Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS): What Are They and Why They Matter

Wednesday, May 29th
Content Manager

Mark Wilson

Search engines don’t just produce traditional results anymore. There are myriad types of results that you could see in a given search, known as SERPs.

This, increasingly, is what search engine analysts are concerned with. Gone are the days when the first organic (i.e. non-paid) listing on a Google search is all you need to worry about.

This can be intimidating, because there are literally dozens of types of results that you might see, depending on the search query.

That’s why we’re here to break these down for you, and also explain how you can give yourself a better chance to rank for numerous results. 

What’s a SERP?

SERP stands for Search Engine Results Page. This is the page that appears when you input a search query and could include numerous types of results.

We’ll go into more detail on SERP types below, but you’ve already seen tons of them. Shopping results, image results, video results, the local map showing you the location of businesses, and very recently AI results at the top of a page. There are more, but that should give you an idea of what we’re talking about.

These are all SERPs that should interest you. Maybe not every single one of them. But if you’re a business with an online presence, you’ll want to work toward getting listed on several SERP types.


Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the catch-all term that refers to tons of different practices that help web results rise to the top of search engine results. Google gets most of the attention here, but other search engines like Bing and Yahoo also have some market share.

Rewind several years, and SEO was all about getting the top organic result on Google. For example, if you were a local plumber and someone in your area searched “plumber near me” you’d hope to have your website be the #1 result.

These days, SERPs have taken over a lot of search queries. That same organic result for plumbing might be the 10th item listed on a page. Above will be 2-4 paid ads for local businesses, a “Google Guaranteed” listing or two for local businesses, a zoomable map with local businesses pinned on the map (with their address and phone numbers listed to the side), and only then might your website be listed.

This means that a page result that generated a lot of traffic 10 years ago might generate none now, because people are a lot more likely to click on one of those other items.

For clarity, not every search has this many elements on its results page. Increasingly, though, your website won’t be listed at #1 even if it’s the top organic listing in Google’s system. Some combination of other types of results will be pushed to the top instead.

Bottom line: SEO isn’t just about getting that top organic result anymore. It’s about appearing on relevant SERPs in the most advantageous places.

The Ever-Changing World of Search Engine Results

As I write this, Google has just started experimenting with AI-generated answers as their top result for many searches. By the time you read this, they may be on to something else, and will undoubtedly have introduced new SERP features that don’t exist currently.

Even the same search made by two different people on the same day can often display different results, because Google is constantly running small experiments with their results to test them.

So there aren’t rules that are 100% in stone when it comes to any of this. This can seem frustrating, but it can also help you understand what’s important, because:

  1. Best practices for appearing in searches and SERPs are widely known, even if the details can change.
  2. If anyone tells you they have a guaranteed way to get you to #1 on Google, not only are they lying, but they also don’t know what they’re talking about since #1 can mean many different things depending on the business, product, service and search query in question.

How to Rank for SERPs

As mentioned above, there isn’t a single strategy that will work for all use-cases. But some of the overarching strategies are well-known and proven to help you rank for various SERPs.

  1. Optimize your Google Business Listing: particularly if you have a local or regional presence, your Google Business profile (and related ones like Bing listing) can help you appear in those map packs we mentioned earlier.
  2. Use Semantic HTML to Properly Structure Your Content
  3. Generate High-Quality Content in Your Field
  4. Consider Paid Ads for Targeted Keywords
  5. Don’t Stop Iterating

Organic vs. Paid SERPs

We alluded to it above, but if we’re looking at ALL possible results, we have to consider both paid and non-paid (i.e. organic) results. These two categories break down further into different types of SERPs but it can be useful to think of them separately.

Paid results are things like the text ads you’ll sometimes see at the top of a Google search. These will be marked as “Ad” or something similar.

Similarly, Google Local Services offers paid opportunities for local businesses to appear above even traditional paid listing, but this is on a cost-per-lead basis.

