Google answer boxes have become a common feature in Google search results since the end of 2014. These can be great for users who want quick information and also a testament to Google’s Knowledge Graph, but the rise of answer boxes may not be such good news for your marketing efforts.

In fact, when news surfaced that answer boxes were showing up 98% more often back in Oct 2014, content publishers were less than pleased – so much so that Google felt the need to answer their concerns. So what’s the deal with answer boxes and should you be worried?

What are Google answer boxes?
Answer boxes have become so common you almost can’t have missed them; the grey outlined boxes that show up at the top of organic search results. This is Google’s Knowledge Graph at work, pulling up what it thinks is the best answer to your question. Generally speaking, these are fairly textbook questions and answers – type in the “what is the meaning of life?” and you get a very scientific extract from Wikipedia, nothing more.

Answer boxes currently show for roughly 19% of queries and only for certain types of question, but this number is a massive increase upon last year and it’s worth assessing how this affects your search marketing strategy.

Why should I care?
First of all we should point out not all answer boxes are the same and there are four types that SEOs are most worried about:
• Google’s answer boxes – you’ll see these for maths questions, the weather and a bunch of other informational queries. The important note here is that users don’t need to click on sites to get the information they want – which means no traffic for any site on the results page.
• Knowledge Graph answers – this is the where you’ll see Wikipedia crop up in a lot of answer boxes, which shows you who the big loser here is in terms of traffic – but it’s not all bad news if branding is more important than visitors.
• Knowledge Graph sidebar – is basically a more in-depth collection of information, which you’ll commonly see if you search major brands, sports teams or cities.
• Extracted answer boxes – these are the ones SEOs are really worried about. Google basically takes content from a website – possibly yours – and presents it to users without them needing to visit your site. Sometimes Google doesn’t even cite where this information comes from, which means you never get a chance to earn the click.

This isn’t the only instance where Google removes the need for users to visit your site. Google Search and Maps integration mean local searchers can compare you against rival brands without ever seeing your website. This isn’t always a bad thing for brands: in the case of Wikipedia, for example, the branding power of showing up in answer boxes so regularly is huge.
This will rarely be the case for business owners though and there’s a good chance you’ll need to tweak your approach to blogging and possibly even keyword research. The good news is this has no affect on your PPC performance, but we’ll be back soon to look at ways you can protect your traffic from answer boxes.