We’ve come a long way since the super-simple search results pages of Google’s early years.
What used to be a humble list of ranked results is now a rich, dynamic experience filled with fun features and helpful tools that take the guesswork out of finding information.
Naturally, search engine optimization (SEO) has evolved right alongside Google and the rest of the major search engines.
That means an effective SEO campaign is no longer simply about dominating Google’s central list of organic results.
To maximize your visibility, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with as many of today’s SERP features as possible and learn to optimize for them.
Let’s go over what you need to know to put Google’s current SERP layout to work for you and meet your marketing goals.
What are SERPs?
Short for “search engine results page,” a SERP is the collection of results you get after completing a search query on Google, Yahoo, Bing, or any other search engine.
As any digital marketer knows, these results are painstakingly ranked according to many criteria.
A high SERP ranking is the ultimate goal of any SEO campaign and with good reason.
The vast majority of search engine users click on the results toward the top of a SERP, so the closer a given site can get to the first position, the more successful it will be.
What are SERP Features?
Conduct a Google search on any topic these days, and you’ll notice the resulting SERP contains a lot more than just a simple list of results.
Instead, you’ll see various panels presented in several different formats, the better to inform you on the subject you’re looking to learn about.
These are collectively known as SERP features. Examples include (but aren’t necessarily limited to) an image carousel, a knowledge panel, interactive maps, and more.
Collectively, SERP features not only help search engine users better find what they’re looking for but can provide valuable search intent insight for marketers.
How Does the Google Algorithm Influence Result Pages?
With a near limitless amount of digital information out there these days, it would be next to impossible to find anything specific you were looking for without a reliable way to sort through it.
That’s what the Google algorithm does every single time you perform a search query.
It measures, assesses, and ranks the many possibilities to determine which are the most relevant to your query before presenting them to you as a nice, neat SERP.
Although no one knows definitively how the algorithm decides to rank a searcher’s results, modern marketers do understand a bit about the factors that help Google populate a SERP. They include:
- Meaning and intent behind a query.
- Web page relevance (as determined by keyword matching, interaction data, etc.).
- Content quality and depth.
- User experience delivered by a page.
- Contextual user information (like location, search settings, or past search activity).
Google collects ranking information via a three-step process that starts when Google bots crawl a site looking for updates and new information. Google then indexes pages within a massive database before serving them to search users according to relevance.
8 Most Important SERP Features
These days, no SEO strategy can really be considered complete until it considers all of Google’s current SERP features.
Not only does learning your way around these features help you achieve higher rankings, but it can open an enlightening window into the minds of your target audience.
Here’s a look at some of the essential examples to know.
1. Advertising Banks
Every digital marketer and SEO professional knows there are two types of Google search results — organic results and paid results.
Although there’s a unique system in place for ranking paid ads, as well as a strategy for making sure your ads make the grade, you can always count on paid results to appear in certain key sections of a SERP.
These days, those sections occupy the positions directly above and below a SERP’s organic results.
You can improve your Google Ad rank by ensuring your ads are relevant and well-composed, as well as by increasing your max bid.
2. Featured Snippets
A featured snippet is a dynamic box that showcases a section from one of the top organic results on a given SERP when a searcher completes an informational query.
If your search includes one, it will be located directly below the upper ad bank but above the other organic results. Many marketers call the featured snippet “position zero” for this reason.
You can increase your chances of snagging a featured snippet by making sure you rank within the top ten search results for relevant queries.
You’ll also want to focus on informational intent by directly answering questions searchers are likely to ask when seeking pages like yours.
3. Rich Snippets
Rich snippets look a lot like standard organic search results. However, they contain extra lines of additional information right at the bottom.
What those lines contain depends on the search query. For example, a rich snippet within a SERP for a recipe query might contain calorie information or cooking time, while a movie-related example might show runtime or rating instead.
You can optimize for rich snippets by creating a structured data markup for your site.
This helps Google better understand your data, making it easier for it to be chosen for a rich snippet-style feature.
4. Image Packs
Just as Google can recognize informational intent, it can also identify visual intent. When this happens, an image carousel or image panel will likely be part of the SERP.
The best way to qualify for inclusion in an image pack is to remember to optimize all of your images, a step many marketers overlook and undervalue.
Create SEO-friendly images by adding appropriate alt tags, captions, and file names.
Include target keywords when relevant, and ensure any surrounding text is appropriately descriptive.
5. Video Carousels
Video carousels are another of Google’s visual SERP features, appearing in response to queries identified as having visual intent.
They’re also likely to pop up on SERPs related to how-to questions or DIY queries. Sometimes, video carousel results will even include timestamps to direct searchers to particularly valuable segments.
As with images, the best way to qualify videos for potential inclusion in SERP features like carousels is to keep searcher intent in mind when optimizing for SEO.
Aim to answer a user’s questions in as clear and concise a way as possible. Include relevant keywords in your video script, as well as your title, description, and file name.
Using YouTube to optimize and host your videos is also advisable, as Google owns the platform and favors video results from there.
6. Knowledge Panels
Knowledge panels are also among the SERP features that can appear when a search has informational intent.
They’re located on the righthand side of the SERP and pull relevant data from various potential sources.
Examples include Wikipedia, Google Maps, Google My Business, and branded web pages.
There’s a good chance that a search query on your business already generates a knowledge panel. If this is the case, the best way to ensure the information displayed is correct is to claim, complete, and optimize your Google My Business profile.
Other potential results — as with Wikipedia-related details — aren’t really within your control.
7. “People Also Ask” Boxes
A “People Also Ask” box appears typically appears nestled within the first couple of organic results on a given SERP.
It contains a list of tabs labeled with questions related to the original search, the better to offer the searcher easy access to additional information that might be helpful to them.
Each tab opens up to reveal a rich snippet-like information block pulled from a relevant web page.
The process of qualifying for inclusion in a “People Also Ask” box is similar to that related to rich snippets. Look for ways to directly answer questions search users might have in concise, easy-to-understand ways. (Try to do it in 50 words or fewer.)
Organizing your on-page content with H1, H2, and H3 headings also makes it easier for Google’s crawl bots to assess your content.
8. Local Map Packs
If you’ve ever performed a Google search with local search intent, then you’ve likely seen a local map pack before.
Local map packs typically showcase three different physical locations that fit the query.
In addition to a Google Map showing where the establishment in question can be found, map packs may also include photos, contact information, business hours, reviews, and other info designed to help searchers make decisions.
If you own a traditional brick-and-mortar business or are otherwise looking to attract customers to a physical location, optimizing for SERP features like map packs is a must.
As with knowledge panels, you can best do this by claiming your Google My Business profile and keeping it up to date.
You can also actively solicit reviews and ratings from satisfied customers.
Knowing, understanding, and optimizing for Google’s most important SERP features are potent ways to maximize your chances of snagging key placements within relevant search listings.
But a firm foundation in keyword knowledge is still among the most critical assets a digital marketer can have in their corner.
Check out our comprehensive guide to keyword rankings for an in-depth look at everything you need to know about keyword ranking to boost your SERP position and attract valuable organic traffic.
You’ll discover how to check your keyword ranking and improve it to maximize your results!