What Does SERP Mean? Answer: Search Engine Results Page
There are millions and millions of pages on the internet, but none are more valuable to digital marketers than the Search Engine Results Page, or SERPs.
Search engine optimization strategists and PPC managers alike compete for the same cherished real estate in the most striking parts of the SERP, but competition is brutal and technological developments in the search engine’s algorithm mean it’s more critical than ever for digital marketing consultants to know how search engines truly works and what the SEO Specialist can do to maximize their client’s visibility.
Page one of the SERP is where your website traffic is!
Search Engine Results Page – How it Works
A Search Engine Results Page aka SERP is a web page served to searchers when they search for something online using any search engine, such as Google, Bing or Yahoo. The searcher enters their search phrase, more often than not, using specific keyword terms and keyword phrases, upon which the respective search engine will present the user with a relevant SERP.
Every SERP is different, even for searches performed on the same respective search engine using the same key phrase, keywords, or search query. This is due to practically all search engines customizing the event for their users by offering search results based on a wide range of factors beyond the search term, such as the searcher’s physical location and browser history. Any two SERPs may seem identical and include many of the same results, but more often than not will feature subtle differences.
The appearance of search engine results pages is constantly in flux due to experiments conducted by Google, Bing, and other search engine providers to offer their users a more intuitive, responsive experience. This, combined with rapidly developed algorithms in the search engine space, means that the SERPs of today differ greatly in appearance from their older predecessors.
Organic Search Results
A Search Engine Results Page typically contains two kinds of content – “organic” free search results and paid ad results. Organic search results are listings of websites and pages which appear as a result of the search engine’s algorithm. Search engine optimization specialists, generally known as SEOs, specialize in optimizing website content and complete websites to rank the respective website more highly in organic results.
In the following image, the red-outlined boxes are are all organic results:
Organic Search Results on the SERP
The red outlined box on this Search Engine Results Page is known as the Google Knowledge Graph, also referred to as the Google Knowledge Box. This is a very helpful feature which Google launched in 2012 that aggregates data to commonly asked questions from references across the entire internet, in order to provide brief answers to questions in one central location on a SERP. In this image, you see a very wide range of knowledge regarding Abraham Lincoln, such as his date of birth, birthplace, his height, the date of his assassination, and the names of all of his children.
Some SERPs will feature significantly more organic results than others, such as the sample above. This is because of the different intent of various search queries. There are three primary types of Internet search:
Information searches are those in which the searcher wishes to locate information on a specific given topic, such as Abe Lincoln. It simply wouldn’t make much sense at all to place search ads or other types of paid search results on a Search Engine Results Page like this, as the search query “Abe Lincoln” has an incredibly low transactional intent; most searchers using this search term are not looking to buy something, and as such only informational results are displayed on the SERP.
Navigational searches are those in which the searcher wishes to find a specific website through his/her specific query. This may be the circumstance for users searching for a specific site, attempting to locate a site whose URL they can’t remember or another type of navigational goal.
Lastly, transactional queries are those in which paid ad results are most likely to be presented on the SERPs. Transactional queries have incredibly high commercial intent, and searches leading to a transactional SERP may incorporate keywords such as “buy” or other terms which suggest a powerful urge to make a purchase.
Paid Search Ads
Paid results are those which have been paid for to be displayed by any respective advertiser. In the not-to-distant past, paid results were nearly exclusively limited to boring, text-based ads which were typically presented above and to the right of the organic search results. Today, however, paid search results come in a far and wide range of iterations, and there are quite literally dozens of paid search advertising formats which cater to the demands of their advertisers.
In the illustration above, all of the results on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) – with the deviation of the Google map and Google business listing below it – are paid search results. The three text-based ads at the top of the SERPs are common PPC ads. The second and third-place ads both feature what is referred to as ad extensions, allowing prospective customers to Click-through, going directly to very specific pages on their websites.
The image-based ads on the right of the page are Product-Listing ads, an advanced feature offered on the Google Ads platform which allows e-commerce website’s product information to be advertised alongside other results on the SERPs. Product-Listing ads can include a vast range of information, such as product availability, user reviews, and more.
The Google map and Google My Business listings are the only search results on this SERP that are not strictly paid search results. This map is served based on a user’s current respective location, and feature local listings for local businesses that have taken advantage of their free Google My Business listing. Google My Business is a complimentary directory of local companies which can be used as a tool to help small local businesses to increase their local visibility to users based on geolocation, an incredibly important feature on mobile.
2018 Ranking Signals and Search Algorithms
Organic search results are listings which have been indexed by the search engines based on a large number of factors, aka “ranking signals.”
Take, for instance, Google’s search algorithm features hundreds of ranking factors, and while nobody outside of Google knows precisely what these factors are, some are considered to be far more significant than other factors. In the years past, a website’s link profile – the number of external backlinks that link to a specific web page from other sites – was a critically important ranking signal. It still is but to a lesser extent, and this is the reason Wikipedia.com ranks so prominently in most organic search results for so many search queries, though search technology advances at such a rapid pace that ranking signals which were once considered crucial to a search algorithm may be much less relevant today.
SEO - Search Engine Optimization
As the name implies, search engine optimization is the encompassed methods of optimizing websites and product & service landing pages for discovery in the various search engines and, as a result, much higher ranking placement on the search engine results page. The actual optimizing of the content is achieved through a large variety of means, from what is known as On-Page SEO as well as Off-page SEO techniques.
On-page SEO pertains to SEO best-practices which website content creators and website owners can follow to guarantee their content is as easily discoverable as possible. Also, included is the page metadata for each web page and it’s respective elements such as images, unique URLs, focus keywords and key phrases in relevant page headings and subheadings, and the use of clean HTML code, to name a few.
Unlike on-page SEO techniques, off-page SEO strategies help to sway the site as a whole. Some typical off-page SEO techniques include link-building, bookmarking, content creation & marketing, submissions to online directories, submissions to various search engine’s indexes, and the conception of online social communities on social media. Some SEO techniques are considered black-hat seo.
The full scope of SEO is considerably too comprehensive to cover here. All you really need to understand is that Search Engine Optimization(SEO) focuses on attaining higher search rankings from an organic ranking perspective. Businesses may hire a digital marketing agency or a freelance SEO Specialist to perform their SEO campaigns.