What is Question Hub?
So Google recently announced that it was launching QuestionHub in the United States, as a way for publishers to find users’ unanswered questions, enabling them to produce content that will solve these unanswered questions and bring them new visitors (win:win) and make the web a better place (i.e. Make Google a better search engine).
Is Google Question Hub useful for SEOs?
OK, that was the first thing that came to mind for me and I’m sure for many SEOs like me, who have been using ‘question answering’ as a technique to rank for Universal Search results such as Featured Snippets, People Also Ask and Organic FAQs.
We have a tool, FAQ Explorer, that mines the People Also Ask (PAA) results for a keyword to give content writers and editorial teams plenty of related ideas and concepts, to ensure their content is answering the full gamut of questions users have on the topic in question. There are also some great well known SEO tools out there, like Answer The Public and AlsoAsked.com, that take a similar approach to mining Google Suggest or Google’s PAA results. They are pretty much all based on mining existing questions and answers that are already in the SERP.
So, does Question Hub provide anything different?
If you think the promise of answering “unanswered questions” sounds interesting and a potentially great SEO tactic then be prepared to be disappointed. ☹
In my opinion, any buzz from SEOs around using Question Hub to help their SEO strategies is just hyperbole. The tools I mention above all give you better, more structured and helpful suggestions in my opinion.
But, let’s explore it a little and you can make up your own mind….your comments (and questions) are welcome!
Getting Access to Question Hub
This is not too straightforward, as currently it is only available in the United States, India, Indonesia and Nigeria. But there is a workaround.
Use a VPN. Change your location to one of these countries and then login with your Google account and you should be good to go.
Unless, like me, you have a GSuite (Google Workspace) account, then you’ll have to do another workaround as for some reason Question Hub is not available for Google Workspace users.
So, use your personal Gmail account or create another personal Google account and you should be in.
Then all that is required is to authorise access to your sites in Google Search Console. Once you have done this you can toggle on or off which sites you connect.
There are also settings for display language, and language settings for the questions and country (though these are all disabled for me).
So, what does Google Promise?
Well, Google explains that it “organizes information to find the most relevant, useful results for each user’s search”, and it goes on to pose the question, “But what if the content just isn’t there?” and explains, “That’s why we created Question Hub.”
Google is promising to;
- Present unanswered questions it has collected directly from users to help you identify content gaps online.
- If you create relevant content for the questions you have identified as interesting then you can submit it to Google.
If approved, then Google will index and rank this new content and help you track your success using some tools to track the audience you are reaching with this content. (For me, this part may be the most interesting just to see what data/insights you can glean into how Google ranks sites).
OK, so is Google living us to its promise? Let’s explore Question Hub a little and you can make up your own mind.
Using Google’s Question Hub
You can simply type a keyword phrase into the search bar or you can dive into the categorised lists that Google provides.
Once you have found an interesting topic click ‘Add’ to add some questions to your list. Click ‘Add More’ multiple times to exhaust all suggestions in a topic.
It’s certainly very easy to use, but it’s also more than a little frustrating as you can only retrieve 10 questions for a topic at a time, which means you have to do a lot of clicking to get a reasonably sized set of data.
Coverage on some topics is also a bit hit and miss. For example, you can see there was only 1 question in the Digital Marketing category, but I got at least 10 questions when I searched for ‘digital marketing’ explicitly. And there were no questions about “Google question hub” (yet!).
There is definitely a limit to the number of questions on a specific topic you can retrieve, but it’s not obvious what it is (the most I have got is 350), nor is it obvious whether there’s a limit on how many topics you can search for (I currently have over 1,300 and counting).
What is clear though, if you try and retrieve every possible set of questions for a topic, even manually, then Google will block you pretty quickly. I received this message having searched for ‘news’ and clicking ‘Add More’ multiple times in quick succession (~35 or so)!
Let’s be clear what Google Question Hub is and is not.
- This is not back-door access to the long-tail of Google search. This tool does not give you access to a rich repository of data from the 15% of new unique searches (~0.8 Bn queries) Google sees per day.
- This is not a superbly organised list of topics and phrases to help SEOs with keyword research.
- This is a glimpse into the kind of weird and wonderful queries that users type (or speak?) into Google. It’s like sitting in reception at a Google office watching the TV monitors showing a continuous stream of multi-lingual phrases being entered into Google around the world. It’s like Goggle box for geeks.
