A Definitive Guide to Google’s SERP Features
As someone who runs a Pub Quiz, I have to fact check constantly. Whether it’s finding out a key historical date, the cost of a new Macbook, or what kind of dog will fit into a Louis Vuitton handbag, I have to have the correct information, quickly. Finding answers for these questions would be a nightmare if not for Google’s SERP features. Rather than having to click-through to a multitude of websites, all the info is there on the SERP and you know the information is good because Google says it is.
SERP features are different elements and features that Google uses to show you information when you enter a query, beyond the normal organic results. The type of SERP feature you’ll be shown depends on the type of query you entered. If you type in “pizza places near me” you’ll most likely get a Local Pack in return. If you type in a celebrity’s name then you’ll most likely get a Knowledge Panel featuring some basic information. The primary goal for SERP features is to give the searcher the most relevant information as quickly as possible.
SERPs used to just contain link after link without much variation. Sites had to compete in the same ways to rank for a multitude of keywords without much to help distinguish themselves in the results. Now they can optimize their webpages for a few bells and whistles to increase their visibility in the SERPs.
SERPs in 2000
SERPs in 2017
As you can see, Google has added a lot to its growing toolbox of ways to relay information and answer questions.
Currently there are 16 different SERP features that Google has implemented:
But what have they meant for the evolution of SEO?
Well for starters they add nuanced ways to disperse information for different audiences. For the brands that aren’t industry leaders they represent a chance to build brand awareness and drive traffic. For marquee brands it’s a chance to give relevant information extremely quickly and cement their reputation as industry leaders.
Whether you’re a marquee brand or a small e-commerce operation, by optimizing your webpages according to certain guidelines, you can put your website on prime SERP real-estate to drive traffic or get people to your business quickly. So let’s take a look at each SERP feature and the practices that help get websites to rank as them.
A Featured Snippet is information pulled from a third-party website and displayed in a box typically at the top of a SERP with a link to the website the information was pulled from. Perhaps the SERP feature with the highest click-through-rate (CTR), the featured snippet is extremely valuable for driving traffic, instilling brand credibility, and establishing your brand authority.
This featured snippet has a direct link to our former site and occupies the first position in the SERP. While Google’s implementation of some SERP features–that provide answers immediately for queries such as this–can reduce the amount of users that click through, they actually retain good CTRs and drive traffic. Although the search volume is low for the above query, the CTRs are still at a high percentage.
To rank for a Featured Snippet you should be already ranking within the top 5 positions (sometimes it can be positions 6-10, although it’s very rare).
Using structured data like Schema Organization Markup can help search engines like Google understand your content a bit better. Schema markup is not required to rank for a featured snippet; however, as many other types of SERP features do require structured data to rank for them, it doesn’t hurt.
Featured Snippets don’t always come as direct answers to questions. They can be definitions of certain things as well, as noted above in Positionly’s Featured Snippet. If you want to increase your chances of ranking as a featured snippet, it helps to have FAQs or a knowledge base that tries to directly define and answer queries about certain topics.
E-commerce sites also have the ability to rank as featured snippets, which can link directly to product pages.
Difficulty of ranking as a featured snippet: Medium – High.
You should be ranking in the first 10 positions for a keyword, so after you climb that hill you can try to optimize your content accordingly.
Featured Snippet Value: High.
The traffic and credibility you get for ranking as a featured snippet is incredibly valuable.
Can it link to my site? Yes.
Clicking on a featured snippet will take you directly to the website.
Adwords’ (the first Google SERP feature) positions can typically occupy the first four positions of a SERP and drive traffic to your website, at a cost. Prices can vary as you will have a higher cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-mile (cost per 1000 impressions) depending on the search volume of the keyword you want to appear in relevant queries for.
While these ads may dominate up to the first 4 positions of a SERP, they do not carry the CTR value that top organic positions do. Take this study from Conductor about the CTRs of organic vs. paid results and other forms of traffic.
