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CMWorld Interview: Thinking Inside the (Answer) Box with Courtney Cox

In a digital marketing career that has spanned numerous roles, often with a heavy focus on SEO, Courtney Cox has watched plenty of trends come and go.

But like many of us, she’s convinced that answer boxes (or “featured snippets,” or “position zero,” as you will) hold the key to search success going forward.

Not only do these “best answer” results attain prime visibility on SERPs, but as voice search continues to grow more prominent, they are likely to become the only result for many user queries within a few years.

Recognizing the magnitude of this topic, Cox will dedicate her session at Content Marketing World to Position 0: Optimizing Your Content to Rank in Google’s Answer Boxes. Drawing from her experience at Children’s Health, where she’s tasked with helping modernize the digital experience in an industry that has been — by her own admission — a little behind the curve, she’ll offer up practical advice for claiming this crucial real estate.

As we eagerly await her afternoon session on September 5th in Cleveland, OH, we had a chance to ask Cox about some pertinent matters relating to her specialization. Here’s what she had to say about data-driven conversion rate optimization, strategizing through competitive analysis, speaking the language of coding as marketers, and more.


What does your role as Digital Marketing Manager at Children’s Health entail? What are your main areas of focus and key priorities?

I have a team of strategists and editors that manages the online experience for our patient families. This includes everything from the user experience of Childrens.com, SEO, paid search, and management of our local listings across the web.

We are currently in a major transition period. Our goal is to provide the best online experience of any pediatric healthcare system in the country. Healthcare as an industry is behind the times, and historically, we have been no exception. As the cost of healthcare goes up, our consumers place more scrutiny on the total value of their experience with our system.

We typically think of that experience beginning when patient families walk through our doors; however, the initial patient experience frequently begins online with a search and ends online with a review. It’s our job to use the digital experience to show the value of our clinical services, reduce the anxiety of our patient families, and provide them with the information they need to make the right decisions for their child.

This year, that means implementing rigorous user testing, redesigning nearly every template on Childrens.com, taking advantage of advanced search tactics such as structured data and accelerated mobile pages, and publishing reviews directly on our website.

 

What is one thing that most company websites could be doing better when it comes to driving sales and conversions?

Fair warning – I’m going to try not to get on my soapbox about this one, but it’s hard because I feel so passionately about it.

Digital marketers need to abandon the “gut feeling” approach to conversion rate optimization. In the days of expensive usability labs and split-testing software, businesses with limited budgets could be excused from making data-driven, customer-centered optimizations. Those days are over.

If you want to outperform your competitors, you must start listening to your customers and responding to their behavior. If you’re not using free tools like Google Optimize for split testing or one of the infinite number of inexpensive user testing options available, then I guarantee you are failing your customers in some way in which you’re currently unaware.


Digital marketers need to abandon the “gut feeling” approach to conversion rate optimization. @CourtEWakefield #CMWorld
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Moving on to your subject of focus at CMWorld: Aside from the obvious placement benefits, why is it so important to aim for ‘Position 0’ on Google search results?

‘Position 0’ results (aka ‘Featured Snippets’, aka ‘Answer Boxes’) are important for a number of reasons. As you mentioned, prominence at the top of the search engine results page positions your website for more engagement and clicks than a lower position, but that’s not all.

Voice platforms like Google Home rely heavily on the position 0 results to give answers to voice queries from their users. For example, if you ask Google Home, “why can’t my kid sleep?” you’ll get an excerpt from Childrens.com that shows in the Google answer box for the same query on Google.

It’s been predicted that by 2020, half of all searches will be done through voice, and most of those searches will be headless (on a screenless device like Amazon Alexa or Google Home). In those cases, position 0 is the only result. You want to own that space.

 

How can competitive analysis improve our efforts to land an Answer Box?

The best thing to start with is to take inventory of the websites populating the answer boxes for queries you want to dominate. Then go look at what they’re doing on their pages. Are they using natural language in their headlines? Do they have structured data? What are they doing right? What are they doing wrong? Is there a theme across all the sites that you can mimic?

Then, you’ll want to match what they’re doing right and take advantage where they’re failing. In my experience, most websites are not well-optimized for the answer boxes, and they’re ranking through dumb luck. A little effort goes a long way.


In my experience, most websites are not well-optimized for the answer boxes, and they’re ranking through dumb luck. @CourtEWakefield #CMWorld
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When it comes to working toward Position 0, which optimization techniques pay dividends above and beyond the SEO impact?

Any time that you invest significant effort into providing quality content that answers your visitors’ questions in a well laid out and easy-to-digest format, you’re going to start seeing payoffs beyond rankings. I think most content marketing folks understand that.

To ensure our content is high quality and highly relevant to what our customers need, we’ve been using a new technique that starts with the “People Also Ask” questions on Google. Basically, we type in a query we want to rank for, take inventory of the “People Also Ask” questions that appear for that query, and answer those questions directly in our content with the question itself as an H2 on the page.

Google is giving us a gift; by revealing these questions to us, they give us a deeper look than ever into the aggregation and relation of their search data. We’d be foolish not to utilize this data to create the most relevant content for users and position ourselves as a valuable thought leader.


Any time that you invest significant effort into providing quality content that answers your visitors’ questions, you’re going to start seeing payoffs beyond rankings. @CourtEWakefield #CMWorld
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What does the emergence of the Answer Box tell us about how search engines are changing to serve the user experience? What do you foresee as the possible next step in that direction?

The demands on our time are greater every day, and folks’ attention spans are ever shorter. We want answers, and we want them now. Answer boxes are just a response to that.

I won’t be surprised if five or 10 years from now, Google has enough functionality and feature sets that the majority of small businesses won’t need their own websites. You’ve already seen less reliance on individual ecommerce sites with the emergence of Amazon and even Etsy. Google could make this possible for service-based businesses like barber shops and coffee shops.

People get kind of anxious about that, especially those in the web development business, but the commoditization of the web has always been a reality. Those of us in digital marketing must adapt or die. And, on the client side, if Google is sending the business, why wouldn’t you want to reduce the cost of doing business by eliminating web hosting fees?

 

How can content marketers work more smoothly and seamlessly with development teams to get things done efficiently? Where do you see the most common snags?

I’m so lucky at Children’s because we have a marketing technology team that sits with us, and they are some of the most talented and easy-to-work with folks I’ve known in my career.

But I know not everyone has that luxury. I think the thing that has helped me most in my career is that I’ve also been a developer. While not every content marketer can go out there and learn a coding language, they should really try to learn as much about that world as they can. It helps when you’re requesting the implementation of structured data or Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) that you understand the complexities or at least how much work it will take.

In my experience, developers really appreciate it when you consult with them about a request. “Have you heard about AMP? What do you think about it? I think it could really improve mobile traffic – does it have any downsides from your perspective?” That consultation goes a long way for buy in down the road.


While not every content marketer can go out there and learn a coding language, they should really try to learn as much about that world as they can. @CourtEWakefield #CMWorld
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Which speaker presentations are you looking forward to most at Content Marketing World 2018?

You mean besides Tina Fey?

I’m a real tech geek, so the “How to Use Artificial Intelligence to Build and Optimize Content” and “Let’s Chat: How Messaging Apps, Chatbots, and Voice Assistants Will Impact Your Business in the Next 3-5 Years” have really piqued my interest. These are the things I hope we can get ahead of the game on to become healthcare digital marketing leaders.

Unpack More Answers

We thank Courtney for her great answers, which were extremely enlightening even if they didn’t come in a box.

For more expert insights on all of your most pressing questions, dive into the Ultimate Guide to Content Marketing below!


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