Do you know what your search results look like? If you haven’t before, take a minute to take a look at your Google page 1. As your digital first impression, your Google results show what your audience is seeing when they search for you – good, bad, or nonexistent – so it’s important to stay on top of your results.
When exploring your search results, you’ll notice that what you see is much more than a list of links. Featured snippets, knowledge panels, local packs, and video bars are just a few of the special features Google includes in its results. Over the years, Google has continued to update what users see in search results to help them find what they’re looking for as quickly as possible.
When looking at your own results, understanding what you’re seeing can help you gain insight on user experience, what to optimize your online assets for, and areas of potential for your properties.
Benefit for SEO
Knowing what you’re looking at in Google results, both on your own business’ page and in general, can help you optimize your assets and familiarize yourself with users’ experience of your results. A vital aspect of understanding what you’re seeing in Google search results is to understand that they change – a lot. The results you see are extremely dependent on your search query – the phrase you enter into Google. In addition, search results for the same query can change over time, and can vary significantly based on the device you are searching from.
Note: Check results regularly and in Incognito mode or with your cache cleared to see most “accurate’ results.
In addition to shifting results, Google’s SERP (Search Engine Results Pages) features are changing both the look of Google search results pages and the way users are interacting with them. Utilizing these features can ensure information about your business is easily findable, accurate, and optimized for your industry or intended audience.
But these features come with their own obstacles. With Google’s featured search results, “zero clicks” answers are becoming more common in search results – questions answered without searchers ever needing to click a link. While, from a searcher’s point of view, this may seem like a step in the right direction, it can have a negative impact on click-through rate (CTR) for ranking results – CTR for the #1 organic link has been reported to have decreased by as much as 39% if just one feature is ranking. Obviously, as clicks decrease, overall traffic is impacted as well, with featured snippets potentially reducing the likelihood of searchers looking at the organic results below.
Although these featured elements can have a negative impact on your site’s traffic, they also offer opportunity. Optimizing your assets for these special features can improve the engagement your properties receive, and your overall standing in Google search results.
To help you make the most of Google’s search results features, both new and old, we’ve created a rundown of the various page elements you’re likely to see in Google. While what you see is largely dictated by what you search for, understanding different elements of results can give you a leg up in optimizing your own.
As you type your search query, you will see suggested search queries populate. These results automatically populate behind your query or show in a drop down menu.
Suggested search results can give you insight into what Google is associating your search term with, and what other common searches contain the keyword or phrase you are searching for. When analyzing your own results, suggested search can help you identify questions, pain points, or potential keywords that could be valuable for you to target on your site and in your content.
Once you have submitted your search query, the first thing you will likely see is ads. Ads and paid results in Google make up about 10% of page 1 content. These results will generally populate at the top and bottom of the page, and are advertisements related to your search term. Although Google ads and paid results occupy prominent positions on the Google results page, over 90% of users report skipping over these in favor of organic results.
The bulk of what you’ll see on page 1 are the organic results. These are results that are not paid for, though they can be optimized to rank for particular search queries. Ranking well in Google can have an invaluable impact on your overall reach and exposure to prospective customers, but understanding what users see when you do can ensure that you are giving the right or intended first impression.
Here is what you can expect to see with most results, and how to use the various aspects of results to your advantage:
The URL appears in search results above the title. Sometimes, a URL can show the site structure – a sort of “map” for where the page is located on the website. Otherwise, it will show the URL as it is. If a URL is too long, Google will truncate it (shown above).
To avoid Google truncating your URL in results, keep it short but relevant.
The title appears under the URL. The title gives users context for the information covered in that link, and can also serve as an indicator to Google about the relevance of the link to the search query.
To optimize your title for search, keep it short and relevant (similarly to the URL) – Google will truncate titles that are too long. Any target KWs or primary indicators of information covered in the link should be at the front of the title.
Snippets refer to the blurb that appears to give more information about your result. While snippets can be the meta description, this is not always the case – Google rewrites snippets 70% of the time.
Because of this, consider snippets when publishing content or putting your page together. Always include a unique meta description, and include sections in your content that can be easily pulled for snippets – concise, clear, and related to your keyword.