Organic traffic completely dwarfs that of paid traffic, and in the same article they also referenced a study by Groupon that found that 60% of all their direct traffic came via organic search. The study concluded that organic positions 1-5 accounted for about 67% of clicks, 3.7% for positions 6-10, roughly 6% for all results after, leaving just 3.7% for Adword positions. Hence, Adwords can provide a boost in traffic; however, it’s not the SERP feature to channel the majority of your effort and resources.
To get started on Adwords you can visit Adwords Express and follow their steps to begin your paid campaigns. You will only play when users click the ads that appear, so it’s not relative to how much time your ad appears in the SERPs unless you’re paying for cost-per-thousand-impressions (vCPM). An impression is anytime a query produces your ad to show up in the search results.
Difficulty to appear as an Adwords result: Low.
Just build your campaign on Adwords and start. It’s that easy.
The CTRs for adwords are much lower than traditional organic results, even for positions 6-10, so you’re better off optimizing your webpages with traditional SEO methods.
Can it link to my site? Yes.
Clicking on an Adwords result will take you directly to the page.
If Willy Wonka is the Featured Answer then Related Questions are the Oompa Loompas. Related Questions are the results that typically appear under Featured Snippets / Answers in an accordion style dropdown. They can often times contain answers from the page linked to in the Featured Answer, and sometimes all of the related questions can feature answers from the same web page, which gives a good 1-2 SERP feature punch.
They usually appear at the top of a SERP, but can be dropped a little lower if other information or SERP features occur between them and the Featured Snippet.
Try to rank for related questions in much the same way you would for Featured Snippets; with good SEO. Already ranking in the top 10 results will make it easier if your webpages are answering specific questions or defining certain things. FAQs and knowledge bases are great tools for these.
Difficulty to appear in Related Questions: Medium-High.
Similar guidelines that apply for Featured Snippets also pertain to Related questions.
They obviously have less of a CTR than Featured Answers do; however, people often type in queries and want answers for what’s in Related Questions rather than the answer box, and will thus look in the dropdown for answers to their queries.
Can it link to my site? Yes.
Clicking on a related questions result will take you directly to the page.
A Local pack is a SERP Feature that Google will display if the search engines believe a query has local intent in regard to locations. Queries like “pizza places near me” will return local packs. They are typically shown as 3 top results that will open up more local results and map locations when you click “More places”. They are extremely frequent with mobile queries, especially voice-searches as they are becoming more popular with the rise of mobile search.
- Optimize for local seo
- Use barnacle SEO directories like Yelp, Yellow pages, etc.
- Use Google My Business
- Have a website that is optimized for mobile. Response web design, adaptive design, or mobile URLs are great ways to build a mobile site.
- Use a Schema Organization markup for your business location, name, and telephone number
Difficulty to Rank in a Local Pack: Medium.
If you’re optimized for local SEO and implement the abovementioned practices, you can rank for this SERP feature with time and effort.
Local packs are great for driving real life business to your branch and have good CTRs.
Can it link to my website? Kind of.
Clicking on a local pack result will take you to the maps results page which will typically feature a Knowledge Panel with ratings, reviews, directions, hours of operation, and a link to the website.
Local teaser packs are so similar to Local Packs that they’re almost indistinguishable. The main difference between local packs and Local Teaser Packs is that teaser packs tend to feature hotel and restaurant results with more information regarding hours, reviews, pricing, and images while Local Packs highlight a wider variety of local businesses.
Follow the guidelines listed above for a Local Pack with special attention to filling out your organization schema markup completely.
Difficulty to rank in a Local Teaser Pack: Medium.
Following the guidelines mentioned above for optimizing your site for local SEO and you’ll garner similar results for a Local Teaser.
Prices, ratings, and photos give a surplus of information right there on the SERPs and it takes up a lot of quality real-estate on the page.
Can it link to my website? Yes.
Clicking on a local teaser pack result will take you to the maps results page which will typically feature a Knowledge Panel with pricing, ratings, reviews, directions, hours of operation, room availability if it’s a hotel or hostel, and a link to the website.
