If you work with online content, you have probably heard the terms "SERP" and "SERP features" mentioned before. Being familiar with these terms is not the same as having a true understanding of SERPs meaning. So, what are SERPs?
SERP is short for Search Engine Results Page. Each page has both search results and other items on it, known as SERP features. This guide aims to inform you what the 10 most popular SERP features are, what they mean, and why they are important.
What Are SERP Features?
SERP features are any additional elements that appear on a search results page beyond the standard organic results. The following four SERP features typically appear on nearly every page of results:
- Paid results that have been purchased by individuals or businesses bidding on keywords through Google Shopping, for example, or AdWords
- Knowledge graph data that show up in boxes or panels, such as your local weather
- Rich snippets that add layers to the offered results, like the number of stars on product rating reviews
- Universal results that show up along with the organic results, which may include featured snippets, new results, and image results
Sometimes, all four of these might appear on the same page of search results. At other times, only one or two will be displayed. Most SERP results looked the same during Google's early days, and not a lot about those organic results has changed.
In 2001, Google created AdWords, which was rebranded as Google Ads in 2018. Since the start of this advertising service, a lot of other non-organic results have also started appearing on Google search results.
10 Most Popular SERP Features
While there are many SERP features, the following 10 are the ones that are routinely seen by online searchers. They are also the best ones for tracking information about content, site engagement, and other factors that are important to online life.
1. Google Search Ads
It should not come as any surprise that Google Ads is on this list. As a SERP feature, it is easily among the most noticeable and recognizable. There are many different forms for these ads, as they have changed and evolved over time. The most common option for Google Ads is either at the top or the bottom of the organic search results list.
There is an "Ad" label next to it, and how well an ad rank is based on its relevance to a person's search, the bid placed by the advertising company, and additional factors. Companies that want to be found online often pay Google Ads for better placement, so they can show up in the SERPs of their intended audiences. The higher the bid, the more likely they are to be successful, provided they have the right search terms that fit with audience interest.
2. Knowledge Panel
Knowledge panels cover information derived from human-edited sources, Google's index, and partnerships that Google has with companies that provide privately-collected data.
For a laptop or desktop search, for example, the knowledge panel information is typically displayed at the top of the SERP. Most websites are not able to get their information onto a knowledge card due to the specific nature of the kind of data included and the relationships of the data collectors to Google. Still, understanding what goes onto a knowledge card can be very useful. It allows companies to prioritize targeted keywords, and understand the kinds of data Google stores regarding those keywords, too.
3. Featured Snippet
Google typically pulls search results from the core knowledge graph. But when it is working to provide a concise answer to a question, it will look in the index instead. This creates a different type of organic listing because the information is being extracted from the target page. While organic results may be sufficient for most companies to gain traction online, a featured snippet will generally have higher click-through rates (CTRs).
For pages that are already high ranking, such as those that would typically show up in the top five for a search query, featured snippets can add an extra boost. They will take content from pages that are the most specific about answering the question, and usually, only the top-ranking option is displayed. On rare occasions, there may be featured snippets from several pages, if those pages all rank relatively equally.
4. Local Pack
The local pack can be one of the most important SERP features for companies that are trying to draw an audience. If Google recognizes a search as having local intent — like the inclusion of the phrase "near me," a specific city, or another geographic region — the search results will frequently contain a local pack. This pack has three locations that Google sees as being the most relevant to the keywords searched.
Especially on mobile devices, the local pack feature is dominant in the SERP. Because of significant changes in local search engine optimization (SEO) practices in recent years, companies that want to be found this way need to be familiar with what Google expects. Local SEO is its own discipline, and Google's local space is something companies need to carefully understand so they can have the best chance of making the top three when searchers are looking for what they offer locally.
5. Local Teaser Pack
The local teaser pack has similarities to the local pack, also displaying three results in a group. The difference is that this pack is more focused on including additional information such as reviews, hours, and pictures. This is common for restaurants and hotels because searchers generally want more than just a shortlist of the closest places. They also want to know if they are open, how much they cost, what they offer, and if other people like them.
Also, like the local pack, this feature is dominant on mobile devices and requires strong familiarity with Google's local space. Companies that are not using this feature correctly are often overlooked for the pack, which can lead to them falling behind their competition. When a company focuses on meeting Google's requirements for local businesses though, it may see itself appearing in these results more easily.
