When a user types a query into a search engine, they are not interested in scrolling through dozens of SERPs to find the answer to their question. They expect the algorithms within the search engine to properly sort through the available relevant web pages and return the results on the SERP that will best answer the question. As search engines and online marketing have matured, the algorithms have gotten considerably better at performing this task.
Given the expectations of users that the highest-ranking sites are the ones that will be the most relevant to a particular query, it is no wonder that the majority of clicks will go to the top-ranking websites. According to a recent study, an estimated 71% of clicks go to page one of the Google SERP results and the first 5 results accumulate 68% of clicks alone.
It is clear that your position on the SERP has an immediate and obvious impact on the amount of traffic your site receives. Understanding the SERPs, however, can be a challenge. The algorithms that determine the SERPs are regularly changing and many brands find themselves feeling overwhelmed when trying to understand the results pages. Here is what all businesses should know about the SERPs as they develop their websites.
What is a SERP?
SERP stands for Search Engine Results Page and it refers to the results that show up on your screen after you type in a query to Google or another search engine. SERPs often combine a few different types of content, such as paid advertisements, organic text, images, videos, or rich answers–such as Quick Answers. The types of content that show up on the SERP depend upon the type of query the user made and how Google believes it will be best answered.
The SERP is your opportunity to show the user that your site has value to offer them through an engaging title and inviting page description.
The order that the pages appear is determined by a complex algorithm that is carefully guarded by the search engine itself. Although we do not have access to the algorithm, we know that it judges sites based upon hundreds of criteria that help to determine the relevance and value of a particular web page. Sometimes, Google will also confirm to webmasters that they have made changes to their algorithm and offer some insights into how that update impacted the SERPs. This was true when they made major changes such as RankBrain, the Mobile Update, the Penguin update, and the Panda update.
What are the factors that impact what users see on SERPs?
A user’s location will impact the results they see, particularly when they make a local query such as “great Japanese restaurants near me.”
Although location has the heaviest impact on local queries, it is important to note that local queries comprise a sizable portion of online traffic. Mobile updates now account for more than half of all online traffic and 88% of smartphone users and 84% of tablet users say that they use their devices to conduct local searches. Local results also have a sizable impact of sales. About half of smartphone users will visit a store within twenty-four hours of a local search and 78% of local-mobile searches result in purchases.
With this location factor in mind, you should be focusing on:
- Claiming your business on Google+ Local
- Filling out your Google+ profile with content and quality images while also working to attract reviews
- Optimizing for local search by prominently featuring your address and creating some content for local audiences
- Maintaining and checking for consistency in your Name, Address, and Phone Number across all listings for your organization
Relevance on SERP
Google wants to display content that is highly relevant to users. It determines whether or not your content is relevant by looking at the keywords you use and the topics that your site covers.
Keywords have been an SEO topic that has sparked considerable debate since the industry was in its infancy. These terms are important because they help to indicate to the search engine the topic that you will be covering. At the same time, however, keyword stuffing your content will detract from the user experience and will actually hurt your rankings. You should instead focus on using a central keyword that you have identified through keyword research, and then filling out the content by using that keyword and semantically-related keywords. This will help to show the depth of your content and how well you cover the topic at hand.
To keep your content relevant for your audience, keep these ideas in mind.
- Use keyword research to identify highly applicable topics your audience will appreciate
- Create material that explores the topic well, naturally including semantically related keywords
- Make your relevance clear by using your keyword a few times in the content, in the title and H2 tags, in the alt text for images, and in the URL
Value and SERPs
Google wants to display content that is relevant to the query and material that adds value. For a site to offer this value, it needs to be able to provide the audience with answers to their questions on an authoritative level– not a thin overview of the topic. A quality site will not just be a regurgitation of everything else online. Instead, it will offer the unique perspective of an experienced professional that users know they can trust.
Google will judge the value of a piece a few ways. It will look at the depth of information you provide on your site. Not just on the individual page, but throughout the entire site. For example, if you have only one article on a topic and the rest of your site deals with completely unrelated material, you will be ranked lower because you will have lower domain authority.
Google will also be looking at how users respond to your content. If you have a high bounce rate, for example, that would indicate that your content is not meeting the needs of your audience. On the other hand, ample backlinks and a low bounce rate would show search engines that your content is viewed favorably.
Schema and SERP
When Google added RankBrain to their algorithm in 2015, they were quite open about its importance, impact, and role. It was designed to use machine learning to better understand the completely unique queries that Google sees every day. When the search engine announced this development in their algorithm, they said that it has become the third most important ranking factor and that to remove it from the algorithm would do as much disservice to customers as failing to serve half the pages on Wikipedia.
For your site to be optimized for artificial intelligence and machine learning, however, you need to make the topic and value of your material clear. Using a schema markup can be an important part of this process. It will tell Google what your site contains, helping the algorithm know when to display your material. It will also aid in ranking well for voice queries as a range of devices start to handle voice queries and results.
Using schema can also be a powerful way to improve the appearance of your site on the SERPs. Google offers a handful of rich snippets that help to attract the attention of users because they offer a visually-pleasing listing. When you optimize your content with schema, you can be sure that your content is prepared to take advantage of any rich snippet that becomes available.
Users’ history and the SERP
Google used to also like to track the queries and sites that visitors click on and use this insight to inform decisions made in future SERPs. As of Q3 2018 and post-GDPR they are pulling back on personalized search.
As a site owner, however, this demonstrates the importance of a strong distribution plan and engaging titles and meta descriptions. Your distribution plan will expose more people to your material, building awareness and traffic. Your descriptions and title will also encourage people to click on your material. When users show a preference for your page, then your site will be featured in more personalized SERPs for those users.
The SERP can sound confusing for many site owners because they are regularly in flux and do not even necessarily appear the same way for two different people. The better you understand the search results pages, however, the easier it will be to grasp where you need to optimize and what can be done to build your site a strong following and great business growth.