2018’s Guide to Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP)

Keeping up with the latest changes to search engines is tough.

Especially when Google changes every day.

What’s more, Google’s ten blue links don’t drive as much organic traffic as they used to.

Why? Because of new SERP features.

These new SERP features – SERP is shorthand for search engine results page – have improved the experience for users, but they’re also making the game more complicated for businesses.

And if you want to win the top spot in the search results, you need to fully understand the rules of the game.

In this article, you’ll learn what SERPs, SEO, and SEM are. Plus, you’ll acquire a rock-solid understanding of the many Google SERP features in play in 2018.

Buckle up!

What Exactly is an SERP?

Short for search engine results page, SERP is a single page that search engines serve in response to a user’s search query.

Here’s an example of a Google SERP:

Google SERP Today

The term SERP isn’t unique to any specific search engine — Google, Bing, and Yahoo all serve SERPs to users.

And today, no two SERPs are the same. Instead, they’re personalized for each user. This is why you’ll sometimes see different search results when searching on different devices.

Why Google?

Okay, when talking about SERPs or SEO-related topics, we always put the emphasis on Google.

Why? Because Google is King.

Seriously, when was the last time you used a different search engine? People don’t even “search for something” anymore, they “Google it.”

Plus, check out these stats.

The graph below shows the market share of search engines in the United States, by share of search queries:

Market Share of Search Engines

In April 2018, Google generated 63.5 percent of all core search queries in the United States — followed by Microsoft Sites at 24 percent, and Oath (formerly Yahoo) at 11.4 percent.

And when it comes to the mobile search market in the United States, Google leads again with a massive 93 percent market share.

But that’s not all.

Google’s dominance is even more prevalent in many other huge markets, such as the UK and Germany, where market Google’s market share is more like 85 to 90%.

What is SERP Marketing?

SERP marketing is the process of promoting a business within a search engine’s results. There are two different types of SERP marketing:

  1. SEO
  2. SEM

The most effective SERP marketing strategies use both SEO and SEM to achieve their business goals.

Let’s take a closer look at each of them.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization and is the process of achieving a high rank in the SERPs organically. Organic means that no paid methods are used, such as Google AdWords.

There are many strategies and techniques in SEO. Two of the main tactics are content marketing, and building backlinks.

With content marketing, marketers will create content that is likely to rank well for a specific keyword, giving them a higher position and max exposure in the SERPs. They’ll also attempt to build a backlink profile with websites that have a high domain authority. In other words, marketers will try to get websites that Google trusts to link to their content – which will improve the domain authority (and SERP rankings) of their own website.

Let’s be honest: It takes a lot of time, dedication, and expertise to climb to the top of the SERPs through organic SEO. However, the results can be well worth the struggle.

Why?

Well, on the first page of Google alone, the first five organic results account for 67.60 percent of the clicks, while the results from 6 to 10 account for only 3.73 percent.

What’s more, high-ranking organic content will usually maintain its position in the SERPs for an extended period of time — with none of the ongoing costs associated with paid listings.

What is SEM?

SEM stands for search engine marketing and is the process of acquiring traffic from search engines through the use of paid listings and advertisements. One of the most common SEM channels is Google AdWords. These paid listings appear on Google above and below organic search results, as well as in the sidebar.

Each paid listing is driven by targeted keywords, and marketers are usually charged for each click they receive on each of their ads — hence the name, pay-per-click, or PPC.

Google ad listings include a small “ad” badge to identify them as a paid listing, like in the example below:

Search Engine Marketing SEM

Now, while paid results might not have the staying power as organic listings, paid results do have their benefits.

Firstly, return on investment (ROI) is delivered much faster.

With a well-targeted Google AdWords campaign, you can jump straight to the top of the SERPs and expose your business to highly targeted customers.

What’s more, although paid results aren’t likely to see click-through rates (CTR) as high as organic listings, Google PPC ads see a 2% CTR on average, and those that do click are often closer to converting into customers.

But that’s not all.

Paid results also come with a suite of analytics that can help to provide a clear path to higher CTRs and conversions. And this knowledge is invaluable when optimizing your SEO efforts.

That’s why the best SERP marketing combines both SEO and SEM.

What are SERP Features?

A SERP feature is any form of listing on a search engine results page that is not a standard organic result. These features are designed to provide a better experience for searchers by tailoring each SERP to display more relevant and detailed information.

