Gone are the days when Google search results all looked the same; now they come in dozens of shapes and sizes. Different result types are affected by different factors, require distinct optimization techniques, and offer contrasting degrees of SEO potential. To help you make sense of it all, I've put up a detailed visual guide to Google's results — an autopsy of the modern SERP, if you like. Complete with all the intricate goodies of the Google SERP, such as featured snippets, AdWords ads, and the Knowledge panel, I'm confident that you'll learn a thing or two from this guide.
Note that the Google SERP above is completely fake, but it's constructed from real Google results. All in all, I've identified 5 types of Google search results that appear on Google's result page, each having several subtypes.
Let's dig in and explore the different types of Google listings, their distinct features, and the opportunities they offer for SEO and online advertising.
Currently, Google's carousel results are returned in response to non-commercial, informational queries where, to Google's understanding, the searcher is looking for a selection of options. The carousel can appear on either a black or a white background. Previously, Google used to display the carousel for many local businesses, but since 2014, this is no longer the case: restaurants, hotels, nightlife, entertainment, and other commercial categories are out of the game.
Personally, I can't think of a direct SEO, local SEO or traffic advantage you can get out of the current carousel. The carousel listings don't include links to sites; clicking on one of them will simply get you to a new search results page.
Brand Knowledge Graph Panel
The Knowledge Graph panel is displayed for navigational, primarily branded queries. The current version of the panel consists of the name of the company, a logo, a link to the company site (a nice recent addition), a description, and a list of the entity's social profiles. A branded Knowledge Graph panel can be extremely powerful: it gets the searchers' attention and is an explicit indicator of the company's authority and trustworthiness. Adding eye candy to the search results and page layout—more often than not eyes are instantly drawn to the knowledge panel, be sure to exploit it effectively.
Let's be fair, there's no sure-fire way to get a Knowledge Graph panel for your biz. But thankfully, we do know which sources Google draws the information from for its Knowledge Graph. Here are the steps that will dramatically improve your chances to get listed.
1. Get on Wikidata.
Formerly, Google used to get some of the data for its Knowledge Graph from a data repository named Freebase. Now, the project has been shut down, and all Freebase data is being transferred to Wikidata, a knowledge base operated by Wikimedia. Creating an entry is easy: Wikidata is more machine- than human-oriented, so you only need to specify a few details about your company to appear in the search results—instead of writing paragraphs of text like you would on Wikipedia. Also, Wikidata is a great starting point if you want to get your business on Wikipedia. Here's a guide to Wikidata to get you started.
2. Get a Wikipedia article.
Wikipedia is one of the main sources that feeds the Knowledge Graph: company descriptions and official website addresses almost always come from Wikipedia. You can create a Wikipedia page for your brand yourself, but my best advice would be to hire an experienced, trusted Wikipedia editor (there are plenty of white-hat companies available to choose from). Don't forget to include a link to Wikidata in your entry — this can improve your chances of getting the article approved.
3. Use schema markup for organizations on your homepage.
Schema markup is a type of microdata or, practically speaking, a chunk of structured HTML code on webpages that's not displayed to visitors, but is intended to be read by machines (search engines, web crawlers, or browsers) to help them understand the page better. For your business site's homepage, you'd want to use the organization type of markup. In your markup, be sure to specify your logo, contact info, social profiles, Wikidata, and Wikipedia pages — this is the information Google will likely draw from your site. Make sure to check with Google's instructions on customizing your markup elements, if you want to impress the Google algorithm.
4. Have your social media accounts verified.
If Google doesn't know your official site address, or if the site doesn't use structured data, it can still display a Knowledge Graph panel for your company. To identify the social profiles for the panel correctly, Google seems to need them to be verified by the social networks. Otherwise, it can get all lost and find regional or unofficial versions of your accounts — or even fail to find any. Look at this Knowledge Graph example (mind that there is no website address in this listing):
So what's a verified account exactly? It's a profile of a business or individual that is confirmed by the social network to be their primary official account. Across most social platforms, verified accounts have a blue verified badge next to the account name:
5. Contact Google to request a change.
Finally, when you already have a Knowledge Graph listing for your brand, and there's any part of it that doesn't look correct on the search engine result page, you can totally get in touch with Google and ask them to make changes to it.
AdWords's search network ads are currently displayed in blocks either above or below the organic search results. These can appear across all kinds of Google results pages, for any type of queries.
