Everyone has seen a SERP but not everyone knows what a SERP is.
Sounds mysterious, huh?
However, while Google’s algorithm has its secrets, the search engine results pages, in fact, are pretty straightforward. Unless, of course, you count the fact that they are constantly changing and Google never stops testing and introducing new features.
Aside from that, everyone who owns a computer or a mobile device with an internet connection is familiar with what a Google search is, and what happens when you do one.
Still, when it comes to SERP SEO, things become a little bit more complex. Actually, quite a lot.
In this article, we overview everything you need to know about the SERPs, in order to achieve SERP ranking and grow your presence.
What Is SERP in SEO?
In SEO, SERP stands for a search engine result page. It’s what a search engine like Google (or Bing, or DuckDuckGo, for that matter) delivers when a user inputs a query.
When someone performs a search, the algorithm cross-references the keyword and the information it has on the user with the pages in its index. Depending on this information, the algorithm renders a selection of links.
The position of each result depends on how close a match they are to the user query. The position of a link on the search engine results pages is called SERP ranking.
Organic results are usually the end destination that website owners have in mind when implementing SEO.
Once upon a time, a SERP used to be a simple page with ten blue links. However, nowadays, the page may feature a number of special results, also known as SERP features, that include images, links, reviews, graphs, and text excerpts.
For the average Joe who is not familiar with SEO algorithms, all these are referred to simply as “Google pages”, or “the first page of Google”.
What happens on the second, third, and all the other pages up to 99 is, generally, nobody’s concern, aside from marketers and SEO specialists who sweat day and night to drag their links out of there.
What Results Are There in the SEPS?
Each SERP is different. Even when two users key the same query, what they receive in response is not the same. Result pages depend on the user’s browsing history, interests, location, device, and all the other information Google scrapes.
However, aside from the search bar and the search query suggestions at the bottom, what all SERPs have in common are those three types of results:
Paid Search Results (Ads)
Paid results show up at the top of the page before any other type of result. These are PPC ads of businesses that have Google Ads accounts and pay for their links to appear before organic results.
These types of results look more or less the same as organic ones with the difference that they have a tiny “Ad” icon on the top left corner of the link, indicating that they are sponsored.
You can’t organically rank for these positions in the SERPs.
Organics Search Results
As the name suggests, organic search results are the links that Google provides when a user keys a query.
These types of results include a URL, a title, and a short description. Some results also feature a date.
To rank in them, you need to make your website discoverable by Google, i.e. make sure that the search engine bots can crawl and index it, and optimize your pages. The goal of SEO optimization is to ensure that Google not only finds but understands your page, but deems it worthy of the user’s attention.
Although organic search is free, proper SEO is a time-consuming tedious process that requires knowledge and expertise. That’s why many website owners rely on professional SEO services. While these don’t come cheap, the benefits of SEO for businesses are worth it.
Special Results and SERP Features
Special search results are the most sought-after SERP real estate.
Depending on the query and the type of result, these links can show up anywhere on the SERP (but not before the paid results). Furthermore, a SERP can include different combinations of special links, and, occasionally, can even be made entirely of them.
Special results include additional elements that make them stand out and because of this have a much higher CTR than regular results and ads.
To produce these types of results, Google extracts information from pages in its index that have the necessary data with a proper format. As a result, it is possible to rank for most.
However, ranking for special results and SERP features, more often than not, is challenging, random, and, in some cases, impossible for the majority of websites. Some are limited only to official organizations and governments, others are paid services, and a few have unclear origins.
Still, there are those that you have a fighting chance for.
Types of SERP Features
Now let’s have a look at the most popular types of SERP features, and how accessible they are for the regular website owner:
Featured snippets are pieces of information from one of the top results ranking for a keyword. They appear after the ads and before the organic results and are often referred to as position 0 of organic search.
Depending on their content, featured snippets can be:
- Paragraph of text
- List of items
As featured snippets are organic results, theoretically everyone can rank for them. There isn’t a clear understanding of how the algorithm chooses what snippet to display. However, it only uses ready-made information with a proper format and that fully matches the user’s query and search intent.
Optimizing your content for featured snippets increases the chances of earning one, especially when it comes to long-tail keywords that are easier to rank for.
People Also Ask
The “People also ask” box is another very common SERP feature. More often than not, it appears after the first organic result (this may be a featured snippet or a regular blue link). However, it can also show up in different locations in-between the organic links.
The box includes relevant questions that people tend to search on Google and that may complement the user’s query.
When the user clicks on one of the questions, the search engine serves a search result with a snippet of text that contains the answer, a link, a headline, and, occasionally, an image. In addition, every time a user clicks on a question, new suggestions load up.
The links in the “People also ask” box are organic results and it is possible to rank for them.
Furthermore, unlike featured snippets, the answers are not always pulled from the top-ranking pages, so there’s a higher chance to be featured here even if you are not on page one. If your content includes concise answers to commonly asked questions, you have a chance of ranking.
However, keep in mind that, more often than not, people don’t click on these results, especially when they are looking for quick answers.
Image packs are shown when the user’s query is associated with enough images in Google’s index. These can be displayed at the top of the SERP, or, in some cases, further down the page, in-between the ten blue links.
