What would the Google SERP look like if we could hop in our DeLorean and go back to 1998? First, there would still be ten listings per page, which has been the same for a long time. But back then, every listing was natural and every link went to a page on a different website.
Since then, the internet has changed, and so have the ways that people use it. But what does serp mean? What does it stand for? First, let’s talk about what it means.
What do SERPs mean?
SERP stands for “search engine results page,” which is an acronym. In short, it’s the page of search results that people see when they use a web browser to look for something.
Depending on the question, this page could have a variety of things on it, such as videos, images, news articles, products, regular websites, or even answers.
Let’s take a look at what the Google SERPs will look like in 2020.
Why the Google SERP is changing
When Google came out with AdWords in 2000, it made those simple search engine results pages from 1998 a little more complicated. This is when the SERP started to look like it does now, with ads at the top and organic listings below.
At first, only 350 advertisers were able to use AdWords. Ads are now a big part of the SERPs. Alphabet, which owns Google, is happy to make money from these ads. Here is a simple timeline of the search engine results page:
- In 2001, image search came on the scene.
- In 2005, YouTube took the online video world by storm.
- In 2007, Google came out with Universal Search. This feature put local packs, related searches, images, videos, news, etc. in the main search results.
- Google added the Knowledge Graph to the SERPs in 2012. This was a feature that gathered information about popular topics and put it at the top of the SERPs.
- In 2016, the ads on the right side of the page went away.
If you look at Google’s zero-click focus now, you can see that it has changed over time. In fact, you could say that Google SERP isn’t just a search engine anymore. It is a website on its own.
Biggest Google SERP changes
Google hasn’t changed the way the 2020 SERPs work from what they were in 2012. They keep improving the search experience with no clicks. But it’s important to talk about that because by 2019, zero-click SERPs were more common. One study done through the summer of 2019 found that more than half of all searches end without clicking on any other links.
Google will keep adding features that help people find the information they need without having to click on any links in 2020.
Sales on the SERPs
Google is becoming more than just a search engine. Depending on the industry or topic, it is becoming a sales tool as well. Its goal is to get involved in the sales process and keep the searcher on Google properties until the final checkout.
Hotel rooms are a good example.
Want to find a place to stay in Chicago? You can now book your room through a widget on the Google SERP. Also, you can filter the results right in the SERPs! Put the dates in. Sort by best match, cheapest price, or highest rating. Choose how many people will be there. Choose whether you want to look at customer ratings or hotel classes (or both).
Just let Google know if you’d rather bring your dog. Maybe you want to park for free? No problem. How about a hotel that is good for kids? Yes, you should also name that.
You can also switch between options with different maximum prices, right down to the dollar.
Would it be easier to choose a hotel if you could see them on a map? Don’t worry, just click on the map that comes up in the SERP. Sort through your choices until you find the exact hotel, room, price, location, and amenities you want.
Then, click on the button that says “Book a Room.”
Even though the final checkout may happen on the hotel’s website, 90% of the process happens in Google SERP. You can sometimes book a place to stay right in the Google environment. In either case, the search results page is what makes the sale happen.
Case study: Google SERP click-through rates are going down
I saw firsthand how fewer clicks affected a longtime customer. In the first half of 2016 and the first half of 2018, the client’s site was number one for a search term that was used more than 60,000 times a month.
You might think that the traffic between the two times would be similar. Not even close.
Over the course of two years, the number of organic sessions to the same page with the same organic rankings went down by 27%. This meant that the client had to go to 26,000 fewer sessions! Now, there are a lot of ads and instant answers from Google search on that SERP.
What should an SEO expert who wants to get more traffic do? We’ll make it. For now, let’s look at how the zero-click SERP is put together.
Google SERP is made up of
How Google SERPs look
Since a long time ago, there hasn’t been a “standard” way for Google SERPs to look. Instead, the layout changes depending on what you search for. Google will figure out which of its features will help you the most with your search and show you a mix of those.
This could lead to answer boxes, featured snippets, related questions, see results about, tweets, carousels, shopping results, or the knowledge panel. It might come up with AMP pages or local listings. The SERP is full of things that Google has made. There are a limited number of these things, but they can be put together in different ways.