Organic listings are traditionally those that we’re most used to: there will be the name of a website or page, and some information in smaller text beneath it. This information could include a description of the page’s content, or ancillary links to other resources on that website.

A broader definition of organic listings would include things like appearances in the local map pack. These have also started to feature sponsored (i.e. paid) listings that may bump out one or more organic listings. But most of them are simply selected by Google as the most relevant for the searcher’s inquiry.

Rarely does an organic-only or paid-only strategy work well for businesses. Organic listings don’t cost an ongoing fee, but are not as useful for generating consistent leads for specific searches.

Conversely, paid ads can generate leads, but also represent a continual cost. And since you’re competing with other, similar companies for either type of listing, you’re never going to have a monopoly on paid or organic listings.

In fact, there are subsystems in Google’s algorithm designed specifically to prevent one brand from taking over all SERPs of a particular type!

So a hybrid approach is usually best, but the better you perform in one area, the less time, effort and money you may need to spend on the other.

Types of Common SERPs

Ok, so we’ve listed a handful of SERPs, but more exist. Below we discuss some of the most common SERPs you’ll want to be aware of, and also some strategies for maximizing your chances of appearing in the results.

Local Packs

If you’re a local or regionally-based business, most of your digital business is likely to come from two sources:

  1. The number listed on your Google Business profile
  2. The contact info listed for your business on the local map pack that appears for many local searches.

Those two items also lead me to the core strategy for appearing on local map packs: optimizing your business profile on every relevant platform, and primarily Google.

This means not only creating a listing, but including a comprehensive list of services, uploading photos and/or short videos to the platform regularly, linking your social media feeds to the platform, and making social-style posts to Google regularly.

This can sound like a lot of work, and it is! However, remember that a lot of your customers will never actually visit your website, but will get their information directly from Google and contact you from there. Having a thorough business listing is a must.

There are even integrations with Google Business that allow people to schedule appointments or have goods delivered solely by interfacing with a business’s Google profile.

If you’re not doing these things, you could be losing business! 

Featured Snippet

With a lot of searches these days, the top result will attempt to answer your question for you by providing a short paragraph of information before providing a link to learn more.

In recent years, this has morphed into an AI-generated result that pulls from top pages.

However, even in the AI results, there is often a link to the results from which it’s pulling. Other times, the description is directly from a website, not aggregated by AI.

Either way, these “featured snippet” results often get the most clicks on a results page.

The strategies for being featured in such snippets vary but here are some common ones:

  1. Utilize semantic HTML elements to frame a topic with a sub-header and answer it succinctly in the body copy.
  2. The strategy above seems to be more effective when the snippet is near the top of a longer piece of content.

Knowledge Graph

The knowledge graph is a box that will appear at the top of a search about some factual or historical topic. Searching for one of the US presidents, for example, might produce a knowledge graph that includes pictures, dates of birth and death, years of their presidency, and so on.

There’s no best way to be one of the results used to develop this knowledge graph (which gives you more chances to receive clicks from things like images). Having authoritative, thorough, easy-to-digest content is the best advice we can offer here, and that advice carries throughout nearly any SERP type you could name.

Emergency Information

We list this because it’s common, but unless you’re a large healthcare or weather organization, it may not be worth your time to try to become the source for these SERPs.

Much like the knowledge graph above, many searches will have an information panel at the top of the search with the most relevant information.

This could be related to weather emergencies, or things like what to do when someone’s having a heart attack.

Clear, actionable, well-sourced information on a well-known, authoritative website is generally the only way you’ll be listed for one of these SERPs.

People Also Asked

If you Google nearly any topic, you won’t have to scroll far to see a dropdown panel of other, similar questions people have asked.

Beyond being a great way to see what your customers are searching for, you can use these questions to structure your website’s FAQs and content topics to give yourself a chance to be featured in them.


Image results are becoming more popular. In fact, many searches are looking specifically for images instead of website results, and Google is very good at picking up on this intent.

