Understanding Google SERP Features in 2021: The Complete Guide
Understanding Google search engine result page – or “SERP” – features has always been an essential part of SEO for B2B digital marketers. By analyzing the factors of web pages that appear in Google SERPs for targeted keywords, SEOs are able to determine potential tactics for improving their pages’ positions in those results.
What Are SERP features?
SERP features are all the little widgets of information Google (or Bing) can put into the search results. These features help improve usability and experience for the searcher. There are a wide range of different types of SERP features, which we’ll cover in detail below, starting with the basics.
A very simple SERP could look like this:
You’ll also notice I used a long tail keyword – “goldfish farming online course.” This is because it’s getting hard to find search results that don’t include any SERP features.
So many searches bring back SERP features, in fact, that more than 50% of all searches are now zero-click, and that’s been true since 2019.
What is a “Zero-Click Search?”
A zero-click search is a search query Google can answer without the user ever having to click through to a web page. The search results present an answer based on what Google intuits is the user’s search intent.
Clearly, this has immense implications for SEOs everywhere. And it’s why ranking in SERP features are now an SEO’s bread and butter.
So why is all this happening? It depends who you ask. Google is either evolving into a “walled garden,” or it’s evolving to meet the needs of “mobile-first” searches and voice search. Most likely, all of that is true.
What’s irrefutably true is that Google is evolving in its quest to deliver the best answer to every query. And that’s why another massive concept in SEO – user intent – is so central to zero-click searches.
For example, this could be the results for a zero-click search. But only if the user’s intent was to understand what the word “esoteric” means:
As you probably know, we’re looking at several SERP features in just this example. There’s a dictionary SERP feature giving us the definition of “esoteric.” Then there’s the “People also ask” SERP feature below that. In the right column, we’ve got a Knowledge Graph SERP feature in that “Western esotericism” box.
Only the very bottom listing, from Merriam Webster, is an organic search listing. And this example is relatively light on SERP features.
In many cases, users now have to scroll to even see the top organic listing.
So how much of an effect is this having on organic search traffic? It varies depending on which industry you’re in, which keyword search, and other factors. But know this: Having even one specific type of SERP feature – a featured snippet – has been shown to reduce the CTR of a #1 organic SERP result by 39%. That same research found that the value of a #1 organic SERP listing fell by 37% in just the years between 2015 and 2017 alone.
That’s how important it is to optimize for SERP features.
Basic SERP Features
The most basic elements of search results are titles, descriptions, and URLs. For each element, I’ve provided an example and the SEO best practices to consider.
Search Result Titles
The title tag that appears in search results is usually pulled from the HTML title of the web page. Keep in mind that how much of the title tag that appears in search results will depend on which type of device the user is viewing the results on (namely, mobile versus desktop) and which settings the user has set like screen resolution and text size.
Because HTML titles play such a prominent role in SERPs we recommend putting some effort into optimizing them.
Best Practices for Title Tags
- HTML title tags should be 55 – 60 characters and / or 512 pixels in width.
- Use keyword/keyword variation in title when possible (don’t force it).
- Consider adding brand name at end of HTML title tag (example: “Keyword | Brand”).
- Make each title unique, accurate, and concise.
Search Result Descriptions
A properly crafted meta description can often be seen in the search engine results description element. While recent research has found that Google rewrites meta descriptions 70% of the time, it’s still worth the effort to write them. We certainly put a lot of effort into writing ad copy descriptions, and in a sense meta descriptions are just as valuable for increasing clicks.
Best Practices for Meta Descriptions
- Meta descriptions should be between 150 – 300 characters.
- Include the page’s main keyword in context if possible.
- Include a call to action.
- Attempt to incorporate a sentence break at 150 characters. This is because some search engines do not adhere to the 300 character limit Google specifically suggests, and end visible descriptions at 155 characters.
- Avoid duplication of meta descriptions across web pages.
Search Result URL Information
An optimized URL (web address) should be easily readable for the human eye, explain to search engines what the page is 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.
Best Practices for URLs
- Keep the URL concise.
- Include target keyword phrase (when possible and natural).
- Use hyphens to separate words.
- Use lower case letters.
- Avoid using parameters (when possible).
It’s a good idea to review the elements of even basic search results as this will make understanding more advanced features later on.
This is especially true as “zero-click searches” become more prevalent and as Google continually evolves toward being “mobile-first” and voice search driven.
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 discuss.
- Featured Snippets
- Knowledge Panel
- Local Pack
- Local Teaser Pack
- Top Stories
- Image Pack
- People Also Asked
- People Also Search For
- Searches Related To
- Site Links
- Google Ads (Top and Bottom)
- Shopping Results
Keep in mind that Google is constantly testing new SERP features. 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 have gotten a lot of attention over the last year or so, and for good reason. They are dominating the search results.
Here are some key pieces of information from recent research about featured snippets and where, how, and how often they appear in search results.
As Ryan Young explains in his article, How To Appear in Google Featured Snippets: 5 Tips for B2B Marketers, “Google says ‘featured snippets are special boxes where the format of regular listings is reversed, showing the descriptive snippet first.’ Content for featured snippets is automatically pulled by Google from indexed web pages that Google believes matches the user’s intent.”
