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What are SERPs? Search engine results pages explained

Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) are the pages that Google and other search engines display in response to a user's query.

They are made up of organic and paid search results.

In this guide you will learn:

Why SERPs are important for SEO

Most people click organic results on the first page of the SERPs and rarely visit the second page.

For this reason everyone wants to be listed on the first page of Google. When you're on page two or beyond, you are practically invisible.

But ranking on the first page doesn't always mean a lot of traffic for a variety of reasons.

First, most of the organic clicks go to the first few positions.

Second, paid results often push the organic rankings down in the SERP.

For example, Google shows four paid ads above the organic results for “Buy glasses online”. Because of this, 39% of all clicks go to paid results.

Third, Google sometimes shows SERP functions that answer the query in the search results.

Just take a look at the results for "Most searched for on Google":

Since Google answers the question in the SERP, it is not necessary for the searcher to click on a result.

How to get into the SERPs

SERPs may look different for each query, but they all consist of the same three building blocks. These are:

  • Paid ads
  • Organic results
  • SERP characteristics

Below we go through each of these points in detail and explain how they can appear there.

Paid ads

Paid search results appear before and sometimes after the organic results.

Both types of results are practically indistinguishable, the only real difference being that paid ads are marked as such.

Paid ads operate on a pay-per-click (PPC) basis, meaning advertisers bid on keywords and pay Google for each click. The highest bidders tend to get a top ranking, although Google also takes into account other factors like the relevance of the ad and the CTR.

Bottom line: If you want to appear in paid ads, you have to "slaughter" your piggy bank.

Organic results

Organic search results are pages from the Google index.

Since there are often thousands of matching results, Google sorts them based on hundreds of ranking factors. As a result, the most relevant and high quality pages tend to end up on the first page of the SERPs.

Nobody knows all of Google's ranking factors, but we do know some of them.

For example, we know that the number of backlinks to a page is important.

Typically, Google will show organic results by showing the title, url, and a descriptive snippet.

You can tell Google what to show in the SERP by specifying the title tag, url slug and meta description of the page.

But while Google almost always displays the hard-coded title tag in the SERP, it often chooses something other than the meta description for the snippet.

For pages with structured data, Google sometimes shows rich snippets in addition to the regular organic results.

Bottom line, if you want to appear in organic search results, you need to focus on creating the best and most relevant result for the query. You also need to make sure that Google can index your pages and that they are optimized for search.

SERP features

SERP features are not traditional results. They can be paid for, organically or accessed directly from the Google Knowledge Graph.

While the purpose of SERP features is sometimes to generate revenue for Google directly (e.g. shopping ads), in most cases the goal is to provide information in search results without having to click on a result.

Because of this, SERP features have a significant impact on SEO.

The latest estimates assume that over 50% of search queries generate no clicks:

However, if you get included in SERP features, this can also increase the clicks to your website.

Bottom line: It is possible to show up in some SERP features, but the way you achieve that depends on the nature of the feature.

Which SERP features are there?

Google shows dozens of SERP features in the results, and new ones are being tested all the time.

Below we will look at some of the most common ones, their data sources, and whether it is possible to appear in them to drive more visitors to your website.

Featured snippets

Featured snippets show an excerpt from the content of one of the highest ranking websites. They usually appear at the top of the SERP, although other results appear above them on occasion.

Common snippet formats include:

Not all of the snippets shown are text. Google sometimes shows videos (often referred to as suggested clips):

Can you be featured in featured snippets?

Yes. Most of the time, Google pulls the snippet from one of the top five results.

If a search query has already achieved a placement among the first five search results and Google shows an excerpt, it can be worthwhile to optimize your page and try to appear there.

Knowledge Card

Knowledge cards appear at the top of the SERP and provide a brief, definitive answer to the question. They are available in different formats.

There are three main sources of data for Knowledge Cards: Google's Knowledge Graph, Data Partners, and other highly trusted sources such as Wikipedia and government agencies.

Can you appear in Knowledge Cards?

Unlikely. Since the data comes exclusively from Google's own and trusted third-party sources, it is not possible for most websites to be displayed in a knowledge card.

