Over the last few months, our SERP Team has been keeping an eye on a new SERP feature using our Mobile SERP Features Tool.
Things to Know.
This feature is designed to give the searcher well-organized Featured Snippet style information on a topic as well as click through to specific URLs to dig into those topics and read more.
Our CEO Shay Harel recently asked a question about the Things to Know feature.
Surely the new feature plays the same role as a People Also Ask box, just with fewer options?
Personally being a curious person, the question kept me up at night.
To answer this question, let’s understand both features.
I think that they are vastly different features that serve different purposes.
Let’s first look at some Things to Know data. With that in hand we will be able to compare the feature to the People Also Ask box.
Things to Know – The Data
Off the bat, if you look at the overall market share for the Things to Know feature, you’ll see that it’s showing up on just under 1% of searches.
Although this is a significant number, it’s still a small niche when it comes to Google’s search market share.
I pulled 600 keywords that feature the Things to Know feature. I then dropped those keywords into the Similarweb Acquisition Channels > Keyword Analysis report.
This is what I saw.
According to Similarweb, 74% of these keywords are Zero Click searches. This is a pretty high number which implies that people who go to these SERPs are not ready to click through to any content. More on this later.
Also, let’s look at the ratio between organic and paid results.
As you can see from the screenshot above, 98.69% are organic and a tiny 1.31% are paid. So, you have to ask yourself, why are advertisers not bidding on these queries?
Let’s now look at the top websites.
As you can see from the screenshot above, these are all big websites that have a huge search market share.
Again let’s ask ourselves, why are we seeing such big websites?
Now to truly understand the data, let’s look at the feature from the top down.
Understanding the Things to Know SERP Feature
After pulling a nice long list of The Things to Know queries, I noticed that the feature generally appears on broad search queries where the search intent is unclear.
- Architecture portfolio
- Day trading
In other words, these are broad searches that have big search volumes. From what I gather, the big search volumes on broad searches are a result of many audience segments starting their search journey by searching the general topic.
This means, that since there are multiple audience segments on these SERPs, Google serves multiple search intents.
On the whole, when people search a broad general topic, they are trying to find general information so that they can refine their searches to understand something more specific.
This means each audience segment is searching the broad term with a search intent that is specific to their audience segment. This is why there are multiple intents.
For instance, for the query ‘tire repair’ there might be a segment that is looking for a local business that can fix their tire. Another segment might be looking to fix the tire themselves.
Once they get general information, they often make a more targeted search based on their new understanding of the topic. This concept is nothing new. Google has been talking about search as a journey for a while now.
The Things to Know feature makes perfect sense for these searches as it presents the general information about the topic in the SERP.
Now, before we look at a case study, we can now understand what the data is telling us.
What Did We Learn From the Data?
When we looked at the data we noticed that 74% of Things to Know queries did not result in a click. The reason is these are queries for people that are just starting their search journey. They are looking for more information so that they can refine their search.
When the user clicks on a feature to refine their search, Similarweb doesn’t consider this a click.
We also understand why advertisers are not bidding on these queries. As I mentioned above, these are beginning-of-the-search-journey queries. That means advertising products or services to people who don’t yet know what they are looking for is going to lead to horrible click-through rates and wasted ad budgets.
When we consider that the queries are all at the beginning of the search journey, it becomes clear why seemingly only big websites are taking the top spots. Since these queries have such high search volumes, they are impossibly competitive.
This means only big sites with gigantic content budgets are likely to rank for these terms.
Now let’s look at a case study.
Things to Know Case Study
Let’s search for the broad term ‘optavia diet’ on mobile.
Now when you scroll down you see a People Also Ask box and then a Things to Know box. Let’s focus on the Things to Know box. Once we’ve understood that, we can look at the People Also Ask box.
In the screenshot below, you’ll see that the feature has broken the topic of the Optavia Diet into subtopics.
The subtopics include:
- Food list
- Cost per month
- Product list
As you can see you can click on any of the subtopics and it’ll expand to show you an overview of that subtopic.
If that subtopic interests you, you can click through to the URL and find out more.
If on the other hand, all you wanted was the overview, you can scroll past and look at more options. Once you’ve opened all the subtopics, you’ve got a basic overview of the topic and you can then refine your search from there.
Something else I noticed is if you hit the More button, you get a few more subtopics. But, the list is finite.