So, let’s look at this…are these questions really unanswered? Er, nope. Every single one I tried returns a full set of results.
So, is Google implying that the current pages returned are poor quality? Or is Google saying it doesn’t think the sites it is currently ranking for this content are trustworthy? Or is it implying that it isn’t actually sure the pages it is currently ranking are answering the question that’s being asked specifically enough?
Are they really unanswered questions? If, so, then what does the Google SERP look like when you search for some of the suggestions? Do you get an error message like this?
Well, sometimes you do. But in the majority of phrases, I tested Google always returned a full SERP.
Are the results of poor quality? Are the sites unknown? Do they suffer from poor quality content, layout, design or HTML? Are they slow or mobile friendly? Do they lack Schema mark-up?
I only looked at a few sites (so it’s clearly not a statistically relevant survey), but it was not obvious at first site that these pages were particularly poor. In fact, on a number of occasions I saw major sites like the Washington Post and the BBC ranking for these phrases.
In fact, the sites I checked all had reasonable visibility scores and were ranking for some decent terms.
Could the pages answer the phrase better or met the intent of the user better?
Of course. Content can always be improved.
Does Google show a Featured Snippet for any of these phrases?
Not as far as I can tell. A clear indicator, if ever there was, that none of the pages that are ranking well have reached the quality threshold to gain a Featured Snippet.
OK – so why has Google gone to great lengths to build this tool then?
Google says it wants to make the web a better place. But to do that it wants to build an even better search engine. Google has made tremendous technical leaps forward in their understanding of user intent and context in recent years with Hummingbird, Rank Brain and BERT to name a few of the ones as SEOs we’ve all been talking about. But still Google cannot understand every one of the billions of search queries it gets per day and when you look at these unanswered questions you can see why!
The questions presented fall into one or more of the following categories:
Poorly phrased questions
There are loads of examples like this and having looked at lots you can see why it’s hard for a machine algorithm to determine exactly what the user is asking, as in many cases it’s not that easy for a human to decrypt what the user is looking for.
What is the user hoping will increase? Does he/she mean industry size? Participation? Sales? Traffic to websites? It really is unclear and you can see why Google is not sure if it’s providing a good answer or not.
Super long tail questions?
This chap has very high expectations for Google Search. (I queried “electric cars” so it’s also not a very relevant unanswered question).
Questions for a very niche audience
Djaydavid if you’re out there. We hear you.
Questions that are so specific they are weird, ludicrous or even funny
Questions that combine multiple requests
Really – Google could be saving us all some time and effort here by writing off these types of queries completely!
I guess if you are an agency specialising in WordPress development and optimisation then you can go for it. But, is it really worth writing something so specific? Some of these very long tail phrases, give you the impression that you’ll be writing for an audience of one (assuming he/she searches again one day)!
There will probably be many close variations of this question that your content is likely to rank for, if Google likes your content and ranks it well; but if you feel it’s too specific then it’s probably worth concentrating on the phrases that Google has already grouped together with a ‘multiple answers’ badge.
Questions that make no sense whatsoever
Questions about brands that are not always what you think
Here you can see that there seems to be well categorised results for ‘Audi’.
Yet, the results for ‘Barclays’ contain a multitude of different entities.
Google could easily add a refine by entity or some other search refinement filters to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Questions that look like they have been typed by someone where English is clearly their second or third language
There are so many of these – in the second example above you can see that the user meant to type ‘being’ but typed ‘Bing’ with a capital ‘B’. No wonder, Google is struggling with interpreting and answering some of these questions.
Questions that worry you!
Is someone about to be scammed?
I wonder if Google would accept content that answered these questions with some useful resources around how to seek psychological or professional help?
Limitations of Google Question Hub
Zero Unanswered Questions
If you do a keyword search then you often get 0 results?
Don’t you find this ironic? Surely, if Google was really sharp, as soon as someone typed a question in that was unanswered it would appear in Question Hub the next time you tried it? 😉
Topic Relevance is patchy
- Surprisingly for Google I found many instances of phrases that were unrelated to the topic. E.g. Take this search for “search engine optimization”.
Hmm, not exactly what I was hoping for!
So, after this failure, I obviously searched for the unanswered questions users have about “Question Hub”. Fail #2 – As you can see from the screenshot below – the suggestions are irrelevant and across a very broad range of topics.
But the results were better for “Coronavirus” – but you can also see how quickly you can run out of suggestions.
