You see them every time you look for information on the web. Those pages that list all the websites that match the keywords you typed. But what are those pages and how do the search engines determine the order in which they appear for you. Whether you’re searching for the pizza place that you heard so much about, but can’t remember the name of or are looking to book to your next vacation, search engines use algorithms (a formula to determine priority) to give you that list of website options.
WHAT IS A SERP?
SERP officially stands for Search Engine Results Page. This is the page that displays the list of websites when you type words into the search engine and click ‘search’ (a search query). One of the amazing things about every SERP is that they are usually all different. Try typing in a search term and look at the results you get; then click on one. Now go back to the search engine and type in the exact same keyword. Did your SERP change? Even if you don’t notice any glaring differences, I can almost guarantee that there are very small changes that occurred. Why would a SERP change for the same user typing in the same query you ask? Because search engines want to give users a customized experience by presenting SERPs based on influences beyond just their search terms. The search engines will use things such as your browsing history and your current location as factors in the search results list you get. In this case, your previous browsing history on the keyword is factored in and you will get different results based on the result you clicked on.
HOW SEARCH RESULTS ARE PRESENTED ON A SERP
There are a few ways that results can appear on SERPs. The most common is the traditional organic result. However there are other results on the SERP page such as images, paid ads, news feeds, and more that have expanded results for queries.
Originally SERPs only showed organic results. Organic results are listings that appear based on the search engines algorithm in relation to the search term. Currently organic listings are usually the only results to appear on a SERP for what the search engines determine to be ‘informational’ search terms. Say for instance your 6th grader is writing a report on George Washington. When you type in his name, you will most likely see links to only organic material as the search engines have determined that most people searching for G.W. do not necessarily want to purchase products or services related to the first president of the United States.
These results are listed by how important the search engines deem them to be in relation to the search query. There are several ranking signals that factor into the organic SERP results such as:
• Search Term Website Content Relevance
• Website Link Profile
• Time and Date of Publication
• Social Shares
• Brand Mentions
Some signals are more important than others and those signals are constantly changing. And although following SEO best practices won’t guarantee your placement on page one of a SERP, it is a good place to start.
Search changed in late 2000 when Google launched AdWords and Yahoo launched Overture. At first, advertisements were limited to small, text-based formats that were displayed right above the organic results on SERPs. Today there are many different formats to paid ads to leverage the search engine’s reach. Below are the three most common types of paid ads:
Pay Per Click (PPC)
PPC ads in their most basic form are text ads. On the SERP they can appear above, beneath or to the right of the organic search results.
With mobile access being the dominate search method Google has adapted to put greater emphasis on personalized results based on the user’s location. These ads are typically displayed toward the top of the SERP. They’re usually presented with other relevant information such as user reviews and maps, making users better informed about the companies they’re searching.
Using a carousel-type format, shopping ads provide e-commerce websites with a method of display that shows an image with pricing. They are usually displaced above organic results but can show up in other places on the SERP.
In addition to the Organic and Ad results found on SERPS, there are additional ‘features’ that can appear on a search engine results page. Some of the most common features are:
• Rich Snippets – which add a visual layer to an existing result (e.g., review stars for product ratings)
• Universal Results – that appear in addition to organic results (e.g., image results, new results, featured snippets)
• Knowledge Graph – data which appears as panels or boxes
The foundation to anything Google is their secret algorithms. As internet users are becoming more savvy, Google adjusts and refines SERPs to improve user experience. In the end, it means delivering information when and where users want it…which is the ultimate goal, isn’t it?