Currently, paid shopping results appear as blocks of product images and links to the right of the organic listings. The block is displayed for queries with strong commercial intent. Google Shopping has some pretty complicated guidelines and policies that may need some digesting, but is usually cheaper than AdWords (AKA Google Ads).
To submit your products to Google Shopping, you'll need a Google account and a Merchant Center account. Here's how to get started with paid search results. If you choose to give it a try, make sure you read this guide first.
Google Flights is Google's collaboration with ITA, a project that lets searchers discover flight schedules and rates through Google search. The Flights box includes the names of airlines/travel agencies with links. Clicking through takes you to a Google Flights page, where you can pick a fare and book a flight quickly. Google gets a commission from merchants for these sales. In some cases, you can purchase a ticket without even leaving Google.
There's no sign up form for you to fill out to be listed on Google Flights. Instead, you're encouraged to get in touch with ITA to be considered.
As part of branded Knowledge Graph listings for hotels, Google often displays in-card options to book a room with the hotel right from the SERP. How far we've come with the humble result page… — The providers you can book through include both the hotels' official websites and booking companies.
Get started with Google Hotel Ads by choosing an integration partner or contacting Google's team.
The local pack (the 3-pack)
Google's local pack is now comprised of a map and 3 listings. The 3 listings searchers see depend largely on their location; clicking on one of those takes visitors to Google Maps with an extended view of the business they clicked on.
1. Claim your Google My Business listing if you haven't done it yet.
Most of the info for local business listings (including address, phone number, images, map, etc.) is taken from that page. Once you've set up your profile, make sure to:
- Add a long, unique description with a link to your official site.
- Choose the correct category for your business.
- Upload a high-resolution profile image and cover photo.
- Double check your address, local phone number, and opening hours.
2. "Gain" positive reviews.
The reviews from your Google My Business page can play a big part in your listing's prominence in local search. Encourage your happy customers to review your biz on Google, and consider offering "incentives" for reviews.
SEO PowerSuite's Rank Tracker lets you track rankings in different types of Google search results, such as the 3-pack block and the Map results. It also lets you specify custom locations to check rankings from (you can make it as exact as a street address), so you can monitor your local positions for as many target locations as you wish.
To get started, launch the tool (free version's fine), create a project for your site, and check the Use Universal Search box at Step 4. If you're doing this for an existing project, go to Preferences -> Rank Checking Mode to do the same. This will enable tracking your positions across 3-packs, along with other types of Universal search (News and Images).
To check your Map rankings, go to Preferences -> Preferred Search Engines and add Google Maps to your project SEs. In your Rank Tracker workspace, right-click the header of any column to add Google Maps Rank to visible columns.
To check your Map rankings, go to Preferences -> Preferred Search Engines and add Google Maps to your project SEs. In your Rank Tracker workspace, right-click the header of any column to add Google Maps Rank to visible columns.
To check your rankings for specific locations, go to Preferences -> Preferred Search Engines once more and press the + button next to Google. In the Advanced Settings window that pops up, enter your target city, area, zip code, or exact street address, and click Apply.
Local Knowledge Graph Panel
A local Knowledge Graph is typically displayed for branded queries and search terms that imply that the searcher is looking for the business' office/physical location, rather than overall information about the company or organic results. This listing type is somewhat similar to its branded sibling in appearance, but it doesn't draw the data from the same sources.
A local KG usually includes a picture, a map with a pin, a link to the company's website, a link to Google Maps for directions, a Google review score, contact details, a few excerpts from Google reviews, and a Popular Times graph for some niches. Interestingly, brands can have both the branded and local Knowledge Graph displayed for a search query. This is what I got when I googled Cisco:
1. Do a citation campaign.
Be sure that your business is listed in all relevant local & industry specific directories. Think Yelp and TripAdvisor for restaurants, Booking.com and TripAdvisor for hotels, and so on. Don't forget to also make sure your name, address, and contact details are consistent across all these listings. This will add up to your prominence and trustworthiness in the eyes of the famous Google search engine.
2. Set up a Google My Business page.
A Google My Business account is critical if you want to gain a local KG listing and make sure it displays correct, relevant information. As you set up the page, double-check that the address, map, and opening times are correct, and pick a great preferred photo. The photo can't be a logo and has to be representational of your business. Your safest bet is a square picture, 250x250 pixels or larger.
3. Get some great reviews.
Google loves reviews, remember? Work towards getting at least 5 reviews on Google — you'll be rewarded with the bright yellow review stars placed right under your company name in the local panel. Be sure to ask your clients for reviews whenever you can, and offer incentives to give them that extra push.
