What Does SERP mean?
Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) are the results pages that show up in search engines after a user enters an online query. The architecture of a SERP can be varied based on the searchers choice of terminology, phrasing and intention. However, in basic terms, a SERP is a list of results in response to a searcher’s inquiry, often sitting alongside several paid advertisements.
What is a SERP Feature?
In the most basic terms, a SERP feature is any result on a Google Search Engine Results Page, which differs from a traditional organic result.
Every SERP is completely unique and tailored to the user’s specific search query. Google is constantly evolving to meet the ever-demanding needs of users and customising their search results to not just one single result but to a diverse SERP which offers answers, images, reviews and information way beyond that initial search term.
As we already know, digital moves quickly, and every single day we are met with new technologies and new research which interrupts our existing knowledge. That’s why SERPs are constantly in a state of flux, and Google and other search engines are constantly testing the best ways to humanise the online experience.
The Evolution of SERP Features
In the early days of 2009, every result on Google’s SERP looked the same; blue title link, introductory text, followed by the URL in green. Nowadays, users have come to expect a lot more from search engines; they want the most relevant answers quickly in the least amount of clicks it takes to get there.
Fast forward ten years and sixteen different SERP features can appear for any given search term. So not only do you have the opportunity to rank in the traditional organic search results, you also have the additional opportunity to appear in one of Google’s SERP features which have transformed the search marketing landscape.
There are many SERP features, and every one of them is important in satisfying user intent; however, there is one snippet that has a huge impact on visibility and traffic. We have fangirled over the featured snippet before, but we think it definitely deserves another mention.
Users are often on a quest for as much information as possible about the product or service they could potentially invest in. So as content marketers, we should be tailoring our content to satisfy specific user intent. However, people are not always in buying mode and do not always want to be sold to, so it’s important that you don’t make the same mistake online. According to recent findings from Advanced Web Ranking, “featured snippets most frequently appear as paragraphs rather than lists, tables or videos,” so it’s important to choose the right words that will have snippet-worthy potential.
As businesses, we should offer solutions to people’s problems, instilling trust in the brand and guiding the customer seamlessly along the path to conversion.
Take this featured snippet, for example:
Let’s attach a story to this search and apply some context as to why this snippet is such a great tool for converting potential customers:
A business owner may feel overwhelmed and increasingly frustrated by the minimal return on investment they see from their Google Shopping campaigns. Not ready to speak to someone just yet and admit defeat, they take to Google to try and work out what’s going wrong.
After a basic ‘help me’ search consisting of “google shopping problems“, our featured snippet pops up listing the common problems many businesses face. Aha! They spot “disapproved products” at the top of that snippet list and think “yes… I have been getting a lot of notifications lately on disapproved products”.
… We’ve got their attention.
As the snippet hints that the full article also shows readers how to improve their Google Shopping campaigns, they may also have the solution. So the business owner clicks through to the blog post.
After reading through the blog post and discovering actionable insights that will help them to improve their campaigns, they go away and make their changes.
Oh no, we’ve lost them, haven’t we? Well, not quite…
Because we’ve made a good impression. When something else goes wrong in the future with their campaigns, they no longer have the resource to continue management of the campaigns in house, or they are looking to switch agency, it’s us that they think of first.
And there’s the conversion.
The featured snippet offers the most relevant answer to your query as Google trawls through its index to extract the best slice of content from blog posts, guides or website pages.
Getting your content into a featured snippet is tough; there’s a lot of competing content out there online, and your page already needs to rank on the first page organically. However, featured snippets have higher CTRs than other organic results and bring in a much larger stream of relevant traffic into your website or blog, so it is definitely worth the effort.
Different Types of Search Queries
An informational query refers to a query whereby the user wants to learn something, requiring Google to provide information on the topic. This could be information such as background facts, top tips or instructions. The intent behind information queries is usually purely content-based – the user isn’t looking to make a purchase. However, providing the correct content can help with brand awareness and visibility, which may result in them returning to a particular brand in the future.
Navigational queries are relatively straightforward: they occur when a user is looking for a specific website but doesn’t type in their full URL. In order to rank at the top of the page for navigational queries, the search usually has to include your specific company name.
Transactional queries are when a user searches with the intent to buy. A user may search ‘women’s boots’, and be presented with a cohort of shoes from a variety of brands. Due to transactional queries having the biggest ROI out of all query options, companies tend to bid for pay-per-click spots. After all, 65% of clicks on transactional SERPs happen on paid ads.
Different Types of Featured Snippets
1. Related Questions
Related Questions (labelled as People also ask in Google) are a series of questions that are based on the algorithms that may relate to the original search. Similar to the Featured Snippet, this snippet is usually shown for question-based searches.
When you click on each question, the drop-down offers a mini featured snippet or a ‘quick answer’. Whilst the exact location in the SERPs may vary with each search, they always tend to appear alongside a Featured Snippet.
