SERP is the English abbreviation for Search Engine Result Pages. The search results of a search query are listed in the SERPs of search engines. The results are arranged on the search results page in descending order of relevance. Rank is calculated by search engines based on many different factors and may change as search algorithms change. Search engine providers keep secret the algorithms that determine the rankings in the SERPs. This is to prevent spam.
SERPs show the results of a search for a keyword or combination of terms in the form of snippets. These consist of a headline, a short description and the link or, depending on the length, an excerpt from the link target. With rich snippets, the result is supplemented with additional information that is read out and processed as structured data by the search engine on the relevant target page.
The number of results per SERP will vary. Typically, Google displays 10 snippets in the SERPs. However, it depends on the search query whether the SERPs are enriched with results from image search or Google News. In addition, the SERPs can use a Knowledge Graph or a Google Answer Box. If a user uses a mobile search, links to apps may also appear. In addition to so-called organic search hits, paid text or image ads are also listed on the SERPs. In contrast to the organic search hits, advertisers pay the provider a certain amount in a click auction for each click. Google displays up to four paid text ads and shopping ads above the organic search hits in the SERPs. Advertisers can create ads via the Google Ads platform.
The Google SERPs in particular have continued to develop over the past few years. After the result lists at the start of the search engine at the end of the 1990s simply displayed snippets for the link target, the SERPs today can also consist of knowledge graphs called info boxes or deliver a so-called “carousel result”. The search query decides what form the SERPs take. For example, if you search for a famous author or artist with Google, both the Knowledge Graph and the carousel appear. This change in the SERPs occurred after the Hummingbird update. Since then, Google has also been able to answer questions in the SERPs.
The SERPs can also provide information about nutrients in food directly, and if Google image search is used, clickable images appear there that lead to a new view and show the image source and the size of the graphic. Depending on the type of search, the SERPs can only consist of news, videos, book titles or images.
Google not only expanded the SERPs with the Knowledge Graph and the carousel ad in this way but also equipped them with additional functionality today. In this way, users can search for flights directly via the SERPs and start booking or reserving a hotel. In the USA, you can also order food via the SERPs.
The search engine Google is mentioned here as an example since the user can benefit from many different functions. The structure of the SERPs is similar for the largest search engine providers.
The display depends on many factors
While the SERPs were still relatively static at the beginning of the Google search in the early 2000s and were the same for almost all users within a country version of the Google search engine, the search results today depend on many different factors. On the one hand, different ranking factors still determine the placement of individual snippets. However, other signals influence the order of the results:
- Logged-in users: If a Google user is logged in with their account, the search results will be adapted to their previous use, provided their privacy settings allow this modification.
- Browser history: If a user does not clear their browser’s cache, Google receives information about previous search queries via cookies and adjusts the results accordingly.
- Location: If geo-localization is activated, Google adapts the SERPs to the respective location of the user. For example, the search results for the search term “pizza delivery service” in Berlin look different than in Munich. In the case of local search results, results from Google Maps are also increasingly integrated. In addition to geolocation, Google also uses hints in the search query to provide search results that match the user’s location.
- Device: If a user searches for a mobile device, the search results will usually be different, since Google for smartphones, for example, prefers mobile-optimized websites in the SERPs.
Ranking factors for the SERP
Google’s algorithms use more than 100 factors to determine a website’s ranking in the SERPs. A prerequisite for a ranking is that the Googlebot has crawled and indexed the page. Once these steps have been taken, the loading speed, quality of the content, quality of the incoming links, keyword focus and mobile optimization all play a relevant role. In addition, user signals such as the return-to-SERP rate or the length of stay influence the placement on the search result pages. Google also takes into account whether a website is encrypted with SSL for the SERP ranking.
Google has not yet officially confirmed how the individual factors are weighted.
Importance for search engine optimization
Better positioning in the SERPs compared to the direct competitor is the primary goal of search engine optimization. To direct as much traffic as possible to your web content through good rankings, the website must deliver the best and most relevant results for a search query, both technically and in terms of content. In addition, trust in the site and its links also plays an important role. But rankings alone do not contribute to a high click rate. With the help of a search result snippet, i.e. a meaningful meta title and a short description, you draw the user’s attention to the snippet. Ideally, such a snippet contains a request to click. Thus, snippet improvement is an important part of search engine optimization and an integral part of on-page optimization. Search engines usually use the meta title and meta description of the target page for the title and description in the snippet.
For SEOs, the focus is on the first ten hits in the result list (top 10), since 90% of the user clicks are distributed among them. An optimized snippet also increases the chance that the user will click on the result, thereby increasing the CTR. By expanding the AdWords ads to a block of four, Google has intensified the battle for the top positions in the organic SERPs. Especially with transactional keywords and keyword combinations, AdWords text ads or shopping ads are mainly used.
Rich snippets in the SERPs
Another important element is the so-called rich snippets. These are search results that have been enriched with the help of machine-readable metadata. For example, webmasters can mark up your website’s source code with officially accessible ratings as structured data using a markup language. These ratings are then displayed within the snippet in the search results. This makes a snippet more attractive to the user and more likely to click on it.
Direct answers in the SERPs
“Direct Answers” were often seen as an opportunity for rankings at position 0. Google uses content elements of a website to answer a user question and ranks them above the regular search hits. This element of the SERPs is to be expanded even further, especially in mobile search.
Due to the increasing importance of mobile internet use, SERPs continue to adapt to the needs of the users. So it is conceivable that in the future not only results from websites will appear in the result lists, but also apps or links to gadgets will be displayed for search queries with the mobile device. Already today (as of July 2015) Google is no longer just a pure provider of results, but a service provider. At the same time, the index is constantly being expanded to provide the user with SERPs tailored to him and his current situation.
Google keeps experimenting with the search results pages, so in March 2018 there were already reports of the “zero result SERPs”, in which Google dispensed with the complete organic search hits in favour of a single answer.
Marcus Tandler predicted a further development of the SERP in his presentation at the SEOkomm in Salzburg. There he spoke of Google’s “Kona” project, which will no longer rank snippets with links to URLs in the SERPs, but will also be able to rank individual content elements or entities from websites in the SERPs.