To understand the power of SERP features, here’s what Google’s organic search results looked like a decade ago:

Google SERP a Decade Ago

And in comparison, below is an image of Google’s SERP in 2018 with three different SERP features on display:

SERP Features

Clearly, a lot has changed.

Today, Google’s SERPs are far more helpful, relevant, and accurate. Google is trying to shorten the amount of time and effort it takes users to find what they’re looking for.

Organic Google SERP Features in 2018

Google is constantly improving SERP features and adding new ones. This means that today, there’s a huge variety of ways to get your business to the top of the SERPs.

Here’s a quick rundown of Google’s SERP features in 2018:

Rich Answer

Rich answers are also known as answer boxes, quick answers, or direct answers. These are often displayed in the SERPs for simple questions like, “what time is it in the United Kingdom?” and “what is a steam engine?”

Google doesn’t provide credit to the sources of rich answers because they say that the information is part of the public domain.

The image below shows an example of a rich answer:

Rich Answer SERP Feature

Rich Results

A rich result (previously known as a rich snippet) is similar to a normal Google SERP listing, except it contains more information than the standard title, meta description, and URL. The additional information is often customer ratings, prices, or additional links.

Website operators can add structured data markup such as Schema.org to optimize their content for Google’s rich results.

In this image below, you can see a rich result for the iPhone X that displays customer ratings and additional links:

Rich Results SERP Feature

Rich Card (Mobile)

Rich cards are simply a mobile-friendly version of rich results.

Rich Card SERP Feature

Knowledge Graph

Knowledge graphs are displayed above organic results or in the right-hand sidebar. They often include images, facts, maps, and related search topics. This SERP feature is often shown for queries about certain topics, places, or people.

To create knowledge graphs, Google pulls information from their own data from services like Google Maps, as well as external sources such as Wikipedia.

The image below shows a knowledge graph returned for the search query “London:”

Knowledge Graph SERP Feature

Knowledge Panel

Knowledge panels are almost identical to knowledge graphs, except that Google will only pull information from Google Maps or My Business listings. For this reason, knowledge panels are shown for queries about brands, businesses, or organizations.

Knowledge panels often include images, facts, social media links, and related searches.

The image below shows a knowledge panel about Shopify:

Knowledge Panel

Local 3-Pack

A local 3-pack is a SERP feature containing a map and a list of three local businesses as rich results. Local 3-packs are usually shown for queries about nearby businesses or organizations.

Users searching for local businesses often have a high commercial intent. So, scoring a position in a local 3-pack can do wonders for bringing in new customers.

The image below shows a local 3-pack returned for the search query “Best yoga studios in berlin:”

Local 3-Pack SERP

Image Packs

This SERP feature is displayed for any search query that specifically refers to images, or would benefit from visual results.

Unfortunately for businesses, when a user clicks on an image, they’ll be taken to Google Images, not the website that the image is from.

The example below shows an image pack returned for the query “cat chasing mouse:”

Image Pack SERP Feature

Also, image packs can be displayed in different ways. The example below shows a larger image pack returned for the search query “adorable cats:”

Image Pack

Site Links

This SERP feature provides an expanded group of links from a specific domain. Site links are usually shown when a user searches for a specific organization or website. Google’s aim is to allow users to navigate directly to the website page they’re seeking.

The image below shows site links for different pages on the Oberlo website.

Site Links SERP Feature

Vertical Search

Vertical search appears at the top of the page when Google needs to pull information from many different categories, such as images, video, or news. This SERP feature is typically shown for queries about topics or locations.

When searching “London,” Google returns a vertical search featuring “Things to do in London:”

Vertical Search SERP Feature

People Also Ask

“People also ask” boxes contain related questions to help users further explore a topic. They’re very common and often shown for a search query that is a direct question.

The image below shows a people also ask box featuring additional questions related to the search query “Oberlo:”

People also ask SERP Feature

Twitter

This SERP feature is a carousel of the three most recent tweets from a Twitter account. The tweets displayed can include images and links. Users can also scroll to the right to view additional tweets from the account.

The image below shows this SERP feature returned for the query “Shopify Twitter:”

Twitter SERP Feature

Top Stories

This SERP feature displays breaking news or trending stories related to a search query. Google includes three top stories in the feature, and each contains a headline, image, source-link, and the time the story was published. Google recently updated this feature from “In the news” to “Top stories.”

