Here's our breakdown of what you should expect to see on a SERP and how you can optimize your business' website and online listings to make sure that you stay on top of the competition!
Rundown of a SERP
Let's say that we're feeling a little bit tired in the mid-afternoon and decide to go for some coffee. We Google for "coffee" and get served up a fresh SERP. Typically, that SERP looks something like this:
That's a lot of information (1.74 billion results, to be specific)! Back in the day, a search query would yield organic results relevant to the keywords (or phrases) searched for. Those results would be ranked by the search engine's algorithms to provide the most accurate, relevant, and trustworthy results.
It wasn't long before Google and other search engines realized that the ranking of businesses on SERPs was something worth money (and quite a lot of it!). In fact, less than 5% of users click on links after the 4th organic link displayed in a query. Google realized that businesses would be willing to pay a price to "jump the line" and get ahead of their competition on SERPs.
The image above shows what a SERP looks like today. The first thing that you'll notice is that we're barely seeing any organic search results at all without scrolling down! In fact, many queries will be so cluttered with ads, map results, and other non-organic results that you won't see anything without scrolling down a bit.
Knowledge Is Power
Half of the screen in our SERP is taken up by Google's "knowledge graph" card, an algorithmically-generated box with useful stats or information about your query. You'll frequently see these when you're googling for a generic term (like "coffee") or a specific famous person/place/thing (like "The Beatles").
If you're searching for a local business (like "BizTraffic"), the knowledge card may appear with business photos, map information, operating hours, and contact information. If you're smart, you'll include special markup code on your website to help search engines like Google to pull this information from your website to display in their search results.
In the sample photo for this section for "Good Records," you can see that there are a ton of super useful informational snippets that Google has picked up on from the business' website and included in the SERP. There's a map, some photos (and a "see inside" option to view a virtual tour!), FAQ section, reviews (from both Google and Thrillist), and even how packed you should expect the business to be at a given time of day!
These kinds of "rich snippets" are the kind of information that you can use to set yourself apart from the competition in search results. In case it's not clear: If your business isn't using markup code to give Google as much info as they can fit on a SERP, you're doing it wrong.
Ads, Ads, Ads
The other looming factor in your business' SEO efforts is paid search. These are the advertised search results that look conspicuously like regular search results (except for a small "Ad" label in the corner) that show up at the top of the SERP.
Over the past few years, Google has gotten so aggressive with these ads that, between the ads and Google's algorithmically-derived content, you may not see any organic search results without scrolling down a bit!
So what can your business do? Well, if you can't beat 'em, out-bid them! Check out our extensive write-up on the advantages (and disadvantages) of SEO and pay-per-click (PPC) strategies. With proper preparation and use of analytics, you can outsmart your competitors and hop to the top of the search results for queries that actually matter.