Google's Search Engine Results Page (SERP) Explained

08.01.2016

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Overview
Google SERP
Advanced Notes on SERPs
TLDR Version

Overview

There are 3.5 billion searches per day (1) on Google. This volume of traffic creates a massive business incentive for appearing at the top of a particular Google search-or set of searches. Additionally, there are particular searches or "queries" which infer certain types of consumer behaviour, such as intent to purchase. Consider the following searches:

  • "what is seo"
  • "seo newcastle"

The first query is obviously a question, but let's look past the answer to the question of "what is seo" and consider the state of mind of a person typing that question into Google. Presumably they're interested in learning and not in making a purchase.

A person searching for "seo newcastle" is, by virtue of adding a geographical location keyword, researching businesses that appear for that area and offer SEO services. But before we can continue discussing the nature of queries of key terms. Let's explore what elements are on a Google SERP and some of the subtle variables which influence a query and it's SERP.

The Google SERP

Google Serp SEO Newcastle

The image above shows a SERP which has been cut up into its different sections. Each different section's results come from different data. Although there are 4 boxes shown in the graphic, there are only 3 sections-these sections are:

  1. The yellow regions represent paid advertisements. These ads run on either a Cost Per Click or Cost Per Impressions. We won't be going into detail about AdWords and paid ads. But if you are interested in reading more about this, then head over to our Paid Ads and Adwords page.
  2. The green region contains Google Business or Google Place's / Google Map's results. Our query for this SERP is "seo newcastle". Given the query contains a geographical keyword, Google recognises the location and provides map data. This is evidence towards one of our assumptions made earlier about the mindset of the searcher and the terms they're using for their search.
  3. The blue section are organic results. These organic results are what Google believes is quality content for the query. Another factor to point out is the black underline, which is the number of results Google can display for this query; which is "about 865,000" items. We're very proud of being the number 1 result for "seo newcastle"; because in our opinion, this is one of the most competitive markets for an organic listing. Every other item listed beneath us is another digital marketing agency, full of experts that are competing to be number one. To get to the top of this list of 865,000 is SEO or search engine optimisation. If you're interested in reading about SEO head over to our SEO page. Alternatively, check out our video on SEO and our other articles on SEO.

To quickly recap. There are many different sections to a results page, paid, places and organic. Each different section gets it's data and results from different places.

Advanced Notes on SERPs

Ok so we now know about the different elements of of a SERP. Let's start to play with some of the subtle items which also impact your SERP and worthy of note - is that the Google ranking algorithm is almost changning daily. So as of writing this article these observations are true, but in months or years time the algorithm could have radically changed. But obviously the core or main thing that affects a SERP is the search terms / query terms / keywords. Whoa, you're about to tell me there's other things that affect my results, #mindblown?! :)

The first thing we'll look at is the location modifier. Scroll to the bottom of the SERP and you can see where Google assumes or perhaps more aptly put presumes where you're searching from.

Location Modifier

You can change this value if you go to Settings (cog image) > Search settings > Location => enter a different location. For example "Sydney". When we return to "seo newcastle" the results are slightly different. (*edit - 07.01.16 - no longer appears to be true. You can't modify location)

SEO Newcastle SERP Results

Notes about the above image:
1) The paid ads have changed slightly.
2) We're now appearing above the map/places listings. From item 2 we can deduce that because we're searching from Sydney (instead of Newcastle) the importance of map/places data isn't as high as the top organic result - they're not locals to the Newcastle area.
3) I've also underlined a poorly placed paid ad which is for a UK agency. This raises a very important point "seo newcastle" doesn't specify Australia. So how does Google know which "newcastle" to use? According to a quick Google search there are 5 cities named "newcastle".

Well the first thing they can use is your location that you're searching from. Our queries in this article have been from Newcastle, NSW - Australia and Sydney, NSW - Australia. Google assumes you mean Newcastle, NSW, Australia when you write "seo newcastle".

Another angle to consider is which Google you're using. You might not have ever noticed when you go to google.com. But you're almost always automatically taken to a geo (country) specific Google. Google has sites for almost every corner of the world, google.com, google.co.uk, google.com.au.. etc. Each of these sites returns a different SERP for the same query. If you search "seo newcastle" on google.com (US) or google.co.uk it will change your SERP results. Something to consider if you have an international audience.

Past SEO Newcastle SERP Results

There's one more item to mention before we wrap this up. SERPs also look at what you have looked at in the past. Google can remember what websites you have visited, either through cookies or associating against your Google account which you might be logged into. If Google can view your search history, you do a query / search and that a previously visited website is listed in the results. It can then be boosted up as one of the top results, it will also indicate how many times you have visited that website and when you last visited it. An example of this would be if I was to search "newcastle", Google would suggest newcastle.edu.au (the Univserity of Newcastle). These are called personalized or private data SERPs. You can disable this function in settings or by manipulating the URI to include "pws=0". But now we're probably going a bit too technical; so let's end it on that.

TLDR Version

To recap what we have covered in this article. A SERP has:

  1. Paid results
  2. Map / Places results
  3. Organic results

A SERP isn't just the keywords you enter it's also:

  • the location you're searching from or have specified.
  • the Google domain you're using.
  • the websites you have visited / your personal / private data

Thus, when it comes to appearing at the top of a SERP. It's technically very difficult to be at the top of a SERP. That's why we recommend leaving implementations to the experts and also try to educate business owners on what they're paying for.

  1. http://www.internetlivestats.com/google-search-statistics/
Andrew
Andrew
Digital Marketer

Andrew has an unmatched technical background; with a Diploma in IT (Networking), Degree in IT (Major in Software Development & Applications) and 8 years of technology industry experience. This foundation allows Andrew to talk code with engineering, technology with operations and appreciate the challenges of business logistics. Working as part of zimpleweb's digital marketing team, he is the digital solutions expert.

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