6. Image Packs
Just as the name implies, these are images instead of text-based SERP features. They typically appear in a horizontal row, and when they are clicked, the user is taken to a Google Images search for the subject of the image. These packs frequently show up in various positions on the page, but they are included where organic content would be shown.
When one of these packs appears, it is due to Google deeming that there is value in visual content related to the search. The algorithm used for this determination is not the same as the core algorithm that produces text-based search results. For businesses that want to have their images turn up in these SERP features, some best practices that should be followed include:
- Using descriptive alt text and file names
- Having a human-readable URL
- Using an image size with proper optimization
- Having a title attribute
While those best practices do not guarantee image placement in SERPs, they provide important value that Google is looking for when displaying images.
7. News Box
Some topics are very time-sensitive and newsworthy, and that can mean they will appear as generated Google News results when a searcher looks for a keyword related to them. They generally have their own box in the SERP features so that searchers can find them more easily and recognize their importance. In 2014, Google created an "in the news" update that made it easier for more types of information (and more kinds of sites) to qualify for this space.
Getting your site and its offerings into Google News involves a very different process than the one used for traditional, organic SERP information. The process itself is fairly transparent and gives many companies with newsworthy topics a better chance at reaching online searchers who are looking for what they offer.
Most people browsing the web like to see reviews when they are searching for a company, product, recipe, or unique experience, like visiting a theme park. The review search feature provides additional information, such as star rating, right after the URL and before the snippet. That makes it easy for searchers to take a look and decide whether they want to click on that result. Sites that have reviews generally have higher CTRs overall.
Schema markup that allows for reviews is required on any site that wants to be included in the reviews SERP feature, but the rest of what is needed for this qualification is not known. Google does not publish what is required for stars, and verticals and industries can have different requirements. The best thing a site can do is make sure to follow any known or commonly accepted rules about stars and reviews, and hope for the best.
9. In-Depth Article
Sometimes a search is very ambiguous, or it is simply too broadly focused to return any specific results. In those cases, the SERPs will return a block of articles that look very much like organic results, but they are not. In-depth articles follow ranking rules that are not the same as the more traditional results. Another important note with these SERPs is that they are mostly filled by large companies, instead of smaller sites and businesses.
A three-article block of these in-depth pieces will appear in one organic position. These are often:
- High-quality, unique writing with dedicated authorship
- Long-form content, typically between 2,000 and 5,000 words
- News or investigative pieces
While other types of articles can make their way into these SERP offerings, most in-depth articles are not a focus for ghostwriting or small businesses. It is typically difficult for that type of content — and often its creators — to qualify for this category.
10. Related Questions
Sometimes people search for a topic or subject the best way they know-how, but there might be other ways of searching for similarly phrased ideas that could provide them with better overall results. The related questions SERP feature is one of the ways to help online searchers find more of what they are looking for. When a question is clicked by a searcher, it expands into something very similar to what a featured snippet offers. Because related questions are mixed in with organic results, the location they have in the SERP is variable.
To get a site into the related questions field, it helps to have a site that is also likely to qualify for featured snippets. In the majority of cases:
- The top related question is also the top featured snippet
- Related questions and featured snippets share keywords
Sites that have the top-related question may see a bump in their CTRs, but there is additional value to be considered with these questions. Seeing the types of questions related to a search is a great way to find more keywords for featured snippets. Sites that look through related questions and track that question as a separate search may find a featured snippet. They can then adjust their keywords to "win" that snippet, increasing their traffic.
How to Get a SERP Feature?
Google's algorithm has several ranking factors to determine what appears on the search engine and what earns various SERP features. To gain a feature, such as a snippet or a video carousel, you should optimize your content. Provide direct answers to common search queries in your copy. Make sure your post matches the search intent and you're using the target search term throughout your article.
Earning a SERP feature generates additional links to your website, and establishes your business as a knowledgeable source of information. By earning just a few search result features, you can take up a large percentage of the search results page. It should be a key part of any site's SEO Strategy.
The Bottom Line on SERPs
Asking "What is a SERP?" is only the first question on a website's journey toward getting found. Sites that are dedicated to having the best Google search rankings will want to make sure they are taking full advantage of all the Google SERP features they can qualify for. Depending on the site, offerings, and industry, there may be some SERP features that are simply out of reach. Trying for the rest of them, though, is a good way to maximize potential when it comes to getting found more easily.