The SERP with no click
Many of these parts are made to help users find the answers they need as quickly as possible. The answer box is the best way to see this in action. Want to know what the temperature is right now? Want to make sure what time your favorite sports team plays? Want to know how old your favorite famous person is? Your best friend is the answer box.
But why does Google care so much about searches with no clicks? Google’s bottom line would be better if people didn’t click away from the search engine. But underneath the cynicism is a real interest in how the user feels.
Google’s success as a business depends on giving searchers the best, most accurate, and easy-to-use results they can. In the past, that meant giving users the best list of web pages that matched their queries.
Google found out along the way that people often ask simple questions, like “How old is Queen Elizabeth?” In that case, it would not be a good idea to send someone to a random web page where they would have to read a whole biography to find the answer. The best thing to do is just tell them what to do.
So there is a reason for all the fuss about zero-click. You can be sure that Google would stop doing it if it wasn’t good for the user.
Panel of experts
A knowledge panel is like a bigger, better answer box. If you Google a person, place, or historical event, the search engine will pull information from many reliable sources, including ones that people have edited, like Wikipedia. They can also use their own index and data from private data partnerships. The results look a lot like a Wikipedia page, but you don’t have to go to Wikipedia to see them.
The answer box and the knowledge panel are both examples of featured snippets. A featured snippet is a highlighted piece of information that appears at the top of the search results and has a link to a website (or websites) where you can learn more. Most SEO experts don’t see featured snippets as traffic-stealing competitors. Instead, they see them as the best of the best: the elusive “position zero” in the search results.
And while the answer box and knowledge panel may rely heavily on trusted sources like Wikipedia, other types of featured snippets will pull information from the website that has it the best organized, optimized, and trustworthy way. Almost any type of content that helps people is fair game, from “how to” guides to “best of” lists of products.
Almost every Google SERP layout has the same list of ten organic results, whether it has a featured snippet or not. A rich result in this list is one that is more than just a blue website link. This can be as simple as a link to the website with several links to internal pages underneath. Or it can have reviews, carousels, or any other feature that uses structured data markup.
The best part is that adding structured data markup to your code is often all you need to do to get rich snippets. But it’s important to keep in mind that structured data is not a factor in ranking. Still, it can make your listings stand out, so it’s usually a good idea to use.
Still, the list of structured data options is long and growing, and adding each one to your site would be a waste of time. Even though the markup is there, it doesn’t mean that Google will use it. Look at the search engine results pages (SERPs) for priority keywords and make note of the types of rich results that show up most often or that make sense for the search. Think about those. And follow Google’s rules for structured data.
The natural search results
By definition, organic results are anything in the SERP that is not a paid advertisement. Most SEOs, on the other hand, mean the list of 6–10 blue links when they say “organic search results.”
After the core update in January 2020, the SERP on both mobile and desktop looks almost the same. Now, a Favicon and a breadcrumb trail are part of each organic listing. On the next line is the page title, and below that is the meta description. If your listing has links to other sites, those links will show up under the meta description.
Is what you’re looking for newsworthy? Then you can expect to see some Top Stories with your search results. These are news stories from (mostly) reliable sites that are 100% based on algorithms, mostly based on keywords, when they were published, and how popular the site or article was. Even though blog posts and AMP pages sometimes make it into Top Stories, the best way to get one of these spots is to be a publisher or media site. If that’s not possible, try to get them to talk about you or your products.
Videos and pictures come up
Google will include video results (thumbnails with links to the videos) and image results if it thinks they are helpful (a collection of images pulled from Google Images, with a link to see more). Are you having trouble getting on the first page of Google for a keyword that is very popular? Then optimizing your videos and pictures could be your way in.
Results from Twitter
If a search brings up “Top Stories,” it’s likely that it will also bring up “Top Tweets.” After all, popular topics are often shown on social media. Like news stories, the top Tweets are found using a simple search algorithm: a keyword or hashtag, how recently they were posted, and how popular they are.
Sitelinks are a type of structured data markup that lets your site’s internal or organizational pages show up below the home page in the search engine results pages (SERPs). These usually show up when you search for a brand name. But you can make your site work better for them if you use jump links (also called anchor links) and mark them up with navigational HTML.
