If you consider how different a Google SERP (search engine results page) looks now compared to 5 years ago, it’s clear to see that search marketing has been through an often-painful process of evolution.
I’d posit that organic search has been changed by 3 main drivers:
- Changes in the way we search – including the rise of mobile
- Changes in what Google can and wants to show us – maps, knowledge graphs and so on
- Reactions to search marketing – de-incentivising keyword spamming, for example
In this article, we’ll look at what the SERP looks like and what that means for SEO now, specifically what that means for us as search marketers.
The battle for the top spot
In some people’s eyes, SEO has always been about getting the number 1 spot for a set of keywords – some based on user intent, some based on internal vanity.
We’ve always taken a more scientific, pragmatic view: your organic search strategy should be about increasing the organic traffic to your website, and that traffic should be relevant and valuable. Now ranking number 1 for a high-volume keyword may well spike your organic traffic, but it might not lead to a large increase in conversions. That’s because a high-volume keyword isn’t necessarily a high converting one.
With all that in mind, the reality is that the top organic spots are now more valuable than ever. This is due to the sheer amount of other information on the SERP – all of which drives the ‘traditional’ organic search results further down the page.
Therefore, if you want your organic listing to appear ‘above the fold’ or close to it, then you’re probably looking at competing for the top three organic spots.
Find out more about our SEO strategy.
Diversify or decline
How do we respond to this extremely competitive landscape? We need to diversify.
The aforementioned approach of measuring your performance purely based on your rankings on a set of keywords is now more fraught than ever. If you try some different types of searches, you’ll start to see why taking on a more holistic approach is beneficial.
For example, if I make what you might consider a ‘ready to purchase’ style search – for example SEO agency – I get what I would consider a fairly atypical SERP. Here’s what I see ‘above the fold’…
That’s 4 ads and a Google Map pull through showing 3 results based on my geographic location. So, for this potential ‘vanity term’, I’m seeing no traditional organic listings above the fold.
But what happens if I try a different kind of search – what about some searches that might occur further back in the decision-making process? For example, why hire an SEO agency and is my SEO working…
Now we’re starting to see some different looking SERPs – ones that feature organic listings much higher up the page.
What does this tell us about how we need to approach our SEO strategy? Well, for one it shows us why we need to diversify both our SEO thinking and our content – it’s not enough to just hammer SEO agency.
Not only is it an oversaturated SERP with little in the way of organic space to compete for, we’re only really capturing people who are likely at the end of a research and decision-making process. Other brands will have likely interacted with them and already made a positive impact.
To get ahead of this, we can create content and optimise around associated terms. That means terms directly related to that core enquiry, as well as terms related to research that someone interested in that offering is likely to be doing. This way we can find an organic search space that is far more efficient – both in terms of giving us space in which to compete, but also in terms of getting in front of prospects earlier in their journey.
Taking every organic opportunity
The reduced visibility of traditional organic search listings shouldn’t be the only thing jumping out at you. There are now a number of other organic arenas to compete in.
You see, Google giveth and Google taketh away – while the traditional organic listings have been pushed down the page, we can now feature in:
- Knowledge Graph Results
- Local Search Results
- Featured Snippets
Let’s look at what each of these are and how we can appear in them.
1 – The Knowledge Graph – older than you might realise
Google launched the ‘Knowledge Graph’ way back in 2012, so it’s really a bit old to be talking about in terms of ‘what is SEO now’ – but this area of the SERP is still a vital piece of real estate.
If I Google Google (bear with me) I get the following SERP, including a Knowledge Graph…
The Knowledge Graph pulls information from public sources like Wikipedia in an attempt to provide you with the information you’re looking for on the SERP – this means you don’t need to click through to anything, Google have already served you what you were searching for.
When the Knowledge Graph really matters
The Knowledge Graph takes up a huge proportion of the SERP, so for us as search marketers it’s clearly an area of the page that we want to appear in.
Now in many cases, you simply won’t be able to achieve this. For the vast majority of generic queries, Google doesn’t show a Knowledge Graph.
Where this is important, however, is around brand searches – particularly if your competitors are bidding on your brand terms and making it difficult for you to capture all of your brand traffic.
Having your Knowledge Graph entry appear for your brand terms is a great way to overpower any aggressive PPC activity from your competitors.