When searching “Berlin,” Google displays top stories related to the capital city:

Top Stories SERP Feature

Also, Google sometimes displays top stories horizontally without images:

Top Stories SERP Feature

Featured Snippets

Google’s Featured snippets are perhaps the best way for businesses to gain exposure in the SERPs organically — and as a result, they’re often referred to as “position 0.”

According to Ahrefs, 99.58% of featured snippets are pulled from pages that already rank in the top ten positions in the SERPs. So to stand a chance of achieving position 0, businesses must already rank highly in the SERPs.

Here are the five main types of featured snippets:

Paragraph Featured Snippets

To create paragraph featured snippets, Google pulls text and sometimes an image from a page in an attempt to answer the searcher’s question directly within the SERPs.

This is the most popular type of featured snippet, and they’re often shown for questions beginning with “how to,” “what is,” or “why is.” The image below shows a paragraph snippet for the query “what is Oberlo?

Paragraph Featured Snippet

Numbered List Featured Snippets

This SERP feature usually ranks items by number or lists instructions that explain how to do something.

Here is an example of a numbered list featured snippet returned for the search query “how to make a cake:”

Numbered List Featured Snippet

Bulleted List Featured Snippets

This search feature is almost identical to numbered list featured snippets, except the list is simply bulleted instead. These featured snippets are often shown for unranked lists and the information shown is often pulled from listicle articles.

The image below shows a bulleted list featured snippet returned for the search query, “which country is the happiest:”

Bulleted List Featured Snippet

Table Featured Snippets

This SERP feature displays images above a table containing information such as statistics and rankings.

These tables will often change in size and layout depending on the search query. And Google will even pull information from more than one source to create their own SERP table featured snippet.

The image below shows a table featured snippet displaying a ranking of the happiest countries in the world in 2018:

Table Featured Snippet

YouTube Featured Snippets

This SERP feature is pulled from YouTube and often shows a specific clip from a video. YouTube featured snippets are often returned for “how to” questions, or any query best answered in video form.

The image below shows a YouTube featured snippet returned for the search query “how to make a British roast dinner:”

YouTube Featured Snippet

Also, Google will sometimes display a carousel of three YouTube videos like in the image below. And similar to the top stories SERP feature, users can scroll right to view more related videos.

YouTube SERP Feature

If you’d like to learn more about how you can optimize your content for Google’s featured snippets, check out our recent article “How to Boost Traffic by Optimizing for Google’s Featured Snippets.

Okay, now that we’ve covered all of the main organic SERP features, let’s take a look at the two types of paid Google SERP features in 2018.

AdWords

These ads are created with Google AdWords and businesses can use them to target specific keywords. They look almost identical to normal listings, but they include a little “Ad” badge before the URL as shown in the image below:

The four most coveted ad positions are above the organic results at the top of the SERPs.

AdWords Ad

However, Google also displays paid listings below organic results at the bottom of the page. Understandably, these have lower click-through rates and consequently, are less expensive to purchase.

Google Adwords SERP Feature

Shopping Results

The second paid Google SERP features is shopping results. These are returned for queries that are highly related to products, and these users typically have a high commercial intent.

Paid shopping results are comprised of multiple product listings. Each listing will usually contain the product’s title, image, seller’s name, and customer ratings.

They often appear at the top of the SERPs above the organic results:

Google Shopping SERP Feature

However, sometimes Google will show shopping results in the right-hand sidebar alongside other SERP features and organic results as shown in the image below:

Sponsored Ad SERP Feature

If you’d like to learn more about Google shopping, check out “The Beginner’s Guide to Boosting Sales With Google Shopping Ads.”

Summary

That brings us to the end of our guide to Google’s SERPs in 2018! By now you should understand what SERPs, SEO, and SEM are, as well as the various Google SERP features available.

Remember, there are two approaches to SERP marketing:

  1. Organic search engine optimization (SEO)
  2. Paid search engine marketing (SEM)

And the best SERP marketing strategies use the two in conjunction to maximize traffic from the SERPs.

Moving forward, you can learn more about organic SEO in our guide to Google’s featured snippets, and you can learn more about paid SEM in our guide to Google shopping ads.

Which form of SERP marketing is your business currently most reliant on, SEO or SEM? Let us know in the comments below!

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