Before the internet, we would have to visit a library, store or person of expertise in order to find out information. Now we can use our computers and smartphones to find information within minutes.
We save so much time and energy this way, but the vast amount of information means it can be hard to stand out from the crowd, especially if you’re a small business.
What Does SERP Stand For?
SERP is an acronym that stands for Search Engine Results Page. These are the pages that are displayed by your search engine after you’ve typed in a question or query into the search bar.
If you type in “where is the nearest bakery” into a search engine, the SERP page will list all of the local bakeries in your area or companies that offer similar products and services.
Other information such as directions to the bakeries, images and videos from their websites are also displayed on the SERP’s page.
How Does The SERP Work?
When you type in a question or statement into a search engine, you may notice there are hundreds of thousands of results. Looking through these would take far too long and you may not even find the information you are looking for.
Search engines rank the content published on the internet by how well it matches the keywords in your search query, your location, browsing history and social settings.
Essentially, the goal is to show you the best results for your search. This may include videos, images, advertisements, graphs or other questions related to your search query.
Despite the number of different search engines available, Google is the one most of us think of when we’re searching for information.
According to Media One Marketing, Google is the most visited website in the world, on average there are 8.5 billion Google searches a day. For the purposes of this article, information will relate to Google’s SERPs.
As mentioned, there are many different formats of information that may come up on the SERP page regarding a specific query. Let’s break these down.
Organic results refer to the listings that appear on the SERPs page as a result of their content and how relevant they are to the original search term rather than being paid advertisements.
Other factors that help a site appear higher up in organic search results are site authority, keyword relevancy and site optimization.
If you want your website to be seen, you have to rank on this first page.
Paid Advertisements And Results
In contrast to the organic results, the SERPs page shows users, you have paid adverts and sponsored posts that appear at the top or bottom of the page.
For example, if you searched “women’s summer dresses” you would notice the top result has ‘Ad’ in bold next to the website URL.
Companies can purchase specific AdWords or paid keywords such as ‘summer dress’ so their company will appear first on the SERP. Although the adverts and sponsored posts appear first, it doesn’t mean they are as relevant to your search query.
There are many benefits to using paid results. Firstly, you can expect to receive more instant results as people usually click on the first result they see and don’t tend to realize that it’s a paid advert rather than an organic listing.
When paying for the top SERP spot, you also receive useful information on user data including locations, ages and keywords searched for.
This can be useful to optimize your SEO strategy in the future and provides actionable data as you receive progress reports on how well your advert is performing.
A featured snippet refers to an extract pulled from a top organic result displayed at the top of the page in a box. This information is usually highly informative and answers the question typed into the search bar.
If your content is featured as a snippet it means your content ranks the highest for the keywords, therefore, you’re more likely to get traffic to your site, clicks and a higher conversion rate.
Similarly to a snippet, knowledge cards appear at the top of a SERP that relate to the user’s query or question. These are located on the left-hand side of the page, pulling information from Google’s Knowledge Graph and are displayed in graph form.
These can be interactive and always contain the source of information.
The Knowledge Graph pulls information from multiple entities in order to display a condensed version of the user’s search query in a box.
A knowledge panel appears on the right-hand side of the SERP page and also displays information pulled from the Knowledge Graph. However, panels contain a mixture of images, dates, maps and links related to the initial search input.
For example, if you typed “how many people are in the UK”, the SERPs page would produce a knowledge panel with a map of the UK, basic information about the country and statistics related to population change within the country and compared to other countries.
Therefore knowledge cards are more data-oriented and knowledge panels are information-oriented.
You may have noticed a SERP feature that relates to your search query titled ‘people also ask’. This is an algorithmically-generated list of questions that the search engine thinks relate to your initial input.
These expand into a snippet style feature giving you a little more information as well as the link to the related website.
If Google is unsure of the context of your query it may include a set of related questions. These are based on the most commonly searched topics or phrases surrounding the initial search input.
These are taken from search results and are organically ranking listings.
When searching for specific businesses, products, and recipes on Google, reviews and ratings appear in the search listing usually just below the URL and title tags.
If a company has a Google Business account, customers can leave these ratings and comments alongside pictures of their experience or the product they received.
Google’s rating system works on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. An algorithm and average rating of these stars are then used to determine how many stars will be displayed on the SERPs page.
Research from Bright Local revealed that 48% of consumers won’t consider businesses or products that are rated below 4-stars.
Higher ranking businesses or products earn trust with potential customers and improve local search rankings. If you are a local dry cleaning company with a 4.5-star rating you’re likely to be listed above your competitors with a lesser score.