How to appear in the Knowledge Graph
For the kinds of brands we work with, the most common way to appear in the knowledge graph is through a Wikipedia article.
Having a Wikipedia article about your brand is a win-win – it means you’re appearing on one of the biggest independent information resources in existence and it means you’re featured on one of those public sources Google uses to generate the Knowledge Graph.
Now, Wikipedia isn’t quite the content free-for-all it used to be, so getting a page added might be more difficult than you’re expecting – but it’s an ordeal worth going through to claim that much organic real estate.
2 – Local SEO
Moving away from digital marketing examples for a second, long gone are the days when I’d search for coffee shops colchester. Now I just search for coffee shops and expect Google to do the rest.
My geographic location is now a vital ranking factor. In the below screenshot, you can see the top traditional organic result is tailored based on that factor. However, the section of the SERP I’d like to focus on is the area boxed in red – Google’s three mapped, local business results.
As you can see this is a huge piece of organic real estate. Not only does it get you in front of the user, it also comes complete with reviews and photography to build you up in the eyes of that user.
All in all, it’s a great place to get your business seen on the SERP. So, to answer your next question…
How to feature in the local search results
These local search results are pulled through from Google My Business. If you haven’t already, you should claim your Google My Business page – it’s free, and as you can see it can give you some great organic exposure.
If you haven’t claimed your My Business page then you will need to go through an approval process. Essentially, Google needs to confirm that you are who you say you are, and that you are based where you claim to be.
Once you have your My Business page, it’s time to get to work optimising it. That means uploading your logo and photos – as well as writing a good description of your business. You’ll then need to add categories, opening times, and so on.
Work through the list until your My Business listing is complete.
Bing has a similar business directory – it’s worth making sure your business is registered there as well.
3 – Featured Snippets, for when you have the answer to the question
A Featured Snippet is something Google defines as different from Knowledge Graph – instead it’s a normal search result but placed within a special layout. There was a Featured Snippet in one of the previous examples and it’s repeated below with the Featured Snippet boxed in red.
Google’s page on Featured Snippets explains how they are sourced as follows:
“The summary is a snippet extracted programmatically from what a visitor sees on your web page. What’s different with a featured snippet is that it is enhanced to draw user attention on the results page. When we recognize that a query asks a question, we programmatically detect pages that answer the user’s question, and display a top result as a featured snippet in the search results.”
Featured Snippets are, as Google states, a big attention draw on the SERP. If you can get your website to show up in one, it’s an impactful piece of organic real estate to possess.
So once again, let’s get onto the important stuff…
How to show up in Featured Snippets
The first step here is to identify the kinds of searches that Google is showing Featured Snippets for – those being questions or searches that imply a question. The is my SEO working example above is a good one.
Now we need to take that understanding into our keyword research. Taking your key products, services and offerings, think about questions that are relevant to your users that you could answer. Run those questions through your keyword planning tool and look for significant volumes.
Once you’ve found the set of questions you want to answer, it’s time to create some content that specifically addresses them. The important thing here is that you provide a clear and direct answer to the question, and that that answer is easy for both search engines and users to find on the page.
To make this process more beneficial for you, you can then look at providing more beyond this – further content to improve organic performance and then calls to action so that you have an opportunity to convert.
If you find this isn’t enough to get you into the Featured Snippet for the questions you’ve identified, look at the answer that is being pulled through. What are they doing better than you? How can you optimise and improve?
There’s still plenty of organic opportunity
The squeeze on traditional organic listings sometimes leads to people claiming that SEO is dead. If you’d like to see how your traffic levels suffer by abandoning organic altogether, then that’s a risk you’re welcome to take – but it’s certainly not something I’d advise.
The reality is that SEO isn’t dead, it’s just different.
A strong understanding of the keywords you should be targeting alongside a diligent approach to technical SEO will still take you a long way – you just need to add on the necessary expertise to take advantage of these other opportunities to dominate the SERP.
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Whether you need baseline SEO advice or are looking to take advantage of Knowledge Graph, Local Search Results and Featured Snippets, our SEO experts have the knowledge to deliver the results you need.
Find out more about our approach to SEO and how we can help you take advantage of the organic opportunities that are out there!