Once the user clicks on a result, they are forwarded to the same picture in the Image vertical. There, they see more information about the image and the website where it’s located, as well as a “Visit” button.
Images packs are organic results and everyone that has relevant content can rank for them. However, the condition is that your visuals are optimized for image search and have the pertaining meta information.
This type of SERP feature displays videos that are relevant to the user query. The results consist of a thumbnail, the video’s duration, a headline, the name of the publisher, and the date of publication.
The box can be located anywhere on the page and, depending on the keywords, can be combined with different other features.
For example, the search in the image above, resulted in an Image box, followed by a “People also ask” panel, a regular organic link, and then the Videos box. However, the search “funny pandas” delivered only video results. And the search “the kinks sunny afternoon” resulted in a video featured snippet, followed by a video box.
More often than not, the videos are pulled from YouTube, but videos that are uploaded directly on other websites (including social platforms) can also be displayed if they are relevant.
Knowledge cards are usually located at the top of the search results, directly below the search bar.
They present information from Google’s index, governments, high authority partner institutions, Wikipedia, and other reputable sources. They cover different topics, including, but not limited to, personal information about famous people (names and birth dates), stock information, currency exchange rates, formulas, etc.
As such, most regular websites can’t rank for these positions.
Knowledge panels are a SERP feature that displays organized information about an entity related to the search query. This is usually a person, a company, an organization, etc. The panel is located in the top right corner of the SERP on desktop.
The data in the panel is pulled from official sources – most commonly, Google’s Knowledge Graph, Wikipedia, or the official website of the person/business. Aside from general information and a link to the official website, it may include, if applicable, additional details pulled from other sources, rich snippets with images, related content, competitors, links to social profiles, reviews, etc.
It is possible to rank for these positions if you are the subject of the search or a verified representative.
Local packs are related to geographical and “near me” searches and feature a map followed by the top three results (The Local 3-Pack) that match the user’s query. They are usually displayed after the ads and before the organic links.
The information in this panel is extracted from existing Google My Business profiles. This means that in order to rank here, you need to own and maintain your profile, add all the relevant information, and optimize your website for local SEO.
Sitelinks are a SERP feature that applies mostly to branded searches. When a user keys a brand name, the algorithm renders the pertinent organic result, but, instead of a regular blue link, displays additional links from the same website.
However, occasionally, sitelinks appear in the search results for regular non-branded searches. This is more likely to happen for websites with high authority and popularity.
The sitelink box can contain up to ten additional links and, to its full extent, can overtake the SERP space of five regular organic results.
The greatest benefit of this type of Google SERP is that it provides additional information about the brand and increases the chances of a user clicking on one of the links.
You can’t control which links Google displays here but you can increase the chances of obtaining such a result by improving your website architecture, internal linking strategy, and the overall popularity of your domain.
When a user keys the name of a book, movie, restaurant, product, etc., they can be provided with results including a rating, a.k.a. review stars. These elements are displayed below the rest of the information in the search result.
To have a chance to enrich your own links with this kind of SERP feature, you need to add schema markup for reviews to the respective pages. However, as with everything else Google-related, this doesn’t guarantee your success and the algorithm may still decide not to display the extra information.
News Results and Top Stories
News results and Top Stories box (sometimes displayed as a carousel) render when the user is looking for news-related information. It appears near the top of the SERP and includes a group of news listings. Each entry features a headline, thumbnail, publisher, and a timestamp.
Since Google updated its News and Top Stories policy, all websites that provide newsworthy content can be featured here. However, publishers that are registered on the company’s platform usually have better chances.
Shopping results are a paid type of SERP feature, where shoppable products are displayed with a rich snippet containing an image and details about the product name, price, retailer, and, occasionally, review stars and offers.
These results are shown to users whose search intent is commercial, i.e. they are looking to purchase a product.
If you want to appear in the Product Listing Ads (PLA), you need to launch a Smart shopping campaign.
How Does SERP Ranking Work?
Well this is the question, isn’t it?
Google’s algorithm uses hundreds of ranking factors to determine the SERP ranking of pages. Nobody knows all of the elements that define the final ranking – it’s one of Google’s top secrets.
However, through testing, trial and error, and empirical experience, SEO experts agree on the following:
- The Page Is Indexed
- Relevancy to the User Query
- Matching Search Intent
- Quality of the Content
- Keyword Optimization
- Content Freshness
- Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness (EAT) of the Source
- Core Web Value optimization
- Mobile-Friendliness of the Page
- Page Speed
- Meta Information
- Structured Data
- Website Navigation
- Information Architecture
Most of these have been confirmed by Google, and are present in their official documentation, with additional information on how to implement them.
Furthermore, Google provides its own tools such as Google Analytics and the Search Console. They allow website owners to track their pages in the SERPs and take actions to improve their performance.
Aside from this, there are countless other SEO tools that provide insights into SERP ranking and how to boost it. The most popular are Semrush, Ahrefs, and Moz.
The more you know about the SERPs and their features, the better chances you have of ranking in them.
When thinking about Google, keep in mind that it is constantly changing and updating its products. This means that what we know today with certainty may be old news tomorrow.
However, this shouldn’t discourage you, just keep an eye out for new and interesting features in the SERPs and adjust your content accordingly.