Related Questions are a great way to understand and evaluate search intent. By analysing this snippet, you can determine the other related searches people are conducting and tailor your content strategy to deliver content that meets user’s needs.
2. Adwords (Top and Bottom)
Paid Ads in the search results have evolved over the years. At one time, they were completely distinguishable against the organic results but as Google got sharper, so did the design of the Adwords snippet.
There are many different types of paid advertising which can appear in various sections of the SERPs. However, the most common types are the ones that appear at the top and/or bottom of the left-hand column, sandwiching the organic search results. In addition, each ad has an [Ad] symbol beside it to demonstrate the subtle differences between the organic results.
If you want to appear in the Adwords snippet, submitting a bid and waiting for it to come up in search isn’t necessarily a case. As Google explains, “ads are ranked primarily based on how relevant and useful they are to what the person searched for, your bid, and a few other factors.”
3. Shopping Results
Paid Shopping Results (otherwise known as Product Listing Ads (PLAs) are a list of paid or sponsored placements. The rich snippets contain product name, product image, link to the website, reviews and price.
Although Shopping is a paid placement, it’s important to understand which searches offer Shopping Results to prioritise keywords appropriately for your organic search strategy.
4. Knowledge Panel
The Knowledge Panel (or Graph as it is sometimes referred to) usually takes up a large section of SERPs’ right-hand side. It is most commonly displayed for businesses, people, and locations.
This snippet is tricky to optimise as it is usually pulled from sources such as Wikipedia and data arrangements with Google partnerships. It can also be extracted from company branded (about us) pages.
There’s not much you can do to affect these snippets apart from ensuring your branded pages have the most up-to-date information on them.
5. Knowledge Card
Knowledge Cards work very much in the same way as the Knowledge Panel. The information is once again extracted from human-edited sources such as Wikipedia and data partnerships with Google.
This snippet is often shown for data-related searches in Google’s continual search for stats to provide users with the information they need quickly.
Although it’s almost impossible to gain a top-ranking position for searches with this snippet, it’s good to know which search queries Google show the Knowledge Card so you can prioritise optimisation of other search terms instead.
6. Image Pack
The Image Pack is displayed when searches indicate the need for visual content (i.e. if you’re searching for animals). The results are displayed as a collection of thumbnail images, usually above organic search results. In addition, there is an option to click through to a wider collection of images in Google’s image search.
The ranking rules for Image Packs differ from the traditional organic algorithm, and there are many ways to optimise your images to appear in the pack:
- Include search term in the file name and title
- Optimised image size
- Optimised alt tag with target search term
- Use hyphens (-) as a naming convention rather than an
7. Local Pack
The Local Pack is served for queries which Google deems to have local intent (i.e. Hairdressers in Harrogate). The pack will typically include the top three locations alongside the company name, reviews or ratings and the all-important address.
These sorts of searches typically dominate a large proportion of the SERPs, particularly on mobile.
Local SEO optimisation is essential here and most important to those businesses with brick-and-mortar locations.
8. Local Teaser
Like the Local Pack, the teaser is mainly served for searches on hotels and restaurants and those browsing for options in the local area. The top results are accompanied by a map and any other additional information such as reviews and ratings, opening hours, prices, etc.
Again, undertaking Local SEO puts your business on the map and helps you be found by the people closest to you.
9. Top Stories (News)
Taken from Google News, the Top Stories featured time-sensitive news pieces and newsworthy topics. The option to ‘read more news’ takes you to the full list of Google’s latest news on the search.
Most websites and pages qualify to rank in the Top Stories snippet if they adhere to the Google News submission regulations. These snippets are great for publications, press releases and other related news sources.
Video results appear as thumbnails at the top of SERPs and are taken mainly from YouTube. The favoured result for those searching for tutorials, the top three relevant videos are shown with the option to scroll along without leaving the original search page until you’ve found a favourite.
To feature in the Video snippet, optimisation of your YouTube videos and channel, in general, is required. Much like Meta Data, consider SEO best practices for titles, descriptions and tags and ensure relevant search terms are used.
Reviews and rating data are often displayed alongside products, hotels, restaurants, recipes and other results to offer more credible listings.
The reviews are often shown in between the organic search results (between the destination URL and the snippet). As you may expect, results with positive review snippets benefit from a much higher click-through rate.
Google’s regulations on which results are eligible for the reviews snippet vary by industry and sector. However, adding schema markup on your website can encourage the reviews snippet to appear.
Tweets are taken directly from the Twitter news feed and displayed directly within the SERPs. They often appear in brand-related searches on searches on people.
While there aren’t any specific SEO best practices to follow, maintaining an active Twitter profile is important. Plug into topical conversations, use relevant hashtags and strengthen your brand awareness with regular, meaningful tweets.
Tracking and utilising SERP features are just one of the many ways we monitor and interrogate the content strategies we outline for our clients. Delivering informative and personalised content that speaks to the right people and provides the right answer to their queries will ultimately help convert potential customers. Find out more about our content marketing expertise and see how your pages can rise the ranks too.