At their core, search engines are question-and-answer machines. People use search engines like Google to find anything from the weather forecast to thoughtful, in-depth responses to specific questions. A 2020 study by Backlinko found that 14.1% of Google searches contain keywords like “how,” “what,” “why,” and so on.
On the surface, question keywords seem pretty simple — but they’re actually one of the most powerful tools online marketers have for reaching potential customers and harnessing semantic search. Let’s explore what makes question keywords so special and how exactly you can find them.
What Are Question Keywords?
Question keywords are search queries that contain interrogative words like who, what, when, where, why, or how. Question keywords are usually long-tail, low-volume, and have a specific search intent behind them — whether that’s to find a quick answer or an in-depth response.
Search intent is all about the context — or the why — behind someone’s search. Users who search questions are highly motivated to click results and find the specific answer to their question, which marketers can use to their advantage.
Consider these examples of how valuable question-based keywords can be used effectively:
- Answering “what’s a good heart rate when working out” could help a personal training business bring in clients who are new to exercise and looking for guidance.
- The question “what should you eat when you have a cold” could provide inspiration for recipe development for a food website.
- A tutorial addressing “how do you hem a shirt” could be a way for a no-sew hemming product to reach potential customers.
- A series of blog posts answering “why does my jaw hurt when I wake up,” “how to stop teeth grinding at night,” and “what to look for in a mouthguard” are all ways for a nighttime mouthguard brand to reach customers at multiple points in the marketing funnel.
Targeting question keywords increases your chances of attracting people who may not even know about your brand. By answering someone’s question—and fulfilling a need of theirs—your company stands a better chance of connecting with audiences.
A note on punctuation: Google has stated that punctuation isn’t considered when generating search engine result pages (SERPs) for questions — so don’t worry about the difference between “what’s the meaning of life” vs. “what’s the meaning of life?” during your research.
This article uses keyword phrases without question marks to match how they appear in most SEO tools.
How To Find Question Keywords
There are many different SEO tools at your disposal for finding question keywords. We’ve extensively covered the general discovery process in our guide on how to do keyword research, but finding questions often requires a more refined search.
First, you’ll need to brainstorm these keyword terms and topics related to your business. These short-tail terms don’t need to be in the form of a question — they can be as simple as a list of your basic product or service categories or a list of words related to your business. For example, a camping brand might start with terms like “nylon tents,” “camp chairs,” “hiking first aid kits,” and “climbing boots.”
Now, let’s look at how to use your terms in different SEO tools to uncover semantically-related question keywords. (And feel free to check out our complete rundown of the best keyword research tools for even more of our favorites!)
AnswerThePublic (ATP) is a keyword research tool that digs through autocomplete data from search engines to discover what people are asking about any given topic. The information is then presented in branching graphs that organize terms into different categories.
For example, after plugging in a term like “calculator,” you’ll be able to see a list of dozens of actual queries about calculators — ranging from “are calculator watches cool” to “which calculator is best” and even “calculator vs. abacus” comparison searches. The paid Pro versions of ATP offer more features, such as unlimited searches, better filters for results, and the ability to track emerging topics.
ATP is an excellent tool for brainstorming, but be aware that it doesn’t provide in-depth numerical data (such as search term volume), so it’s not always clear which results are the most popular or competitive. You may want to cross-reference ATP results with data from other tools.
You can use Google itself to strategically find commonly asked questions. Google uses different features to encourage users to “go down the rabbit hole” of search and discover semantically related topics other users have looked up.
Let’s highlight some Google features you can leverage to discover keyword questions.
Google Suggest (Autocomplete)
You’re probably already familiar with Google Suggest (usually called just “autocomplete”). It’s one of Google’s oldest features and part of why the search engine has become the giant it is today. Google Suggest creator Kevin Gibbs said that autocomplete “gives you a playground to explore what others are searching about, and learn about things you haven’t dreamt of.” That’s especially true for marketers.