Also, people who ask
Google will sometimes give you a list of related questions along with your search results to get you to look into them further. If you like meta examples, here are the ones that come up when you type “people also ask Google” into Google:
Because this element can go into more detail about a subject, it’s a great place to look for keywords or content ideas.
Results from a local search
Local SEO is not just for businesses in the same area. It is also used by big companies that have physical stores nearby. And the SERP layout looks very different when Google thinks you’re looking for a business near you.
There are two main kinds of reviews that can show up in the SERPs: reviews from Google and reviews from structured data. The website’s search results may include star ratings for products, recipes, and other things based on reviews pulled from structured data.
Google reviews are the company’s answer to Yelp, and they will show up on their own without any information from the website. As you might expect, these only show up for real-world stores.
But Google has decided that “self-serving” reviews will no longer show up in the SERPs after September 2019. Basically, this means that Google will “no longer show review-rich results for the schema types LocalBusiness and Organization (and their subtypes) when the entity being reviewed controls the reviews themselves.”
The local pack, which is also called the 3-pack or maps pack, shows a large map next to or above three local businesses that meet the searcher’s needs.
If your business isn’t in a small town or a niche industry, it can be hard to get into the “3-pack.” Fill out your Google My Business page in full and ask for reviews!
Find out about more places
If you click on “More places” in the picture above, you’ll get what you probably expected.
This list looks like a carousel if you’re on a mobile device.
Speaking of carousels, Google’s local search results used to be shown in a horizontal carousel. In 2014, they stopped doing it and switched to 3-Packs, but they don’t seem ready to give up the idea just yet. In 2017, they tried a different kind of carousel in their town. And they did it again in the summer of 2019 with local carousels.
Will we see the local carousel again in 2020? Nobody knows for sure, but our money is on “no.” The 3-Pack is easier to use on mobile devices, and because the carousel is less selective, spammy business listings can show up in the results. “Discover More Places” is also a great middle ground.
The related search queries at the bottom of the page are a great source of information for your keyword research. You might find different ways to say something or topics that overlap that you hadn’t thought of before. If Google goes out of its way to show them to you, they are probably important.
Paid results in a search
Last but not least, we have the tried-and-true paid results. There are PPC ads and PLAs among these (Product Listing Ads – also known as Google Shopping feeds). Google ads can show up above or below search results, but only four PPC ads can show up above results (PLA carousels can contain more).
Adjust your website for the new Google SERP
Today, search engine optimization (SEO) means that you should see the Google SERP as a partner and not as something to beat. So, instead of worrying about how much morning traffic you’ve lost to the zero-click SERP, think about how you can use this SEO trend to make money with your marketing.
What do you get out of having a featured snippet? From being one of the three? From giving the user the most important answer to his or her question? Or from taking up most of the SERP space for a high-priority search term (organic listings, Google news, videos, Twitter, and images)?
The answer is that you will still get more people to your website. Google will never put complicated information, how-tos, or long articles in the SERP because that would be a bad experience for users. If you want to compare prices, you’ll have to look at more than one website (Google Shopping has plenty of limitations). You’ll have to click through if you want to see something up close, read more than the headline, or watch a video.
So the new Google SERP is not a limit; it is a platform. But optimizing your website for the SERPs is different from optimizing your website for SEO, and to be successful, you need a holistic approach. Enterprise SEO from MTB Strategy includes a deep online SERP analysis to help you compete for the keywords that really bring people to your website.
Questions to help you get to the top of Google's search results:
- Which of your searches doesn’t get you any clicks?
- How can your brand be the place where Google SERP users go to find answers?
- What are the different SERP features for the keywords you want to rank for?
- Which keywords in the SERPs have a higher CTR? (and are less likely to be cannibalized by the new Google SERP features).
- Look for long-tail keywords that people are less likely to know the answer to right away.
- Is Google joining the process, so that a Google partner program, widget, etc., becomes a new factor in how a searcher makes a decision?
- How can you make your organic listings stand out and be more appealing?
Don’t waste too much SEO time on queries that won’t get you any clicks. Get in touch with our team to get real results.