When talking about search engine result pages (SERPs), you are discussing the pages that Google and other search engines show people in response to their search query. SERPs usually include both organic and paid search results.
Why SERPs Are Important for SEO
The truth of the matter is that most people who are viewing SERPs are only going to click organic results on the first page. Second and subsequent pages are rarely ever visited.
All of this said, ranking on the first page does not always translate to tons of traffic. Many organic links only go to the first few positions, and paid results often push the organic rankings down on SERPs.
If you Google “buy eyeglasses online,” you will find that there are four paid ads above the organic results and 39 percent of all clicks go to the paid results. Google can also occasionally show SERP features that answer a query in the search results, meaning that if Google can answer a question in the SERP, searchers have less need to click on results.
How You Get Into the SERPs
All SERPs consist of the same three building blocks, which are paid ads, organic results, and SERP features. Let us examine all three elements in greater detail.
Paid search results appear above, and occasionally after organic results. The two kinds of results are somewhat indistinguishable, except that paid ads are marked as such.
People obtain paid ads through pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, which means that advertisers will bid on keywords and pay Google for each click. Highest bidders usually receive prime placement, but Google can take other factors like the relevance of an ad and CTR into account.
Organic search results are pages from Google’s index, and because there are typically thousands of matching results, Google sorts them using hundreds of ranking factors. As a result, the most relevant and high-quality pages are the ones that end up on the first page of the SERPs.
When it comes to ranking factors, we know that the number of backlinks to a page is important. Google displays organic results by showing a title, URL, and a descriptive snippet.
A person can dictate what Google will display in a SERP by setting the page’s title tag, URL slug, and meta description. When it comes to pages with structured data, Google occasionally shows rich snippets alongside the regular organic results too.
When you want to appear in organic search results, you need to focus on creating the best and most relevant result for the query. You also need to make sure Google can index your pages, and that they’re optimized for search.
SERP features are non-traditional results that may be paid, organic, or pulled directly from Google’s Knowledge Graph. Although SERPs are supposed to directly generate revenue for Google, the purpose is usually to provide information in the search results without the need to click a result.
Recent estimates suggest that over 50 percent of searches now result in no clicks. Google does not always show SERP features in the results.
Features have begun to appear more often over the past few years as Google has built their Knowledge Graph, and their understanding of search intent improved. However, being featured in SERP features can also increase clicks to your website.
More About SERP Features
Google often shows many SERP features in its results, and Google is always testing new ones. Some of the most common SERP features include featured snippets, knowledge cards, knowledge panels, image packs, top stories, people also ask (paa), shopping results, tweets boxes, sitelinks, and videos.
Understanding Featured Snippets
Featured snippets involve snippets of content from top-ranking webpages. They’re often displayed at the top of a SERP, although some other results can appear above them.
Common snippet formats include paragraph, list, and table. Not every featured snippet is text.
Google may sometimes show videos. Google often pulls a snippet from one of the top five results, and people who are already ranking in the top five for a query could stand to gain here.
How Knowledge Cards Work
Knowledge Cards appear at the top of SERPs and offer short, definitive answers to queries. They come in various formats.
The three main sources of data for Knowledge Cards are Google’s Knowledge Graph, data partners, and other highly-trusted sources such as Wikipedia or official government bodies. Because data is pulled exclusively from Google-owned and trusted third-party sources, appearing in a Knowledge Card is not possible for most websites.
How Knowledge Panels Work
Knowledge Panels provide information about a main subject of a query. They usually appear near the top of a SERP on mobile, and on the right-hand side on desktop.
Most of the data in Knowledge Panels comes from the Knowledge Graph, and trusted sources like Wikipedia and Wikidata. Google may sometimes link to social profiles and partners.
Google shows branded Knowledge Panels for companies in the Knowledge Graph. These usually include a direct link to the company’s website and links to social profiles.
Your company logo can also show up in competitors’ Knowledge Panels, although it doesn’t link to your website. It performs a Google search for the company name when clicked.
How Image Packs Work
Image Packs show multiple thumbnails, and clicking on them takes you to Google Images. They often appear at the top of the SERP but can appear further down the page.
Images from a website can show up in image packs, but a link will always take the searcher to Google Images, not a website. When a person clicks through to Google Images, they also see a link to the image source.
How Top Stories Work
The top stories carousel shows recently-published articles, live blogs, and videos. Google displays a thumbnail, title, publisher name, and timestamp for each result, and they usually appear near the top of the SERP.
According to research by News Dashboard, 99.31 percent of results on desktops come from websites that are indexed in Google News. Most rankings here are short-lived, as the purpose of the SERP feature is generally to show new results.
How People Also Ask (PAA) Works
People Also Ask boxes show similar questions that searchers are asking Google. Each question will unfold to reveal an answer pulled from a web page displayed in a similar way to Featured Snippets.
Google will load more related questions every time you click to reveal an answer. Like Featured Snippets, answers to the questions in PAA boxes come from third-parties, and having content that answers one or more of these questions means you have a chance of appearing in a PAA box.
That said, it’s unlikely that showing up here will lead to a lot more traffic. PAA boxes are more useful for content research.
How Shopping Results Work
Shopping results are officially known as Product Listing Ads (PLAs) and showcase relevant products from paid advertisers. Every result will feature a product name, price, and retailer, and some show reviews and special offers.
Most Shopping results show up for queries with transactional or commercial investigation search intent. For example, “buy protein powder” or “best protein powders.”
It costs money to appear in shopping results, as there is no way to appear here organically.
How Tweets Boxes Work
Tweets boxes will display recent popular tweets in a carousel. These are usually from official Twitter accounts associated with a query, but they sometimes show tweets from multiple accounts.
When it comes to brand searches, Google often shows recent tweets from a company’s official Twitter account. For non-branded searches, relevant tweets from an account can still show up in the Tweets box.
How Sitelinks Work
Sitelinks are links to other pages on the ranking website or other parts of the ranking page. They will be more of an enhancement to regular organic results than a SERP feature, because they appear as ‘extra’ links below a result.
The benefit of sitelinks are twofold: People can find what they’re searching for faster, and people are more likely to click on your website in the SERP, which means more organic traffic. Google usually shows sitelinks for branded queries, so it’s likely that people already see sitelinks when searching for your website.
For non-branded queries, you’re more likely to ‘win’ sitelinks when your page is popular and has internal links to other relevant content—at least from my observations.
How Videos Work
Video results are organic results enhanced with a video thumbnail. Only pages with embedded videos are eligible, and Google also usually shows the upload date, duration, and the name of the uploader in the SERP.
Most video results come from YouTube, but they can show up for other websites too. For embedded videos hosted on YouTube, Google sometimes shows thumbnails in the SERP. For embedded videos hosted elsewhere, the page needs VideoObject schema markup to be eligible for this feature.
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