Having clear, relevant photos, descriptive meta-text on your photos, and tying them to comprehensive informational pages can be a great way to appear for image results.

You might be surprised at the traffic you can generate from images!

Shopping and Product Listings

eCommerce sites will want to have their product listings appear in results. This is where you need to familiarize yourself with Google’s Merchant Center and related functions.

If someone types in the brand of Nike shoes they want to buy, for example, maybe they’ll make it down to the 5th organic listing to find your website, but chances are they’ll click on one of several shopping listings closer to the top.

Social Media Results

Google will often embed social media posts directly into search results. This varies by topic, but if you’re covering something trending, having a popular post about it can get you listed.

This can’t seem forced, though, or you’ll lose engagement on the social sites themselves. Google listings for your Tweets (sorry, X’s) or Instagram stories are great, but not at the expense of interactions on those platforms themselves.

Related Searches

Related searches aren’t something your business can be listed for, since they’re words or phrases related to the original query. However, you can use these related listings to understand what similar searches you should be attempting to target.

Topical News Stories

If a celebrity has been in the news and you do a search for them, news stories related to their recent actions will likely pop up first.

If you don’t normally cover breaking news stories, it’s usually not worth going after these listings. However, if you’re a news source, it can be useful to improve your content and website’s domain authority so that it has a greater chance of appearing in topical headlines.

The Google “Answer Engine” and What It Means For SERPs

There’s been a lot of talk about Google transitioning to an “answer engine” instead of a search engine. The theory goes that they are uninterested in getting people to click away from Google, and so they’re trying to provide as many answers and solutions within Google’s environment as possible.

This has potentially concerning implications for websites and businesses that rely on web traffic for a meaningful portion of their business.

And I’m here to tell you that…well, it’s actually kind of true. Google has transitioned away from being a site that ushers you to a website, and is becoming a one-stop-shop for a lot of different types of online interactions. This is unlikely to stop any time soon.

Other search engines tend to follow Google’s lead, and are similarly monetized, so there are similar transitions happening on Bing and elsewhere.

I’m not a huge fan of this, and dislike how much influence it puts in the hands of a single company to distribute information and access to the world.

But I’m also practical. When technology shifts - and it always does - you have to adapt with it to survive.

Yes, organic listings on search engines aren’t as important as they used to be. But they still drive billions in traffic per day. They still matter.

Now, though, companies need to be smarter about which topics they target for organic rankings. If a search is likely to have 10+ SERPs before the first organic listing, it doesn’t much matter who has that #1 organic slot. But for others, it’s still a huge driver of traffic, leads and revenue.

Similarly, discerning which SERPs matter most to your businesses is a necessity. This way, you avoid time, money and staff resources to pursue SERPs that won’t have an impact on your bottom line, while going after ones that will.

Why SERPs Matter

Hopefully I don’t actually need to spell this out any further, though we’ll summarize some things below. If you’ve made it this far, you already know why SERPs matter.

Ideally, you also know why they matter to you, which is ultimately the point of this article and any research you’ll want to do into SERP rankings.

SERPs represent both paid and organic opportunities for people to find your business, its products or services, and either engage with your website or contact you directly.

Planning For SERPs in Your SEO Strategy

For a long time people would claim that Content is King. I still believe that it’s the pillar of any good SEO strategy, but good content on your website alone is no longer sufficient for a holistic marketing and SEO strategy.

A mix of paid and free efforts to target relevant searches and SERPs that are most likely to generate business will yield the greatest results.

Constantly updating and iterating on strategies and profiles will help your listings to rank higher and appear active to users.

And aligning your messaging across SERPs will give your brand a voice that can cut through the clutter of search engine results and deliver meaningful results for your business.

If you’re looking to delve further into these strategies, both paid and organic, this is what Leadflask does for our clients. We help to build authoritative brands, and do this through a variety of strategies catered to your specific goals, budget and industry. If you’d like to explore those possibilities with us, reach out today!

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