Search engines are the backbone of the internet. When you use a search engine, you can quickly locate content related to your interests across a variety of websites, no matter how niche the subject. A search engine results page displays the websites relevant to your query. It also provides a number of other useful features, from maps to customer reviews.
For business owners hoping to increase their organic web traffic, it’s helpful to understand the features of SERPs and how they work. Doing so means you can create content that better serves your readers and lands you at the top of the coveted first page.
What is a SERP?
A search engine results page (SERP) is the list of results that appears after a web user enters a query into a search engine. SERPs can deliver multiple types of results on one page. Depending on the query, the results could include articles, product listings, videos, and maps, in addition to paid ads and on-page features like information-rich panels.
Search engines use algorithms to determine the results that appear on the SERP. The algorithms consider the type of query (broadly categorized as transactional, navigational, or informational) as well as the web user’s personal browsing history. They aim to return results that align with the search intent—that is, that match the user’s needs.
For example, if you type in “best face mask for oily skin,” you’ll likely see a SERP with links to products as well as informational articles to help you find masks best suited to your skin type. You won’t see results for respirator masks or Halloween masks, as they don’t align with your needs.
Websites use structured data markup, also known as schema, to provide search engines with additional information about the type of content on their pages. Incorporating schema gives you an opportunity to show up as featured content in rich snippets. For example, to appear as a featured recipe, a website can include schema markup that specifies the post as a recipe and includes a summary of information, including the cooking time and key ingredients.
Why is the SERP important?
You can face tough competition trying to win one of the top spots on a SERP. If you want to attract web users to your website, your content must be discoverable via search. Furthermore, the majority of the traffic goes to the top few results—users overwhelmingly gravitate toward results on the top half of the first search results page.
Used for 91.85% of all search queries, Google search accounts for the bulk of search engine traffic on both desktop and mobile devices. Using SEO optimization to rank higher on Google’s search engine results increases your chance of attracting organic traffic. Targeting specific SERP features is another way to use SEO to boost your traffic.
What is a SERP feature?
A SERP feature is anything that appears on a search engine results page in addition to the list of organic results. This includes features like top stories, a “People also ask” section, featured snippets, shopping results, knowledge panels, and paid ads. SERP features provide more information and related results based on the query.
Types of SERP features
- Paid results (ads)
- Product listings ads
- Featured snippets
- Local packs (or map packs)
- Image results (or image packs)
- Videos results
- Social media results
- Top stories
- Knowledge panel
- People also ask (or PAA)
- Related searches
- Travel results
- Recipe results
Search engine results pages vary depending on the nature of the search. For example, if you search for “bakeries near me,” you will see a local pack—results for brick-and-mortar businesses in your area—at the top of the page featuring suggestions. If you search for “Beyoncé,” you’ll get results for music videos, top stories, and social media results. Here are some common SERP features that might appear on a results page:
Paid results (ads)
Paid results appear at the top and bottom of the SERP. These are ads that companies have paid to place in the results for specific keywords. Google Ads labels these as “Promoted” content to distinguish them from organic search results.
Product listing ads
Also known as shopping ads, product listing ads are most likely to appear in transactional search results. Shopping results display an image and other product information like price and store name in addition to a link.
Featured snippets are short blurbs of written content that appear directly on the SERP, often above the first organic results. They provide quick answers to queries, without the user having to navigate away from the search engine. These snippets are excerpts from web pages that contain relevant information.
Local packs (or map packs)
This SERP feature primarily appears on local and navigational queries. For example, a search for “diners with tacos near me” might return a map pack with pins on nearby diners, as well as a list of local results with information, including addresses, phone numbers, and customer reviews. Google might also include the Google business profile—a panel featuring an image, reviews, and other business information—for local businesses.
Image results (or image packs)
For searches with a visual component, search engines might display a collection of image results near the top of search results pages. For example, the query “photos of sunflowers” will return a collage of images featuring the flower before providing links to websites where you can source an image.
Search engines can return a selection of videos that contain content related to a user’s query. Videos can appear in the search feed as a collection of results, or in the “People also ask” (PAA) section. Search engines use metadata like video transcripts, titles, and descriptions to understand the content of videos.
Social media results
Queries regarding news items or current events might return a selection of trending social media posts related to the subject. Social media results display the content of the posts, the user's profile picture, and their social media handle. These panels link directly to the individual posts.
The top stories section displays articles and new stories related to a user’s query. This section of organic listings features panels that display an image, headline, and the name of the publication. The top stories section appears on the primary search results page—it is separate from the Google news tab, which only displays news results.
Knowledge panels or knowledge graphs are on the far right-hand side of Google SERPs. These information-rich panels supply an overview of a subject directly on the SERP. For example, if a user conducts a search for a notable public figure, Google’s Knowledge Graph might display an image of the person along with a short biography and other details, such as their age, place of birth, and relatives.
People also ask (or PAA)
The “People also ask” box displays a collection of related questions based on the given search terms. The answers to these questions come from relevant web pages, and the content is available directly on the SERP via a drop-down arrow.
Search engines might return a list of queries related to the user’s original search at the bottom of the page. This is a way to encourage users to explore further and continue using the search engine.
Searches related to travel might return listings for hotels or flight information in a dedicated box at the top of the search results.
Searches for recipes often include highlighted posts near the top of the results. These rich snippets feature an image of the recipe, a rating, and the cooking time.
How to know if your website is ranking in SERP features
You can manually check to see if pages on your site have won snippets for your target keywords. Perform a search query for your target keywords and analyze the results. Check to see if information from your website appears in any rich information panels. Conduct searches in incognito mode, which will avoid skewing the results because of your own search history, to reveal how an average web user might see search results.
Using a tool like Google Analytics can reveal the number of users who find your website via search. If you notice a spike in search traffic for a specific page, it might indicate that the page has appeared in a SERP feature. Use Google Search Console’s search analytics feature to determine which keywords drive the most traffic to your page, then search those keywords to see if you’ve attained a snippet on those particular SERPs.
SERP features FAQ
How do you win a SERP feature?
Writing high-quality content and implementing structured data markup (also known as schema) can increase your chances of appearing in a SERP feature. Search engines use schema to understand what type of content is on your webpage and pull material to include in organic SERP features.
Do SERP features drive traffic to your website?
Winning SERP features typically increases your website's visibility and drives traffic. Even though users can read some rich snippets directly on a SERP, they might click through to the source for more information.
Why do some search results stand out more than others?
SERP placement and rich snippets can both help results stand out. Users tend to favor results featured toward the top of the results page, and rich snippet results include images and other information that makes them more eye-catching.