SERPs, what are they and why should I care?

SERPsSERPs are ‘Search Engine Results Pages’ (the pages of search results you see after submitting your search query).

Understanding what kind of content is presented to you in the SERPs, and how it got there, can help you be a more shrewd and savvy searcher.

If you’re a business owner, with or without a website, getting to know what the SERPs have to offer gives you more ways to market your products and services, and maximize your web visibility.

A Google Results Page

Google SERPs ScreenshotAt the end of this post is a large screenshot of a Google search results page with the various parts identified (click on the thumbnail on the left to see it now). It highlights the paid and organic listings, the shopping results and the universal search results, all of which I’m now going to describe in more detail.

Organic vs Paid Search Results

One of the first things you need to know about SERPs is that they usually offer at least two kinds of results, organic search results, and paid search results.

On the left of the SERP you will see the organic listings, which are given the majority of the page space. The term ‘organic’ is used to describe the non-paid search results that are ranked by Google’s calculation of their value and relevance to the search query you’ve entered. The owners of the organically listed websites have almost certainly spent time working on the quality of their content and optimizing their web pages for the search engines.

Paid search listings are placed at the top and right hand side of the page (or sometimes only on the right hand side of the page). These results are labeled ‘Sponsored Links’ and if placed above the organic search results are distinguished by a pastel backround. This is what is known, among other things, as ‘Pay-Per-Click’ advertising. The advertiser has to pay for every click through to their site via one of these paid search results.

So as a web user, when choosing what to click on, it’s important to bear in mind, that the organic results have earned their placement based upon their content. The sponsored listings have paid for their placement.

Universal Search & Google Base

Also, on the left, in the main body of the Google search results pages, you might see some other results from Google’s ‘Universal Search’. These are results Google offers if it’s pertinent to your search query.

For example if you are doing a search on a product, you’re likely to see shopping results at the top of the page listing the product and various prices. These listings come from Google’s ‘Product Search’ database. If you own an e-commerce website you can upload your products and related information, for free, to Google Base for the opportunity to have your product listings show up for related shopping searches.

Google’s Universal Search also includes, when relevant, video results, image results, news results, book results and more.

Local Search: Google’s Local Business Listings

google-local-searchIf you are searching for a service and use a town or city name in your search, then Google will show a map and a list of 1-10 related business listings at the top of the search results page.

As of April 2009, even if you don’t use the town or city name, Google will try to identify your location and show you the local business listings if you type in a location-relevant search term such as ‘restaurants’ or ‘bicycle repair’.

If you’re wondering how Google knows where you are located, you can read more about it here – http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/04/google-becomes-more-local.html

There are a couple of ways Google gathers content for these listings. They either retrieve the information from other web sources, or the business owners  set up a Google Account and enter their business information via the Local Business Center. This is one of many free services Google provides.

In this post we’ve touched on organic vs paid search, shopping results, universal search and local search and have pretty much covered all of the basics of the Google SERPs page. If you have anything to add or any questions, feel free to leave a comment.

Example Google Search Results Page

google-product-search

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