Search engine optimization or SEO is one of the most effective ways to build a strong foundation for your online presence. With SEO, you make incremental changes to your website to make it more likely for search engines to rank it higher on results pages. When you have higher rankings, you tend to have more organic traffic, increasing customers or clients.
Improving your website's rankings in non-paid search results is a more sustainable way of building your brand. It is because these rankings aren't easily influenced through pay-per-click placements—the higher your placement, the more relevant your website is for the keyword in question. Get high enough spots for keywords related to your brand, and you'll always be on top of SERPs or search engine results pages, making you top-of-mind for customers.
Most organic search results in Google look like this:
These results are called "blue links." In the past, Google's entire organic search results page looked like this—today, there is a variety of elements on SERPs.
Although SERPs still operate on the same principles—show information most relevant to the keyword—they are also more dynamic today. New elements like People Also Ask, paid ads, and Featured Snippets make the user experience better for readers, making marketing more complex.
Today, being the first organic result on a page isn't enough to earn your traffic. Sometimes, keywords are so competitive that the first organic result isn't "Position Zero," or the top spot of a page—that place could go to a paid ad, knowledge graph, or a featured snippet. Here are things you could see in a Google SERP instead of an organic result.
A featured snippet is a short excerpt that answers the searcher's query. These snippets appear near or at the top of search results, and a snippet comes from top-ranking results.
A video or product carousel shows thumbnails or pictures related to a query. The carousel takes up a single organic position, which is fine if you want to build awareness and aren't concerned with a piece's ranking.
A Top stories box will show recently published articles or reports on a given topic. Usually, these show up in organic results for news-related searches or important current events.
Another element you can encounter is the People Also Ask (PAA) box, which shows questions that searchers tend to look up when they search a given keyword. This section collapses or expands into an accordion. You can launch new search results pages from the questions you find in this area.
Keep in mind that these four aren't the only types of rich results you could get from Google. There are more than 30 types, including ones highlighting books, data sets, events, Q&A pages, social profiles, video, and much more.
Most searchers—75 percent—don't look at results beyond the first SERP when conducting research. Website owners who want to build their organic presence for specific keywords must ensure that their pages are high up on SERP rankings.
These results are crucial because they drive "free" traffic to you—all you need to do is produce content relevant to your keywords. Although you will have to spend when creating and uploading content, this method is still more cost-effective than pay-per-click ads.
Google does not disclose how they rank web pages, but they provide guidelines on making content more relevant to a website owner's niche or industry. Backlinks, relevance, HTTPS, mobile friendliness, and content freshness are crucial factors for rankings. Here is a closer look at each.
According to Google's Search Quality Senior Strategist, Andrey Lipattsev, backlinks are crucial for SEO strategy. The best starting point is to check who links to your competitors' top-ranking pages and figure out why they do.
In very basic terms, page relevance is how closely your page matches the keywords in a search query. However, having the "right" keywords isn't enough—your page must align with search intent as well.
For example, the SERP for the keyword "fabric stores," as shown below, implies that the searchers aren't conducting informational searches. Instead, they want to buy fabric—the top results are ads for products and stores in the area.
Meanwhile, the SERP for "most popular fabric prints" shows that people are looking for blog posts or roundups, not places that sell cloth. These keywords fall under the same general topic, but their search intent is different. The first keyword, "fabric stores," implies that the person searching is looking for a supplier or ready to purchase. Meanwhile, the second keyword, shown below, seems like it'll be used by someone who's still researching what to make.
Since 2014, Google has considered HTTPS as a ranking factor. This transfer protocol encrypts data and improves a website's security. If a website has properly encrypted data, the browser bar shows a secured padlock.
Mobile-friendliness refers to a website's functionality on portable devices. It has been a ranking factor for mobile results since 2015, and with Google prioritizing mobile indexing today, it has also become a ranking factor for desktop sites.
Finally, you also have to consider freshness. This signal is query-dependent—it matters significantly for certain types of keywords but not much for others. For example, suppose you search "met gala fashion." You'd see that the top results are for the current year.
It is because the Costume Institute has a gala almost every year. Searchers keying this phrase in today will be most interested in updates from the latest gala. Note that the top two spots are held by rich results; the first spot has a Featured Snippet, while the second one has a news carousel. Conversely, look at the results for a keyword like, "What is the purpose of a gala dinner?":
Some of the organic results on this page are older because people's reasons for throwing this type of gathering remain the same as they had been in the past years. There are also how-to results and ideas for planning galas, which are evergreen topics.
Understanding how to influence organic search results is necessary if you want more traffic to your website. Knowing how search results pages work is a good start—since Google's SERPs consist of more than blue links today, leveraging these elements will help you connect better with your audience.
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