Very occasionally, you might find a gem or two in these lists which will spark an idea for a new piece of content. I mean there’s surely going to be millions of queries for “Ideas for a post-Covid party” in the coming months.
Lack of Query Refinement
You can see from many of the suggestions that some simple query refinements would help massively. Come on Google, we all know you know an entity when you see one. How about some entity refinements here?
Number of suggestions
You can click ‘add more’ to get more suggestions on a topic but you really do run out of questions quickly.
You can refresh your search by clicking “+ Add questions” – but often you will see a “No more questions” message appear at the bottom of the screen and the “+ Add questions” button will become greyed out.
Poor coverage on some topics
Sometime, there’s just a lack of questions. Here’s just some examples:
Clearly SEOs are doing a great job of answering every conceivable question about “search engine optimization” because there’s only one unanswered question! (Don’t all race at once to answer it!)
Suggestions with low consumer demand
If I was to use this tool then I’d probably look to cluster related questions together manually, which you can do by clicking the ‘Star’ icon next to each question. You can then go to your starred questions from the left-hand menu, and submit a single URL to answer multiple questions in one go. Alternatively, you can look for the questions that Google has already flagged with a “Multiple Answers” badge.
Very, very occasionally you see a result like this with a few closely related unanswered questions clustered together. I can see in instances like this that, for the relevant site, it may be worth writing some new content or updating some existing content to answer these questions.
No QuestionHub API?
I was searching for unanswered questions about APIs and as you can see the results are not great.
If Google provided a free API of QuestionHub phrases then maybe I would be able to apply my own clustering and query refinement to actually use this data in a way that could work.
If Google really wanted us to answer these questions at scale, then it would release an API for QuestionHub.
Google eventually blocks you requesting any more questions if you use it too much
Most SEOs who have been around for a while will be very familiar with the Google captcha or re-captcha screens.
How to submit your answers to Google’s QuestionHub
OK, so once you have identified some unanswered questions and have created some content and updated a few pages then it’s super easy to submit your content to Google. All you have to do is click on the question and click ‘submit’ and enter your URL.
You will see a small message at the bottom of the screen that says, “Feedback submission successful”. Now all you can do is wait. I’ve created a page that is aimed at solving the following unanswered question, “How do I find out my IP location from a Google search?”. You can see the answer to this question on this new page.
It’s not the kind of topic we usually write about as it’s targeted at non-technical consumers rather than industry professionals, but let’s see what happens. I’ll update this post when I have some performance data or feedback from Google.
You can see from our real-time SEO Log Analysis tool, that within 15 minutes or so of submitting the page, Google bot pays us a visit.
Can you submit multiple answers with one piece of content in QuestionHub?
Yes. It’s very easy to select multiple answers and click ‘submit’. You then simply enter a URL and wait for Google to crawl the page and for it to determine whether your page meets the need or not.
Do you have to write new content or can you update existing content to answer an unanswered question on QuestionHub?
Yes, you can update and submit existing content as well as write completely new content. Apparently, it also helps Google’s team understand that this was not in fact an unanswered question. I’ve explored both approaches (see experiments below) to see whether you can get new content to rank and also give existing content a boost (although Google explicitly states that submitting content does not improve its search ranking).
Do I have to write content or can I submit videos?
You can only submit content for the sites you have verified in Search Console, but you can also submit YouTube videos.
What happens after you submit a URL in QuestionHub?
According to Google’s FAQs, Googlebot will visit your page and determine whether your content answers the unanswered questions better than current content. If it determines it does, then it will index and may rank your content. Google then shows you how your content is performing in a dashboard within Google QuestionHub that’s linked to your search console data.
SEO Experiments with QuestionHub from Google
I’ve made a couple of experiments with this process to see what works well and what Google accepts or rejects. These experiments are ongoing, as set out below. Subscribe to the blog for updates on the results of these experiments in the near future.
Experiment 1 – Updating existing content
Goal: Determine if updating an existing page and getting some unanswered questions approved give a particular page a boost across all its keywords.
This was actually extremely difficult to do. I searched for numerous topics such as, “competitor analysis, keyword research, digital PR, digital marketing and local SEO”, but found it impossible to find relevant unanswered questions that I could incorporate into my existing content.
