Understanding SEO: What is a SERP feature?

what is a serp feature seo

For an SEO copywriter, I sure harp on a lot about Google’s organic search results.

But there are more ways to rank on Google or the Search Engine Ranking Pages (SERPs) than with a simple blue link.

Over the years, Google’s drastically changed how it displays relevant information, and introduced a number of different links called SERP features.

So what is a SERP feature? And why should you care about them?

Because they can get you traffic. And traffic = clicks and sales.

Comprende?

 

But firstly…

 

What is a SERP feature?

Google is a whole lot more than those top 10 blue links. Over the years, Google’s gone on to add other features to help people find what they’re looking for online. These are called SERP features, and a SERP feature is anything else on Google that isn’t an organic search result.

Here's what happens when I search for "Belgium".

As you can see, there's a number of boxes, images and list on this Search Engine Ranking Page (SERP). These are called 'SERP features', and they're crucial for getting those clicks and eyeballs on your website.

 

SERP features, as of September 2016, include 4 categories:

+ Rich Snippets

+ Paid results

+ Universal results

+ Google Knowledge graph

 

Let’s explore these categories further.

 

Rich Snippets

Featured snippet

An example of a featured snippet, displayed above organic search results.

An example of a featured snippet, displayed above organic search results.

 

When you ask a specific question, Google will often extract information from the targeted page to give you the answer.

Potential to rank:

Featured snippets are usually extracted from links that already appear on the first page of Google, and use content that best answers a query.

 

In-depth article

These highlight long-form content for topics – usually broad topics that are ambiguous – like if you typed in Britain – that a user might be trying to research with no specific question or angle.

If you can’t figure out the difference between these and organic search results, you’re not alone! Google’s changed how they display in-depth articles over the years. Whereas they used to be clearly distinguishable, it's anyone's guess what they'll do next. At this time of writing, they appear to mixed in with organic search results.

 

Potential to rank:

You generally have to be a big-name publisher. These factors also help:

+ 2000+ words plus

+ Schema markup title

+ Authorship markup

+ Unique, high quality writing

 

Reviews

An example of how a review would appear as a SERP feature.

An example of how a review would appear as a SERP feature.

 

These are articles that feature stars and rating data for establishments, products and other items.

Results with reviews generally get higher click-throughs.

 

Potential to rank:

Largely determined by industry and your vertical, but you definitely need those stars in the actual article!

 

SiteLinks search box

An example of a site links search box, easily directing you to other popular pages of a website.

An example of a site links search box, easily directing you to other popular pages of a website.

 

When someone’s searching for a particular brand, Google might display a series of up to 10 sitelinks. These can generate a higher CTR, and gets users to where they need to be, faster.

 

Potential to rank:

Not everyone can appear in the SiteLinks search box. You generally have to have a big brand name, like Apple, Microsoft or Big W, and have a high volume of monthly traffic.

But let’s just say you are Coles or some behemoth brand: If you’ve received an invite from Google, you’re instantly qualified. All you’ll need to do is add the necessary code to your homepage, which will tell Google exactly what links you’d like to be displayed.

 

Tweets

An example of a Tweet as a SERP feature.

An example of a Tweet as a SERP feature.

 

Generally mixed in with organic results and dominated by trending hashtags and noteable people. Whether you’re interested in the Stranger Things finale or Brexit, Google will display top tweets related to those topics.

 

Potential to rank:

Google favours those with a large follower base and strong, relevant tweets. A strong, relevant tweet would have many @ mentions, a link with a high click-through rate, have a high number of impressions, use keywords with a high search volume, and use trending hashtags.

 

Video

An example of a video displayed as a SERP feature.

An example of a video displayed as a SERP feature.

 

Predominantly dominated by YouTube.

 

Potential to rank:

Only available for certain keywords, and requires a special kind of code called a schema markup code, which allows you to tell Google how to display the information.

 

Paid results

Adwords Top (above organic results)
Adwords Bottom (below organic results)

An example of a top position Adword link.

An example of a top position Adword link.

An example of an Adwords campaign displayed at the bottom of SERPs.

An example of an Adwords campaign displayed at the bottom of SERPs.

 

Users with a Google Adwords account bid on keywords to push their links higher. Although how much you pay greatly affects the position of your ad, Google also takes in to consideration how relevant and useful it is to users. Adwords sit above organic search results, pushing them further down the page. You can clearly see it’s an ad, as it has the green Ad image next to the link.