For queries that imply the searcher is looking for a way to get from one place to another, Google often shows a Travel box, with a map and directions for driving, walking, cycling, and train and bus schedules. The same results appear on Google Maps when you search for a route.
Switching to the public transport tab and clicking on a route will give you some information about the transportation company, along with a link to their website, a "buy tickets" link (again, on the company's website), and a phone number. On top of that, getting listed within the Travel box is currently free for transportation companies. What's not to love?
Google has a free transit partner program that you can join if you are a transportation service that operates with fixed schedules and routes.
While there are hundreds of types of rich answers, from weather forecasts and calculators to real-time scores for sports, let us concentrate on the ones that can be beneficial for your SEO and traffic — quick, mostly text-only, answers. While some of the rich answers seem to be tied to the Knowledge Graph (the answers with no link underneath), most of them come from third-party sources and do include a link to the page along with the page's title.
Getting your page featured in a rich answer (or even appearing under related questions) can give you a massive traffic boost — the click-through rates for clickable rich answers is about twice as good as the CTR for a #1 listing on a SERP with no answer box.
1. Discover common questions you can produce (or rework) content to answer.
The easiest way to do that is with Rank Tracker's Keyword Research module: simply press the Suggest keywords button and pick Google Autocomplete as your suggestion method. Type in your keywords with wildcards. Say, if you're promoting a blog about SEO, these are good examples:
Why * SEO
How * Google
What * search engines
You'll end up with hundreds of questions you can target along with each query's search volume to let you pick the most commonly asked ones.
2. Directly answer the question in your content.
Make sure to include the question itself, and a brief, direct answer to it. Keep in mind that for rich answers, the structure of your answer is more important than your site's relevance and authority. Make answers explicit in your content; if your content is long-form, include a short TL;DR version with a question-answer pair.
3. Use schema markup (yes, again).
Semantic markup will allow Google to identify semantic entities on your site, and make extracting data from your content easier. Google may look at sites that use schema markup preferentially to find information for the answers box.
4. Optimize the page.
Just like organic SEO, getting featured in Rich Answers requires some on-page SEO work. For starters, make sure you include your keywords and related terms in your content. You can analyze & optimize your page's content in live view with Website Auditor — the tool's content editing module will give you specific optimization advice and recalculate your optimization scores as you type. Free version will do.
Regular organic listings
Ah, you know. The good old SEO. But the days when the regular organic listings all looked the same are in the past; structured data has crept in here as well, making even the standard Google listings all look different. There is good news however. That is, if you understand organic results, you'll experience some serious boosts in traffic.
1. Do SEO.
There's no easy way about organic results — educate yourself about SEO and go do some optimizing. Make sure you get yourself some full-cycle SEO tools, too, because SEO today is by no means a manual process.
2. Make use of rich snippets.
Classic Google listings (even the ones with great copy) all look the same. But if you're willing to take it a step further, one great thing you could do is use structured data markup (I know, again!) to enable rich snippets.
Google's rich snippets can include images, ratings, and other industry-specific pieces of data in addition to the classic title, URL, and description. Before add the schema markup chunk of HTML to your pages, remember to preview your snippets by copying and pasting your page's source code into Google's Testing Tool, then once you've passed Google's test, you'll be an organic result in no time.
Quite simply, with SEO PowerSuite's Rank Tracker. The latest version of the tool uses a safe query processing system that lets you securely track any number of keywords, with no captchas or IP blocks interrupting your work. Understandably, the solution is available in Rank Tracker's paid version.
Just like the organic result, social results have also changed a lot in the past years. As I'm writing this, it appears that a non-classical listing is only displayed for Twitter accounts; but that may well change tomorrow. In the current layout of Twitter listings, you can click through the account's recent tweets without leaving Google.
1. Use schema markup for organizations on your homepage.
I hope I've made my point clear by now — semantic markup is incredibly beneficial for all kinds of Google listings. If you want your social profiles to rank well on Google, using organization markup on your homepage is the surest way to get there.
2. Have your social account verified.
Google is much more likely to discover your social profiles if you have them verified by the social networks. Here are some helpful guides to have your account verified by Twitter, Facebook, YouTube & Google+, and Instagram.
Google News result blocks appear in response to queries Google can find recent news posts for, in-between organic listings, on page 1 of the search results. The news block can have up to three links, and the first link is often enhanced with a thumbnail image.