Knowledge panel

Knowledge panels provide information about the main subject of the request. They usually appear on mobile phones at the top of the SERP and on the desktop on the right.

Like the Knowledge Cards, most of the data in the Knowledge Panels comes from the Knowledge Graph and trusted sources such as Wikipedia and Wikidata.

However, Google sometimes also refers to social profiles and partners.

Can you be shown in the knowledge panel?

Yes. Google displays branded knowledge panels for companies in the Knowledge Graph. These usually contain a direct link to the company's website and links to social profiles.

Your company logo can also appear in competitor knowledge panels, but without a link to your website. It does a google search for the company name when clicked on it.

Image Pack

Image packs show a handful of thumbnails and clicking on them takes you to Google Images. They often appear at the top of the SERP, but can also appear further down the page.

Can you show up in image packs?

So to speak. Images from your website can be displayed here, but the link always takes the searcher to Google Images - not your website. However, as soon as he clicks through to Google Images, he is shown a link to the image source.

Top stories

The Top Stories carousels feature recently published articles, live blogs, and videos. Google shows a thumbnail, title, publisher name, and timestamp for each result, and they usually appear at the top of the SERP.

Can you be featured on Top Stories carousels?

Yes. However, 99.31% of the results on the desktop come from websites indexed on Google News, according to research by News Dashboard.

It's also worth noting that most of the rankings here are short-lived as the purpose of the SERP function in general is to show new results - and pages can't be new for long.

Users also ask (NFA)

The box “Users also ask” (People Also shows related questions that searchers ask Google. Each question opens and shows - in a similar way to Featured Snippets - an answer taken from a web page.

Every time you click an answer, Google loads more related questions.

Can you be shown in the box "Users also ask"?

Yes. As with the Featured Snippets, the answers to the questions in the NFA boxes come from third parties. If you have content that answers one or more of these questions, you stand a chance of appearing in an NFA box.

However, the ad here is unlikely to generate much more traffic. NFA boxes are more useful for researching content.

Shopping results

Shopping results, officially known as Product Listing Ads (PLAs), show relevant products from paid advertisers. Each result includes the product name, price, and retailer as well as some show reviews and specials.

Most shopping results appear in queries with transactional or commercial search intent. For example “buy protein powder” or “best protein powder”.

Can you be shown in the shopping results?

Yes, but it costs money. There's no way of showing up here organically. Find out more here.

Tweets boxes

Tweets boxes display the latest popular tweets in a carousel. These usually come from an official Twitter account associated with the request, but sometimes tweets from multiple accounts are also shown.

Can you appear in tweets boxes?

Yes. When searching for brands (e.g. “Ahrefs”), Google usually shows up-to-date tweets from the company's official Twitter account. For brand-independent searches, relevant tweets from your account can be displayed in the tweets box.

Sitelinks

Sitelinks are links to other pages on the website in question or to other parts of that page. They are more of an extension of the regular organic results than a SERP feature, as they appear as "additional" links under a result.

Sitelinks have two uses:

  1. Users can find what they are looking for faster.
  2. Your website is more likely to click on the SERP, which means more organic traffic.

Can you show up in sitelinks?

Yes. Sitelinks are added to your Google search results. They are usually displayed for brand-related searches. Therefore, it is likely that people will already see sitelinks when they search for your website.

For non-branded searches, you are more likely to “win” sitelinks if your site is popular and has internal links to other relevant content. At least according to my observations.

Videos

Video results are organic results that are complemented by a video thumbnail. Only pages with embedded videos are eligible, and Google will usually also display the upload date, duration, and name of the uploader in the SERP.

Most of the video results are from YouTube, but they can be viewed for other websites as well.

Can you be shown in the video results?

Yes. By default, for videos hosted on YouTube, Google shows thumbnails in the SERP. For embedded videos hosted on YouTube, Google sometimes shows thumbnails in the SERP. For embedded videos hosted elsewhere, the page requires VideoObject schema markup to use this feature.

Keep learning

Read our interactive 7-step guide to rank on the first page of Google (SERP).

If you're already on the first page of the SERPs, take a look at our 6-step guide to ranking higher.

Translated bysehrausch.de: Search engine & conversion optimization, online marketing & paid advertising. A perfect fit from a single source.