I’ll Take Online Marketing for $400, Alex: Jeopardy for SEO Success

For those of you living in caves at the South Pole, the first answer you should ask is…

“This is the name of a television show featuring a quiz competition in which contestants are presented with general knowledge clues in the form of answers, and must phrase their responses in the form of questions.”

What is Jeopardy? Ahem.



My thought is that Google engineers are big game show fans, making the Jeopardy format, in a few keys areas, a driving force behind Google algorithm updates and innovation. A bit tongue in cheek, sure, but algorithms love definitive structured and consistent data, and questions are the gateway to that data and the “raison d’être” for the giant search portal. In fact, much like Jeopardy, the understanding of questions and relevant answers are key components to the present and future of Google.

As with many Silicon Valley companies, that Google future is firmly rooted in Google’s past. Google Answers was one of the first Google products to spin up in 2002, with (it appears) a business model of charging for answers within a user community (the first question was “why is the sky blue?” for $5).

Google Answers shut down in 2006, but the archive is still searchable and available.

Questions as answers is a differentiator of the Jeopardy format. Google has spent billions of dollars and countless hours of some of the brightest minds in engineering analyzing questions, trying to better understand:

  • The construct of questions
  • The intent of questions
  • The context of questions

All of this to provide better, and more relevant results through an understanding of what answer users expect and want.

Before we praise Google for being so altruistic in its efforts, remember that; the satisfactory answer to a searcher’s question is the reason for loyalty, return visits to Google and Google ad revenue.

So how is Google doing in answering our questions?

Google SERP for $100, Alex


What are Direct Answers?

It’s actually quite amazing how diverse the “Direct Answers” have become, ranging from an extended weather report for a query of “weather norfolk va,” to a simple query of “Mother’s Day” returning the date.

(For those of you apt to forget, this is a public service image.)


So what goes into the interpretation of the query so that Google can better understand the answer a user expects?

The Hummingbird update had a lot to do with this. This major refresh of their algorithm was Google’s attempt to better guess users’ intent through instant analysis of the big data of user behavior, clicks, and click satisfaction.

Analyze enough data and predicting what folks might be looking for is easier, if not a lot more obvious.

The outcome is that for obvious questions Google serves up the most obvious answers.


Ask Google a calculation…and you’ll get the answer there and then.

The algorithm “interprets” that the construct of the question is a mathematical formula. Anticipates that the intent a correct result. And the context…well that could be many things encapsulated in the device and/or prior search behavior. Google used to serve up a simple box with the result. Now…because it anticipates you might want a few other calculations completed, it even serves up a calculator in the browser.


Direct answers are the bane of many SEO folks, answering queries without a click through to the site, so how can the smart SEO hope to rank, with Google serving up so many Direct Answers in the SERP?

Here’s Why” with Eric Enge and Mark Traphagen covered some examples of a Direct Answer result where the answer got clicks. I decided to dig a little to find a way (maybe) to get featured in a Direct Answer box with some relatively simple research.

Google SERP for $200, Please Alex


What is appear in Direct Answers box?

The good news is for SEO folks it that Hummingbird didn’t make Google perfect, any more than Alex Trebek’s moustache made him more attractive! (Sorry, Alex.)

By digging into the search results you can often get insights into questions that either Wikipedia doesn’t answer (yes, that’s possible), or questions that are asked in a different way. The third possibility is that no Direct Answer box shows up…then you have it easy.*

*SEO is never easy.

Remember you need to find questions, facts, and information that Wikipedia doesn’t cover. Let’s see an example.

For those folks that live in England, the tallest mountain in the U.K. is Ben Nevis.

But how tall is this natural monument dwarfed by most American hillocks?

Let’s ask Google:


As you can see, the answer is given right at the top of the SERP, and everyone else is pushed down the page. So let’s dig in.

  • Direct Answers – check
  • Knowledge Graph at right – check
  • Wikipedia result first – check
  • Then…a listicle article, a video result, and then the “official” Ben Nevis website


So how can we outperform Wikipedia?

FYI: This is a not your typical type of keyword query research.

First we compile a list of similar queries.

  1. Start with Google Suggestions when typing into the search box… A better (easier, more robust) solution is one of my favorite research tools www.keywordtool.io.
  2. Add Google-related suggestions from the bottom of the search results (many will be the same as the output from keywordtool, but add them all!)
  3. Dedupe the list using your handy list deduper
  4. Go to the Wikipedia article
  5. Find a fact not mentioned or answered in the Wikipedia article

In this particular case we find one fact not mentioned in Wikipedia – “how many miles high is ben nevis”

Doing a quick search we find our previously second place (and pushed down by Direct Answer box) listicle article taking top billing and – gasp – getting an answer box of its own.


Now this could be a chicken or egg scenario.

Did the author do research and find a fact that is searched on and yet wasn’t covered on Wikipedia? Or did Google find a unique fact that folks happen to search for that wasn’t in Wikipedia?

Google SERP for $400, Alex


What is “cool”?

I’ll Take Google SERP for $1,000


I’ll bet it all.


Seeing as this is my game, why not?

So how can we (potentially) get a Direct Answer box, SERP visibility, and potentially clicks?

  • Research queries
  • Compare with Wikipedia
  • Identify query/answer gaps
  • Write content around the “gap” answers
    • Include additional answers
    • Include images, video, or other media if appropriate

I’ve managed to get a few Direct Answer boxes to show up – one of my sites just got ousted by this gem:


Interested to see how this technique works for SEW folks – post your comments and results below!

If you’re wondering how I got these really cool and realistic Jeopardy question images, go here.

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