If content creation is a big part of your marketing strategy, you can become a Google News Publisher and therefore appear in news results — as long as you meet Google's guidelines for news sites. The main requirement is that your content should be of high quality, fresh, unique, and non-promotional.
Alternatively, you might want to consider offering your content to be re-published by bigger publishers that already have an established presence on Google News. A good starting point is searching Google News for your industry terms to note the most frequent contributors.
You can track your rankings in the News block with Rank Tracker if you enable Universal Search in Preferences -> Rank Checking Mode.
Whenever your site is found within Google News, you'll see a rank comprised of two figures. The first stands for the position of the overall News block on the SERP, and the second indicates your position within that block.
Image result boxes are often incorporated into Google's organic SERP and appear the first results page. These results link directly to Google Images, where little things called Vertical Searches come into play. If you've got a got a photo on Flickr with the appropriate content and tags, you'll also appear in Google Images.
1. Optimize image size.
You've probably heard that Google's all about speed, so it's in your best interest to get your images as small as you can, while maintaining the visual aesthetic. You can test your images and get a ready-made download link for their compressed version if their size can be safely reduced in WebSite Auditor by going to Content Analysis -> Page Audit. Look for Uncompressed images under the Page Speed section, and switch to the Recommendation tab to download your images, readily compressed.
2. Use unique, original images only.
For obvious reasons, Google seldom ranks multiple copies of the same image. For images that appear across several sites, they'll do all they can to dig out the original version of the image and include it in the search results.
3. Mind image titles and alt attributes.
Image titles and alternative attributes help Google understand the content of the picture, so make sure you use those tags to make it absolutely clear. If relevant, include your target keywords in both the title and alt text.
4. Optimize your page copy and URL.
On top of the image-specific elements, Google uses the webpage as a whole to determine the relevancy of images to queries, so you'll want to also include your keywords in your content and URL, and optimize your page fully. Again, WebSite Auditor's Content Analysis module will let you do just that.
You can easily track your rankings in the Images block with Rank Tracker. Just launch the tool, create a project for your site, and check the Use Universal Search box at Step 4. If you're doing this for an existing project, go to Preferences -> Rank Checking Mode to do the same.
Whenever your images are found on the SERP, you'll see a double rank in the Google Rank column. The first figure stands for the position of the overall Universal block, and the second — for your image's position within that block. Click on the three dots next to the rank to see the type of the Universal block.
Like social listings, video results are integrated into organic results and have a customized snippet. They show a thumbnail of the video, a publication date, and the name of the video channel. If multimedia content is part of your marketing strategy, leveraging Google's video results is an absolute must.
1. Create video content.
If you're new to video marketing, YouTube with its vertical searches—is your best bet. The types of videos that do best across YouTube are how-to videos and video reviews. Think of the topics you could cover, and produce videos to answer your audience's burning questions.
2. Optimize your video's file name, title, description, and tags.
The file name of your video when you upload it is the first thing you need to optimize: make sure it's concise, clear, and includes your keywords. The same goes for the video's title (remember that the title should also entice clicks and offer value to searchers). Putting your keyword at the beginning of the title is considered a best practice. As for your video's description, remember to include a link to your site at the top of it. Ideally, the description should be 200+ words long and clearly state what your video is about.
3. Maximize user experience.
You'll need to work hard both when creating the video and distributing it to boost views, comments, thumbs up, and reduce bounce rates — these are the factors that both Google and YouTube look at when determining videos' quality. You can see user experience stats in YouTube Analytics to spot areas you can improve.
4. Promote your videos.
Like with any type of content, social media exposure is good for both attracting traffic to your videos directly, and improving your Google ranks. Distribute your videos on social media, Quora, industry forums, and embed them in blog posts to gain those precious views and comments you're after.
Rank Tracker lets you track your videos' rankings alongside your site rankings, in the same project. Just go to Preferences -> Alternative URLs in Rank Tracker and add links to your videos. These can be any kind of links — YouTube, Vimeo, Wistia, etc. You can specify up to 100 URLs in total.
Additionally, you can add YouTube as a search engine in Preferences -> Preferred Search Engines to track how your YouTube videos rank for your keywords across YouTube itself, not just Google.
Finally, I'll be detailing a small but highly useful feature of Rank Tracker — which identifies search results of various types. You can easily spot the rich search terms which contain maps, paid advertisement, local and news packs, videos or news — just with a click of the mouse.
By: Masha Maksimava