What are SERPs and Why are They Important?

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Search engine results pages (or SERPs) are search engines’ response to a user’s search query. SERPs will always include organic results and paid results along with other features like Featured Snippets, Local Pack, and video results.

SERPs has many features but two are especially important in SEO: organic search results and paid search results. These are the two results you’ll see when you enter a search query and probably the ones you care most about.

Organic results are earned by websites determined by search engines to be the overall best match for a search query.

Paid results come from advertisers who bid on keywords and have the highest ad relevancy. You’ll always see paid results first in the top 3 or 4 positions, before organic results.

Why are SERPs Important to SEO?

SERPs help determine how your site appears on a search query, if at all. Depending on searches, it may be difficult to rank on the first page.

Some keywords have more competition. If you appear organically on this first page, you may be pushed down by paid search ads.

Search engine result page showing organic results below three paid search results.

So, if you’re on the first page, you may not even get a click on your website. But, some keywords don’t have the same competition.

Organic search results for "beagle diet plan".

This is a goldmine for organic rankings. It’s all blue links with no ads which means you have a good chance of ranking higher.

Another important factor in SERPs is having a website that provides the best and most relevant information.

Google is all about finding people the best answers to their search queries. This means your site has to provide the most valuable information to have a chance at ranking on the search results.

Elements of SERPs

We all have an idea of what search results look like, but there are different elements Google includes. The results page changes largely based on what you’re searching for. Searching for a recipe may look different than if you’re searching for a product.

So let’s get into some of the elements of a typical SERP.

Organic Search Results

Organic results are listings that most closely match a user’s search query. Google determines organic rankings using their algorithm which includes many ranking factors.

Some of these ranking factors include:

Organic results are considered as one of the most valuable traffic sources. Google has become a trusted source for information because they’re very particular about their rankings. Though it can be difficult to rank on the first page, once you’re there the benefits are long-lasting.

Paid Search Results

Paid search results appear at the very top of results in 3 or 4 positions. These results use a pay-per-click method and marked with an “Ad” icon beside the URL.

Paid search results for "keto diet".

Ads at the top of the SERP can indicate a higher level of competition for a keyword. Sometimes, for competitive high-value keywords, Google places ads at the bottom of the page.

Paid search results at the bottom of the search results page.

Since there are many ads at the top and bottom of results, they can distract you from the organic rankings. Especially when you see a paid result that is relevant to your query.

Paid search can take away from your organic traffic. But, keywords with lots of competition show that they have high commercial intent and can be valuable. They shouldn’t always be given up on.

Featured Snippets

Featured Snippets are a section of content pulled from a website that quickly answers a question.

Featured snippet for "hypoallergenic dogs" search showing a list of hypoallergenic dogs.

The Feature Snippets box appears above organic rankings and often appears as a paragraph. They can also appear as a bulleted list, a numbered list, or a table.

Most recently Google has started to add video snippets, too.

Video snippet for "how to to stir cake batter" on Google.

Video feature snippets will include a suggested clip time. When you click the video, it will play at that time so you don’t have to watch the whole video.

Knowledge Graph and Knowledge Card

Knowledge graphs and cards usually show up on the right side and top of the organic results.

A knowledge graph essentially highlights all the information about an important person or company.

Knowledge Graph for Albert Einstein

Knowledge cards can also show up at the very top of SERP and are a quick answer to a knowledge-based question.

Knowledge panel for population of Canada

Most of the data for a knowledge graph and panel are picked from sources like Wikipedia, Google index, and private data partnerships.

Shopping Ads

Google Shopping Results, also known as Product Listing Ads, are results that appear for searches with a product keyword.

Google Shopping Ad for  men's Adidas running shoes.

These results can appear at the top of the page or the side. They display products from retailers using Google Shopping.

Shopping ads feature an image of the product, price, and retailer name. It will also include extra information like a product review or shipping cost to attract customers.

Local Pack

Local pack shows location-based searches like “mexican restaurant Toronto”. Results are shown based on the search query and location of the user.

Local pack search for Mexican restaurants.

They can also appear when Google feels that a normal search needs some local results. If you search for “plumber”, Google might show you some results for plumbers in your area.

Local packs are very important for local businesses. It’s one of the best ways customers find your store so it’s important to be familiar with Google’s local features.

People Also Ask

This is a feature that appears usually in the middle of the organic results. It gives you suggestions for questions that are similar to your search query. 

People also ask panel for Las Vegas trip.

When you click on one, it expands to show you the answer to that question.

As you click on more questions, the box will expand to add more related questions that appear on the SERP.

Google Image Results

Also known as image packs, Google Image results are displayed as a horizontal row of image links or a pack of images.

Google will show images for special searches where Google feels visual content makes more sense, like this one: 

Google Image results for 67 Mustang.

Google will show multiple thumbnails of images along with other organic search results.

Video Results

Video results usually come from YouTube and display 3 thumbnail videos. They also include a carousel where you can scroll to see more video options.

Google video results for "How to work out at the gym".

Like image results, video results only appear for certain keywords. If Google feels that a video is more valuable, they’ll include it in SERP.

Final Thoughts

Search engine result pages offer many features that help users find what they’re looking for. The more you understand these features and how they work, the better you can use them to your advantage. Some of these features are difficult to appear in the results page. But, if you have a strong SEO foundation you can start to improve your rankings.

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