When Google first started out, its focus was organic search results. Those of us old enough to remember those days remember the list of bright blue underlined links and organic-only search results.
As Google evolved its business model, in 2000 Google Ads arrived, typically taking up space at the very top of the page.
Over the subsequent twenty years, Google has become one of the world’s most recognisable brands, dominating search and becoming so much more than a website crawler. In particular, its development of its own features means that brands can no longer purely rely on organic rank for search success. They must also consider how to dominate the Google SERP features that appear for any given search term.
A Google SERP (search engine results page) will display different features depending on the search term. For example, a quick sketch in SERPsketch today shows that for the term “vacuum cleaner brands”, the shopping, answer box and People Also Ask features all appear above the organic search results, with related searches appearing beneath.
But the term “best vacuum for dog hair” puts a featured organic result at the top, followed by People Also Ask , then more organic results and related searches. Today we see a richer page one of Google with lots of exciting different style results rather than those classic blue listings.
These days it’s uncommon to find a SERP without any rich features. You’re unlikely to see a page of pure organic results. Which is why, when planning your SEO strategy, you’ve got to think more than ranking in organic position one.
You’ve got to think broader and understand the features that Google might display and where you might be able to win that space. Position 1 no longer guarantees traffic, instead your focus should be about taking up the maximum space you can in prominent positions, using Google as your shop window on the high street, as well as one of your sources of traffic.
Google's range of SERP features
Google continues to add more and more features to its SERPs. But as of writing, we’ve tried to capture the various types of features you might encounter or want to gain space for:
1. Featured snippets or Answer boxes
A featured snippet, sometimes called an answer box, is an extended result shown on a SERP that gives more information than just the link to the website. It might take an extract from the destination page, or it might show a couple of additional questions that you might want answered within the box. Featured snippets come in various styles and can take up a small or a large amount of space on the SERP.
In a SERP, ads can appear at the top or bottom or the SERP. The Shopping feature also includes ads.
Videos can appear on a SERP in a couple of ways. They might just appear as part of the natural organic results, or they might appear in a Videos feature. Google has added a “Short videos” feature too. And sometimes the video can be the most dominant aspect of a SERP; this is especially common for video explainers.
4. Rich resultsSometimes in the natural organic results, Google will add additional small features to make the result richer. Some organic results can offer accordion items under the link, or sometimes images from the destination page also display, and Google might also add site links within the search result or add customer ratings.
5. Knowledge Panels
Google’s knowledge panels come in all sorts of formats. Knowledge graph panels relate to people, places, business entities and other organisations and things. Knowledge graph panels often offer the user lots of relevant information on the SERP itself, meaning they don’t really need to click through to the destination page to see the answer to their query.
Here’s a selection of the Google knowledge panels in a SERP. Note in the Yoga poses example how you can see a selection of yoga poses with relevant photo but you are still within the Google SERP.
6. People Also Ask
Another feature of a Google SERP is the People Also Ask feature. This feature gives you examples of other queries people often ask in relation to the query you first entered. It allows you to preview the answer in the accordion before deciding whether to go through to the destination page.
7. Local (map) packs
Often when you’re querying something specific to a location, a local (map) pack will appear on the SERP. This can be really helpful, especially on a mobile to then get the directions straight from Google maps.
8. Image packsFor some search terms, Google will display its image pack.You might see it in the middle of a SERP such as the first example showing images for yoga poses. Or it might appear at the very top of your SERP such as the example showing the best Spielberg films (though we might not agree with the order of the list!).
9. Refine search
After you’ve conducted a search for your specific term, Google might include a “Refine Search” feature which allows you to further refine your search by filtering results by specific criteria, and it provides you with suggested results to filter from. You might even learn a thing or two, like styles of earring or types of bikes!
10. Related searches
The Related Searches feature shows you other searches that users have made when they’ve used a similar search term to your original.
11. Top stories
For newsworthy topics, Google SERPs will often display the “Top Stories” feature with links to trending articles.
12. Twitter cardsSimilarly to “Top Stories”, Twitter cards might display on a SERP for trending Twitter items that match your search term.
13. App packThe App pack feature will show in mobile SERPs, directing you to Apps on the Google Play or App Store that will solve your query.
14. JobsGoogle introduced its jobs feature and surprised many recruitment agencies resulting in huge drops in their traditional organic traffic. With the jobs feature, you can search for jobs right there in the SERP.
15. Flights and hotelsLike the Jobs feature, the Flights feature offers you the ability to search for flights from within the SERP. You can also even book flights and hotels directly via Google for sites which have connected to Google fully; this allows digital sales to take place without the user even touching your site at all.
16. ShoppingGoogle’s Shopping Feature will show a selection of retailers where you can purchase the item you’re searching for. The Shopping feature even provides a “Comparisons” tab.
17. Other features
There are numerous other features that Google will display on a SERP that are tailored to the search term.
A search for a recipe might display a Recipes feature.
Google continues to add features to its SERPs so it’s important to keep tabs on changes over time so that you can build better, richer content when required.
SERPsketch enables you to do this very quickly and easily and, more importantly, visually, so that you can see whether a new feature is appearing in the SERPs for your keywords and allows you to take action to dominate the space.
You can try SERPsketch for free for a month. It’s easy to sign up for a trial and no credit card is required.