What is a SERP?

Michael Jenkins
Michael Jenkins

CEO - Shout Agency
[email protected]

A SERP is a Search Engine Results Page—the page displayed by search engines like Google when a user inputs a search query. 

When a user searches for something, they’re presented with a SERP that contains a list of results ranked in order of relevance to their query. The goal of a SERP, from the search engine’s perspective, is to provide the customers with information and links to pages that best answer their search query. 

Marketers often talk about SERPs in the context of SEM—Search Engine Marketing. A lot of the time, the goal for brands and marketers is to create content that ranks highly on page 1 of the SERPs.

In the rest of this article, we’re going to break down all the different elements of a SERP, what they are, and how they’re determined. 

Anatomy of a SERP

Let’s start by breaking down the anatomy of a SERP. We can split search engine results pages up into several ‘levels’ based on where different elements usually appear on the page. These levels are as follows:

  1. Search query
  2. Enhanced results (search snippets)
  3. Sponsored search results
  4. Organic results
  5. Related queries

Let’s take a closer look at each of them

Search query

The search query appears at the very top of the SERP. This part’s nothing special, it just shows you the query that you searched for.

Directly underneath the search query, you’ll be able to see the number of results and the time it took to retrieve them. If Google thinks you’ve misspelt your search query, it will automatically search for the correct spelling and show you the term it searched for instead here too.

Enhanced results/Search snippets

Often, the next thing you’ll see on the SERPs are the ‘enhanced results’, also known as search snippets. These enhanced results are designed to provide the searcher with extra information at a glance.

An example of an enhanced result might be the ‘image carousel’ that often appears at the top of SERPs for highly descriptive queries. Another example could be the product rating box, or the conversion table or calculator that appears when you search for mathematical equations and currency conversions.

One type of enhanced result that marketers are paying close attention to is the ‘featured snippet’. This is essentially an answer box that pulls answers for direct-question queries from related web pages and places them at the top of the page.

On the one hand, this is great for marketers as you can jump to the top of the SERPs by getting your answer placed in the snippet. On the other hand, it takes away the need for searchers to actually click your website to get the answer, thus potentially reducing your CTR.

Note that enhanced results don’t always appear at the top of the SERPs. Sometimes, they appear in the sidebar, or further down the page.

Sponsored search results

Sponsored search results are paid advertisements. Brands can run Google AdWords campaigns in order to pay for clicks for certain keywords. Google ultimately exists to turn a profit so, naturally, they push these advertisements to the top of the results pages.

Google has also gotten a little sneaky with how they present these ads in recent years, and they now look a lot like organic results, with a clickable title, meta description, and page URL link. 

The easiest way to tell the difference between sponsored search results and organic search results is to look for the green text that says ‘Ad’ next to the page link.

Organic results

Below the sponsored advertisements are the organic results. These results show webpages that the search engine has deemed most relevant to the search query. 

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There are three main components to every organic result on the SERPs: a title, a link that points to the webpage, and a short description that provides a summary of the content or contains an extract from the content which includes the keyword in the search query. 

Search engines determine the title by looking at tags. <H1> tags tell the search engines that the text wrapped inside is the title of the page

These organic results can also sometimes display ‘rich snippets’. Rich snippets include additional information about the content, such as author names, publishing dates, events, quick-links, and more. They’re displayed in the Google SERPs when the publishing website contains content in structured data markup. 

Related queries

At the very bottom of the SERP, users are shown related queries that they can click to search for to make it easier for them to perform a follow-up search. These queries are shown under text that reads ‘Searches related to [search query]’. 

Below that, users can click to see other pages of the search results. The vast majority of searchers never click past page 1, which is why it’s important to nail your SEO and rank on the first page.

With that in mind, and before we finish, let’s take a quick look at how SERP rankings are determined.

How SERP rankings are determined

Organic search engine result page listings are generated by search engines based on an algorithm. The algorithm looks at a number of weighted metrics to calculate the best possible rankings, including how relevant the content is to the search term and how trustworthy the website that published it is.

There are many different factors that go into this—too many to mention in this post—but a good rule of thumb is to just focus on writing the best piece of content possible to satisfy search intent for your target keywords. We’d suggest reading up on on-page and off-page SEO factors to learn more.

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