SEO is all about getting search engines to show your website high up on a search engine results page, better known as a SERP. You probably perform several online searches every day, scanning the results for a website that has the information you are looking for. But while we all see SERPs every day, most of us don’t fully grasp which elements mean what. This article will help you better understand a SERP so you can better understand SEO. Let’s do this!
When a user types in a search phrase (also known as a query), the search engine will provide him with a list of results, designed to be as relevant as possible to the specific query. This page of results is a SERP.
There's more than meets the eye when it comes to SERPs. Let's look at a sample SERP and break it down, then we'll teach you how to customize the way your own website appears in search engine results.
The Anatomy of a SERP
As you read in the previous article, the sites you see on the top and along the right side of the results page are usually advertisements. It’s true — some of the best real estate on the page is reserved for people willing to pay Google to display their site. These are pay-per-click, or PPC, advertisements, meaning businesses pay search engines for every person who clicks on their sponsored links.
Below the paid results, in the heart of the page, you will see the list of the top 10 organic results. These are the websites that Google has determined are the most relevant to the search terms you entered. If you want to see more results, you can click on the right arrow at the bottom of the page. This will take you to the next results page. If you had the patience, you could click through likely thousands, or even millions, of results.
If you searched for a local business, Google will display an interactive map showing the location of the top-ranked results for your query. You will also see a list of the businesses that are displayed on the map. When you click on one of these results, you’ll see the business’s location. You may also see a rating for each of the local listings (from 0-5 stars), customer reviews and even information about pricing. This data is taken from Google My Business, where anyone can set up a profile for their own business.
SEO Titles and Descriptions
For each webpage listed on the SERP, you’ll see the SEO page title and a brief description of what the website is about. You can decide what to write for the title and description of every page on your website, meaning you can choose how they show up on a SERP.
The title and description are brief texts that accurately summarize the content and focus on each page on your website, ideally with a few keywords and phrases mixed in — but more on keywords later! Your title can be up to about 60 characters long and your description up to about 160 characters long.
Businesses that have a profile and reviews in Google My Business are more likely to show up in results. As a business owner, it’s definitely worthwhile to create a customized profile on Google.
Google Gets Smart
SERPs look different depending on the specific search phrase you entered. Google’s goal is to help searchers find the information they are looking for as quickly as possible, and the SERP design can change to help facilitate this goal. For example, if you type in “my flights” while signed into your Gmail calendar, Google will immediately list any upcoming flights that it finds in your calendar. Type in “Red Sox-Yankees” and you’ll see the score from their latest match-up plus their face-offs. These kinds of results are called “rich snippets” and they are a good example of how Google tries to understand people's queries and provide them with immediate answers right on the SERP.
The most common way for your website to be included in a rich snippet is as part of the local results outlined above. To appear in a rich snippet is popularly called achieving a ‘zero ranking,’ meaning your website is even more visible than the top ranking sites on a SERP.
Now you know what SEO is, why it matters and how search results appear on a SERP.