Simply optimizing your content for featured snippets is no guarantee you’ll get the coveted “position zero” (another common term for featured snippets). Pages have to already to be ranking in the top ten organic search results to compete at all for a featured snippet according to a study from Ahrefs.
Best practices for appearing in Featured Snippets:
- Use H2 and H3 subheaders with questions that also serve as keywords (For example, “How can I increase click-through rates in emails?”)
- Write answers to these questions/subheaders in a paragraph that’s 40-60 words long.
- To appear in list featured snippets, set each bullet item in H2 or H3 tags.
- Leverage some of the more robust SEO tools like SEMRush or Moz to track and optimize how your pages appear in featured snippets.
Knowledge Panel and the Knowledge Graph
It’s important to keep these two terms distinct. The Knowledge Graph refers to Google’s vast database of related information. The Knowledge Graph was launched in 2012 and has accumulated an impressive amount of data. It uses Google’s algorithm to serve up appropriate information based on a user’s query and their inferred intent, whether that information general information about Elon Musk, as shown above, or who wrote the song “Abbey Road.”
The Knowledge Panel is the actual feature you see outlined in red above. This is the presentation of information from the Knowledge Graph. This 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 influence, 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.
- If the information appearing in a Knowledge Panel that is related to your company is wrong, you may be able to correct it by updating the information through Google’s knowledge panel help page.
- Google’s Knowledge Cards, which had been a specific type of SERP feature, have been rolled into Knowledge Panels.
In B2B SEO, the local pack may not be as relevant, but organizations with multiple locations – i.e. offices, distribution centers, branches, etc – should certainly put focus in optimizing for this SERP feature.
- 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.
- Includes the option to “View all.”
- Feature takes over the first half of the page on Google when searching on desktop, and is even more predominant on mobile.
- Different from Local Teaser features in that they don’t include reviews.
Recommendations to appear in the Local Pack:
- Keep your Google My Business listing updated. If nothing else, make sure your business’s Name, Address, and Location are correct.
- Get more reviews. Aim for at least 10, though more is better.
- If your business has multiple locations, add all of them.
- Add location data and GPS coordinates to the location schema in your listing.
- Similar to the Local Pack, displayed for searches that have local intent.
- Unlike Local Packs, Local Teasers show reviews and hours of operation, but they don’t include a direct link to the organization’s website.
- Often appears for hotels and restaurants.
- Most relevant locations are shown on a map with additional information including hours, reviews/ratings, prices, discounts, images, etc.
- It’s essential to understand what search results are displaying local features, as ranking for Local Teasers may not be relevant for all businesses. These features are typically most important for companies with brick-and-mortar store locations.
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.
- Enabling AMP on a site increases its likelihood of being included in Top Stories.
- Websites are usually eligible to rank in Top Stories if they follow the Google News submission procedures. For most queries, though, content will only be pulled from major news sources. Because of this, Top Stories are usually most valuable for publications and other news sources.
- 62% of universal search results contain video.
- 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 same “View all” option available as with other SERP feature types.
- 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.
- Used to be displayed for searches that would benefit from visual content (i.e. animals, people, etc.), but can be very helpful for B2B marketers who want to summarize ideas in a visual way, or who want to draw attention to charts and graphs from research studies or other visual assets.
- Includes the option to “View all” in Google’s image search.
- Includes related keyword options just above the image thumbnails so users can refine their 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
- 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.
- Each question can be expanded like an accordion for the answer to the question. This expansion also includes a link for a further search.
- This feature is extremely valuable to understand search intent and to optimize your content for Featured Snippets. 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.
People also search for
- 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 very 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.
- You can get some really great ideas for new content from Searches Related To. This feature can help you understand what questions people are asking, and what information you can provide to help.
Nothing builds trust like reviews. If they are applicable to your business, optimize your relevant pages so they’ll show your reviews in the SERPs.
- 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 to the word.
- 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 unlikely for most websites.
- Valuable to understand search intent, and to determine the queries that Google believes are top-of-funnel.
- Know which keywords are showing the Definition features, but don’t put a lot of effort into optimizing for them, as chances of ranking in the top position are slim. Instead, try for a Featured Snippet in a question format, as in “What does esoteric mean?”
- Site Links are an extremely high value feature for brands.
- Not only do they give users a shortcut to key pages on your site, but they also take up a lot of space in the search results, thereby somewhat crowding out your competition.
- Follow Google’s schema markup instructions for sitelinks to improve your chances to getting these high-value links.
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. Like organic listings, Google Ads can sometimes also include Site links. Phone numbers, reviews, and other search features can also be used in ads.
- 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, retailers, brand, price, special offers, product ratings, number of reviews, and link.
Google now occasionally also shows a “Refine by brand” search results feature:
- It’s important for SEOs to be aware of results that display paid product placements to help understand user intent and prioritize keywords appropriately.
SERP Features Are Always Changing
Those are the most prominent and common search results features now. But there’s sure to be more soon. One thing is clear: making the information on your website mobile-friendly and using structured data tags will increase your odds of getting into search features.
Because these features have fewer available positions than traditional search results, it’s all the more important to focus on keywords you can rank for. Long-tail keywords and intelligent keyword research may become more important than ever.
Did we miss any features that you think are essential for strategic SERP analysis? Please share your thoughts with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, or contact us directly to learn more!