Similar to snippets, rich snippets go a bit farther, including elements like ratings or photos.
To raise the likelihood that your Google result will include a rich snippet, you must incorporate structured data to your site. Google has a tool that allows you to check which of your results can be formatted with rich snippets.
Sitelinks are additional listings from your website that can appear with your results. They give searchers a shortcut to your website in results, allowing people to navigate your website quickly and find relevant subpages.
While where your site is ranking can have an impact on whether sitelinks populate, site structure is also a major factor. Ensuring your site is navigable and clear can help increase the likelihood that sitelinks will populate.
Related search populates at the bottom of the page. terms Similar to suggested search, related search terms populate based on other searches, and can give you insight into keywords to target or questions searchers may be asking.
Additional Elements of Search Results
As Google has gone through several updates and changes to improve search experience for users, elements of search beyond organic results have emerged. Once again, depending on your search, you may see some of these standout features. As stated above, these features can have a negative impact on web traffic by presenting information in a way that does not encourage users to click through; however, you may be able to use these to your advantage if you know what you’re working with.
Featured snippets – also known as position 0, answer box, or featured answers – are answers pulled by Google from results to answer your query quickly. These include an excerpt from the source, with the source’s title and URL included below.
Featured snippets have been shown to take clicks from organic search results when they appear:
To increase your website’s likelihood of being featured, your website must rank well – over 30% of featured snippets come from the #1 organic result. In addition, optimizing your on-page content to answer these questions in clear, concise, and informative ways and utilizing headers can increase your chances; however, there are no guarantees when it comes to featured snippets.
For certain search queries, you may see a knowledge panel or knowledge graph. The knowledge panel extracts information from a variety of sources to provide an overview for users in an attempt to answer common or frequently searched questions. The format of a knowledge panel can vary based on the kind of information being presented – a large international business, a small local business, and a historical figure will all have very different displays.
If your business has a knowledge panel populating, you will be able to claim it. This will allow you to ensure that all information displayed is accurate, and link your social media to your knowledge panel. You can also work on getting the blurb in the knowledge panel to pull from your own site, though it will require optimizing your site to put it in the running as a knowledge panel reference.
Video + Image Bars
Video and image bars can populate for results where video or images seems particularly relevant, or for search queries that include these keywords. They can also populate for topics where video or images tend to be useful or common.
If you are interested in a video or image bar populating in your results, the best way to do so is to put out regular video and image content that is high quality. This content should be clearly linked to your target keywords and can be included in written content as well.
Local Packs populate most commonly for local search results to help users find local businesses relevant to their queries through Google Maps.
To appear in these results, you must sign up for Google My Business if you haven’t already. If you have signed up, make sure information is up-to-date. Google reviews can benefit your listing in these results, as businesses with more (positive) reviews tend to rank higher.
When a search query has relevance to current events or news stories, Top Stories may populate. These highlight a variety of articles on recent news stories from different publications.
Although this is not something that you can necessarily control or make use of directly, paying attention to current events that may be related to your business or industry can help you anticipate this populating.
A similar feature is Twitter, which will populate for certain terms either due to current events or active conversations regarding that topic on the platform, or for an individual or business. To increase the likelihood of a Twitter feature in your results, keep your Twitter active and engage regularly in relevant conversations.
One of the more recent features added to Google results, the Popular Products feature shows popular products related to your search query.
Keep product listings up-to-date with accurate pricing, information, and photos. This feature can provide insight into competitors and purchasing trends.
People Also Ask
People Also Ask (PAA) shows questions related to your search. Designed to target any questions you or other searchers may have (or have asked already), PAA displays a question with quick answers pulled from references online. Similar to featured snippets, the resource’s title and URL is shown after the answer, but you must click on the question first.
To increase your chances of being featured as a PAA answer, target questions directly in content, and answer them thoroughly.
This is a quick overview of several of the features you’ll encounter in search results. Familiarizing yourself with these features will not only help you understand what you’re seeing (and why), but help you improve your own standing in Google results by using these features to your advantage as much as possible.