Noticed the first page of Google SERPs is a little busy? Here's our "anatomy of a Google SERP," and how the features can affect your marketing efforts.

Get to know the anatomy of a Google SERP

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SEO

Noticed the first page of Google results is a little busy? It can sometimes be tough to keep up with the changes happening on search result pages, but knowing what you’re dealing with – and how it might affect your digital marketing efforts – is a key aspect of maintaining a strong online strategy.

As Amit Singhal said at Google I/O 2013, their goal is to “answer, converse and anticipate. A computer you can talk to? And it will answer everything you ask it?”

Google is constantly making additions and improvements to multimedia, contextual results (based on its semantic understanding of your audience’s queries). It can leave even the savviest marketer in the dark with so many terms, like “Local three-pack,” “AMP” and “Knowledge Graph” being thrown around. We’re here to help with a guide to the various features that can appear on the first page of results and what they mean for your content marketing strategy.

Cards

Cards are the basic building blocks of custom information on Google SERPS. These boxes contain pictures, local listings, AMP results (which we’ll get to later) and other non-traditional links that compete with traditional results for your audience’s attention.

Knowledge Graph

Google’s most complex feature, the Knowledge Graph, is a tool for answering, not just linking. Taking a page out of Wolfram Alpha’s book, Google processes your audience’s questions in conversational English and uses various widgets to provide quick, but dynamic answers right on the front page. According to SimilarWeb.com, Google has become so effective in answering questions that Wikipedia has seen a significant drop in traffic ever since the feature was debuted.

The Knowledge Graph is Google's largest SERP feature. It includes social media, casting, showtimes, Wiki information, reviews and links to maps.

The above image is a good example of a full-spectrum knowledge graph – you’ll notice social media, casting, showtimes, Wiki information, reviews and links to maps.

Google also uses the Knowledge Graph to improve its own relevancy. It refines its site ranking, as well as the content in its graphs, based on what results users click. Google can deduce how helpful and accurate their information and site rankings are from the user’s next action on the SERP page.

The Knowledge Graph is able to display information about a large variety of topics. For example:

  • Places – Maps, reviews, events, contact info, pictures, and directions – potentially pointing people to your business.
  • Things – Products, services and brands – all of which can link to websites, social pages, contact info and purchase CTAs.
  • People – Prominent individuals (and their spouses, family and associates), mini-bios, website, social links, pictures, and sometimes even net worth, height and weight. Your executives and thought leaders will want to have robust online profiles and information to potentially be showcased here.
  • Entertainment – Tour dates, popular songs, band members, movie schedules, social media pages, discographies and streaming services. Google rewards content-rich event marketing with links for tickets, merchandise and schedules.

Want to “hack” the Knowledge Graph? Take a look here for some of our tips.

Google Carousel

The Google Carousel often shows up to complement the Knowledge Graph. It displays as a horizontal, scrollable strip of thumbnail images that are relevant to the query. They differ from the standard Image results because they offer contextual answers to queries, rather than just pictures of what’s being searched – the images in the Carousel are categorically related rather than stylistically related.

To name a few, the Image Carousel can feature discographies, movie posters, foods, dog breeds, products, politicians and sports teams. Google pulls their Carousel photos from individual webpages, so beyond using clear, high-res pictures, your alt text needs to be descriptive and keyword-rich. To make sure your images are optimized for being listed, you can create a Local Google + page, populate it with information, pictures and links, and connect it to your website.

The Google Carousel complements the Knowledge Graph with scrollable images relevant to the query.

Tweet Cards

Googling terms related to current events or trending topics can turn up cards featuring recent Tweets related to the search term. Googling a celebrity or public feature, for example, can pull their personal Tweets into the SERP. If you keep your Tweets relevant and focused around trending industry events, your posts could show up on SERPs. As with any social campaign, keeping your ear to ground for online trends or events (like Wistiafest) is a must if you want your posts to spread.

Tweets that are reflective of trending topics can appear as cards on the front page of results.

Local 3-pack

Recently downgraded from seven listings to three, the Local Pack shows local listings along with a small, targeted map. The three local listings are related to the search term, and offer the option to expand to a separate page with more results and a full-screen map by clicking “More Places.”

The 3-pack usually shows reviews, ratings, addresses, contact info, a thumbnail picture and price ranges. Keep your Google local business information up to date with our local optimization checklist, so that you can show up in the new, more exclusive and prominent version of the Local Pack.

The Local Pack shows local listings along with contact info, reviews, links and a small map.

