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What Is a SERP and Why Is It Important?

Rickie Ballard

December 23, 2021

Search engines are systems that select the most relevant information available on the internet. Everything you need to know is just one properly formulated query away, and your search intent is often correctly guessed after writing the initial words or letters.

Google (the word itself) is as much a verb as it is a noun, thanks to the fact that it’s the most popular search engine for finding information. When a particular issue arises, more often than not, it’s a good idea to just “Google it”. The chances are that numerous individuals have already had the same thought multiple times, and the answers are plentiful.

What is a SERP?

Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) are a response to a user’s search query. Simply put, SERP is a page that you see after pressing the Search button. Any input returns a SERP except for a rare instance when a search does not match anything Google has access to. Usually, it indicates a spelling error or an illogical structure.

Rankings within search engine results pages are determined by matched keywords, website reputation, content quality, bounce rates, and many other factors. The typical result appears as a link (title tag) with a URL above it and a small description (meta description) of contents.

Every SERP is unique as Google personalizes the results according to various parameters based on the user’s location, browsing history, and software settings. SERPs may look different for each query and each user, but they all consist of the same three elements:

  • Paid results (ads)
  • Organic results
  • SERP features (paid and organic)

There might be a wide range of information on a SERP - not just an answer to a question or the most relevant web pages. SERPs may also include reviews, social media posts, knowledge graphs, images, and other unique features. The ability to determine the most relevant results for any given query is an ever-evolving process resulting in various readjustments and an increasing amount of SERP features.

Why do SERPs matter for SEO?

Most people only visit the first few results of the SERP. In terms of SEO (Search Engine Optimization), the second SERP page practically doesn’t exist. That’s why everyone wants to rank on the first page, preferably in the top 3, as these positions share 75% of the visitor traffic. 

Our Google Search API can help you monitor SERP rankings and detect periodic changes across a multitude of locations and device types. The tool lets you ensure that your SEO strategies are performing as intended.

Due to the relatively recent SERP features such as Featured Snippets, no-click searches are on the rise. Featured Snippets show an answer to a query right away, removing the need to visit any links on a SERP. You should aim for keywords that don’t have a multitude of SERP features. This is one of the many examples of the importance of carefully selected target keywords in a broader SEO strategy. 

Paid results

Paid results appear before and sometimes after the organic listings. Typically, the top 4 ads on a desktop version are sponsored content. Paid and organic results are virtually and intentionally identical, save for the “Ad” mark to the left of a URL.

The ad placement can confuse some of the more casual internet users, compelling them to believe that these are the most relevant results for their search. More experienced searchers may skip these ads altogether, going straight to the organic results even if they are the same as the ad results.

Ads function on a Pay-Per-Click (PPC) basis where advertisers pay Google for each click. The advertisers bid on keywords, and the highest bidder wins better chances for the top placement, meaning that it could be increasingly pricey to prevail against rivals.

However, the finances alone aren’t enough to be on top. Google also considers several additional factors: the quality of the page and its contents, the quality of the ad itself, and the relevance to the search. 

In this case, high quality content is a synonym for unique, engaging, factual, and up-to-date material that thoroughly answers the queries of a searcher. If it is concluded that a website is of higher quality and more relevant than the competition, as well as having a sufficient bid amount, Google deems it worthy of being the number one.

Organic results

Google’s web crawlers index websites that form the pool from which the search queries come up with the results. A webmaster can indicate what to show in a SERP by setting the page’s title tag, URL slug, and meta description. 

Everything that does not feature an “Ad” label is considered organic. Organic results are the classic plain blue links consisting of the three mandatory elements:

  • The URL
  • The title of the page
  • The preview snippet or a meta description (if the snippet is unavailable)

Additional elements can appear depending on the specifics of the featured website: 

  • Dates to elevate relevancy
  • Breadcrumbs to indicate the position of a page in a site’s hierarchy
  • Courses for educational offerings listings
  • Fact checks for claims of legitimacy
  • Q&As and FAQs for sites with a lot of questions and answers
  • Search boxes for larger searchable sites
  • Thumbnails for featured images and videos

The list isn’t definite as new elements are added and the old ones refined to elevate the user experience. As the web expands, the search engine results pages adapt accordingly with new functionalities.

SERP features

A SERP feature is every search result that isn’t the traditional three-element result. Over the last two decades, Google has been busy adding numerous features to elevate the level of user convenience. The chance of appearing with or without such features is defined by the structure of your content. 

The primary purpose behind the SERP features is to provide information without clicking on a result. Let’s take a look at some of the most common features you can expect to see on a SERP.

Adwords (top and bottom)

Ads come in many forms, but the most common type appears at the top and/or bottom of the left-hand column, above and below organic results.

Featured snippet

Displays a cutout from a site that contains a query's keywords. Usually, a website that answers the query in the most direct way.

Image pack

A preview of Google Images displayed in a pack when a query is deemed to be of visual nature.

In-depth article

A block of three articles posing as a single organic search result. Usually from large authoritative publishers. 

Knowledge card

Displays select facts about a topic in the manner of a miniaturized wiki-style page. 

Knowledge panel

Knowledge panels are based on editable data (for example, Wikis) or are a result of agreements with partners. 

Local pack

Geographic information featuring data from Google Maps. Triggered when search features a location tag or a result is a nearby location.

Local teaser pack

Geographic information featuring local businesses and details about their services.

News box

Recent hot topics or time-specific stories. Publishers can submit their news coverage to Google's News Publisher Center for a chance to be featured in this section.

Related question

Algorithmically generated questions that Google believes to be relevant to a current query.

Reviews

A section displayed on a five-star scale. Requires an internal public review function to be picked up by Google's algorithm. Often ratings for movies, books, products, etc.

Product listing ads

Paid visuals with direct links to buy various products. Google’s Merchant Center picks the keywords for featured offerings.

Site links

The links that are clustered together under a web result, helping to find specific pages within the site. 

Tweets

A direct display of trending social media posts from Twitter.

Video

Video results, mostly from YouTube.

How can you influence SERPs?

Although a path to guaranteed success is vague, an ever-changing set of techniques can help you rank higher. Influencing search engine results pages is not a destination but a journey. Google updates its algorithms to provide the most relevant results. In turn, you have to keep up with the changes and constantly tweak your approach.

Manipulating SERPs isn’t possible for long-term results. A continuously prominent result consists of constant and periodic smaller SEO victories. Even if you manage to tame the system for a while, chances are it won’t last long.

First of all, you need to forge a high-quality site with unique, professionally made content and optimize page load speeds. Keyword research can help you identify the most prominent queries and user intent related to your products or services. Backlink building can help with the perception of being more authoritative in a particular sphere.

The lower you are now, the easier it will be to climb higher. It becomes tough to climb an extra step upwards only after peaking to a certain considerable height. The bottom line is that there is no exact strategy to being #1. However, there are time-tested ways to greatly improve your ranking. Organic listings earn their place when carefully following the best SEO practices.

Conclusion

A SERP is an ever-evolving and increasingly complex response to a search that acts not only as a source of information but also as the largest global marketing platform. The more you know about SERPs, the better you are equipped to flesh out SEO strategies. Now that you know the main attributes of SERPs and their main purposes make sure to leverage the opportunity to be seen by your target audience.

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