The People Also Ask (PAA) box is a prominent set of results in Google Search that helps searchers understand what questions others ask about any given topic. This search result type appears across a wide swath of searchers; in fact, 43% of search queries now show a PAA box.
JR Oakes, senior director of technical SEO research at Locomotive, recently shared a fascinating study in Search Engine Land on how Google chooses People Also Ask (PAA) results and its impact on brands.
In the column, we’ll review his key findings and dig a bit deeper into the impact that specific types of PAA results can have on your brand’s reputation and how you can leverage the opportunities these questions can present. We’ll explore how these results influence consumer perception of your brand, and whether you should optimize for People Also Ask. But first:
What is People Also Ask on Google?
People Also Ask results appear prominently on search engine results pages (SERPs), often in the most valuable real estate—above the fold and all organic results. In the following example, a featured snippet and People Also Ask push all other results below the fold on both desktop (shown) and mobile.
Given the prominence of this search feature, it is not a space brands can afford to ignore.
How Google Chooses People Also Ask Results for Brand Searches
Oakes’ research offers some interesting insight into the types of PAA results that appear on brand searches—that is when a person is searching the name of the brand and nothing else.
Among their key findings:
- People Also Ask results are not static and change at different rates, depending on the brand. For example, PAA results for Microsoft changed almost daily, while those for financial services brand Morgan Stanley remained unchanged throughout the study period.
- The median number of unique People Also Ask results per company was seven over the nearly two week period of data collection.
- Some brands are better than others at owning the conversation in this space. For example, FedEx was dubbed a “brand voice hero” for answering all PAA results on searches for the brand name with their own content.
- Google returns PAA questions about whether a company is “good” for 37% of brand searches. Of the 5 Ws, “what” was the most common PAA result with representation in 29% of all PAAs collected.
- Google understands the relevance of current events on the types of questions people have about brands, as evidenced by Pfizer PAA results focusing on the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Oakes and his team used tools including Senta, Baidu’s open-source sentiment analysis system, and the Google NLP Language API to evaluate PAA results. Overall, this study is worth sinking your teeth into. You’ll find the full analysis and findings here.
People Also Ask and the Power of Suggestion
Now let’s check out some other types of PAA results. How does any expressed sentiment or intent influence what Google believes the searcher wants to know?
When consumers are looking for information about companies, products, and services, others’ opinions and experiences weigh heavily on their decisions. People Also Ask questions can potentially influence searcher perception of the brand much in the same way as online reviews.
When queries are informational, as in the above example, the PAA results are predictably in line with that searcher intent. Let’s see what happens when we change the intent:
Asking whether it’s a good company has introduced new topics that may not have occurred to the searcher previously: Is its stock worthless? Can it recover? Which begs the question—from what?
Now, those of us in business and marketing are likely familiar with JC Penney’s 2020 woes. However, a busy soccer mom in Cheektowaga, NY, or Columbia, SC, may not have much appetite for business news and simply wants to know where to find a pair of jeans. That searcher may be looking for reassurance that they’ve made the right brand choice, but the PAA results have introduced uncertainty to their journey from evaluation to an in-store visit.
Exploring those results doesn’t instill confidence, either:
This featured PAA result suggests the brand is even unlikely to return. If the searcher queried “JC Penney stores near me,” they would see locations across the Eastern USA:
Instead, that customer’s journey with the brand may have ended at the PAA box.
Let’s try a “where to buy” query:
The commercial intent here is clear: the searcher wants to know where to buy a product. Yet the first result is a comparative question—which one is best? The third result introduces a brand name that the searcher may not have been considering to this point. The fourth question is informational—is ginger beer alcoholic or not?
Why does this matter? Brands need to be aware of this prominent space and appear in it for various types of searches.
In our ginger beer example, the first result is an opinion blog post. Wouldn’t it be great to develop a relationship with that blogger and work your way into that result? The second is a Quora question where your team could respond, thereby getting in front of all who visit that result.
People Also Ask and Non-Branded Searches
Here’s another example using a common type of non-branded search. This time, we want to know where to find the best running shoes. In this case, the PAA box appeared below the Local Pack and two organic results.
The searcher might have browsed the Local Pack, or maybe they specifically want to see what others suggest and skipped to this section. Either way, this is a valuable chunk of real estate on the search results’ first page. In this case, all four of the People Also Ask results are comparisons of running shoes—two from RunnersWorld.com, one from TheTrendspotter.net, and the last from BusinessInsider.com.
As a brand, you have two options if you want to appear here:
- Attempt to outrank one of the existing PAA results by creating a high quality, optimized comparison of your own, or
- Attempt to get listed in one of the current results.
So Can You Optimize for People Also Ask?
Absolutely. There is no magic button or guarantee of inclusion, but there are several ways you can increase the likelihood your brand will appear in People Also Ask.
First, make sure you understand the opportunity. Conduct a mini PAA audit:
- Understand the PAA box positioning on key brand and relevant non-branded terms. Is it outranking your Local Pack, paid, or organic content?
- Evaluate the accuracy, relevancy, and sentiment of PAA results on your key brand terms and relevant non-branded terms.
- Analyze your competitors in this unique SERPs space. It may be entirely different from who you believe you’re competing against in organic Google search.
- Identify and document PAA queries where you’re already performing. Be prepared to monitor over time and defend that real estate.
Second, make sure you own the results for your brand. As Oakes found with FedEx, the company can own the brand name PAA completely. A robust FAQs page or incorporating Q&A-style information on a well-optimized Local Page can help you dominate brand search PAA and appear in non-branded PAA results, too.
Third, analyze the PAA results for relevant non-branded search terms such as ‘best brand for this product,’ ‘where to find this service,’ etc. Make sure different intent types are reflected in your research; that informational, navigational, transactional, and commercial queries are considered. Look for opportunities to displace inaccurate or potentially harmful results with better optimized, higher quality information.
Finally, look for opportunities to target specific bloggers, authors, or other results, as mentioned above in PR or outreach campaigns. See if you can be included in their next comparison or blog post. Maybe there’s an opportunity to partner with an influencer. You might find new prospective partners that other research methods hadn’t turned up.
Learn more about improving your brand’s visibility in local search: