What is an ‘Answer Engine’?

‘Answer Engines’ are online resources that try to give definitive answers to users’ questions. They have been around for 20 years, with many having come and gone; survivors include Quora, Answers.com and Yahoo Answers. Search engines like Google are now using AI to provide an equivalent by creating both questions and answers from the data they hold.

I particularly liked a recent article on the Smart Insights blog called Optimizing for Google, the answer engine, which suggests that Google is transforming away from being a ‘search engine’ to one focused on answers. In particular, that might mean one definitive answer; don’t forget that in the growing world of voice search, that’s all you usually get.

The term ‘answer engine’ has been around for a few years, but I think it’s quite possible we might start talking more about ‘answer engine optimisation’ as this decade moves on. It’s been said that the difference between SEO and AEO is that SEO is about tactics (how to get good rankings) and AEO about strategy (an overall vision).

Google has dipped its toe in the answer engine water, unsuccessfully, on several occasions, including Google Helpouts, Knol and Google Answers. Now the technology – and incentive – appears to exist for the company to take the huge amount of data it holds to parse out not only answers to questions, but to identify the unstated questions themselves. It’s early days, but the process will be transformative as search engines morph from information indexes to personal assistants.

What does this mean for us, as website owners? It could mean nothing. If the technology is good enough, the search engines will be able to work out what questions we’re answering with each piece of information we provide, and provide our content as the answer to those questions. However, we can give the search engines a huge helping hand for now, by specifying the questions too. There are ways to ‘mark this up’, which I’ll look at in forthcoming blogs, but if nothing else, for every new piece of content you add to your website, ask what questions it’s answering, and consider including those questions in the text.