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs)

On mobile devices, AMPs are displayed as cards, and allow users to visit quick-loading pages. Most AMPs are news and blogs. To make sure your content is AMP-enabled, follow Google’s design guidelines, test that your page adheres to Google’s code specifications and that your content has the correct markup properties.

On mobile, AMPs are displayed as cards, and allow users to visit fast-loading pages.

Suggestions

In addition to all these featured and cards, Google always includes three different types of suggestions that point searchers toward other relevant topics for their queries. Marketers have no say in what is included in the lists their audience sees, but the suggestions can be helpful for marketers themselves. Think of these features as research tools, and as potential pathways through which users can find you too. Suggestions can be useful when topic mapping, researching keywords and related content, studying audience search patterns, and performing a competitive analysis.

“Searches related to”

The related search section at the bottom of the page shows other terms that are connected to the current query by either similarities in content or in common user search patterns.

"Related to" shows other similar Google queries.

“See results about”

Similarly to “disambiguation” in Wikipedia, which links to other uses of a term, this feature intelligently and contextually offers different types of results for a query in case the searcher intended to find a slightly different result.

"See results about" offers disambiguation results to refine your search query.

“People also ask”

This feature shows similar user questions that Google thinks might provide further value. Suggested questions can sometimes appear on SERPs even when the query itself is not in question form. User intent strategies are replacing traditional keyword techniques because they account for how people search, and what they are actually looking for.

"People also ask" shows what Google suggests will provide further value for your audience.

Miscellaneous featured results

Advertisements

While Google removed right-side ads in early 2016, they still display ads at the top and bottom of search results. Google Adwords is a powerful tool for reaching new and wider audiences with promoted links. Thorough research on their search behavior is crucial if you don’t want to waste money in misguided advertisements.

Searching "hotels" results in ads at the top of the SERP to help marketers reach new audiences.

Images

Searches for common terms will sometimes display a preview of most popular images for that search term. Images are different from the Google Carousel in that they are direct search results for the query, not contextual images related to the search. The more complete your caption, alt tag, or image description, and the higher the resolution and quality, the more likely it will be shown in this box.

A search for "boston common" will turn up a preview of Google image search results on the main SERP.

Recipes

Google knows when people are looking for cooking tips. The query “avocado salad,” for example, will automatically display recipe results, each with thumbnail pictures, reviews or rankings, prep time, and sometimes even nutritional information. If your brand is in the habit of sharing recipes, be sure you include all applicable information in your content so that it will be listed properly on SERPs.

Google rewards recipe pages that efficiently give all the most useful information up front, without lengthy introduction text or too many images appearing first. The more simple and direct your content is, and the quicker it can communicate how to make each recipe, the better it will rank.

A search for "avocado salad" will display recipe results with instructions and pictures on the front page.

News

When you search for a query that is relevant to current events, news results will populate of the front page. Similarly to “Images,” these results pull a sample of content from the News tab at the top of the SERP. If you are the first to tackle a popular, trending topic, your content may be featured on the front page ahead of traditional results.

Searching "bernie sanders california" brings up a preview of Google News results on the main SERP.

In-depth articles

Queries surrounding complex topics can bring up results that Google deems as “in-depth.” It sorts these articles, typically high-quality articles that provides educational value on a topic, apart from the rest of its results, with a subtle gray line separating them from the traditional links. B2B companies, such as brands in the tech, management, medical and software industries, can leverage their long-form content to appeal to people looking for an informative deep-dive, directly linked on Google SERPs.

Googling complex issues can bring up in-depth articles at the bottom of the SERP.

Medical

Searches for diseases, afflictions and injuries can turn up Medical Advice cards, which appear where the Knowledge Graph would normally be. The cards offer basic information, symptoms, treatments and pictures. Both B2B and B2C companies in the health industry can optimize their content to be linked to this feature. Under remedies for the flu, for instance, “throat lozenge” links to a Google search that turns up results including CVS, Walgreens and WebMD.

Medical advice cards will populate page one when users search for medical-related topics.

Knowing the anatomy of a Google results page will help you frame your content in the most Google-friendly (and people-friendly) ways. The better you can use Google to deliver your answer to your customers, the more you can satisfy their search needs. Attention spans are getting shorter, and searches are getting quicker. Utilizing Google’s first page features will help make sure that your content finds its audience.

 

Ben Silverman
Ben Silverman is a former marketing writer for Brafton. His writing experience dates back to his time reviewing music for The UMass Daily Collegian at UMass Amherst. Ben comes from a background in marketing in the classical and jazz industries.

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