This is where, Google really could improve this tool. After all, it insists you connect and verify your sites in Google Search Console to use QuestionHub, so it could easily surface related phrases that it thinks are topically relevant to a specific page or selected pages in your site. In the absence of such a tool, trying to find phrases that you can answer to improve existing content, can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. In my opinion, you are better off focusing on aggregating closely related phrases and answering many of them in a new piece of content. I did however manage to find this question, “How to get the perfect eCommerce site?”.
Which I have answered with the “Ultimate Guide to eCommerce SEO”. All I have done is added a sentence at the bottom of the introduction before chapter 1 of the guide.
Experiment 2 – Creating new content that is on-topic for your website
Goal: Determine if creating a new page and getting some unanswered questions approved accelerates the indexing and ranking of this page for other related head terms.
From hundreds of questions about Google search, I produced a refined list of over one hundred questions pertaining to political bias in Google results. Whilst we write a lot about Google and other search engines, we don’t normally write about politics, but I think since we are looking at keywords, websites and SERPs it should be on-topic enough to stand a chance of being accepted by Google. You can read the article on our blog, “Are Google search results biased?”.
Experiment 3 – Creating new content that is off-topic for your website
Goal: Determine if creating a new page of content that is not related to the principal topics the website usually writes about is accepted.
So, I created an article targeting some unanswered questions around, “How to find your IP address in Google search”. This is a relatively short piece of content that attempts to directly answer some unanswered questions. It’s not completely off-topic, but it is not the kind of consumer facing content that we would normally produce.
Experiment 4 – Suggesting an existing page but making no changes to it
Goal: Determine what happens if you suggest an existing page but make no changes to the content.
OK, so I’ve changed my mind on this one. Obviously, it would be fun to test this one – but I don’t want to fall foul of any Google anti-spam measures and risk jeopardising my other experiments; so this experiment is parked for the time being.
Experiment 5 – Can you suggest a URL that is not from one of the sites connected to the Google Search Console account connected to QuestionHub?
Goal: Determine if you can suggest any URL from any website or whether it has to be one that is connected to QuestionHub via Google Search Console. This is to test whether Google enforces the rules it lists in its FAQs, as it says you can only submit content for sites you have verified in Google Search Console or YouTube Videos.
Experiment complete: I can confirm that this does not work unless you are a verified user attached to that site in Google Search Console.
Experiment 6 – Creating a YouTube Video and see whether it is ranked and how it performs
Goal: Determine if you creating a YouTube video specifically aimed at answering a set of related unanswered questions is accepted and how quickly it ranks.
OK, so I created a video which was originally going to look at QuestionHub. But having started to look at the types of questions coming up around Google Search, I decided to record this video on whether there’s any evidence of political bias or other bias in Google SERP results.
Experiment 7 – Creating some website content and a YouTube Video and submit both to see whether you can submit another URL for the same question and how the content is ranked and how it performs
Goal: Determine if you can submit different URLs for the same answer or very similar URLs.
This experiment is simply a combination of experiments 2 and 6. I created a pretty lengthy blog post about perceived bias by Google in its search results and a corresponding video on the same topic and submitted both pages for the same large set of phrases to see if I could get both pages to rank.
So, is Google Question Hub useful for SEOs?
I don’t like to sit on the fence, so in a word, “No”. Unless, of course, the experiments prove to generate relevant traffic that converts in the future.
Phrases have a date label, so you can see unanswered questions that have been asked very recently (even with in the last few hours), so this may yet prove to be a good way for sites covering topical news and events to ensure that they are not missing any angles in their content. Please shout in the comments if you have had success using the tool so far.
I do feel that with a bit of refinement it could be potentially useful – so we’ll have to see how it evolves.
What Should Google do if it really wanted to make the web a better place?
It could easily show clusters of related topics – questions, search volumes and transparent quality scores, so publishers can see where Google is showing results but it would prefer a better answer. Yeah, that’s unlikely to happen.
Or at the very least, Google could build a tool that allows you to enter an existing URL and it could suggest relevant unanswered questions that your content could potentially fulfil with some amendments.
Is it useful to Google? “Yes”. It gets an army of motivated volunteers to provide answers to questions that it cannot answer well today, to help them interpret query ambiguity or instances where Google’s algorithms have failed to find a suitable answer or where a Google Search Quality Rater has flagged issues with the quality of a set of SERP results.
But if you really have got time on your hands then I suppose you could join the waitlist.
So, finally, what unanswered questions do you have about Question Hub with Google? Please, let me know in the comments and I’ll try and answer them. And who knows, maybe one day this page might even rank for them! 😉