A Beginner’s Guide To The Search Engine Results Page
Online success is all about being on the first page of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
With very few searches going deeper than the first page, a page one ranking – and ideally a top-three spot – is everyone’s aim. Competition is fierce and everyone is continually jostling for position and trying new things to elevate their website up the rankings.
What if you knew more about what’s behind the SERPs and could use this inside track to your advantage?
The more you know, the more chance you have of online visibility and getting ahead in the rankings. That’s why you’ll find this article useful as it provides useful advice on getting into the SERPs, plus it unpacks the various features of the SERPs and gives tips on how you can boost your chances of appearing in these.
You know how when you search for something on Google, the results pages don’t always look the same? That’s because there are three different categories that make up the SERPs – namely paid results, organic results and SERP features – and the make-up of page one and how it appears on your screen will depend on the search query itself.
Say for instance you searched for ‘America’s largest company’. The first two things that appear on page one are a Featured Snippet and a ‘People Also Ask’ (PAA) box – both of which are called SERP Features. In other words, they aren’t conventional listings but are rather put in place by the search engines in response to a common query. And very often, these are ‘no click’ results. The searcher doesn’t necessarily click through to a web page because the answer they’re seeking is right in front of them!
Google has many different SERP features which show up on the first page, but the two most important categories are still paid results and organic results. This is where your SEO efforts will reap the biggest dividends.
Paid ads generally appear before the organic results and are clearly marked as with an ‘Ad’ icon.
Paid advertising works on a pay-per-click basis (PPC) with ad spots going to the advertiser who makes the highest bid for a particular keyword. You only pay when people click on your ad to visit your website or call through to your business.
Paid ads can appear at both the top and bottom of the page, so can often crowd out the organic search results.
Organic search results
These results are the blue links that appear on the search engine pages. They are there as a result of Google sorting through all the matching results for the search query (keyword or phrase) using its secret algorithm, and ranking them according to which they see as being the most relevant, the highest quality and the most trustworthy.
Your SEO efforts will be focused on getting your pages to rank highly using all the known ways of influencing Google’s decision-making process.
Now let’s look at the SERP features and see if there are ways you can appear in them.
SERP features appear on the SERPs but they aren’t paid ads or organic search results.
As mentioned earlier, they include things like Featured Snippets, People Also Ask (PAA), Knowledge Cards and Panels, Top Stories, Shopping Results and Videos.
These features can generate revenue directly for Google (for example the shopping one) but they generally aim to provide ‘non-click’ answers for the search query. What that means is that searchers find the answer in these features without needing to go an extra step and click on a link. That’s good for the searcher, but it’s not so good for you.
These features are becoming more and more common, with some experts suggesting that over half of all searches don’t end in a click. That’s one of the reasons you need careful ongoing keyword research and target those that don’t have masses of SERP features.
Let’s look at some of the most common SERP features and how you can improve your chances of getting into them.
These usually appear right at the top of page one and they contain literally a snippet of information usually drawn from one of the top-ranked web pages (which is why organic and paid results count!). The formats vary from text, tables, bulleted lists and FAQs to videos. According to a recent Ahrefs study, 12% of all SERPs have a featured snippet. Providing high quality information on your website that would provide the best result for Google to feature for a specific search term is one of the best ways to increase your chances of appearing in the Featured Snippet section.
People Also Ask
The PAA boxes show search queries that are similar to the one that has been asked. The drop-down shows up top-ranked web pages in the same way that Featured Snippets do. Top Tip: Optimising your content to answer these questions and using FAQ Schema (which Google refreshes and updates every time an answer has been revealed) can improve your chances of appearing here.
These appear on the right-hand side of the organic results and are basically a short, snapshot answer to the query. It’s not likely that you will appear in these as the information is generally mined from trusted sources like Wikipedia.
These also appear on the right-hand side of the results on desktops and near the top on a mobile search. Depending on the search query, it is possible for your business logo, links to your website and to social profiles to appear here.
These usually appear at the top of the SERPs and are links to recently published news articles, blogs or videos about a specific topic. The main feed comes from sites that are indexed in Google news which means your site has to be Google News approved to appear here.
Local Packs show up for local searches, like ‘web design company near me’ and ‘SEO specialist Perth’. Local SEO – and especially your Google My Business listing – can boost your chances of appearing here.
Google Image Packs
Images appear when there is a specific search query eg ‘pink rose’. Images from your website may show up here, but it’s a bit of a long route for the user to get to you. They will first be taken to Google images and then have to click through to your link which will be displayed as the image source.
Product Listing Ads (PLAs)
These are commonly known as Shopping Results and they feature items from paid advertisers via Google Ads (although Google has said they will be releasing free PLA’s towards the end of 2020 we have yet to see this rollout yet). In other words, the only way you can appear here is by spending money! These ads come up when the search query is transactional or investigative in nature, such as ‘best running shoes’ or ‘buy yoga mat’.
Sitelinks appear as an additional option below an organic result on a SERP. They give searchers extra choices so that their queries can be answered faster and more effectively. The most likely chance of your link appearing here is when there’s a branded search query. You can’t choose which links appear here, they are selected by Google and are often (but not always) based on the most visited pages on your website).
These usually come up as a three-pack of videos on the SERPs (generally from YouTube) with a carousel to see more. The page has to have an embedded video to be eligible for this particular feature and if the video isn’t hosted on YouTube, it has to have VideoObject schema mark-up for Google to consider it.
Like the video feature, tweets boxes are displayed in a carousel. They show a recent tweet or tweets from official Twitter accounts that are associated with the particular search query. You’re more likely to appear in this box when the search is branded, but there’s still a chance that tweets from your account can be displayed even in a non-branded search.
So, if you want to rank on the first page of the SERPs (and who doesn’t!), it’s really worthwhile digging deep into the SERPs Features to find extra opportunities. Ask your SEO specialist for help in maximising your online visibility and putting your website where it counts.
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