines? What is the average shipping? Can I expedite my shipping? What is your return policy? It really depends on what the business is, but almost all businesses and branches should have some layer of FAQ if they offer an experience.
M: So if I’m sitting down and I want to write an FAQ, where do you start? What questions do you answer? How do you even know where to begin?
A: So if you have a customer service team, that’s the first place you go. What are the most frequently asked questions? A lot of the clients that I work with when I start with them in the client brief I have a section where I need a contact from your customer service team if you have one so that I can send them a questionnaire. It basically goes into, “Hey, what are people complaining about? What do people love? What are the most asked questions?”
If you aren’t on that scale where you have your own sales or customer service team, one of the things that I like to do is I’ll use SEMRush’s topic research tool and I’ll go in there and type in a topic and then you can do it by location, city, region, state, and country and you’ll see the most frequently asked questions as well as the top 10 articles about that specific subject. So I’ll look at the who, what, when, where, why, and how questions people are asking, and then that tells me what are probably some of the most frequently asked questions.
If worst comes to worst, if I’m not getting a lot of questions from there, if I don’t really have a customer sales team that I can go to, then the good old-fashioned marketing way is to look at your competitors. Go to your competitor’s site like some of the larger, more corporate ones as they always have FAQs. Even the businesses and brands that don’t necessarily need to have in-depth ones will have it. Look at some of their questions and see if any of those questions relate to your business model.
M: It probably makes sense to do that every once in a while anyway. Assuming your product is evolving, your niche is evolving, or your industry is evolving. Just to go back and see your FAQs and see your competitors and decide to redo them. Does that happen where you have to audit what questions are on your page?
A: Certainly. Even if you look at the times during COVID right now, it’s producing a unique set of questions for all sorts of businesses that businesses may have never had to address before. I always suggest auditing the content on your site as a whole, quarterly. Part of that is doing steps like this, auditing your FAQ content, looking at your customer experience, seeing how your customer experience changed at all in the last quarter. And if so, how can I address that in the FAQ section?
M: The whole COVID-19 thing is an amazing point. I’ve yet to see a site set up an FAQ just for COVID-19 questions.
A: I’ve seen a couple of campground sites that are still open have a page dedicated to it. But that’s a unique way to address FAQs without being a boring black-and-white FAQ page. They’re addressing the situation but not saying it’s an FAQ, but that’s basically what it is.
M: I want to ask you, how do you keep a fresh pair of eyes? You know the product, you know your service, and you have your questions from your sales or customer support team. How do you take a hard objective look at what your product or service is? You might be making so many assumptions because you know it so intimately whereas a person who is not familiar with the product is not going to take those things for granted.
A: That’s where I really start to recommend for my clients to invest in tools. That’s where I’ll help them export different keyword terms to see how the search terms that are leading to your website are changing. That says a lot about the experience and how you can better adapt. Are they still using the same terminology? Is it changing? Like I talked about at the beginning, people are asking questions inside of search bars instead of just saying they need x, y, and z. They’re asking and instead, “How do I get x, y, and z?” So seeing what their patterns are and using SEO tools is a really helpful way to get a 360-degree view of your content experience online and your customer’s experience with how they’re engaging with your website.
It’s so easy to just get immersed into your own product or service and your site thinking you’re checking all the boxes, you’re doing everything you’re supposed to, so let’s open the floodgates and get all the traffic coming into my site. That’s not how it always happens. So being able to use tools to see how people’s search patterns are changing will also help you know how to adjust your experience online with your content.
M: Do you judge that effectiveness by noticing if you’re getting fewer emails or fewer conversions? At what point do you finish and wonder if you did do a good job or not?
A: It really comes down to your specific goal with that content. One of my mottos is never to publish a piece of content without having a very specific goal in mind. It could be as simple as wanting more Facebook likes because of this blog post that I’m publishing or wanting to increase traffic by 2% over the next two weeks with this blog post. Having something like that is where you’re going to be able to go back and measure if this email marketing campaign really did work or if it completely missed the mark. That’s when you dive deep into if it was the subject line of the email, the layout, the content, did it have enough buttons, was the layout wrong, etc. Then you can start A/B testing.
But you have to make sure that whatever content you’re publishing, whether it’s an email newsletter that’s going out on a Tuesday or a video that’s being published on YouTube, you want to share it all over social media. There has to be at least one primary goal, and if not a secondary, to accompany that in order to measure whether this is even remotely successful.
M: Okay, you knew this question was coming. FAQ markup. Do you put an FAQ in every freaking page so that you can do FAQ markup?
A: I don’t because I’m more about the content experience.
M: Not even way at the bottom where no one’s going to see it anyway?
A: Yeah, but people do kind of see it and there are ways you can structure it differently. You can have at the bottom of each page two or three specific questions that relate to our page and then make that work.
M: Right, I don’t mean you need to write in giant, massive letters “FAQ.” I mean a few questions that you can manipulate into legitimate questions that fit into what Google is looking for and not what we see with every other stupid white paper doing this.
A: And that’s where there’s the fine line. It’s like back in the day when you would have a business in multiple cities and every page would have all of those cities at the bottom of the footer. You have to do this in a very fragile way for both Google and the users. As long as it’s relevant to the point of the content of that page then it’s fine.
M: So you don’t want to be like kayak.com where every single one of their pages has a massive FAQ. It’s awesome.
A: Yeah, it’s pretty intense but maybe it’s working and if they remove it, then they’re going to lose all of their traffic, but as a rule of thumb for a site to start out that way is a fine line.
M: The second question I have to ask you is when you see people creating their FAQs, what problems do you run into along the way and how do you solve them?
A: I think it’s how you can position your brand with those questions. Some users will look at those questions as black-and-white, as gold, as your brand standard. Others will look at it and feel like it’s not black and white, it’s very vague, and it’s not enough information. As with any and all content, you need to write for your user, for your target demographic. If you know that your demographic, the people that come to your site and engage with your brand, are at this level of digesting content, then provide that type of content inside of your FAQ. If they’re the type who needs everything there is to know before they can actually make a purchase or engage with you then give them that in the FAQ.
It all depends on who you’re talking to, not just how you want your brand to be positioned. What I see a lot of businesses do is they want to be more of a high-level looked at brand so we’re not going to give all of the information. Well, that creates a really crappy user experience and that actually disconnects your target demographic from converting with you because you didn’t give them enough information and you know that they’re the type of persona that needs everything before they can actually pull the trigger and make a purchase with you.
Optimize It or Disavow It
M: If you could choose between either a traditional FAQ page that’s kind of boring and stale or you do just FAQ video with no written content, just a video, what would you choose?
A: I’m going to have to say text because it’s still so important for SEO right now. Video is booming, but we still need text to accompany it. So I don’t know if just a video would be enough.
M: But everyone loves videos.
A: Everyone loves videos, but not everyone digests information. Speaking from personal use, when I watch a video, I don’t digest the information the same as when I read it especially when it comes to a conversion experience. If I have questions, even though they’re in the FAQ, I’ll still email the company just so I have it in my email and can reread it again and digest it again. So seeing it in video only, I just don’t feel secure enough that I fully grasped it.
M: Thank you so much for coming on. That was super fun, super awesome, and super informative.
A: Thank you so much for having me.