SEO Hidden Gem: How do you find out which questions your site ranks for?

This search engine optimization (SEO) gem regarding how to determine which questions a site ranks for was spotted on LinkedIn and comes compliments of Steve Toth of SEONotebook in Canada. Since this is both simple and useful I captured it in this article. In brief, we’ll need a regular expression and we’ll need to run this regular expression in the Google Search Console as a query filter under the performance option — we’ll walk you through each step in a moment but first, we need to take a look at the regular expression and in the next section we have two variants.

Finally, we’ll take a look at question keyword optimization and explore some ideas regarding how this can be used to boost SEO.

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Introduction to Regular Expressions (regex / regexes)

We won’t introduce you to Regular Expressions (regex or regexes) here but rather direct you to several articles which will help you cover this ground if you’re new to the subject. Regexes are used heavily in software development and are very powerful can be both tedious to write and test and can definitely be difficult to read as well.

The article in [1], from Google Webmasters, includes a link to a regex testing tool from which can be used to run experiments. Keep in mind that if you’re new to regular expressions that there are different flavors and [1] makes it clear that the RE2 regular expression syntax is in use.

Below are just a few articles we found on the subject of regular expressions:

  1. Regular expression filter (in Google Search Console)
  2. Regular expression
  3. Regular Expressions in Google Search Console
  4. Beyond the UI – How to filter Google Search Console (GSC) data using regular expressions in Google Analytics (GA)

Finally, this page on contains a list of some complicated regular expressions and the following article on the website, entitled “Regex use vs. Regex abuse”, well, you probably see where this is going. Fortunately, the regexes covered in the following section are fairly simple.

The regular expression (regex) to determine which questions a site ranks for

The regular expression for the custom query has already been provided to us and has been copied here:

					^(who|what|where|when|why|how)[" "]

And an expanded version is included below — if you have additional modifiers that could be valuable please feel free to add them in the comments.

					^(who|what|where|when|why|how|was|did|do|is|are|aren't|won't|does|if)[" "]

In the next section we’ll cover how to run this query in the Google Search Console.

Running this custom performance query filter in Google Search Console (with pictures)

Here we’ll cover how to run this query and we’re going to step through this with pictures and minimal commentary — we start in the Google Search Console.

SEO Hidden Gem: Google Search Console: Performance option.
Step 1.) In the Google Search Console Performance Tab choose "New".

In the next step, on the left (below), we need to choose “Query…” and then, on the right (below), we select the “Custom (regex)” choice.

Google Search Console -> Performance -> New -> Query
Step 2.) Choose "Query...".
Google Search Console -> Performance -> New -> Query -> Filter -> Custom (regex)
Step 3.) Choose "Custom (regex)"

In the final step we need to enter the regular expression and then apply it — this is shown below.

Add the custom regular expression (regex) to the query filter and apply
Enter the custom regular expression (regex) and press apply.

And that’s it! Once you’ve successfully executed this last step you’ll see which questions your site is ranking for.

SEO Hidden Gem Conclusion

We can use what’s referred to as question keyword optimization to boost SEO targeted content that answers questions and I can see the results of this myself as two of the best-performing articles I’ve written both include “how to” in the title.

According to the Semrush article How To Boost SEO With Question Keywords Optimization, “…approximately 8% of search queries are phrased as questions” and as per Google, the search engine is processing over 3.5 billion searches per day as of April 3rd, 2021, which equates to ~280,000,000 question-focused queries. Exploiting question keyword optimization by targeting high-value and complex questions [10] with solid, well-researched, and well-written content could lead to a potentially significant boost in traffic to a website.

And that’s it for this article — if you found this information to be helpful, let me know in the comments!

A short quiz follows with homework assignments.

SEO Hidden Gem Quiz and Homework Assignment

The following ideas are taken from the article entitled How to Use Regex in Google Search Console — refer to the article for the regex format:

  • Branded Search Filters — your company name, for example.
  • Filter Product Model Names — ABC123, for example.
  • Filter URLs by File Extension — PDF files, for example.

Yes: One example is under Behavior -> Site Content -> All Pages -> Right-hand side search box select Advanced and choose “Matching Regexp“.

Developing content to answer specific and targeted questions so as to interact with that 8% of search traffic in Google and hopefully boost traffic and improve SEO.

In the previous question we listed several websites that can be used to interact with a large audience for the purposes of engineering the development of a question keyword optimized article. 

The idea is to infer how important a question may be to a larger audience such that you’re not guessing when developing content. StackOverflow, for instance, is important to software developers so if you were, for example, selling antique car parts, StackOverflow is likely going to be of no value when conducting research.

A simple starting point could be finding which part is most frequently changed on a specific automobile and then building a question around that subject — something like “How to replace the carburetor on a 57 Chevy Bel Air” — for this you would need your own set of reference websites and other sources by which to engineer your content.

Question-optimized keywords can increase organic traffic and boost SEO by targeting that ~8% of Google search traffic that is simply looking to have a question answered. Keep in mind that while ~8% may sound like a low number, on a per-day basis this equates to something in the neighborhood of ~ 280,000,000 search queries.

The content engineer should aim to deliver high quality and targeted content that answers a very specific question in detail.

This requires that you research this answer for yourself.

For example, an article which I intend to write at some point will be entitled something very close to:

How to install the StackPath Content Delivery Network (CDN) in WordPress using the W3 Total Cache plugin.

List posts, or “listicles”, are an ideal format for question optimized keyword posts because they are easy to skim and help the reader find the information they need quickly.

  1. Can you use LinkedIn Groups, Quora, and StackOverflow to conduct research on what might be a good topic for an article that answers a specific, complex question? If you’re not in technology strike StackOverflow and use another site.

    What other tools can we use when researching keyword-optimized question ideas?

    See also: Google Keyword Planner as well as [11] — specifically the section entitled “3- Long Answer Questions (LAQ)”.

  2. In [10] we have a list of question keyword optimized query examples that start with either “what” or “how” — can we develop question keyword-optimized queries that start with |can”, “where“, “why“, and “when“?

    What other possibilities are there? (hint: see the regex above)

    Do any questions that start with a specific word by default perform better than others? (requires further research)

  3. Can long-tail keywords assist when researching keyword-optimized query ideas? Support your answer with evidence.
  4. Are listicles (list posts) helpful when answering long answer questions (LAQ)? See [11], specifically the section entitled “Ranking Pages For Long Answer Questions”.
  5. Read [8, 9, 10, and 11]

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