Search engine optimization (SEO) is a crucial part of creating an ecommerce site that gets traffic. But 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 2021.
- What is the SERP?
- Why is SERP Important?
- What is SERP in Digital Marketing?
- What are SERP Features?
- Organic Google SERP Features in 2021
- Rich Answer
- Rich Results
- Rich Card (Mobile)
- Knowledge Card
- Knowledge Graph
- Knowledge Panel
- Local 3-Pack
- Image Packs
- Vertical Search
- People Also Ask
- Top Stories
- Featured Snippets
- Scholarly Articles
- Related Searches
- Paid Google SERP Features in 2021
- Summary: Understanding Google’s SERPs
- Want to Learn More?
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What is the SERP?
Short for search engine results page, SERP is the single page that search engines serve in response to a user’s search query.
Here’s an example of a Google SERP:
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 or from new locations.
Why is SERP Important?
When talking about SERPs topics, we put the emphasis on Google search engine optimization.
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:
In April 2019, Google generated 62.7 percent of all core search queries in the United States — followed by Microsoft Sites at 24.8 percent, and Verizon Media (formerly Oath and Yahoo) at 11.6 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.
What is SERP in Digital Marketing?
SERP marketing is the process of promoting a business within a search engine’s results. There are two types of SERP marketing:
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 you do it without paid methods (like Google Ads).
There are many strategies and techniques in SEO. Two of the main tactics are content marketing and building backlinks.
With content marketing, you create content aimed at ranking well for a specific keyword, giving them a higher position and max exposure in the SERPs. You can also attempt to build a backlink profile with websites that have a high domain authority. In other words, try to get websites that Google trusts to link to your content – which will improve domain authority (and SERP rankings).
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 are well worth the struggle.
The higher on the SERP you are, the more clicks you’ll get.
On the first page of Google alone, the first five organic results account for more than 67 percent of page one clicks, while the results from 6 to 10 account for under 4 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. In other words, it’s a more sustainable and durable marketing channel.
What is SEM?
SEM stands for search engine marketing and is the process of acquiring traffic from search engines through paid listings and advertisements. One of the most common SEM channels is Google Ads (formerly known as 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 you’re usually charged for each click on each ad — 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:
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 Ads 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 an average 2 percent CTR, and those who do click are often closer to converting.
But that’s not all.
Paid results also come with a suite of analytics that 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 isn’t 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:
And in comparison, below is an image of Google’s SERP in 2021 with four different SERP features on display: shopping, ads, top stories, and then organic results.
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 – and it’s up to ecommerce brands to keep up.
Organic Google SERP Features in 2021
Google is constantly improving SERP features and adding new ones. This means that today, there’s a variety of ways to get your business to the top of the SERPs.
Here’s a quick rundown of Google’s SERP features in 2021:
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:
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 Google Pixel 3 that displays customer ratings and additional links:
Rich Card (Mobile)
Knowledge Cards work similarly to Rich Cards, except these are based on specific data. For example, if you search “bozeman population,” you’ll see a Knowledge Card depicting the answer:
Because these are based on specific, hard data, it’s tough to rank for these spots.
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 panels are almost identical to Knowledge Graphs, except 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:
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”:
Keep in mind that this SERP feature is only available to businesses with brick-and-mortar locations. If you’re an online-only dropshipping company, it won’t be an option for you.
This SERP feature is displayed for any search query that specifically refers to images, or would benefit from visual results. Nearly 23 percent of Google SERPs show images, and that continues to increase.
Unfortunately for businesses, when a user clicks on an image, they’re 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:”
Also, image packs can be displayed in different ways. The example below shows a smaller image pack returned for the search query “cat in truck”:
This also works in you favor for Google Image searches. According to Jumpshot and Moz, 27 percent of all searches were for images. And the difference here is that when a user clicks on an image, they are taken to your site.
Google will also sometimes display a carousel of three YouTube videos, like in the image below. A search for “how to change a tire” shows three quick video thumbnails and users can scroll right to view more related videos.
This SERP feature provides an expanded group of links from a specific domain. Sitelinks 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 Shopify website.
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:”
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 “Shopify:”
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:”
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. This feature used to be called “In the news”.
When searching “Los Angeles,” Google displays top stories related to the capital city:
Google sometimes displays top stories horizontally without images:
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 percent 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 “why is the sky blue?”:
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 “photoshop face swap”:
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 a search query about essential oils for colds:
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 the schedule for reality TV series The Real Housewives:
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 paint a room:”
Scientific or research-based articles also show up in their own dedicated section on Google SERPs. Here’s what pops up when searching “technology in healthcare”:
Google pulls these sources from its Google Scholar search function. Science/research journals and similar publications will appear here.
Scroll to the bottom of the SERP and you’ll see related search suggestions. These are Google’s recommendations based on the user’s original query — maybe they’ve scrolled to the bottom and haven’t found quite what they’re looking for, so Google is offering a different approach.
Related searches are presented in multiple ways. As hyperlinked text all the way at the bottom:
And as image carousels you can scroll through. These are typically directly above the text-based related searches or scattered throughout the SERP.
Pro tip: Use this to inform your keyword and content strategy.
Paid Google SERP Features in 2021
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 2021.
Google Ads (formerly AdWords)
These ads are created with Google Ads, 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.
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.
The second paid SERP feature is Google Shopping. 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:
Sometimes Google will show shopping results in the right-hand sidebar alongside other SERP features and organic results. Here’s what it looks like if you search “fishing”:
Google has also introduced popular product carousels on SERPs, which give a quick-hitting list of thumbnails and star ratings for related products. Here’s what shows up if you search “curly hair”:
Summary: Understanding Google’s SERPs
That brings us to the end of our guide to Google’s SERPs in 2021! 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:
- Organic search engine optimization (SEO)
- Paid search engine marketing (SEM)
The best SERP marketing strategies use the two together to maximize traffic.
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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