Google handles over 2 trillion searches per year. One reason that so many turn to the search engine over others—aside from “Google” being a household name in search—is because of its ability to understand the searcher’s intent and fulfill the query very quickly.
One way that Google succeeds in doing this is through the use of its special features on the results page. These appear based on the algorithm’s interpretation of the searcher’s intent and are designed to provide an optimal experience. Searchers want information quickly, and Google’s features allow the search engine to accomplish this.
Search engine optimization aims to not only rank highly in organic search results, but also to show website content in these search features. Accomplishing this can help boost click-through rates (CTR) and website traffic. Let’s take a look at some of these features and how to obtain them.
Table of Contents
What is a SERP?
SERP stands for search engine results page. This is the results page that appears when users type a query into Google or another search engine.
This seems like a pretty simple process, but what goes on behind the scenes is actually quite complex. The search engine takes into account not only the keywords typed into the query, but also the searcher’s location, browsing history, and other settings. That means that one user’s SERP may differ slightly from another user’s, even for the same search query.
We know that an SEO strategist’s role is highly focused on what appears on the SERP for target keywords. They’re working to rank content as high as possible not only in the organic (unpaid) results section but also within some of the SERP features.
Here is what a typical organic SERP listing looks like. All of these components of the listing can be controlled by the webmaster through updating the meta data of the page.
What are SERP features and why are they important?
SERP features appear based on the search engine’s impression of the user’s intent. These are elements that provide information and allow the SERP to go beyond listing 10 links. These elements are very common. In fact, only 3.3% of searches in Google will show no search features.
Optimizing your content to appear within a search feature can help ensure links to your content on the first page of search results.
What are the most common SERP features in Google?
Google regularly experiments with new SERP features that are designed to improve the searcher experience. Here are some of the most common:
For queries that have a direct answer, a featured snippet may appear near the top of search results. This box will show an excerpt of content from a page that Google has found to fulfill search intent.
What’s even more exciting about this feature is that when the user clicks on the featured snippet, Google will direct them to the source page with the featured passage highlighted.
People also ask
Google will often make suggestions for other question-based searches related to the original search. Better yet, when the searcher clicks on the questions, a featured snippet will appear that answers the question without navigating to another page. This interactive feature will show more related questions as more of them are clicked.
For search keywords that can be more visual, Google might show a horizontal group of images, known as the image pack, in organic results. These images link to a Google image search of the keyword.
Google will show image packs for search queries that the engine deems to be more valuable as an image search. To get your images to rank, make sure to include descriptive alt text, and to have a proper title attribute.
This feature will appear in the search results of queries that have local intent behind them, such as “chiropractors near me”. The local pack will appear with a map, indicating three businesses that the search engine deems to be the most relevant to the keyword.
If you’re a business that serves a local area, type your main service offering along with “near me” and look at the SERP. Does your business show in the top three of the local pack? Does it show when you click “More places”? If not, make it your goal to further optimize your website content to earn this SERP feature.
For listings like recipes or products on the SERP, Google might display the average star rating below the title of the result. Search results with star ratings will see higher click-through rates (CTR).
For queries in which Google finds that video results would be valuable, thumbnails for videos (especially YouTube videos) will appear in organic results. Although the SERPs used to show videos within “video packs”, Google recently changed video results to show more organically in the results.
It’s worth noting that since YouTube is a Google product, it’s possible that Google will prioritize a YouTube video over another platform, such as Vimeo.
What are some other SERP features?
Google SERPs can have many possible features, but not all of them will be obtainable for everyone. Here are a few more SERP features that you might find in your own search results.
Google may show an excerpt from a partnered data source within something called a “knowledge card”. These cards show near the top of the SERP for queries that have a very specific and direct answer that can be fulfilled with data. This may appear as a number or a graph.
Similar to the knowledge card, information within the knowledge panel comes from partnered data sources like Wikipedia. These panels will appear for certain queries on the right side of the search results on desktop.
For branded searches (which show clear intent), Google may show links to multiple pages of a website below the link to the website’s homepage. These site links are typically generated for large, branded sites with high traffic.
For some queries, tweets will appear within the organic search results. This can help with strengthening a brand’s online presence but doesn’t necessarily affect SEO.
How do I get my content to appear in a SERP feature?
Some SERP features are easier to obtain than others. The very first step is to understand which query or keywords you’d like to rank for, and performing a search to see what ranks on the SERP right now.
Below we will list some of the most common features and how to rank your content for them.
How to Earn a Featured Snippet
Featured snippets allow Google to answer question-based queries right on the SERP. These listings will see higher click-through rates and ultimately, more organic traffic.
To appear in a featured snippet:
Target question-based queries that can be answered succinctly. Examples include “what is minimum quantity lubrication in machining” or “what is rock revetment”.
Whenever possible, include brief summaries and lists of any guides or long-form walkthroughs that you publish. These are great for featured snippets too!
Keep it brief. Google looks for complete answers to questions that are around 50 words or less.
How to Show in an Image Pack
Ranking content in an image pack is a great idea for photographers, businesses that sell visually-bought items, or any visual content that is designed to earn links and citations (such as infographics or other visuals).
To show in an image pack, make sure the hosted page has accurate information and uses keywords in the following features:
The image title
The image alt attribute
The image caption
The content of surrounding text blocks
The page title
The page URL
It’s important to keep in mind that even if you see high rankings for your images, you might not see high click-through rates. This is because when a user clicks on an image on the SERP, Google takes them to image search results instead of the source website. Users would need to click on the image once more in the image results to navigate to your web page.
How to Show in a Local Pack
If you serve local customers, especially in-person, your business would benefit from appearing in the SERP’s local pack for searches with local intent.
One great way to optimize your business’s listing to appear in Google’s local pack is to claim and update a Google My Business (GMB) profile for your business.
Visit the Google My Business website and search for your business name. Follow the steps to claim this listing.
You will also need to verify your business’s address for the listing. Typically, you can get a postcard from Google sent to your address in 3 to 5 business days to verify your physical location.
Fill in as much information as applicable in your GMB listing. You will want to list your NAP (name, address, phone number) in the exact same format that it is listed in any other directory on the internet, as well as on your own website.
Add photos to your listing that show the inside and outside of your location, your employees, and updated pricing or menus as applicable.
Update information listed in your profile regularly as it changes, such as business hours for holidays, etc.
Respond to customer reviews to show that you are active on the platform. This is also just a general best practice for customer service.
Tying it All Together
Remember that Google is constantly updating its algorithm and search features. What appears on your SERP today may not always be there. Part of having a strong SEO strategy is staying agile and regularly updating and optimizing your content with the reader in mind.