There’s a difference between appreciating something and understanding it. Take plants, for example. Allergy season notwithstanding, everyone likes plants. They give us flowers, fruit, vegetables, wooden furniture, and all sorts of other things that enhance our lives. Just being around plants makes life more pleasant. But as anyone who has unintentionally murdered a houseplant can attest, most of us don’t understand plants on the same level as a farmer or a botanist. The same is true of the Google SERP.
What is a SERP? Even if you’ve never heard the term before, if you’re here on this page you’ve definitely seen one. SERP stands for the Search Engine Results Page: it’s the page you see when you enter a search into Google, Bing, Ecosia, or any other engine. It’s the page any SEO effort focuses on. But while the SERP is designed to be as user-friendly as possible for searchers, it requires a different level of understanding to use for marketing and SEO purposes.
It’s time to stop killing succulents and gain an understanding of what you’re working with. Let’s take a look at what makes up a SERP and, more importantly, how to optimize your content to fit into it!
Why Use the Google SERP?
Here’s a staggering number: Google processes 63,000 searches every second. The search engine is somewhat secretive about the exact number of searches performed through the platform, but estimates claim the number of searches performed this year will be at least 2 trillion. That’s right, with a T.
Of course, Google isn’t the only search engine. We mentioned Microsoft’s Bing as well as the eco- and privacy-friendly Ecosia. Google, however, is the gold standard of search engines. Not only does it make up the vast majority of the search market share, but it also pioneered most of the features found on other engines. You’ll likely see similar results for searches performed on any of the major search engines.
Because probability dictates that your customers will be using Google, we’ll do the same for our examples in this article. In SEO, it’s generally safe to assume that if you’ve optimized for Google, you’ve optimized for the other engines.
What’s In a SERP?
Let’s say we want to learn more about succulents and possibly replace the one we just watered to death. We probably want to know what kinds of succulents are out there, where to buy them, how to take care of them, and where to find resources to help us keep them alive.
This is your basic Google toolbar. It appears at the top of every SERP, so it’s worth going over.
On the top left is the home button. This image changes regularly based on noteworthy events or past occurrences. You might see anniversaries of important events, like a country’s independence day or an invention. You could also see the birthdays of important people like Rosa Parks or Frida Kahlo. Google often uses art, animation, and interactive features to celebrate these occasions. On the SERP, you can always click this button to return to Google’s home search page.
Right next to it is the search bar. See your query here for reference. You can also create a new one in this bar without returning to the home page.
Below the search bar are different search categories. Define the kind of content you want to see here. “All,” the default option, gives you a mix of each category depending on the kind of search you performed.
Finally, below the categories are the suggestions. These boxes give you options to further define your search. As you can see, we punched in a fairly loose query with succulent care. Google has given us some suggestions to make a more specific query that could net us better results.
This is the first place on the Google SERP that you can utilize in your SEO efforts. Keyword research is an important step in optimizing your site. If these suggestions come up as you search topics related to your brand, take note: they could be useful keywords for your site.
Now we’ve reached the most important part of the SERP: the results themselves! Results for a query are listed in snippets – but not all snippets are the same. Each snippet displays a preview of content from a result and a URL to that particular page. However, Google took this a step further by giving users more helpful results in the SERP itself through featured snippets (also known as box snippets because… well, they show up in boxes). Let’s take a look:
These paragraph snippets attempt to give you an answer in 2-3 sentences pulled from a page’s content. They make it easy to answer your question or find what you’re looking for because they provide a lot of information right at the top of the SERP. Users are significantly more likely to follow the link in this article and visit the page. And you’ll see them often: about 80 percent of featured snippets are paragraph snippets.
As you can see, this list snippet contains the steps in succulent care that are found on that page, meaning you don’t even need to click through the link to get the result. These snippets appear whenever Google receives a query that necessitates a list of steps, rankings, options, or directions. In this how-to list, notice how each step is short and to the point.
There are several other kinds of featured snippets out there that can show up in various searches. Table snippets give information about prices or data, while direct answer snippets try to give a simple but thorough answer to your question. The direct answer below (1) defines the word succulent for us:
But it’s not the only thing worth noting on this Google SERP. Just below it, you’ll see the People Also Ask box (2), a featured snippet that offers common follow-up questions that you might ask after reading the direct answer snippet. This is similar to another box found at the bottom of the SERP, the People Also Search For box. It serves the same purpose as the People Also Ask box, but contains pictures for a more visual search. Use both of these boxes during your optimization efforts to come up with new keywords or even new content ideas for your site!
Now, what’s that fancy panel to the right (3)? That’s a Knowledge Graph. It’s a useful tool for any search engine user, but it’s not quite the same as a snippet. Why? Because it’s put together directly by Google’s engine using publicly available data rather than by pulling information from a single source. As you can see, some of the information is pulled from Wikipedia. The images come from other sources, as well.