The ratings and reviews SERP feature will display rating stars and short reviews under the website listing. Results with reviews and stars typically have a higher CTR than those without, as they offer credibility via social proof right there on the SERPs.
With barnacle SEO sites like Yelp, they’ll provide you with API instructions on how to get your site listed with reviews that will then show up in the SERPs. If you’re a local business and want reviews to show up with regard to a Knowledge Card about your business, you can follow these instructions and apply the relevant schema review markup.
A knowledge card with reviews will look something like this:
Difficulty to Implement Ratings and Reviews: Low.
Follow the directions within Google and apply the correct schema markup and you’ll find results like the ones above.
Reviews and testimony often provide great social proof that your business has served others well in the past.
Can it link to my site? Kind of.
When they appear within SERP results under sites like Yelp, users that click on them will be taken to the Yelp page; however, when they appear in Local Packs or Knowledge Cards, a direct link to your site appears close to the reviews.
An in-depth article is a SERP feature that is hard to distinguish from a typical organic result. They are usually found at the bottom of a SERP and provide users with lengthy content about the subject they want to know more about. They are normally reserved for topics about people, organizations, and broad subjects.
This SERP feature is usually reserved for publications from top publishing houses and can appear in blocks of three. You can see how many other articles have referenced the linked ones, which only adds to their credibility right there on the SERP.
To appear as an in-depth article, you need a schema article markup and to correctly optimize the following elements:
- Alternative headlines
- image (must be crawlable)
- Publishing date
- Article body
You need to use rel=canonical tags for paginated content and if some of your pages require sign-ups or online registrations, you may not be eligible to appear as an in-depth article as Google will not allow for content to be posted it cannot crawl.
Difficulty to Appear as an In-depth Article: Low.
If your content is verifiable, long enough, and contains the correct markups, appearing as for this SERP feature isn’t too difficult as long as you are a recognized publisher.
They don’t do much in the way of driving revenue or traffic as are typically featured lower down in the SERPs.
Can it link to my site? Yes.
Clicking on an In-depth article will take you directly to the website hosting the document.
Sitelinks are other relevant links within your website that appear for queries involving your exact domain or brand name. They are extremely helpful in helping users get to main pages they want to see directly from the SERP.
Sitelinks have great CTRs and essentially let your website occupy up to 10 SERP positions within the first position. Sitelinks are effective SERP features for spreading traffic around your website and negating the hassle of needing to navigate from the homepage to the visitors’ desired page.
To get sitelinks for your website, you’ll need to make sure you have:
- Good navigational structure and hierarchy for your website. Internal linking is paramount here
- A sitemap that you’ve submitted to Search Console
- The website schema markup
Your site must also receive a decent amount of traffic under your brand name. Also, make sure your meta descriptions for each page are showing up properly and that they describe what each page will contain.
Difficulty to display Sitelinks in the SERPs: Low.
Follow the abovementioned steps and sitelinks should appear when branded queries are entered.
Value: Medium – High.
This SERP feature acts as a link multiplier on the SERPs, giving your top result up to 10 links for users to visit your site with.
Can it link directly to my site? Yes.
Sitelinks go to different parts of your website as displayed in the SERPs.
A Search Box also appears in conjunction with sitelinks, but gives users the ability to search for content on your site directly from the SERPs. You have to already have an existing search engine on your website to enable the search box feature.
If you don’t already have a search engine on your site, you’ll need to create one. You can use Google’s custom search engine and follow the steps listed here to build one.
Once you’ve built your engine, you can use this search action schema markup to your homepage to notify the search engines that you have a search box available to appear in conjunction with your sitelinks.
Difficulty to Display a Search Box in the SERPs: Low – Medium.
Sitelink search boxes are great ways for users to get straight to their desired content without having to navigate through your site.
If you have an experienced webmaster who can implement the correct markups and custom search engine, then you should be able to have the search box appear in conjunction to your sitelinks for branded queries.
Value: Medium – High.
Having users be able to search through your site from the SERPs is a great tool as they will find targeted content more easily and help your bounce rate.
Can it link directly to my site? Kind of.
