SERP is the abbreviation for Search Engine Result Pages. In the SERPs of search engines, the search results of a search query are listed. They results are organized by relevance in descending order. The ranking is calculated by the search engine provider based on many different factors and can change by changing the search algorithms. Search engine providers keep the algorithms that determine the rankings in the SERPs secret to prevent spam.
SERPs show the results of searches for a keyword or phrase combination in the form of snippets. These consist of a headline, a small description and a link or depending on the length, a part of the link of the link target. With a Rich Snippet, the result is supplemented with extra information which is read as structured data from the search engine on the relevant page.
The number of results per SERP vary. Google usually displays 10 snippets in the SERPs. However, it depends on the query, whether the SERPs are enriched with results from the image search or Google News. Links to apps may also be listed in mobile searches. In addition to organic search results, text or image ads are displayed on the SERPs as well. Unlike organic search hits, advertisers pay a specific amount per click to the provider as determined in a click auction.
Google SERPs have developed steadily in recent years. While results lists at the end of the 1990s, when search engines started up, could only display simple snippets to link targets, the SERPs can now also provide info boxes, called Knowledge Graphs, or provide a “carousel result.” The format in which the SERPs will be provided in is determined by the search query. If, for example, you search for a famous author or artist with Google, both the Knowledge Graph and the carousel appears. This change in the SERPs occurred after the Hummingbird update. Since then, Google is also able to answer questions in the SERPs.
Information on nutrients in foods can be listed directly in the SERPs. If you use the Google Image Search, clickable images appear which directs to a new view and displays the image source and the size of the graphic. Depending on the type of the search, the SERPs can consist only of news, videos, book titles or pictures.
Google has not only expanded the SERPs with the Knowledge Graph and carousel display but has also added other features to it. Users can search for and start booking flights directly in the SERPs or make a hotel reservation. In the US, you can also order food on the SERPs.
Google is named here as an example because users can take advantage of many features. The SERP structure is similar to the other major search engine providers.
Display is dependent on many factors
When the Google SERPs were first established at the beginning of the 2000s, they were relatively static and were roughly the same for every user (within a country). Now they are dependent on many different factors. On the one hand, there are different ranking factors regarding the positioning of each snippet. Moreover, there are also further signals which influence the order of the results:
- Registered users: if a google user is registered with their account, the search results will be adapted according to previous user behavior, provided that this is permitted in their data protection settings.
- Browser history: if a user does not empty the Cache of the browser, Google obtains information regarding previous search queries with cookies, and adapts the results accordingly.
- Location: if the geo-localisation is activated, Google aligns the SERPs to the location of the user. In this way, search results to the search term "Pizza take-away" in Berlin will be different to that in Munich. With local search results, these will be combined with results from Google Maps.
- Device: If a user searches via a mobile device, the search results will look different, as Google favors for example mobile optimized websites in the SERPs.
Importance for search engine optimization
Better positioning in the SERPs compared to direct competitors is the primary goal of search engine optimization. In order to direct as much traffic as possible through good rankings to your own webpages, your site must provide the best and most relevant results technically and from a content perspective. Moreover, trust for the website and its linking play an important role. But ranking alone is not the only factor for a high click rate. If the search result snippets have a meaningful title and a brief description, you can draw the attention of users onto the snippet. Ideally, such a snippet contains an invitation to click. Thus, snippet improvement is an important part of search engine optimization and an integral part of on-page optimization. Because the meta title and meta description of the landing page are usually used by search engines for the title and description in the snippet.
For SEOs, the focus is on the first ten results of the SERP (top 10) because 90% of the user clicks are distributed amongst these. With an optimized snippet the chance that users will click on the result increases, thereby increasing the CTR. Through the expansion of AdWords-adverts to a block of four, Google has intensified the battle for the top positions in the organic SERPs. Above all, with transactional Keywords and Keyword combinations, AdWords adverts or shopping adverts will not be included.
Another important element are rich snippets. These are search results, which have been enriched with machine-readable metadata. Webmasters can, for example, distinguish the source code of their website with officially accessible reviews as structured data, using markup language. These reviews will be displayed within the snippet in the search results. In this way, the attractiveness of a snippet for the user, and the probability that the user clicks on it increases.
Due to the increasing importance of mobile Internet usage, the SERPs are further being adapted to the users’ needs. It is conceivable that when someone searches using a mobile device, apps or links to gadgets will appear in the SERPs in the future, not just results from websites. As of July 2015, Google is no longer just a SERP provider, but also a service provider. At the same time the index is continuously expanded to provide SERPs that are tailored to them and their current situation.