Understanding How Search Engines Display Results in 2020
Understanding How Search Engines Display Results

There are more than 4.5 billion internet users across the world. Search engines have become an integral part of our daily life. The first thing anyone who wants to find an answer does is type the question in the search bar of Google.

As an online business, getting on the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) should be a top priority. It’s like your virtual signboard when people search for things related to your business. It’s so crucial to get the word out about your business, and one way to do that is by learning the right way to create blog content to rank high and increase organic traffic towards your website.

But how do you get top positions on SERPs? 

You need first to understand how search engines work. Although the algorithms keep changing, it is useful to understand the basic working of a search engine.

In this post, I am going to be talking about how search engines display results by breaking down the different elements of the SERP layout.

I used some of these SEO tactics on my marketing blog AdamEnfroy.com to grow from zero visitors at the start of 2019 to over 450,000 monthly visitors today.

Sounds interesting? Let’s get started. 

What are zero-search results?

To begin understanding how search engines display results — let’s start with the first question: what is a position zero search result?

Can you think of a time you’ve typed a query into Google and received something like this?  

In this case, Google is giving you the information you need in some type of a pop-up which eliminates the need to visit a certain blog post that explains how you might do this calculation on your own. 

Remember, Google’s goal is to provide the best possible (quick and accurate) result for a query. Their AI is getting smarter and they are able to answer questions either on their own or by pulling website data into this top spot.

According to a study done by Hubspot, 51% of users surveyed reported ease in finding information with this new feature.

From a monetization standpoint, Google also has the potential to earn more ad revenue when they keep people on their Google.com property and searchers don’t need to click and visit other websites. 

However, there is concern among marketers as Google continues to get smarter and anticipate what users are looking for as sites continue competing for traffic in the SERPs.

In fact, according to Ahrefs, around 12% of all searches have featured snippets. In order to get this coveted spot, you need to be in one of the top 10 positions and format your content correctly. 

In this guide, we’re going to cover the different types of search results pages that Google displays and how you can optimize your content to rank in similar position zero results.

Let’s get started.

The SERP layout

The general SERP layout boils down to one general structure. However, there may be variations depending on what the user is searching for.

Google’s algorithm takes into account the user intent while displaying results. Similar keywords may display different types of results due to the change in intent. For example, let’s consider three keywords and see how Google interprets searcher intent.

The first keyword is ‘citation audit’:

The SERP layout citation audit
The SERP layout citation audit 2
  1. The first result is a featured snippet (also called position 0). Google assumes that the user is searching for the meaning of the term ‘citation audit’, but also provides results for websites that offer citation audit services.
  2. Notice here that Loganix is featured at position six on the SERPs since Google is not sure whether the customer is searching for information on the term ‘citation audit’, or is looking for citation audit services.
  3. Google provides more pages that offer information on how to perform a citation audit.

The second keyword we are going to look at is ‘citation audit service’. It is a slightly longer and more specific term, so let’s take a look at the SERPs:

The SERP layout citation audit service 3

Most of the results are websites that offer citation auditing as a service to customers. You can see that Loganix now appears at position 4 of the SERPs since they are a website that provides citation audit services.

The third keyword we are going to enter is a highly specific ‘$7 citation audit service’. Here are the SERPs:

The SERP layout citation audit service 4

Since Loganix offers a $7 citation audit service, most of the results are related to this company. The featured snippet is slightly different here, showcasing the services and pricing of Loganix as reviewed by another company.

So you see, different types of keywords bring up different SERP layouts on Google. Let’s dig a little deeper and try to understand the elements that make up the SERP layout.

Desktop vs. mobile

Most often, websites do not get to hold the same search engine positioning across devices. 

These differences could be attributed to different SERP features and also the space and orientation of the screen.

Let’s take ‘earn money online’ as our next keyword example. 

When you type the keyword in your desktop search bar on Google, Swagbucks comes up as the first result after the featured snippet:

desktop search bar on Google

But when you type the same keyword on your mobile device, Swagbucks tumbles down to the fifth position on the first page of the SERPs:

mobile device search bar on Google

About 70% of web traffic comes from mobile devices. If you find yourself ranking well on desktop, but not on mobile, look into your mobile site speed and mobile UX. Google is taking this into consideration based on their Core Web Vitals metrics.

FAQ Schema

Schema markups help search engines better understand your website’s content, thus improving your SEO. FAQ schema is one type of schema that enables you to potentially increase your organic traffic by improving your click through rate (CTR) and taking up more SERP real estate. 

FAQ schema can be used if your page has questions and answers on a topic. When you mark up your FAQ web pages, you can grab more vertical space on the SERPs, especially on mobile.

However, it is important to note that the FAQ schema is different from the ‘People Also Ask’ section, which looks similar. We will talk about that a bit later.

Here’s an example of a post of mine being searched for that utilizes FAQ schema for the term “ecommerce platforms”:

FAQ Schema ecommerce platforms

Notice how the questions underneath add more vertical space to my search result. These questions and answers can also link to other relevant articles, so make sure to strategically place helpful internal links within your answers. 

This extra real estate won’t automatically improve your SERP rankings, but can increase your CTR, thus bringing in more traffic, and giving Google future signals to increase your rankings.

Different kinds of featured snippets and answer boxes

The featured snippet box or answer box is shown above the organic search results and is often referred to as ‘position 0’ on the SERPs. Google tries to answer the searcher’s query using these featured snippets/answer boxes.

To get this space on the SERPs, you could try structuring your content in a way that briefly answers the user’s question in the first few sentences.

Let’s use the keyword ‘how to get a 1800 number’. Here is the featured snippet right at the top of the SERPs:

featured snippet

At the top of the SERPs for this query is a blog post from GetVoIP explaining 9 ways to get a toll-free 800 number for your business. The featured snippet has a concise answer to the user’s question.