Sitelinks created with a custom Google search engine will display results on a Google SERP that link to your website.
Twitter packs are a SERP feature that appears a little less than halfway down a page in most cases. They display the most recent or trending tweets in relation to a user’s query. They are somewhat one-dimensional as they are only beneficial for raising brand awareness.
Twitter packs are perhaps one of the more mysterious SERP features that Google has implemented. There have been tweets appearing on the SERPs from verified and unverified accounts. Some of these accounts have thousands of followers, while there have been some SERP tweets with just a few. This article from Dragonsearch details the peculiarities of SERP Twitter boxes and outlines how different kinds of twitter users have appeared for the twitter box SERP feature.
Difficulty to Appear as a Twitter Box in the SERPs: High.
With the specifications being unclear, it’s hard to say how difficult it is to rank for a twitter SERP feature; however, most twitter box SERP features do display tweets from users with high amounts of users and engagement.
The value lies in brand awareness; however, seeing as most of these only show up for brand name queries, the likelihood of someone finding a twitter box without knowing or searching for your brand name already is low.
Can Twitter Boxes link to my site? No.
They link to your twitter account.
News SERP features typically appear in the top half of the first results page for queries that involve trending topics and figures in real-time. For mobile results, a large portion of these articles are in the AMP format and increasing rapidly.
Notice the timestamps within each article as well as the publisher. You don’t need to be a brand name publisher to rank as a News Box; you just have to display the relevant information with the correct kind of markup.
Types of news that appear in the news box can be:
- Press releases
- Opinion pieces
- User-generated content
- Fact Check
- Paid subscription
- Free registration
From a general perspective according to Google for your your content be displayed as a News Box it must have:
- Timely reports on current events
- Accountability and transparency
- Accurate information
From a technical point of view it needs to have:
- Permanent article URLs
- HTML formatting
- Robots.txt and/or meta tags
- No multimedia content. However it does include youtube videos.
Furthermore, you can request inclusion into Google News after you have checked that your website and content meets the abovementioned criteria. If you’re adding mobile AMP content, you should also apply the correct AMP article schema markup to increase the likelihood that it shows up as a News Box SERP feature.
Given the levels of dubious reporting and fake news that has been so rampant recently, Google will really crack down on any information that is maliciously spread with the intent to mislead or trick consumers.
Difficulty to appear in a News Box: Medium.
The level of difficulty is relative to the competition and who can put reliable and trustworthy content up quickly.
News Boxes typically appear in the top half or third of the first page results and have excellent CTRs for general queries about current events.
Can News Boxes link to my website? Yes.
Clicking News Boxes will take you directly to the article.
Videos are features that can appear anywhere throughout a SERP. They used to have their own vertical, but now are displayed along with other organic results.
Depending on their location and the type of content the user wishes to see, video results can have varying CTRs.
Video results typically follow the normative SEO ranking guidelines set forth by Google Webmaster support. You’ll need to follow the video schema markup and provide details for the video’s description, thumbnail image, duration, and the date it was uploaded.
Difficulty to rank highly for a video in the SERPs: Medium.
Follow the guidelines and if your content is relevant enough to a query it may rank highly. For mobile, if it has the schema markup, Google may display it in a carousel for mobile queries.
Videos appear as normal organic results which can limit their value as a SERP feature as they may appear further down a SERP.
Can it link directly to my website? Yes.
If it’s directly from YouTube then it will link to the YouTube page; however, if you embed it on your website on a page specifically for the video, it can link directly to that page.
Shopping results will appear for transactional queries or queries involving direct brand and product names. Like Adwords, the results will normally appear at the top of a SERP.
These results feature the website name, pricing, and product image, which helps it stand out more from Adwords results and gives it a slightly higher CTR for direct transactional queries involving the product name.
To be displayed in Google shopping results, you’ll have to register with Google’s Merchant center. After you complete the process and set up your account you can add your products.
Difficulty to be displayed in Shopping Results: Low.
If your bid is high enough for a query with decent search volume, then you’ll accumulate impressions and most likely clicks.
