Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) are web pages displayed to users when they search online using a search engine, such as Google. The user enters their search query, and the search engine then presents them with a Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
Before optimising your website, you should understand how it might be displayed in the search results. Understanding the layout of a search result page can help you create content that encourages users to click your link. The SERPs now have dozens of features, but the most critical distinction is between ‘paid’ and ‘organic’ results and paid results.
The natural (or organic) search results are the listings of web pages generated by the search engine’s algorithm. The paid results are from advertisers bidding on keywords on Google Ads. Although Google Ads take ad relevancy into account, how much the advertiser is willing to pay is the most significant factor.
In the following figure, the results on the left are all organic:
On the right is the ‘knowledge graph’ (see below). A standard organic search result includes:
- Page title (title tag)
- Page URL
- Meta description
It may also include specific organic snippets such as sitelinks.
This is the title tag for the page which is defined in the page’s HTML between the <title></title> tags. The title is the first and often only part of your search result that is read. It should short and relevant while still giving enough information to provide the user with a good grasp of what the page is about. Keep it short as Google will trim title tags over 70 characters.
Sitelinks are links that sometimes appear in the results below a listing’s URL and meta description. Each Sitelink links to a leaf page within the current website and has a title and description. Sitelinks are more likely to appear in searches suggesting clear brand intent (e.g., searches for domains or brand names).
You cannot directly control the appearance of Sitelinks. Google’s algorithm decides whether there are relevant Sitelinks on a website and whether to show them.
Your URLs should be relevant and short whilst still supplying enough information to display what the page is about.
The snippet is the page’s description and is limited to about 156 characters. While the snippet may be the page’s meta description, Google sometimes compiles the snippet from page content. This enables Google to customise the snippet to each search query.
Rich Snippets provide extra information to answer a query, such as a photo or a star rating. Adding structured data to your site can increase your chances of having a rich snippet displayed alongside your search results. A rich snippet looks like this:
This snippet contains a picture of the ice cream, a list of ingredients and other details.
SERP features can be paid, natural, or pulled directly from Google’s Knowledge Graph. Popular features include:
- Featured snippets. These show a content snippet from a top-ranking web page. They appear at the top of the search results.
- Knowledge card. This appears at the top of the results and offer a short, answer to a query.
- Knowledge Panel. Panels provide information about the main topic of the query. They appear near the top of the results on mobile and the right-hand side on the desktop.
- Image Pack. Image Packs show a number of thumbnails and clicking on them takes you to Google Images.
- Top stories. Top stories carousels show recently published articles, live blogs, and videos.
Google Maps provides local information for places around the world. Google maps data often appears in search results, especially for local queries. It includes information such as aerial maps, road maps, street view maps taken from Google vehicles.
Adding your business to Google My Business is free and especially important for companies with local customers such as physical shops. By creating a Google My Business profile, your business information will appear in relevant local searches, generating free traffic for your business.