Another type of featured snippet shows a video result. Here’s an example:

featured snippet a video result

This shows that featured snippets are not reserved for only one type of content.

Knowledge panels/graphs

Knowledge panels usually appear on the right side of Google SERPs layout and show more in-depth information related to the search query.

Here’s an example for the search term ‘Monday.com’, which happens to be one of the leading project management tools for remote workers:

 the search term Monday.com

Knowledge panels (or knowledge graphs) provide users with a better experience as they contain all relevant information that a user may be interested in. The user thus can read about the topic without having to visit the website.

Interestingly, knowledge panels can also show up for the local events. Here’s a great example of Digital Olympus marketing conference popping up in SERP as a knowledge panel.

Digital Olympus marketing conference popping up in SERP

People also ask results

The People Also Ask section contains a list of questions that are related to the query that the user typed in Google’s search bar. 

This list contains results not based on their search volumes, but rather their relevance to the question asked by the user.

There is an option to expand the question, which then shows users a brief answer to the question along with a link to it.

Here’s an example of the keyword ‘Samsung pass review’. After the first result from Loginlockdown’s review of Samsung Pass, there is a People Also Ask section with a list of related questions:

Samsung pass review

Images and video results

Some search queries are image or video-rich. Google identifies the user intent for such queries and shows them images or video results.

For example, if you search for RightInbox, Google pulls up related videos like this:

Google pulls up related videos

Google recognizes user intent for search terms that are image-rich. For instance, for the search term ‘planets’, Google shows image results:

image-rich search terms

Local SERP layouts

Search engines like Google show unique results for localized queries. This means that if the user enters a search term that requires localized results, Google shows them in different layouts. 

Local organic traffic can do wonders for your business, especially if you have a store, deal with events, or organize travel for people.

Now let’s talk about some of the main local SERP layouts.

Shopping layouts

People who want to shop usually look for local stores. 

Say someone is searching for the ‘best mattress in New York’. Here are the SERPs:

best mattress in New York

After a few Google ads, you will see that there are results for mattress shops/sellers in New York. These results usually include each store’s physical address, website, open hours, and reviews left by customers.

Event layouts

If a user is searching for a local event, Google pulls up relevant results with all the information the user needs.

For example, if a searcher looks up the term ‘concerts in New York this weekend’, here are the results:

concerts in New York this weekend

The events are organized by date and show users the venue and timings of the event as well.

Travel layouts

Travelers who are looking for a place to stay or want to find out local restaurants or tourist places can easily do so with the way search engines display results.

Here is the result a user gets if they are looking for new york hotels within a budget:

new york hotels within a budget

The results show a user different hotel options, their rates, and reviews left by previous customers. 

Other SERP layouts 

Another useful SERP layout is seen when a user types in a company or brand name. For example, if you type in ‘Forms on Fire’, here are the results:

SERP layouts Forms on Fire

Google shows users all the pages on Forms on Fire’s website, so that they can easily navigate through the site.

Key takeaways in understanding how search engines display results

To recap what we covered above: 

  1. When optimizing your page, be sure to keep user intent in mind and other keywords you could optimize for to bring in additional traffic. For example, if you’re trying to rank for something such as ‘citation audit’ and you offer it as a service, be sure to optimize for both keyword variations. 
  2. Mobile optimization of your website is essential as most users are always on their phones, browsing the internet for answers to their questions. To ensure your site is optimized for mobile, head over to Google’s Mobile Friendly Test Tool to see how your site scores in terms of mobile friendliness. If there are issues with your site, the tool will tell you what to improve so that your site is more user friendly and ranks better on mobile devices. 
  3. Keep the FAQ Schema and ‘People Also Ask’ sections in mind when trying to rank for keywords by utilizing questions and answers on your page/post. If you have a WordPress site, the Yoast SEO plugin can easily help you add FAQ schema content blocks with the Gutenberg editor. By answering common questions, you eliminate the likelihood of your competitors scoring this prime real estate on the SERPs while also helping out browsing users in the process. 
  4. Don’t forget about the Featured Snippet box, which is yet another prime location in the SERPs, otherwise referred to as position zero. You can land position zero by making the first very few sentences as relevant and helpful as possible to the user. You should also optimize your H2 and H3 headings to help Google understand your page hierarchy and what should be included in the featured snippet. Google favors those who can answer the searcher’s intent as concisely as possible and will rank your page or content higher. 
  5. When including images and/or video, be sure to include proper “alt text” and optimize all multimedia content to be found (and be understood) by the search engines. For example, if you’re trying to rank for the keyword “seo tools” and include screenshots of certain tools and video tutorials, be sure to optimize those for the target keyword for visual searchers. 
  6. For local businesses trying to rank, be sure to follow best practices for local business SEO. Keep in mind various layouts for local businesses depending on the industry you’re in. 

Conclusion

Once you understand the SERP layout, you will have an easier time figuring out ways to get your web pages ranking on Google and taking up some valuable real estate on the SERPs.

If you own a local business, Google has made it easier for you to present your business by providing quick relevant information. This way, you can gain some valuable website traffic as well as local customers.

Now that we’ve broken down the SERPs and how results are displayed, be sure to share your favorite take away down below! 

Apply these strategies, and your lead generation is bound to improve.  


Adam Enfroy

Adam Enfroy writes about how to blog like a startup to 450,000 monthly readers at www.adamenfroy.com. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Point Visible

At PointVisible, we believe in teamwork and love working together on big projects. Articles written under this name are either a result of teamwork of Point Visible team of writers, or a guest post from some of the industry experts.
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