Analyzing Search Engine Result Pages In SEO
Search engine results pages are web pages served to users when they search for something online using a search engine, such as Google. The user enters their search query (often using specific terms and phrases known as keywords), upon which the search engine presents them with a SERP.
Every SERP is unique, even for search queries performed on the same search engine using the same keywords or search queries. This is because virtually all search engines customize the experience for their users by presenting results based on a wide range of factors beyond their search terms, such as the user’s physical location, browsing history, and social settings.
Two SERPs may appear identical, and contain many of the same results, but will often feature subtle differences.
The appearance of search engine results pages is constantly in flux due to experiments conducted by Google, Bing, and other search engine providers to offer their users a more intuitive, responsive experience. This, combined with emerging and rapidly developing technologies in the search space, meaning that the SERPs of today differ greatly in appearance from their older predecessors.
Search Engine Result Pages can vary from being relatively simple as in the case with the classic type, to being much richer and more visual as with universal results and also very direct where search engines often try to answer queries in the extended results. Gradually, you’ll see search engines change their look and feel.
Classic SERPs are the more typical results and what most people think of when referring to SEO. This will be the main focus for this module.
A.URLS: URLs are short for uniform resource locator and act as a web address. URLs are always unique so search engines use them when filing and retrieving pages from their index.
B.Title Tags: Title tags contain the blue clickable link text that you can click on to visit a page.
C.Meta Description Tags: Meta description tags contain the short snippet of text summarizing what a page is about and sits below the title tag.
D.Rich Snippets: Rich snippets help make your listings more visual and stand out. Examples include product reviews (similar to the example on the slide) or event information and only appears for some listings.
E.Sitelinks: Sitelinks are extra results below a search result. They are most often shown for navigational queries as they help a user to quickly navigate your site.
Google SERPs also offers videos, images, maps, shopping and news results which are all types of universal results. This makes for a fuller and more visual searcher experience.
- Videos can be from YouTube, Vimeo or from other popular video hosting websites. They can also come from websites that have hosted their own videos. In Google, a video result will have a thumbnail image with a play button on it (e.g. Google “Golf swing”) and in addition to being found in regular SERP results, they can be found by clicking the Videos tab in a Google SERP.
- Images are sometimes integrated into the main SERPs (e.g. Google “Golden Retriever”) and they can also be found in the “Images” menu tab of a Google SERP.
- Maps results are also known as local SEO (e.g. Google “plumbers in Los Angeles”). The results often appear under a map.
- Shopping results allows searchers to easily compare products and often sit above Google Ads (e.g. Google “Ethernet cable”).
- News results are shown as “Top Stories” at the top of SERPs only when they are considered current and newsworthy (e.g. Google “Justin Bieber” or another celebrity who has been in the news recently).
As an exercise, think of a handful of keywords that you’d expect a website would like to rank for. Observe how often universal results are shown. For some industries it will be very often, e.g. Large Publishers and Google news or Hotel companies and Google Maps, but for other industries they will appear far less frequently.
Maps and local search is an example of Universal Search. They occur when you see maps results e.g. ”plumbers in Los Angeles”, “Hairdressers in north Sydney” or “landscape gardener in Toronto”. The process of optimizing maps/local search is known as Local SEO and is quite different from normal SEO.
To appear in the maps and local Google search results, it starts with registering for Google My Business. For more information on local SEO, see the Moz article in the references.
- In 2012, Google introduced the Knowledge Graph which understands facts about people, places and things – and the results are often shown to the side of the results. E.g. Google “Digital Marketing Institute” and you’ll see DMI information pulled off from Wikipedia on the side.
- Google later introduced featured snippets and direct answers, meaning you no longer need to click a result to get the answer you are looking for e.g. Google “who ran the first 4 minutes mile”.
- Related question boxes appear under the heading “People also ask”. E.g. If you Google “how to tie a tie” you may see a related question box with further answers to questions like “How do you tie a tie easily?”, “How long should a tie hang down?“, “How do you tie a tie for dummies?” and “How do you tie a tie by yourself?”
- App packs are listings of mobile apps that appear for certain keywords e.g. Google “Calendar app”.
- Twitter cards can be shown in Search Engine Result Pages for trending topics on Twitter e.g. Google your local sports team when a game is on.
As search engines expand and experiment, expect new extensions to be added and occasionally existing ones to be removed. By looking at what competitors are doing in extended Search Engine Result Pages, ask yourself if this is something that you can incorporate into your SEO strategy.
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