You can use autocomplete to hone in on specific problems or questions your audience may have about a general topic. In the image above, a car mechanic company can use the autocomplete results for “why does my car…” to find insights into real issues potential customers may be researching.
Because these autocomplete fills are taken from real users, you’re also given insight into the language your audience uses, which may be more conversational and less precise than you’d think. “Why does my car smell like rotten eggs” is a more realistic question from a potential customer than “what are the signs my catalytic converter is broken,” for example.
Google People Also Ask
The “People Also Ask” (PAA) feature is designed to specifically suggest semantically-related keyword questions, even for searches that aren’t originally phrased as questions. The PAA feature has seen expanded development over the past few years and is now a common sight on many Google SERPs.
When users click on a question in the PAA box, they’re served a short blurb from a relevant page — essentially turning this box into a collection of Featured Snippets pulled from different sites.
You don’t have to rank on the first page of search results to show up in a PAA box. Plus, the PAA feature currently serves organic results only, not paid ads, which makes it prime real estate for SEO marketers.
Google Related Searches
Operating similarly to the People Also Ask feature, the Related Searches feature is exactly what it sounds like. Found at the bottom of a SERP, the Related Searches box provides both question and non-question keywords depending on your original query.
The image above is an example of suggested Related Searches for “when should you take your dog to the vet.”
Ahrefs provides a treasure trove of useful data about page rankings and individual keywords. The detail-heavy interface may seem daunting, but taking the time to understand Ahrefs will transform the way you conduct SEO campaigns.
In Ahrefs, search for a keyword or phrase using the Keywords Explorer. In the results overview under the Keyword Ideas section, Ahrefs provides a list of questions containing your term. This is similar to how AnswerThePublic operates, but Ahrefs provides valuable numerical data (like search volume and click-through rates) to help inform what specific topics may be worth pursuing.
SEMrush allows users to find question keywords through their Magic Keyword and Topic Research tools. SEMrush provides numerical data similar to Ahrefs but goes further by allowing users to filter results by a specific city or region, which is particularly useful for brick-and-mortar companies looking to reach local audiences.
To find question keywords on SEMrush, start by entering a basic term in the Magic Keyword tool. Click the “Questions” filter (and any other relevant filters you want) to see queries containing the keyword. The Topic Research tool works similarly but goes the extra step of recommending questions and headlines in the form of complete sentences based on your initial keyword.
5. Social Media & Specialized Forums
If you’re dealing with a niche product or service, it may be difficult to find a lot of high-quality question keywords through SEO tools alone. Your target audience may not generate enough sheer search volume data to register with a program like Ahrefs or SEMrush—but they may still be asking questions you want to answer.
To manually find question keywords, look on specialized forums (such as those found on Reddit and Stack Exchange) or on social media sites (like TikTok and Twitter), where niche communities tend to gather and share information.
Most of these sites have rudimentary search engines that will allow you to find posts containing your keyword. Sifting through pages of Twitter and Reddit results is not necessarily a quick or easy way to gather question keywords and topics, but it may be worth the time for marketers in very niche or technical industries.
6. Real-World Experience
Your real industry experience is invaluable to the keyword research process.
Think about questions you or your team have received from previous customers or clients. If you repeatedly hear the same things, there are likely even more people asking those same questions online. Use your experiences as a launch point for discovering question keywords.
- How To Do Keyword Research: A Step-by-Step Guide to SEO Keywords
- Search Intent: Everything You Need To Know About Search Intent Optimization
- How To Build Keyword Groups for a More Robust SEO Strategy
- Using High Intent Keywords To Drive Buyers to Your Site
- How To Find High Converting Keywords (And Create Content That Drives Traffic)
- A Beginner’s Guide to Keyword Difficulty (Plus Tips for Success)
- Long-Tail Keywords and Why They Matter
- Keyword Research Tools To Kickstart SEO
How to Tell if a Question Keyword Is “Worth It”
You’ll need to assess the quality of question keywords a little differently than short-tail terms. They don’t always play by the same rules, making it difficult to determine which are worth your time and energy to optimize for.
