With the evolution of information accessibility pre-Google to current day, most information is now at our fingertips. We use search engines on all sorts of smart devices to connect us to the information we seek. The question we ask Google (the search query) will indicate to Google the type of information we are seeking and thus influence what Google determines will be useful and relevant information to render on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
The Digital Storefront
For brands, the SERP is their digital store front used to attract consumers. Like a physical store, a brand’s digital store front, their organic listing, must be easy to find, attractive and provide a good user experience. A well-optimized organic listing, one with all the bells and whistles possible, allows a brand to occupy more real estate on the SERP. In the eye of a consumer, a well-optimized organic listing makes a brand appear more authoritative and trustworthy as well as increases the information immediately available. This improves the user experience and increases the likelihood of winning the click.
How much Traffic?
The organic listing is also a key source of traffic: ~78% traffic sent to websites is from search engines, with Google properties sending the overwhelming majority of that traffic at approximately 71%.[I]
A tour of the SERP and its Key Elements (specifically for brands)
To provide a better user experience and more accurately answer a searcher’s question, Google has gradually added more widgets, called SERP features, to the search engine results page. A SERP feature is any non-traditional organic or paid result. An analysis of SERP pages for several large brands shows several common SERP features contributing to an improved brand presence (see footnotes for deeper explanation of each feature)[ii]. Below is an example of Apple’s organic listing: a best-in-class listing which Google shows many of the SERP features possible on an organic search for this brand name.
The SERP is part of customer experience and is tied to sales
With most website traffic coming from search engines and a strong correlation between ranking position and click-through rate, it is imperative a brand put its best foot forward by having a robust, relevant and visible organic listing. A robust listing, providing users relevant information such as store hours or nearest locations, improves the customer experience. The competition for clicks is fierce; competing with other organic listings, paid search listings and other company listings makes the quality and position of the organic listing all the more important. Several studies have shown a strong correlation between ranking position and click-through rate:
In 2019 an analysis of click through rates (CTR) by Advanced Web Ranking found the first 10 organic results received ~76% of clicks, with the position 1 result getting ~28% of clicks. A similar study by Backlinko found that ~38% of clicks went to position 1.[iii]
Brands who optimize their organic presence tend to have a listing higher on the organic results page, more SERP features and generate more clicks than under-optimized brands. Generally speaking, more traffic to a brand’s website contributes to revenue growth - getting people in the door is the first step to converting them. While there is a direct correlation between increased site visitors and increased revenue, the multiple steps between driving a website click and driving a conversion make it hard to quantify the exact revenue lift. However, it is clear driving site traffic is a first step in achieving growth.
Okay, got it – what’s next?
Each SERP feature has specific tactics used to encourage its appearance for a brand, but many brands with robust branded SERPs have several elements in common:
- Optimized website content to target how users are searching for and discovering brand offerings
- A technically sound website adhering to a set of best practices to ensure the website can be crawled and indexed by search engine algorithms
- A strong off-site presence through reference sites, optimized social media profiles, backlinks, press releases and Google My Business.
While specific recommendations will depend on the brand/vertical as well as the strategy of what the brand is trying to achieve, the best step to take is to conduct an organic audit to identify the gaps between the brand’s site current state and ideal state. With Google, the ideal state is a moving target, so audits need to perform the gap assessment vs. the most recent gold standard. There are consistent guidelines on how to qualify for some of the SERP features, but those are often technical and will be identified in an audit. Addressing gaps will provide the necessary signals to Google and will result in a brand being eligible to show for more, if not all, SERP features.
[ii] Sitelinks below the main listing that point to the pages Google thinks are most important or helpful for the searcher
The Knowledge Graph Panel shows reference-type information for the brand, including social profiles
Local pack results that direct a user to brick-and-mortar locations
The Top Stories carousel with time-sensitive and newsworthy topics about the brand from around the web
Twitter card showing content from the brand’s Twitter account
Videos about or produced by the brand
The People Also Ask section shows algorithmically-generated questions that Google believes might relate to a user’s search query