Being the hip hop production fan I am, when discovering a new track with interesting beat I’ll often look up the producer. If I don’t know that producer than I’ll look up more tracks they’ve produced and it usually leads down a great path of discovery for music/artists I’d never hear of otherwise.

Typically the top result will be a wikipedia page, but on January 17th I got this;

This search isn’t a question, and it’s not even returning the “answer”. The page it’s pulling the “answer” from is WhoSampled which ranks down near the bottom of that page.

But the reason I’m leading off with this, is I believe it is the same thing Brian Jensen spotted on January 21st and the Google Operating System Blog spotted just yesterday (HT to Dr Pete for sharing it) and I was perhaps subject to a test.

I also just wrote a week ago how I believe voice search is NOT the same thing as entity or Knowledge Graph search and moreover how voice search is not anything to do with Hummingbird.

So I wanted to examine some more results that are showing up for some connections and also provide a record of what some of these looked like “from the beginning” as I am sure they are to … Evolve (ha).

Note that I was more interested in hunting for answers that were wrong as I think there’s more to learn from that.

Animals Searches

Let’s start with the (non human) animal kingdom. This seems to be an area Google is pretty confident in returning answers.

For “what are the largest mammals” Google gets the answer sort of right by answering the “largest” (singular) animal, but also including some extraneous text that doesn’t make sense.

“What are the biggest mammals” still answers the question with the singular, although that sort of makes sense – you wouldn’t be able to list all the biggest animals in that one box probably.

Here is seems we’d be better off with the first two organic results, as the answer box is vague at best.

Google nails it here, but I’ll show you why I think this is;

The particular page with the answer has the exact question in the title and the exact answer as the first text in the content. It is also YouTube, and Google seems to prefer choosing high authority sites to provide the answers. This is why I think this particular query is answered so well.

This is another that falls short though. Google is failing to use the top result which seems to answer it much better in the description snippet than that answer provided in the answer box. Here’s why Google chose that result though I think;

This document, which is on an old page poses the topic of the question in the title and the possible answer straight away in the very first line of the document. Google seems to like to try and find this title->opening line as answer relationship.

Here’s another that kind of misses the mark. This seems to be a case when perhaps a knowledge box should not be returned at all, as the question may be a little too involved for a few sentence answer.

This sort of tells in a round about way how bears or non-bears may or may not hibernate, but misses the “how long” piece.

How Things Are Made

Another interesting type of search I am seeing this happen with is “how is X made” or “where does X come from”. This is a pretty black/white piece of information and one that seems easier for Google to look for instances of “X is made/produced from/by…” within many documents – and when they find a confident number from a large amount of trusted sources, they get their answer.

I figured the above was a natural enough way to ask … but no luck, turns out you have to ask differently.

Notice the bolding of sand and soda ash – this is one of the most impressive results I have seen thus far. Google seems to understand the concept of ingredients and then bolds them in the answer.

I seem to have the same trouble here with needing to be exact in how the question is asked.  Flour technically is made it doesn’t come from somewhere like Gold or water which naturally exist.

So when asking it this way, we get a good answer. I’m not sure if this is good or bad. I can see a lot of people asking it “incorrectly” but that doesn’t mean Google should compromise too much.

You also have to ask “how” salt is made too, to get an answer.

Here’s an example where Google has gotten too specific and answered “what are stainless steel sinks make of?” (isn’t that stainless steel? duh) – despite the fact they can be made from iron, granite, quartz and more.

A Few Random Ones…

This one’s a big fail. The answer doesn’t really come close, it’s just talking about Tom Brady playing in a park in Boston.

I know this one’s not really the same sort of result, it’s more of a traditional result. But Google gets it very wrong. They are answering “who invented the first digital camera” not the first camera in general.

What Triggers These?

It seems to me like there are a few factors that need to be present for Google to trigger one of these boxes;

  • They need to be confident in the answer – which means there needs to be many trusted sites on the web “answering” the question. In other words a wikipedia page is not enough – it needs to be wikipedia, Yahoo answers, YouTube, and other authority sites.
  • You need to ask the right question – only questions with quantitative or factual answers seem to work. In other words – glass has ingredients. That’s a nice “parent/child” structure. A cat has a speed in which is can run. That’s pretty straightforward. The remarkable part of the technology seems to be in how Google is identifying these answers across many sites, which all may answer them in different ways, with different nuance of language – and come to a conclusive enough answer.
  • You need to ask the right question with the right language – you can’t say “where does flour come from” as it doesn’t come from anywhere naturally really, it is made. So you have to ask how it flour made.
  • It needs to be informational / non-YMYL / non-transactional – Google seems to steer very clear of answering anything which involves health, money or making a purchase. There’s a pretty clear line in which they stay on the side of 100% factual questions in which people are looking for information.

