In the last few years, zero-click searches have grown substantially within the organic search results.
That means fewer eyes on your articles, and fewer customers coming through your blog.
Google is becoming increasingly proactive (to put it nicely) in the SERP - answering your prospective client's questions before they have a chance to click on your content.
If you don't start optimizing your website and content for SERP features, you're going to miss out on traffic, customers, and brand awareness.
This article will help you understand how SERP features are impacting your website traffic, dive into the top five, and improve the chance of your brand ranking better and driving more visitors.
Optimize your Site for SERP Features, Not Just SERP Ranking
What is a SERP feature?
A SERP feature is any result on a Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP) that is not a traditional organic result.
There are more than a dozen SERP features. These include (but aren't limited to):
- Featured Snippet
- Image Pack
- In-Depth Article
- Knowledge Card
- Knowledge Panel
- Local Pack
- Local Teaser Pack
- News Box
- Related Questions
- Shopping Results
- Site Links
Some of these, unfortunately, can't be influenced by your business (the knowledge card and panel, for instance).
There are also a few here, like news box, which won't be relevant to most businesses.
As a result, this article will focus on the five most influential SERP features - those features which can have the most significant impact on your business' traffic and CTR.
Why should I care about SERP features?
SERP features may be decreasing your brand's organic click-through-rates on search queries that are important to your business.
- No-click searches (searches in which people are finding the information they're looking for without clicking through on a link) are growing steadily
- Organic click-through rate is falling steadily, especially on mobile (where real estate is so important, and SERP features take up more space)
This impact is happening for a number of reasons:
1. Google is sharing your article or website's information without requiring a click-through.
For instance, if someone is searching for information about baking, they find the information they need immediately and without clicking through:
Sure, the full link is right there, but why would you bother clicking? The question has already been answered.
2. Google draws visual attention to SERP features through color, images, and encapsulation.
People can't help but fall victim to marketing psychology, and Google uses it exceptionally well in their featured snippets.
Here's a simple example of visual stimulus drawing a searcher's attention to the SERP feature:
Notice the image (blue and green stand out clearly against the white background), as well as the box around the SERP feature.
3. SERP features take up so much real estate.
With SERP features, the #1 organic result is relegated to just above the fold:
It's even more dramatic on mobile. Here's an example in which SERP features cover the first two folds (including Adwords):
3. SERP features can be dominated by Google's own content.
You'll be familiar with this when searching for a flight or other tourist information.
For instance, when you type "Where to go in Provence?" Google's search results include beautiful images which, when clicked, will send the searcher to a Google travel guide page.
Note the SERP sidebar is also a Knowledge Card (another SERP feature we'll get into later). This sends searchers to a Google travel guide of the Provence region:
Is there any good news?
Here's the thing: if your business isn't ranking for SERP features, you're likely to see a drop in traffic. If you can make it happen though, you'll see an increase.
For instance, even though your website or blog article may be organically ranking fifth or sixth for a search term, optimizing for SERP features could put you in the top spot - increasing your link CTR by up to 1000%.
Back in 2016, HubSpot found that ranking in the #0 position increased their click-through-rates by 114%, even when they already held the #1 position.
Imagine if you ranked in the #0 spot and the #1 spot. You'd dominate that SERP.
We'll get more into how you can get into the #0 spot (the spot above #1) later in this post. So keep reading!
So, what can you do to make sure your business isn't losing traffic to Google? How can we make sure you're getting the best possible placement?
First we need to understand what we're dealing with, and how you can optimize your website and content to show in SERP features (so Google doesn't decide against you).
Let's dive into the top five SERP features and how you can rank for them...
1. Featured Snippets
Featured snippets are likely the SERP feature you think of when you think of SERP features.
They're also the one which, if you manage to optimize correctly, can increase your business' click-through-rates the most.
Let's say you're curious about how websites track you around the web. You type in "how to see what cookies are on a website:"
The featured snippet tells you what you want to know. But wait, that information isn't from the top-ranked link! It's not even from the top five ranked links.
In fact, the company which is featured first (in the "#O" spot, as Google calls it) actually ranks sixth:
In short, the "SEO is everything" approach is changing. You don't, technically, have to optimize for search as well as your competitors.
So long as you optimize for SERP features, you'll appear before anyone else.
How to optimize your website for the Featured Snippets SERP feature:
- Focus your content on answering "How," "What," and "Why" questions. "When" and "Where" are likely going to be answered by Google's Knowledge Graph, which you can't compete with.
- Focus only on more complex ideas. For instance, definition questions (like "What is marketing") may be answered by Google's dictionary tool.
- Create your content and website subheaders with questions in mind.
- To determine which page on your website will match a search term most effectively (thereby making it most eligible to be a featured snippet) use the "site:" operator along with your search term.
