SERP 101: What Are SERPs and How Do They Work?

Matthew is a Marketing Copywriter with a B.A. in Professional and Public Writing from Auburn University. He aims to learn a little more about the SEO world each day, and share as much of that knowledge with you as he can. When he's not striving to put out some fresh web content, he's usually fueling his Tolkien obsession or working on miscellaneous creative projects.

When you search for something in Google, you have an idea of what you’re going to find. You know you’ll see a list of blue links below the search bar, with some other elements included as well.

That’s because, since Google’s launch in 1998, we’ve all grown intimately familiar with the look and feel of its search engine results pages (SERPs). A SERP is more than just a means of finding information. However — it’s a valuable marketing tool for your business.

But what exactly goes into Google SERPs, and how can you harness their marketing potential? We’ll answer both of those questions below in a full SERP 101 overview, so read on to learn more.

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SERP 101: What is a search engine results page?

A search engine results page is a page containing ranked content that is triggered by a Google search query. Since 93% of all Internet traffic begins with a search engine, you’ve likely interacted with a SERP before.

When you enter a query, Google rapidly runs through its search index. Google’s index collects all the websites it’s crawled and cataloged across the Internet, and it scans it for the pages that are most relevant to your query.

Google then lays out a list of the pages that it thinks will best answer your query, ranking them by relevance and user-friendliness. In addition to the standard page links, today’s SERPs also frequently include other features, as we’re about to explore.

Common SERP features

When Google first launched, the format of its SERPs was extraordinarily simple: Nothing more or less than a list of blue links, 10 per page.

Today, that’s no longer the case. Over the years, Google has added quite a few different SERP features to its pages to better address users’ queries. While the complete list of SERP features is extensive, we’ll look at a few of the most prominent ones below.

1. Pay-per-click (PPC) ads

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is a marketing strategy that involves displaying ads at the top of Google search results. Whereas Google SERPs are mostly made up of organic results, you’ll often find paid ads at the very top.

 

 

Most PPC ads look like organic links, except for the “Ad” label in the top corner. Others appear as small boxes with product images and prices in them. When someone clicks on a PPC ad, it takes them to a landing page, where they’re encouraged to buy a particular product or service.

2. Local packs

If you’ve ever searched for a product, place, or service in your area, you’ve likely encountered a local pack. Local packs are groups of relevant Google My Business profiles in your area, accompanied by a display of their locations on Google Maps.

 

 

For example, if you searched for “Chicago tree cutting services,” you’d get a local pack above all the other organic results. It would include several tree service businesses from in and around Chicago, which you could click to be taken to their full Google My Business profiles.

3. Featured snippets

Also known as “position zero,” Google’s featured snippets are answers to queries that appear above other organic search results. They take the form of boxes with a small section of text inside them that provides a quick and easy answer to your search.

 

 

Google extracts the text from a highly relevant page, with the link to that page placed below it. Many users find the answers they want from the featured snippet. Even those that want more information will often follow the link to the snippet’s source page.

4. Videos

Another common SERP feature in many searches is videos. Since Google owns YouTube, it will often provide a list of YouTube videos in search results for a given query, without the user having to click over to the “videos” tab of search results.

 

 

In addition, YouTube videos can sometimes even make it into featured snippets, often with markers that set off the specific portion of the video that’s most relevant to a query. That makes YouTube a viable means of optimizing for Google SERPs.

How to optimize for SERPs

 SERPs provide immense value for your business since they give you a way to reach your target audience through Google. 

If your web content ranks for relevant searches, you’ll end up with plenty of users coming to your site to find what they need. Getting your content to rank is a strategy called search engine optimization (SEO).

Here are a few basic ways you can get your business to appear on Google SERPs and drive traffic to your site!

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1. Craft compelling content

The first and most obvious way you can use SEO to appear in Google search results is to create compelling and relevant content on your website. You can make videos about your products or write blog posts about common topics in your industry.

Whatever format you choose, create content that users will find helpful and informative. You can insert relevant keywords into your content to help it rank for those searches, but be sure your content satisfies the user search intent — that is, what users were looking to find.

2. Set up Google My Business

As mentioned earlier, Google My Business is another outlet through which you can appear in search results. Creating an optimized Google My Business profile means you can appear in local packs for relevant searches in your area.

It’s possible that your business already has a profile, in which case you can claim it by providing Google with proof of ownership. Once you own your profile, you can fill it out with as much information as possible, from your phone number to your hours.

You can also include photos and manage reviews to further encourage users to buy from you.

3. Take advantage of paid advertising

The third major way to make it into Google search results is through paid advertising. Through Google Ads, you can set up paid ads and landing pages to advertise your products or services. You can then bid on relevant keywords where you want to display them.

For each search, Google displays ads based on:

  • Bid amount
  • Quality Score (Google’s assessment of an ad’s quality)

The best part about PPC ads is that you only have to pay for them when users click on them, making them highly cost-effective when done well.

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