Well before we can even get started explaining what a SERP feature is, it’s important to at least understand what a SERP is. A Search Engine Results Page (SERP), is what users see when they search for something using a search engine, such as Google. Every SERP is unique. Even if your cubicle buddy searches the exact same keyword for lunch places near me, they may get different personalized results in their SERP. The reason for this is that search engines use a number of factors to create a personalized experience in hopes of providing you with the most useful search engine results.
Google, Bing, and Yahoo (yeah, who?) are constantly updating their algorithms to ensure they are providing the best results to users on their platform. Moz found there are about 500 updates to the basic algorithm each year. That’s a lot for even an experienced SEO expert to keep up with, let alone a business owner that has a business to manage.
Why SERP Features?
What search engines found is that users want answers to their questions faster. In turn, they responded by creating the dynamic elements within the SERP to ensure that users can get their answers faster from Google.
Featured snippets are some of the most prominent SERP features you’ll come across. They are intended to provide quick answers to the query you have entered in the search bar. Google creates these featured snippets, using its indexed pages. As you can see from the example above, featured snippets will appear above the organic results and below the Google Ads (RIP AdWords). It is important to note, although you may be the top organic search results, you may not appear in the featured snippet. This provides an opportunity for a small business to jump others in the SERP because your featured snippet text will appear above the organic results, effectively making you the top results, and allow you to occupy your organic ranking spot as well.
There are 2 schools of thought surrounding whether obtaining the featured snippet spot will increase or decrease your CTR (click through rate). Some believe you will experience a higher CTR because you have given the answer to the user without requiring them to click and view it on your site. The other thought is that you will receive a higher CTR because you have secured the #1 spot in the SERP. Regardless, the authority, visibility, and credibility that is assumed by the site that has the featured snippet are well worth the time.
Types of Featured Snippets
- Paragraph – these are the most common and provide a snippet from the web page and can be accompanied by an image.
- List – it’s, well, a list of steps or ingredients
- Table – provide answers in the form of a table, not a 4 legged table but a row and column table.
When Google deems your search query has a local intent, it will include a local pack in your search results. The local intent could be triggered by keywords such as “Near Me”, “near (insert city)”. Especially for local businesses that have a physical location, a local pack is an ideal way to generate awareness and store traffic for your business.
The local pack is even more important in mobile searches because it will occupy more of the screen. There’s also something to be said when your personal assistant, Siri, gives you a suggestion.
A local pack will appear above the organic results and below the Ads results (you’ll notice a trend here). They include 3 local businesses, typically within the immediate vicinity of the user, and will include the business’s phone number, address, hours of business, and reviews.
Don’t get too excited that your SEO efforts have qualified you to be one of these top 3 businesses. Google has established an entirely different algorithm for local packs. If you’d like to learn more about it, check out Google Official Guide.
Search engines will display reviews stars alongside certain products, recipes, and businesses. Not only does this help with CTR, but it can also help qualify your business to users with some added social proof. For instance, check out the example above with the hottest ad agency this side of the Cuyahoga.
Obtaining these review ratings is a bit ambiguous. Google does not publicly publish what elements qualify a result, and it differs by industry and vertical. To get started, it is recommended that you at least include schema markup for reviews on your pages. Also, racking up some clout with Google by getting more Google reviews always helps.
Here’s Google’s guide to adding a review snippet schema to your site.
Sitelinks (Site Links)
Sitelinks or Site Links, depending on which side of the pond you come from, are additional links that appear alongside the main page when a user searches for a specific site. There can be up to 10 sitelinks that will accompany the main result.
Something to consider: a full pack of sitelinks will occupy five positions in the SERP. That’s half of the total positions on the first page.
Ensuring your business appears with site links in the SERP is fairly easy. In Google’s words:
We only show Sitelinks for results when we think they’ll be useful to the user. If the structure of your site doesn’t allow our algorithms to find good Sitelinks, or we don’t think that the Sitelinks for your site are relevant for the user’s query, we won’t show them.
Video dominates web traffic, so it’s only natural they would appear in the google search features. It’s no surprise, Google defaults to its not-so-little brother YouTube when it comes to ranking the video SERP results.