2. Common Questions
The Common Questions (or "People Also Ask") SERP feature is a close relation to the featured snippet, but appears more frequently.
While Featured Snippets appear on approximately 11% of search results, Common Questions appear on 17%.
Google currently features 4 Common Questions, with an additional five appearing after a searcher engages:
The content in the dropdowns is curated from whichever webpage has answered them most effectively.
So make sure you're answering not just the primary search term, but related questions as well.
How to optimize your website for the Common Questions SERP feature:
- Keep with your Featured Snippet optimization, as Google uses the same tools to extract both from your content.
- Create an FAQ on your website, with a question and answer structure for the most frequently asked questions your prospective customers ask. Inter-link heavily between your top articles and this FAQ.
- Monitor your internal links from Google Webmaster Tools.
This SERP feature is particularly relevant to ecommerce and B2B companies, for whom a visually-appealing product results in a visually-appealing financial report.
Even if images aren't the top SERP feature, they get clicked very frequently given their placement because they're a far more engaging link than the generic blue above them.
Plus, they enable searchers to click through to a specific product which looks like the one they're looking for, rather than a general product directory page.
How to optimize your website for the Images SERP feature:
- Ensure your images are high quality, but not too large a file size to slow down your page load time. Slow load times result in a drop in your search ranking.
- Use descriptive alt-tags and file names.
- Use SEO-friendly URLs.
4. Local Pack
You'll be as familiar with the "Local Pack" as you are with the featured snippet, if not more.
The Local Pack feature shows Google Maps results, reviews, open hours, and a physical address.The local pack changes based on where your searcher is in the world.
For instance, here's how the SERP page appears for the search "Top restaurants in Vancouver:"
How to optimize your website for the Local Pack SERP feature:
- Make sure your website is optimized for mobile, as many people use the Local Pack to navigate to your website while on the go.
Make sure your website is optimized for Local SEO.
- Make sure you've updated and maintain your Google Business Profile
- Ensure you've added your website to TripAdvisor, Yelp, YP.com, etc.
- Add schema markup to your website's backend (allowing Google to see your whole website)
Note: Optimizing your website for the "local pack" SERP feature is a good idea for sales as well.
Typing "men's jackets" into Google results in a map and links for where to buy men's jackets before it provides images or links to do so. Searchers don't need to express buying intent for your business to appear in the local pack.
5. Reviews and Sitelinks
Reviews and sitelinks are SERP features specific to your business - usually appearing when someone types in your business name.
Here's an example from a pub. Notice the images, star reviews, address, and more:
And here's an example from SpyFu:
You'll notice two things here:
1. The sitelinks beneath the search result.
These allow searchers to navigate quickly and easily to the topic they're most interested in. This improves your business' conversion rate no less than nav optimization does in your website itself.
2. The business information on the right side.
This is a "Knowledge Card" - from Google's Knowledge Graph. Unfortunately for smaller or newer businesses, you don't have much control over this. Knowledge Graph information is based on human-edited data or appears only from partnerships between Google and the company itself.
So let's focus on what we can impact.
How to optimize your website for the Reviews and Sitelinks SERP features:
- Be sure you have schema markup for reviews added to your website.
- Build a clear site structure, and make sure all links are active.
- Create and add a sitemap to Google Search Console.
- Be sure you have SearchAction anchor markup added to your website.
Relevant Tools and Resources
- On-Page SEO Checklist: Before you can approach optimizing for SERP features, you need to get on the first page. Review this checklist before diving into SERP feature optimization.
- Search Engine Results Page Analysis Tool: Run your business' target keywords through this SERP analysis tool. You'll get deep analysis and recommendations it would take you hours to find yourself, all with a single click.
- What is SEO? A Simple Guide to Search Engine Optimization: The complete guide to SEO for beginners, this free resource is where you should start.
- Google's Structured Data Testing Tool: Google's structured data test is an essential part of ensuring your website reviews show in search results, which can be the difference between searchers choosing you over a competitor.
- Google's Schema Review Markup Tool: Having complete schema markup on your website ensures you show for the local pack, have sitelinks, and display reviews.
SERP features are an opportunity for your business to drive more traffic.
Unfortunately, they're also an opportunity for Google to eliminate the need for anyone to click through on your links at all.
SEO has always about doing the thing Google wants us to do more quickly than our competitors, and this is no different.
Optimizing for SERP features is the best way to ensure your brand doesn't fall by the wayside. Because you can be damn sure your competitors are paying attention.
Use the actionable tips from this post to optimize your website and content for SERP features:
- Focus on answering your prospective customer's questions specifically and more completely than your competitors.
- Focus on your website's backend: Create schema markups, add and maintain sitemaps, interlink your content, and all the rest. This is as important for SERP features as it is for general SEO.
- Use a keyword researching tool to dive into what type of content ranks, then create that content with SERP features in mind as well as SEO.