How Can I Show Up There?

This is purely anecdotal thinking on my part now. I have not tested this. But after some initial research some things I would try would be to;

  • Leverage YouTube – I would find a question that has not been well answered, create a YouTube video answering it and put the exact match question in the title and the exact answer in the description starting with “X is made from …” so you are answering the question right away. The video has to be good, add value, all that – and I imagine the video needs to get some traction in YouTube before showing up. But if you’re plumber and you fix sinks – why not make a better answer to “what are sinks made of?”
  • Create content that clearly asks a question in the title and answers it in the content right away. This is like the YouTube idea, but you can probably only do this if: A) you have a site of high enough trust and authority and B) the question is likely to trigger a result.

WHY Should I Show Up There

  • Just like SPYW I think this presents an opportunity to possible be visible for something you might normally not be. I saw many sites that were NOT wikipedia but answered a question well and showed up there.
  • Thus, this could rank you “number one” where in the normal organic listings, some sites showing in the answer box where not ranked number one in organic.
  • As Many people have pointed out – if this gets adopted more and more by Google, it could change things like CTR a LOT and you’re going to want to be on the front lines of getting picked up by Google for these sorts of results as much as possible.

As said this is SUPER early – and I wanted to get one of the first posts out there with these new results. So that was all purely some brainstorming, I hope it keeps some discussion going.

About Dan Shure

Hi! I'm Dan Shure. I write all of the posts and host all of the podcast episodes you'll find on the Evolving SEO blog. Say hello on Twitter @dan_shure!


  • January 27, 2014 Reply

    Takeshi Young

    The answers that Google provides are constantly evolving. I’ve seen the knowledge card change several times for the same query (searching for “what are the largest animals” for example, now returns a more relevant result). There is also a little “feedback” button below the cards that Google may be taking into consideration.

    • January 28, 2014 Reply

      Dan Shure

      Thanks – yeah I was submitting feedback to a bunch of the ones that were just plain old wrong!

  • January 27, 2014 Reply

    anthony pensabene

    very cool idea for post..extra kudos if it was spontaneously produced…

    do you think there is some potential for meta tags? (title tag as the question and description the answer)

    i see potential for industries where the sales cycle is inspired by information first such as with tutoring service, varieties of diy services/prods. i’m a big branding guy ~ supplying answers may not be immediately rewarding, yet it’s difficult to measure branding… i may come upon your personality for something and keep you in my head for (3, 6 mos) until i’m ready to buy, yet if you make an impression, you’ve already served ‘my need to search.’ if you’ve branded yourself into my memory, i dont need the search box, i’m coming back for you the next time i have an informational/service/prod need.

    • January 28, 2014 Reply

      Dan Shure

      It was for sHure spontaneously produced 🙂 That’s exactly what I was seeing – title tag with the question and the answer was right away in the content – I could see that potentially being in the meta description as well, would be interesting to see if that happens.

      Yeah for sure that totally sounds like the idea of sharing/teaching especially someone like Jason Fried talks about (see his YouTube talk). Marketing by teaching – unless I am missing a component of what you are describing?

  • January 27, 2014 Reply

    Ryan McLaughlin

    Was seeing this too, thanks for doing the research. This is a more dynamic one that’s done pretty well:

    • January 28, 2014 Reply

      Dan Shure

      Oh nice that’s a good find! Thanks for sharing – interesting the ones that are not in a question form triggering this sort of result.

  • February 2, 2014 Reply

    Steph Riggs

    Majority of people when feel confusion about any topic, just visit Google and research it. Your post is very helpful for those people who always search over Google and look for accurate answers. But in some cases I noticed that meta description is quite different from the content of the page. The webmasters should post right description on the right page so that visitors don’t face any difficulty.

  • August 27, 2014 Reply

    Susanta Sahoo

    Great test, Dan! Google’s answer boxes are definitely NOT the right place to go if one is seeking the most accurate answer. To support my statement, I shared my test with your colleague, Dr. Pete on Twitter earlier today. Take a look at the conversation on Twitter:

    Trust me, Google has a long way to go before we can trust its results within the Answer Box.

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