You can include a video that’s embedded on your site as well, as long as you include the proper video schema. With this, videos will appear with a larger thumbnail and some additional information. Don’t expect to rank for this so easily, though. There’s only one per SERP and YouTube can be difficult to compete with. So your efforts may be better spent on optimizing your YouTube page.
Top Stories, which has also been called the news box, is a collection of time-sensitive news articles from Google News about the search query. In 2014, Google expanded the number of sites eligible to rank in the news block.
However, don’t expect to get featured here. This is typically reserved for massive, authoritative publishers. Your efforts would be more suited towards generating some PR and having an article written about you.
Similar to video snippets, image packs appear when Google deems visual content to be more valuable. Just like local packs, they use a special set of ranking factors outside of the core organic algorithm.
The image pack will not always appear at the top of organic search results. Rather, it may appear inline with them or even at the bottom of the page.
In order to have an image featured here, you’re going to want to shore up a couple of main factors, such as including a descriptive file name, proper alt text, proper URL, image size, and title attribution.
Don’t expect a major spike in traffic from this feature type either. Clicking on the image in the Google SERP will take users to the image tab.
Twitter and Google announced a partnership in 2015, that would include tweets in the Google SERPs. The tweets that are displayed here are typically the most recent and trending on the queried topic. Your Twitter account does not need to be verified in order to be featured here.
The knowledge panel, or knowledge graph, uses semantic data from a number of user-generated sources to provide detailed information regarding the person or group. Appearing in the knowledge panel requires being a Google partner. Luckily, the knowledge panel appears in the additional space to the right of the organic results.
Instant Answers (Answer Box)
Related questions will appear in the Google SERP in an accordion structure. They can appear with up to four questions. Clicking on one will expand the accordion and provide a short answer similar to a featured snippet. Google generated these related questions using a semantic algorithm to determine interest and intent. These can appear anywhere in the SERP, but they tend to find their way to the top of the page.
If you’ve achieved the featured snippet spot, you’ve won the related question algorithm. More than using this as a traffic generator, you can use a related question SERP Feature to generate ideas about what featured snipped keywords are an opportunity.
Google Ads (AdWords)
Appearing at the top and bottom of the SERP, Google Ads are the result of businesses winning a real-time bid on keywords included in a search query. Google Ads shift the organic results down when they appear at the top of the page. Some Google Ads will even appear in the local pack.
Google Ads tend to actually have a lower CTR than organic results. However, we have found they convert at a higher percentage. Something to consider when creating a Google Ad is that you are charged by the click. So you’d better make your headlines and description count.
Using Google Ads is an excellent way to leapfrog all of the organically ranked pages when you’re a new or smaller site. If you’ve had a hard time conquering the other SERP features discussed above, consider using Google Ads to appear on the first page.
Shopping Ads (Product Listing Ads)
Product Listing Ads (PLAs) are a special form of Google Ads, linked to the Google Merchant Center, which allows you to develop a feed of your products and dynamically insert them into the search results page. PLAs appear with product names, price, reviews, and other details.
When you’re in the product business and sell a number of different SKUs, PLAs allow you to dynamically insert your business into the SERP. All of the Shopping Ads are PPC, so you’re not going to always appear there. Plus, these results often appear above the text Google Ads results and tend to receive a higher CTR due to their visual appeal and added detail.
Learn more about how you can use Shopping Ads here.
Google and other search engines have increased the number of ways sites are featured on their results pages because the name of the game in 2019 is speed. With that being said, Google has learned that they can and should emphasize the importance of paid SERP features because they tend to make a lot of money off of it.
When you’re attacking the SERP feature landscape, you need to do your research on what your competitors are doing and strategize around where their weaknesses are. With any SEO strategy, it will take time. However, implementing the simple schema markups and improving your site layout will only help you rank faster.
If you’re wondering how you can check your site’s SEO, we have a free tool you can use to get started. Check it out here.[/text]
Anthony Taylor is the digital lead for Mean Joe Advertising. His expertise across the digital advertising landscape allows him to provide omnichannel solutions for partners with measurable results.