Here are a few things to consider when weighing question keywords:
- Search intent. Just as Google focuses on the semantics of each search, you’ll need to assess each question for the searcher’s intent. What kind of response would someone be looking for when they ask “how to build a birdhouse” vs. “what is the time in New York City”? Who do you think is searching for “what does skin cancer look like” vs. “what level of eosinophils indicate cancer”? Always keep your target audience profile in mind.
- Competition. Long-tail keywords are appealing because they tend to be less competitive than shorter, more popular search terms. However, don’t assume it’ll be easy to rank for all question keywords. Pay attention to the keyword difficulty scores in your SEO tools and the competitors you see on each SERP to focus on keywords you can realistically rank for.
- Search volume. As a marketer, you’re probably always looking to target the highest volume keywords. However, search volume is less important for question keywords. The longer a keyword, the fewer people search for it compared to shorter, more popular keywords. However, less volume doesn’t make question keywords less valuable. Don’t be discouraged if volumes are lower than you’re used to.
- Existing SERPs. Google may provide an answer box containing relevant information for shorter questions with definite answers before serving organic results. This featured snippet is common with questions where the direct answer is a time, date, address, name, or exact number. If a question search returns a definite answer, it may not be worth pursuing as one of your main question keywords since searchers will quickly see the answer to their query and may have less incentive to click through. If you feel the answer does sufficiently satisfy the query, it may be worthwhile to create content around the question and answer the query more accurately than the website with the existing snippet opportunity. Google is always looking for new and better content to show users.
6 Content Ideas for Using Keyword Questions
1. Create an FAQ Blog Post
Blogs are the bread and butter of any SEO marketer. An FAQ blog post, which contains various questions about a central keyword, is great for tackling long-tail question keywords with answers that may not warrant entire posts of their own.
Gathering several FAQs into one post and providing short, concise answers may also increase your chances of appearing as a Featured Snippet or in a People Also Ask box. Don’t forget to add FAQ schema, too.
2. Identify a Keyword Theme
Keyword themes are a way of grouping semantically-similar terms and can be used to create pages or articles that dive deeper into a given topic. Google is placing an increased focus on the semantic meaning behind searches and anticipating other questions a searcher may have, which means focusing on a single keyword isn’t enough to rank highly anymore.
Question keywords can help you develop keyword themes and refine your keyword selection by giving you better insight into a searcher’s intent. At Victorious, we take this approach as part of our keyword research service to help companies create more impactful content.
3. Add to an Existing Article
If you already have existing content that dives into a primary keyword, consider adding an FAQ section to the page to further boost its chances of ranking. This is a smart way of putting older content to work without having to write an entirely new article. Learn more about optimizing an existing article here.
4. Use Question Keywords as Headers
Question keywords don’t have to be limited to separate FAQ sections — they can also help inform the base content of an article or post.
Try phrasing headings and subheadings in the form of a question containing your primary keyword. For example, in this article, I phrased the first subheading as “What Are Question Keywords?” rather than making it a simple statement, such as “Question Keywords 101” or “Basics of Question Keywords.”
5. Record a Video
Google will sometimes feature video results for certain queries, particularly for how-to questions that require a tutorial or walkthrough. A video with an expert explaining an answer to a question or walking the viewer through each step of a process may help you stand out in a sea of text-based results.
6. Ads & Paid Media
You can use question keywords to optimize your other digital marketing campaigns like PPC, too. Consider using paid search ads to target high-volume, high-competition question keywords that may be out of your immediate organic reach.
Need Help Finding Valuable Question Keywords To Target?
Anyone can find question keywords, but it takes a keen, experienced eye to identify which are worth targeting and how to fit them into a larger SEO campaign.
Here at Victorious, we use data-driven insights and years of real-world experience to uncover the questions your customers are asking. No matter your size or industry, we can help you reach potential customers with our keyword research services and help you implement a strategy to drive additional organic traffic to your website. Schedule a free SEO consultation today to learn more.