The search engine results page (SERP) refers to the list of results that are being displayed by search engines for any given query submitted by a searcher. On the most basic level, it’s the results that are showing up on Google.
Understanding SERPs is a critical component of the SEO professional’s role. By analyzing search results, SEOs will better understand the key components of a result listing and be able to determine the specific requirements to rank.
Why Understanding SERPs Is So Important
Google’s search algorithm is constantly evolving. In fact, Google updates its algorithm hundreds of times each year.
While a lot of these instances are minor, we’ve gradually seen the information and features found in search results expand. And, it’s safe to bet that we will continue to see search features change.
By staying on top of what’s showing up in search results around core keywords and phrases, search engine marketers will have a better understanding of what’s required to rank, and the types of assets needed in order to get there.
For this reason, I’ll be going over some of the key SERP features to be aware of. And, more importantly, how we can use these findings to guide strategic SEO campaigns.
Traditional SERP Features
Before we get into all of the advanced features Google displays in search results, let’s start with the very basics – titles, descriptions, and URLs. For each element, I’ve provided an example and SEO best practices to consider.
Search Result Titles
This information is most commonly influenced by the HTML title of a web page; hence why we recommend concise and unique HTML tagging on all web pages, targeting applicable keywords.
Because HTML titles can have a significant impact on organic visibility, it’s essential that potential implications are considered before changing title tags.
- Format “Blog Post Title | Brand Name”
- Keep title around 55 characters.
- Use keyword/keyword variation (when possible and natural).
Search Result Descriptions
A properly crafted meta description can often be seen in the search engine results description element. While meta descriptions do not play a significant role in driving rankings, they can play a role in search result CTR.
- Keep descriptions around 200 characters.
- Descriptions should be compelling and entice the user to click.
- Use the primary keyword (preferably toward the beginning).
- Add a call to action at the end of the description.
Search Result URL Information
An optimized URL should be easily readable for the human eye, explain to search engines what the page is actually about, and clearly outline the structure of the website.
Because URLs have a significant impact on marketing efforts (especially SEO), the following best practices should be considered.
- Keep URL concise.
- Include target keyword phrase (when possible and natural).
- Use hyphens to separate words.
- Use lower case letters.
- Avoid using parameters (when possible).
Advanced SERP Features
Now that we have a solid understanding of traditional search results, let’s dive into some of the more complex features that Google offers.
Here’s a list of the SERP features that we’ll be going over.
- Featured Snippet
- Knowledge Graph
- Knowledge Card
- Local Pack
- Local Teaser
- Top Stories
- People Also Asked
- Related Searches
- Searches Related to
- Site Links
- Google Ads (Paid Results)
- Shopping Results
Below I’ve provided an example of what each feature actually looks like on Google, and outlined any considerations that SEO professionals should be aware of.
Featured Snippets (Answer Box)
- Google answers question by pulling information from a page.
- Often appears for question-based searches or queries that have informational intent (top-of-funnel searches).
- Dominates the top half of the page on Google, and typically generates higher click-through rates compared to traditional organic results.
- This feature is especially valuable to understand search intent and provide information (or content) that is aligned. By analyzing the Answer Box and other top search results, SEOs can determine what information is required to rank. Then, use these insights to create an asset that is aligned.
- Appears on the right hand side of the results page when searching on desktop.
- Displayed for searches related to companies, people and places.
- Information is pulled from data arrangements with Google partners, Wikipedia pages, and/or companies branded web pages (About Us, Leadership, Company Overview, etc.)
- While this feature is difficult to optimize towards, sites should ensure branded web pages provide complete and up-to-date information.
- Additionally, make sure that off-site information (also in Google’s index) is accurate. For example, the company’s business listings.
- Knowledge card is shown for data-related searches.
- Google collects and stores data to provide users with the information.
- Provided by human editors or data partnerships with Google; therefore, ranking in a Knowledge Card is not tangible for most websites.
- Option to “Explore more”.
- It’s important to know which keywords are showing the Knowledge Card feature, as you are not likely to rank in the top position.
- Displayed for searches that have local intent (i.e. [x services] in [y location]).
- Typically shows three locations that are considered the most relevant with each company name, reviews/ratings, and the address.
- Option to explore “More places”.
- Feature takes over the first half of the page on Google when searching on desktop, and is even more predominant on mobile.
- Similar to the Local Pack, displayed for searches that have local intent.
- Often appears for hotels and restaurants.
- Most relevant locations are shown on a map with additional information including hours, reviews/ratings, prices, images, etc.
