Google SERP

Google's SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) have changed a lot in recent years. Once upon a time, you could type just about anything into Google and you'd only ever get ten blue links on the results page:

Ten Blue Links SERP
Pictured: a dying breed.

Nowadays, it's very rare to see a SERP that's exclusively populated by blue links. The modern Google SERP is a far more colourful place to be, often incorporating some combination of the following:
  • AdWords ads
  • Shopping ads
  • Featured snippets (also known as 'answer boxes')
  • Image results
  • Video results
  • Map results (for local businesses)
  • News stories
For example, take a look at the results you get if you perform a search for 'wedding ideas' - there are some standard organic text results (the blue links) but they share the SERP with AdWords ads, a row of images, and even some recent tweets from Wedding Ideas magazine!

Wedding Ideas Results

This is all part of Google's ongoing effort to give every searcher exactly what they're looking for as quickly as possible. Hence, if you type in 'how much does a Kodiak bear weight', the answer (1,500 pounds) will appear right at the top of your SERP, and if you Google 'Kristen Stewart' or 'Brad Pitt', you'll be greeted by a smorgasbord of different media - including photos, news stories, movie posters, quotations, and biographical titbits - that Google has collected from various corners of the Internet in the hope that one of these things will be what you were after.

What does this mean for website owners?

Google's increasingly diverse results pages are something of a mixed blessing for webmasters. On the plus side, there are now numerous different ways to appear on the first page of Google results for certain juicy keywords: even if your site doesn't rank among the top 10 traditional text results, you may still be able to achieve some level of visibility as an image/video result or a dot on the map in certain locations.

On the other hand, many websites that previously received a lot of hits from organic Google searches have seen a noticeable decrease in traffic since the SERPs started getting smarter. Securing the #1 slot in the blue link list no longer means that you will necessary appear at the very top of the SERP - your link may be pushed down the page by adverts, featured snippets, and/or image results if Google decides that these things will result in a higher level of user satisfaction.

This issue is exacerbated in the ever-expanding world of mobile search, where SERP real estate is scarcest of all. For example, B&Q's website www.diy.com occupies the #1 organic slot for the term 'garden decking' at time of writing, but because Google prioritises its own Shopping and AdWords results, you have to scroll quite a long way down before you even come to that supposedly 'top' result:

Decking SERP

This iPhone user searched for 'garden decking' using the Google app, and only reached the top organic result after scrolling past a row of Google Shopping ads and 3 AdWords results.

The lesson here is that, for many search terms, a high organic ranking is no longer the be-all and end-all when it comes to driving lots of traffic. If you want to maximise your website's search engine visibility, you need to be seen in all the other parts of the SERP too.

Not sure how to do that? Don't worry - the SEO experts from Designer Websites are here to provide you with your very own AAA pass. Read on to find out how to get your website showing up in four different parts of the modern Google SERP:

Introduction: Your Music Shop

Now, the SEO/SEM tips we're about to dish up can be applied to a broad variety of different businesses, but for the purposes of this blog post we're going to need a single, versatile example.

So, for the next few minutes, please imagine you own a shop that sells musical instruments. Your bricks-and-mortar store is located in Birmingham, but you also sell instruments online and ship them to customers all over the country. You take online orders through an ecommerce website that ranks well for terms like 'buy musical instruments', but it's recently become clear that your visually appealing, user-friendly website isn't getting anywhere near as much traffic as it ought to be getting.

And that's why you're reading this article - because you're trying to find a way to boost your music shop's visibility in the Google SERPs.

1. Google AdWords

As noted above, your website ranks reasonably well for the term 'buy musical instruments', but you're concerned that a lot of potential customers are ignoring your link in favour of the AdWords listings that appear at the top of the Google results for that query.

Musical Instrument ads

Google selfishly gives its own ads pole position in the results for this search term, so if you want to appear at the very top of the 'buy musical instruments' SERP, you'll need to set up an AdWords account and pay for some ads of your own.

