What the heck are SERPS and why are they important?

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Every once in a while, which is often, SEO professionals will throw around a term that means everything to them and nothing to everyone else.

SERPs is one of those terms. I remember when I was just getting started in SEO, SERPs was a new term for me though hopefully by the end of this article you’ll not only understand what SERPS are, but how you can start analyzing them to increase traffic and build your business.

If you are fuzzy on SEO in general, give our introduction to SEO post a read and head back here!

What are SERPs?

First off, let’s actually define SERPs.

SERPs is an acronym standing for search engine results pages. These pages appear when users search for something online using a search engine like Google. The users enter their search query using certain keywords and the page that appears is known as a SERP. Simply put, whenever you search for something online, the results pages can all be called SERPs.

To drive home the point a bit more, here’s a picture:

While its definition seems simple, there are more complexities to SERPs than you would think.

First, every SERP is different. Even if two people enter the same searches into Google, the results will be different between them. Give it a try with a friend now, especially if your friend lives in a different location than you.

This phenomenon occurs because Google customizes the user experience based on a wide range of factors including the user’s physical location, browser history and social settings. The search results can be highly contextual, which is cool but also makes rankings a tad unpredictable. Appearing on the first page won’t allow for a one-size-fits-all approach, which is part of the fun in SEO.

Adding to this complication is the reality that Google and Bing often experiment with SERPs to offer their users a more intuitive, responsive experience. Google’s job is to answer questions, so the results that appear on the first page, and even the order, affects the experience they provide. There are rumors that Google will even switch the order of results and record the clickthroughs and site interactions to see how results should be stacked. Therefore, SERPs constantly change and what appears today may differ if you search the same keyword next week.

What make up SERP results?

As if this isn’t enough info, there is a bit more nuance to SERP results and how they are structured. Namely what appears on a results page in Google.

Results may seem straightforward to experienced marketers but if you are just starting out, numerous results pop up on any SERP. These results include organic results, paid results, featured snippets, images, videos and location-specific results.

Organic results are listing of web pages that appear as a result of the search engine’s algorithm. Experienced SEO marketers attempt to rank highly in organic results especially if it means appearing on the first page of search results. The amount of organic results depends on the content of your search. Most Google searches are informational, navigational or transactional.

In contrast to organic results, paid results are those that have been paid to be displayed by an advertiser. These results appear in various forms but the most frequent include pay-per-click (PPC) ads that appear as the top results on a page. Occasionally, at the right-hand side of the SERP are shopping ads that often include images of a product or service.

Finally, in a separate category unique from organic or paid results are location-specific results. For example, small businesses using Google My Business can appear based on your keyword search.

Google My Business is a free directory of companies that can help local small businesses increase their visibility based on location.

The components listed above characterize what can appear on a SERP. However, we will next turn to how you can use this information to your benefit.

Organic vs. Paid Results and SERPs

Based on its definition, it should be clear why ranking highly in SERPs should be a priority for your business in 2020.

There are a few ways you can proceed to begin analyzing your own company’s SERP data.

First, the question becomes whether you should emphasize organic or paid results on search engines. There are advantages to prioritizing one type of result over the other. If your page is within the top three search results organically, users will view this website as credible. Second, if you rank on the first page, search engines will view your site as a reliable source of information and will keep you there for a long time.

When it comes to paid search results, this strategy can be useful in certain instances. For example, Drizly (an alcohol delivery company) plays off of a common mispelling of their company name:

You can use paid results to target specific locations, ages and income levels. Paid search results can accelerate exposure of your business to prospective customers. Paid search results can increase the click rate on your site.

Therefore, you can see that organic results are more of a long-term goal rather than paid results which work more immediately.

Depending on what your business’ needs are can dictate what route you take as a content marketer. Of course, you can also incorporate both techniques based on your company’s strategy.

Ranking Higher in SERPs

Hypothetically, and let’s be honest this probably isn’t hypothetical, you want to rank higher in SERPs – how do we get there?

As we’ve seen, SERPs can be nuanced, highly contextualized, and competitive. Analyzing SERPs and improving your rank is an article in of itself, but let’s list off a few tips.

First, determine the keywords you are focusing on and the pages that you want to rank for them. You can use Google Trends to see whether search demand has stayed the same or whether it has decreased, which gives a clue as to how much worth it is going after these keywords.

Next it’s a matter of seeing what content actually exists out there for these keywords – are there millions of results or thousands? What do the top 10 results (first page) have in common – are they long research articles, or shorter soundbites. Do they have video. More importantly – is there anything you can add that the existing content hasn’t already said? And do you reasonably think you could outrank them?

If you have existing content that is not ranking, now is the time to update it and improve it’s quality. Don’t forget to have Google perform a new crawl and index so it knows you’ve made the changes. If it’s a brand new piece of content, make sure you have a promotion strategy in place to start driving traffic early so that Google will have the page on their radar.

This information may seem overwhelming but there are two helpful tools you can use going forward. First, you can use one of the many products offered by Google such as WhatsMySerp.

You can find more products that can assist in SERP research at this link from Hubspot. A second tool can be to follow this short checklist offered by the Digital Marketing Institute.

Going Forward

If you’ve made it this far we hope you’re less fuzzy on the topic of SERPs. When your goal is to rank higher on Google, understanding the landscape and what’s ahead of you is critical before we start shooting for #1.

SERPs can be nuanced and difficult, but with practice you’ll get a feel for where the opportunities to rank are and how you can best maximize your time. Conducting SERP research into your website can be a helpful way for your business to continue making positive strides in 2020. If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to receive articles like this every month along with marketing and SEO tips.

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