- It’s essential to understand what search results are displaying local features, as it may not be as relevant for all businesses to optimize towards. These features are typically most important for companies with brick-and-mortar store locations, in which local SEO best practices will be key.
Top Stories (News)
- Replaced the News Box feature.
- Shown for trending topics and timely information.
- Results are taken from Google News articles.
- Option for more information on the search, which takes users to the Google News section.
- Most websites are able to rank in Top Stories by following the Google News submission procedures. This is usually most valuable for publications and other news sources.
- AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) should also be a consideration when optimizing towards this feature.
- Video thumbnails appear in results (mostly from YouTube).
- This feature only appears for certain keywords; however, search intent varies.
- Commonly shown for “how-to” type of searches, tutorials, etc.
- Three videos are shown, with the option to scroll through more without leaving the page.
- YouTube video optimizations should be considered here, including best practices for titles, descriptions, categories/tags, etc.
- Generally speaking, SEOs should also consider ways to drive users from the company YouTube channel to the website. For example, include relevant CTAs/cross-links in video descriptions for users to learn more on the topic.
- Image thumbnails appear in results, which are taken from a variety of sources in Google’s index.
- Displayed for searches that would benefit from visual content (i.e. animals, people, etc.).
- Option to view “More images” in Google’s image search.
- Image optimization best practices should be considered for these types of results:
- Include keyword in file name and title
- Use – vs _ for naming convention
- Add descriptive ALT text
- Optimized/compressed image size
- Tweets are displayed directly within search results.
- Often appear for brand (or people) related searches.
- Three most recent tweets are displayed with the option to “View on Twitter”
- While there is no direct SEO optimization here, ensuring that your brand remains active on Twitter can be valuable in promoting thought leadership, strengthening brand awareness and taking advantage of this search feature.
People Also Asked
- Also referred to as Related Questions.
- Suggested questions based on what Google’s algorithm determines could be related to the search.
- Similar to the Featured Snippet, it’s often displayed for question-based search queries.
- While the location in search listings fluctuates, it often appears in results that include a Featured Snippet.
- This feature is extremely valuable to understand search intent. By analyzing the People Also Asked sections around your core keyword targets, you can determine what information people are looking for. Then, use these insights to guide your content development efforts.
- Shown at the bottom of the search results page.
- Based on what Google’s algorithm determines could be related.
- Unfortunately for SEOs, these results often show competitive brands, products or services.
Searches Related to
- Shown at the bottom of the search results page.
- Based on what Google’s algorithm determines could be related.
- Provides searchers the ability to easily refine their query, if they have not yet found the information they are looking for.
- Especially valuable for understanding users search intent.
- Here, you can get some really great ideas for new content. Understand what questions people are asking, and what information you can provide to help.
- Often shows up for searches around software, products, hotels, restaurants, recipes and more.
- Appears under the page URL and above the page description.
- Displays the average rating and number of votes.
- Naturally, results that have positive reviews are more likely to be seen as credible, and will experience better click-through rates.
- By adding schema markup for reviews to your site, you can encourage the Reviews feature to appear in search results.
- Google provides a definition directly.
- Dominates the top half of the page.
- Ability to expand the feature with more information like translations, origin, etc.
- Provided by human editors or data partnerships with Google; therefore, ranking in a Definition feature is not tangible for most websites.
- Valuable to understand search intent, and determine the queries that Google believes are top-of-funnel.
- Know which keywords are showing the Definition features, as chances of ranking in the top position are slim.
- Site Links are an extremely high value feature for brands.
- Not only does it help users easily find the information they are looking about the brand, but brands can also occupy additional space on the search results page.
- By adding schema markup (or structured data) to your site, you can encourage Site Links to appear in search results.
Google Ads (Paid Results)
- Google Ads (paid advertisements) can appear at both the top and bottom of the search engines results page.
- Elements include headlines, the display URL, descriptions and a call-to-action.
- Since this is not an organic result, search engine advertising best practices and tactics should be considered.
- Similar to Google Ads, Shopping results are paid/sponsored placements.
- Elements include the product name, price, ratings, number of reviews and link.
- It’s important for SEOs to be aware of results that display paid product placements to help understand user intent and prioritize keywords appropriately.
When it comes to optimizing for search engines, there are many SERP features that should be considered. I hope this guide is helpful in addressing the most important SERP features to look for in your next analysis.
Did I miss any features that you think are essential for strategic SERP analysis? Please share your thoughts in the comments below, or reach out to me directly via Twitter!