Google AdWords operates on a 'pay per click' (PPC) basis, which means that you will be charged a certain amount of money every time somebody clicks your ad. The exact cost of each click will depend on how much you bid for each keyword - the more you bid, the higher up the page your ad will appear when somebody searches for that word or phrase.

Cost per click is also dependent on your page's quality score: when you create an advert, Google will look at your landing page and give it a mark out of 10 based on how well it 'answers' the query you're targeting. If you get a low quality score, Google will be reluctant to show your ad to users, and you'll have to pay more for each click as a result.

The key to running a successful AdWords campaign is finding the right keywords. You need to identify popular search terms that your customers frequently type into Google, but you ideally want to steer clear of ultra-competitive keywords with a high cost per click (since you'll have to pay a lot of money to consistently appear in a prominent position for these terms).

2. Product Listing Ads (Google Shopping)

AdWords ads aren't the only sponsored results that Google likes to display above the organic listings. Let's imagine you've got a lot of Yamaha keyboards in your music shop that you'd like to sell - how do you show up at the top of the SERP for the term 'Yamaha keyboards'?

Keyboard Shopping Results

Those links with images above them are called product listing ads. They tend to show up when the user searches for a specific product or type of product - think of them as Google's way of saying, 'It looks like you want to buy something...and we reckon we've got just the thing right here!'

Unfortunately, the guys at Google won't list your products out of the goodness of their hearts - you have to pay to appear in those shopping slots. Google Shopping operates on a PPC basis, just like Google AdWords, although product listing ads are arguably a little easier to manage than AdWords campaigns because you don't have to worry about finding the right keywords to target.

Here's a quick introduction to Google Shopping ads courtesy of the search engine giant itself:


3. Local Results (Google Maps)

Since you sell your musical instruments in a bricks-and-mortar shop as well as through an ecommerce website, you'll definitely want to be appearing in the Google Maps results for certain terms. For example, if somebody Googles 'music shop Birmingham', that probably indicates that they're looking to walk into a local shop and buy something in person, so you should absolutely be aiming to rank among the top results for that search term.

But once again, you'll have to jump through a couple of hoops to make that happen.

Google Map Results

The good news is that Google's local results are not sponsored listings, so this part won't cost you money like the AdWords campaigns and the product listing ads did. All you have to do is go to Google My Business and enter your shop's details - you will probably have to verify the business either by taking a phone call or entering a code that Google sends to your address on a postcard.

Once that's done, you can customise your listing with photographs, add an enticing description of your music shop, and display your opening hours for everyone to see. You will also be able to collect reviews from Google users who have visited your store and want to tell other potential visitors about their experience.

4. Featured Snippets (The Answer Box)

Google seems to be displaying featured answers for more and more queries with each passing day. They're designed to provide digestible answers to question-type searches, and they look like this:

Google Answers
These snippets are great for the sites they're culled from - being featured in Google's answer box means that your link gets pushed right to the top of the organic results and given an extra wallop of visual emphasis that really helps you to stand out.

In order to rank as a featured snippet, you'll first need to identify a frequently-asked question that's relevant to your business and to your specialist knowledge. Here are some examples that could drive some good traffic to your hypothetical music shop's website:
  • why do guitars go out of tune
  • easiest instrument to learn
  • how to stop drumsticks breaking
All of these are examples of search terms for which Google might reasonably serve up a featured answer. And if you want that answer to come from your website, all you have to do is write one!

This is a really good use for a company blog - answering popular questions that are specifically related to your niche or industry. Simply pick a question and make that the title of your blog post; aim to provide a short, simplified answer in the first paragraph of your blog (the idea being that Google will use this excerpt for their featured snippet), then use a few more paragraphs to explore the question in more detail.


We hope you found this blog post useful and that you enjoyed reading it. Remember, the Designer Websites team can help with all your search engine marketing needs - get in touch today to discuss your requirements with us!