The CTR for shopping results is a bit higher than Adwords and while organic results will still collect most of the clicks, direct transactional queries will reap in more of a benefit due to the added value of product images and pricing readily available on the SERPs.
Can Google Shopping results link directly to my site? Yes.
Clicking on the item will take you directly to the product page.
Images appear in context with relevant queries and can appear in any position on a SERP. These SERP feature results come from queries where Google determines that a visual aide will benefit the searcher. Clicking them will take you to the image within the Images vertical. From there you can click the image and be taken to the website.
To have your images show up for this SERP feature, you should have:
- Descriptive file names like: “old town warsaw.png”
- User-friendly URLs
- Proper alt attributes in place
- Quality image size
- Title tags
Difficulty to show up in an Image Box? Medium.
Optimizing your images with abovementioned criteria will help your image visibility in the SERPs, but it’s competitive so make sure your optimization is top-notch.
If your images are to be used by other marketers or businesses and it earns backlinks then great, but the CTRs to a website are generally low.
Can Images link to my site? Kind of.
They will first go to the Google Images vertical, and if clicked on from there users will be deployed to your website.
A knowledge panel is a card that typically appears on the right-hand side of a SERP and will often times display a short description along with other relevant information about the topic. This SERP feature appears in roughly one-third of all queries. The goal of Knowledge Panels is to give searchers basic information about a topic without them having to click through the SERP.
Google typically omits sources on Knowledge Panels so that the information will seem more authoritative.
If you’re searching for a specific business, then you’ll find additional information such as business hours, popular times for patrons, numbers, location, and more.
Google takes the information it displays in a Knowledge Panel from these sources:
- CIA World Factbook
If you’re a celebrity, business, or topic of significant interest, then it’s possible to have a Knowledge Panel featuring information about the topic in question. If you want your business featured then you’ll have to submit your business to Wikipedia with a link to your Wikidata. You’ll also need to use an Organizational Schema Markup and verify your Social Media pages.
Difficulty to be displayed in a Knowledge Panel: Medium.
As noted above, if you submit your data and use the correct schema markup, you can be displayed in a Knowledge Panel for your business with your business information and relevant ratings and reviews.
Yes showing up in a Knowledge Panel will lend some credibility to your brand, but it doesn’t help in driving traffic as it will appear for brand related queries only.
Can a Knowledge Panel Link to my site? Kind of.
The link is provided within business context only, so it’s no different from the link appearing for a normal query result that would already return your website address.
Knowledge cards are an extension of the Knowledge Panel and function in much the same way that Knowledge Panels do.
All the data used in Knowledge Panels correlates to what Google will display in a Knowledge Card as the information typically comes from one of the three sources listed above.
Even if you have your business listed in a Knowledge Panel, the chances of it appearing in a Knowledge Card are slim. The information would need to be extremely data oriented, verified by top informational sites like Wikipedia, and have enough of a search volume for Google to deem it worthy of a Knowledge Card.
Difficulty to rank as a Knowledge Card: High.
Your business and most of it’s relevant ongoings would need to have been documented extensively and verified.
If you’re a top brand then it helps verify your authenticity and can help users find information about it, but it doesn’t do much in driving traffic or increasing your bottom line directly.
Can a Knowledge Card link to my site? No.
Knowledge Cards do not usually contain links to a website as Google has compiled the data from one of the three sources listed above.
You can monitor any SERP features you may be ranking for with Unamo SEO. A module in the keyword section will show you what SERP features are present on a SERP with your ranking keyword. It will also tell if your keyword is ranking as one of the SERP features.
Furthermore you can see a timeline of when your keywords were ranking as SERP features to pinpoint any increases or loss in traffic.
Ranking for certain SERP features can provide a huge boost in traffic and click-through-rates. They allow users to quickly grasp relevant information about your website and provide structured ways of data dispersal to solve user problems right their on the SERP.
The days of digging through multiple sites for quick information are over; Google has created different and expedient methods to give you the information you want right their on the page while providing easier methods for webmasters to tailor their website’s and information in appealing manner for users and the search engines.