You’ve already experienced them, whether you realize it or not. Whenever you type a question into Google, or a phrase that mimics the structure and intent of a question, you’ll always see a handful of linked results, and occasionally you’ll see what’s known as a “rich answer.” Rich answers take a variety of forms; they could be short, succinct correct answers to your query like “4” when you ask how many quarts are in a gallon. They could be a couple of sentences explaining a complex question like a definition of a common word. They could also exist in other formats, including video, images, or Knowledge Graph entries with common information on a popular subject.
You might have also noticed occasional boxes popping up about halfway down the SERP, with the title “People also ask” with a handful of questions and queries (between one and four) peripherally related to your original ask. You can click on any one of these queries to reveal a rich answer with a selection of information that answers the query directly.
These are Google’s “related questions,” and they’re a growing part of the algorithm. In fact, they’re growing at an exponential rate, and if you’re interested in gaining more search visibility in the short-term and long-term, the time to take advantage of them is now.
According to a recent report by Moz, related questions have risen in prevalence by more than 500 percent since July, making it one of the fastest-expanding features of the algorithm and far outpacing other Knowledge Graph features. At the end of July, related questions were present for approximately 1.3 percent of all queries. By December, they were at over 8 percent. This rise was largely illustrated by two major spikes—one near the end of October and one near the beginning of December, implying some kind of push or change occurred around those times and indicating that this was a manual, deliberate step from Google.
Most related questions appear to have been generated by a machine learning algorithm. We can tell this because groups of questions sometimes have very similar, but grammatically distinct related questions to expand. For example, “what is a baseball made of?” and “what material is used to make a baseball?” are two practically identical questions that a machine learning algorithm might designate as independent.
Because of this, it’s likely that the spike in related questions is due to a change or advancement pushed by collected (and possibly checked) information from a machine learning algorithm much like RankBrain. RankBrain was released as an addition to the Hummingbird algorithm, designed to learn more about the semantics of natural language, and transform ambiguous or complex queries into more decipherable versions. It’s clear how a self-updating algorithm like this could feasibly produce a selection of related questions for common inquiries with the slight—but noticeable—discrepancies we’ve found thus far.
It’s unclear how related questions are answered, but the process is both similar to and independent from the process that discovers and publishes traditional rich answers. For example, if you expand upon a related question, you’ll see a format that resembles a traditional rich answer. However, if you search for the related question independently, the rich answer you acquire will likely be different. This is an indication that related questions and original queries pull from different sources at least some of the time, which makes them controlled by separate algorithms. It’s unclear whether a page-one rank is necessary to be featured as an answer in a related question.
Typically, when Google experiments with a new feature, it appears in strange intervals, only to a selection of users, and then disappears entirely. With rich answers and related questions, however, these features have stuck around consistently for all platforms and all users, and are growing at an astounding rate. It’s clear that Google is heavily invested in its semantic understanding and ability to answer complex questions, so it’s reasonable to suspect that related questions will continue to grow in prevalence.
The key takeaway here is that Google has doubled down on its ability to answer user questions quickly and concisely. If you want to achieve more search visibility as the popularity of this feature rises, it’s in your best interest to answer as many common user questions as concisely as possible:
Taking these steps won’t guarantee you’ll make it as a featured answer to a related question, but they’ll increase your relevance for common user queries regardless. As more details emerge about related questions and how Google finds answers to them, you may find more actionable strategies to earn that visibility. It remains to be seen whether the rise in rich answers and related questions will have a negative impact on organic search traffic, but it’s worthwhile to hedge your bets and position your site to benefit no matter how these features develop.