Location Related Results
Location-related results usually feature customer reviews as they contain information regarding businesses and services near where you live.
Searching for a local bakery produces a panel at the top of the screen with the top 3 rated bakeries in your area, highlighted by a red location pin. Often excerpts from reviews are displayed alongside pricing information.
This panel allows you to alter the search results with a few different drop-down buttons based on rating and opening hours for convenience. These features are handy for mobile users searching on the go.
Images And Videos
Due to the vast range of content readily available to us on the internet, SERPs have had to adapt to provide us with what we want quickly.
Rather than scrolling through different listings to find the images we want, Google conveniently displays a selection at the top of the page as well as having whole tabs reserved for images and videos.
These are usually displayed at the top of the SERP, but can occur in any location. Images and videos are ranked by Google, similarly to organic search results.
The media shown to rank the highest on the results page depends on how closely the search terms are related to the image or video filenames. Google Images also relies on context from the web page itself to ensure the two really are highly related.
It is important for businesses to optimize the images for faster load times and the overall speed of the website. If users are having to wait for images and videos to load they are likely to go elsewhere.
Unoptimized media are less likely to rank highly on SERPs meaning you may be losing customers.
Current events and news stories are shown near the top of the SERPs in a feature panel categorized as ‘top stories’.
The top 4 news stories from highly rated publications relating to the query will include the title of the article and how many hours ago the article was published. Other sources of news include blogs and social media posts.
Knowledge panels, ‘for context’ and ‘mentioned in the news’ panels can also be featured in relation to the specific news story.
Mentioned in the news’ refers to the key players in the story and are displayed with hyperlinks which forwards you to a Google search of the individual.
Producing a SERP with a wide range of features visually separates the content from organic search results that may appear. This provides the users with all the possible information they need in regard to their query, which is Google’s ultimate goal.
Computer algorithms choose which stories, images and videos appear at the top in relation to the topic. Factors such as location, source, relevance of content and language all influence the algorithm.
Google’s news stories tab can be personalized quickly and easily to show you stories that you may be interested in.
When you search for a product such as a summer dress, pictures of the dresses are displayed above information such as products with reviews and prices are found at the top or right hand column of the SERPs.
Clicking on the dress you most like the look of will take you to the product page.
Below the carousel of summer dresses one or two sponsored listings will appear. Unlike the shopping results above, this is a normal listing for a website without images, which has paid to advertise under the keywords in the query.
These features are similar to sponsored posts and AdWords as they are paid for or bid on, indicated by the ‘Ads’ in bold to the left of the results. As there are only eight image results displayed per keyword, there is always a lot of competition.
Organic search results can also appear here, but it is less likely.
Making sure your product advert appears front and centre can be difficult, even though you’ve paid for it.
The product data needs to be as complete as possible for Google to match it to the correct queries, making it more likely to feature in the top product spots on the Google shopping page.
You can add products to the Google Shopping page with a Google Merchant Centre account.
Journals And Educational Materials
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning how journals and other educational materials are featured in the SERPs.
If you’re an academic or researching something for work, or maybe just want a more indepth answer to your questions, scholarly article snippets may be at the top of the SERP. These results indicate the author, date and how many citations the work has received.
These may redirect you to Google Scholar, for those who aren’t familiar with it, it is a database containing verified research such as journal articles, theses and law documents.
The title of the article, the author, publication date and preview of the article’s content is shown on the Google Scholar search.
Clicking the title takes you to the published piece on the journal’s website which can be downloaded in PDF format. Some journals require you to pay for access to these articles, unless you have a university or work log-in.
Search Engine Optimization
It is evident that SERPs are complicated digital landscapes with many influencing factors. Optimizing your web content is imperative if you want search engines to rank you highly so customers can see your content.
It is so important that many businesses hire for this specific role.
How to improve SEO has been briefly mentioned but proper research efforts are necessary to relate to a particular business or industry.
Some of the key areas that can help you get started are proper keyword research to fully optimize your content, link building to create authoritativeness and creating a seamless user experience.
Businesses that don’t have the funds to employ a SEO expert can use a variety of online tools and programs which can improve a site’s ranking and reputation. There are also a number of online courses that you can take if you’re wanting to do it yourself.
SERPs stand for Search Engine Results Page and refers to the information provided by the search engine when a user has imputed a question or query. There is fierce competition for content to be seen and as a result, search engine optimization is needed.
Understanding the different features of the SERPs is the first step in optimizing your businesses chances of featuring in the highest ranking spots. Doing this will drive more traffic to your website and hopefully turn traffic into customers.