There are two elements you’ll find in this area. Knowledge Graphs, like the one seen above, usually contain information about a place or thing. Knowledge Panels, on the other hand, are made for people or brands. They have a similar appearance but contain different information based on their subject. One thing they have in common is that you can’t influence what’s in them through SEO because they’re built by Google. If your brand (or you, as an individual) are popular enough to be given a knowledge panel, it’s still good practice to keep an eye on what’s in it.
How do I get a snippet?
Snippets exist to give search engine users the fastest, most direct answer possible. It follows, then, that your content should also give the fastest and most direct answer possible. But you’ll need more than just that for a snippet: you’ll need to use structured data.
This is data that tells search engines what they’re looking at and what it can be used for. If Google crawlers come across a piece of information that seems relevant to a search, they might use it as a result when someone types in that query. But if they see structured data attached to it telling them how it’s useful and relevant, they can give it a more prominent position in a query and even use it in a snippet.
Sound complicated? It’s not! There’s a tool to help you use the right structured data. Schema.org is the combined effort of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Yandex to create a database of structured data for anyone to use. Head there to find what you need to optimize your site with structured data, then bookmark it for later use!
Scroll past the snippets and you’ll find the classic recognizable search results. While they may not have been picked as snippets for this query, they’re still important and you still have control over what yours looks like.
These are standard Google search results for the search “books about rose succulent care.” Notice that each is made up of three main parts: the URL, the title, and the meta description.
- The URL is the roadmap to the page, showing you wear exactly it’s located on the website.
- The title, of course, tells users what the page is about. It’s the first thing they’ll see as they scan through the list and acts as the clickable link to the page.
- The meta description is a synopsis of the page. This is where you can convince searchers that your page is the one they’re looking for. The keywords used in the query are shown in bold in the meta description, so make sure your meta descriptions make good use of words and phrases people will be searching for that relate to your page.
But wait – there’s an extra element in one of those searches! Under the result for the book House of Plants on Goodreads.com, there’s a rating (4.4 stars, to be precise). That’s because this is a rich result, a search result that makes use of more of the content on that page.
Rich results come in many forms. You might see a result that contains a video thumbnail, a recipe, or a band’s upcoming show schedule. If you’re on mobile, you’ll see a slightly different version of these results called rich cards. These have the same basic function, but come in a more fingertip-friendly format.
How do you get rich results? Answer: structured data! Once again, we’ll point you back to Schema.org. There you’ll find the pieces of code necessary for search engines to turn your content into rich results.
However, there’s a second way of doing this. If you use the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress, you can use its structured data blocks to create rich results.
As we’ve seen, there are many ways for results to show up in a Google SERP. Search engines like Google try to bring users a mix of content, from images to videos to the text links you’re probably used to seeing. The past several years has seen local results become increasingly sophisticated, as well. Here are a few other ways your content might be displayed:
Depending on the type of query, a Google SERP may show a user a series of images like the ones above. These are called carousels: click the arrow on the right and more images will cycle across the screen. Want your pictures to show up in a carousel like this? Learn more about image optimization here!
Google owns YouTube, meaning it’s simple for SERPs to include video results. Many queries will produce video results, no matter the topic. Each card displays the basic information tied to that video: the title, the author, the date it was uploaded, and the platform you’ll find it on. There’s a good chance it will be YouTube, but it could be somewhere else!
The Local Pack is Google’s tool for local search. In the search above, we queried “where to buy rose succulents,” and Google gave us this tidy little map and list of relevant businesses. This works for just about any physical place a user can search for: restaurants, hotels, entertainment, even things like parks or historic sites. If you don’t see what you want, just click View all to see more options and modify the area in which you’re searching.
Local search is becoming increasingly important, particularly because a rapidly growing number of searches happen on mobile devices. That means people are often looking for a place to go while they’re on the go. Tailoring your online presence to local searches is a great way to reach new customers in your area. To learn more, check out our guide to local SEO!
Last but not least, notice the results in the right panel of the last image. Above the image cards, the word Sponsored is written in light gray letters. These are Google Ads, paid results that show up at the beginning of a search. By paying for Google Ads, you can ensure that your results show up first in relevant searches and get in front of more potential customers.
Google makes buying and creating these ads easy. Your campaign’s budget can be customized and capped so you’re always paying for effective content and never more than you can afford. Remember, Google Ads aren’t a replacement for good SEO, but work well alongside your SEO efforts.
The Google SERP Takeaway
Anyone who does anything online has almost definitely made use of the Google SERP. But not everyone knows how to leverage it in their digital marketing efforts. Understanding the SERP is an important part of any SEO effort, just like knowing what a succulent needs to grow is essential for keeping it healthy. Use your new knowledge of the Google SERP to improve your SEO strategy and grow your business online!