As you can see from the screenshot above, Google brings you eight subtopics. There is no option to expand the feature further.
This all brings me to conclude that the feature is designed to give you an overview of a topic. This is nothing new. Google introduced the topic layer years ago. The topic layer marked a change in how Google serves its users.
Before the topic layer, Google was focused on answering questions. Google’s focus shifted to search journeys. (More about this later.)
So the Things to Know feature is a way for the user to navigate a topic. This makes the new feature useful on broad topic queries. In other words, the feature literally brings you the most important things to know. It’s all in the title.
Now that you’ve understood the Things to Know feature, let’s take a look at the People Also Ask box.
Once we understand that, you’ll understand what the difference between these two features is.
Understanding the People Also Ask Box
So, let’s go back to the ‘optavia diet’ SERP.
As you can see from the screenshot above, the People Also Ask box presents a list of questions.
The feature has some of the same functionality as the Things to Know box, such as a list of dropdown options that provide more general information. Also, when you look at one of the dropdown options, you have the option to click through to the URL to see where the answer came from.
There is also a difference in functionality between Things to Know and People Also Ask.
The more options you click on the more new options appear. There are an almost infinite amount of People Also Ask questions that will appear.
But, as Google presents new options, you’ll notice that they become less and less relevant to the topic.
The question is, why does this feature not bring a finite list the way we saw the Things to Know feature does?
I think the answer is that this feature is designed to help users find questions that are related to their query in the hopes that they will find something better refined. It’s a way to find a better query. Because if you can ask the right question, Google will bring you a better answer.
This means People Also Ask is all about the user’s query.
Also, Google spells this out in one of its patents.
“The user experience can be improved by submitting the displayed content of a related question as a new search query and receiving a pre-determined, pre-formatted answer to the related question as part of a response from the search engine.”
Things to Know vs People Also Ask
Now that you’ve seen my SERP analysis of the two features, I’d like to show you how they are designed to do two different functions. In other words, they serve the searcher in completely different ways.
The Things to Know feature is designed to help you with a top-down understanding of a broad topic by breaking it down into subtopics. This big picture snapshot allows the user to easily explore the topic and discover the information they are looking for.
And, since this is all about getting a bigger picture understanding of a topic, there are a finite amount of subtopics that will give the user the basic information that they need.
Google is in essence helping the user by reducing the steps needed in the user’s search journey.
The People Also Ask feature on the other hand is a way for the user to see queries that are similar to the one that they just made. By seeing these queries, the user is able to refine the question they are asking Google.
And the better the question, the better the answer.
Looking a little deeper you’ll see that these two features are working with completely different paradigms.
Looking a Little Deeper
As you know, when Google was new, the goal of the search engine was to answer user queries. Over the years, Google got really good at it.
For instance, try Googling weather.
Google gives you everything you need right there in the SERP.
But check this out…
Google answers the question in the autosuggest even before you’ve finished typing in your query.
Google is a question-answering Jedi Master.
Once Google mastered this, Google then tried to help people who were searching for things that didn’t have obvious answers. Queries that needed multiple searches to come to a conclusion.
This was where Google began to focus on search journeys.
Search journeys are searches that take multiple attempts to refine information to find something. A journey starts with a broad search with the intent of having an overview of the topic.
To get this right, Google created the topic layer.
This allowed Google to understand entire topics and break them down into subtopics.
Okay, thanks for the history lesson, but what does that have to do with People Also Ask boxes and Things to Know boxes?
Well, just about everything…
People Also Ask vs. Things to Know – The Final Word
The People Also Ask feature is part of the old paradigm. Google was helping its users to ask better questions so that they could find better answers. This is all about how Google can answer just about any question. But, to help Google do that, you have to ask the right question.
This is why People Also Ask boxes occur on more than 70% of searches.
Google is helping you ask better questions. And asking better questions is relevant to almost any search.
On the other hand…
Things to Know is built on the topic layer. It’s a feature designed to make the user journey as smooth as possible. It’s not designed to answer direct questions because broad topics are not direct questions. Instead, it’s designed to help the user get broad topical information so that they can come to ask a direct question when they are ready.
This is why the Things to Know feature shows up on under 1% of queries.
It’s serving a small segment of the overall search query market share.
This means, that since they are doing such different things and coming from such different paradigms, I believe we’ll see them side by side for years to come.