 

Potential to rank:

Depends on how much you pay and your keywords.

 

Shopping results

Shop ads as displayed in the SERPs.

Shop ads as displayed in the SERPs.

 

Also known as Paid Shopping and Product Listing Ads.

 

Potential to rank:

Uses the same factors as Google Ads: determined by how much you bid for that keyword and relevancy to a user’s search.

 

 

Universal Results

Image pack

An image pack, displayed to the right of organic search results in the SERPs.

An image pack, displayed to the right of organic search results in the SERPs.

 

That horizontal row of image links which takes you to Google images search.

 

Potential:

If Google thinks an image is relevant, it will display it. This will depend on how the image is optimised. Best practices include:

+ a descriptive file name

+ descriptive image alt text

+ a non-spammy URL

+ optimised image size – not too big or too small!

+ title attribute used

 

Knowledge Graph

Knowledge Card

An example of a knowledge card as a SERP feature.

An example of a knowledge card as a SERP feature.

 

Part of Google’s system launched in 2012 that displays facts about people, places and things. They generally appear at the very top of the search results.

Knowledge cards are different from other SERP features, as Google collects this data from a number of sources, not just one link.

 

Potential to rank:

Almost impossible. Knowledge cards feature data that’s been edited by an actual human, or appear as a result of an agreement with a Google partner.

 

Knowledge panel

An example of a knowledge panel, displayed to the right of a Google Adwords result and a knowledge card.

An example of a knowledge panel, displayed to the right of a Google Adwords result and a knowledge card.

 

Works like knowledge cards and appears to the right of organic search results.

 

Potential to rank:

The same as with knowledge cards. Near impossible, unless you own Wikipedia.

 

Local Pack

An example of a lack pack as a SERP feature.

An example of a lack pack as a SERP feature.

 

If youre searching for ‘tacos in Melbourne’, Google will display a Local Pack with geographical locations relevant to those keywords.

 

Potential to rank:

This is an art of itself. The first step is to add your business to Google My Business.

 

News Box

An example of a news box as a SERP feature.

An example of a news box as a SERP feature.

Highly topical and timely articles. Read: not how-to articles, advice columns, weather forecasts or stock data.

 

Potential to rank:

Generally restricted to big-name publishers with high journalistic standards, like the BBC and The Guardian.

 

Related Questions

An example of related questions for the query 'What is the population of Australia', displayed above organic search results in the SERPs.

An example of related questions for the query 'What is the population of Australia', displayed above organic search results in the SERPs.

A display of auto-generated questions that Google thinks might be relevant to your search query. Each question expands when clicked on, making this SERP feature look almost indistinguishable from a Featured Snippet.

It’s hard to pinpoint where exactly a Related Question will appear in the SERP, and they’re generally mixed in with the organic results.

 

Potential to rank:

If you’re looking for your link to rank as a related question, there’s a number of things to keep in mind:

+ Related questions feature keywords that are also featured within Featured Snippets

+ The number one link for the Feature Snippet is also displayed as the number on Related Question Snippet.

With these two things in mind, try tracking the keyword opportunities within the featured snippets.

 

Which SERP feature gets the highest click-through rate in 2016?

It depends on your keyword, your industry, and your location.

But without a doubt, organic rankings are a big deal. Just because paid ads are higher, doesn’t mean they perform better or have higher click-through rates.

And yet, while click-through rates have a correlation with positions, there is a huge range of other factors which can influence your CTR.

 

As a general rule of thumb, you need to be within the top 5 to get eyeballs and clicks. And besides trying to rank in the top 5, think about the following:

+ can you squeeze your website into a local pack?

+ Would paid aids benefits your business?

+ Could you answer a question with a high search volume by creating an article that could become part of a Featured Snippet?

 

Finishing Up: how do I find out my SERP rankings?

I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s really hard to tell what your organic CTR is for a keyword. Thanks for nothing, Google!

As Moz says:

“In the Search Analytics section of the Search Console, Google only gives you a sampling of 1,000 queries. Because you only have access to a sample of keywords, you can't arbitrarily find out a CTR for any individual keywords.

It's much easier to find our your CTR in paid search with AdWords. You can type in any word and find out what your CTR is for that word.”

 

Aside from creating an AdWords account, getting an SEO audit can be useful is gaining a whole load of insights about your website’s performance. With that information at your disposal, you can go onward to get some more keywords on your side, track how you’re ranking, and see an overall improvement in your online presence.