The SERPs are ever-changing, sometimes the changes are subtle almost imperceptible and other times they are marked reflecting a change of approach by Google to the way in which it wants to present itself to its users much like a Chameleon adapting to changes in the environment!
We have seen the continued rise of SERP features in 2019 and the drop in click-through-rates, with now nearly 49% of Google searches resulting in no clicks.
The main reason appears to be the fact that Google is turning less into a search engine and more into an Answer Engine where featured snippets provide the answers to users without the need of clicking through to that site.
This post will go into detail about the penetration of Universal Search Results and featured our study of the SERPs over the past 10 months across 11 markets, and how to ensure you are appearing as high in the search engines as possible.
Within the Authoritas platform and our SERPs (Keyword Ranking) API we can track the following SERP features:
- Above the Fold
- Ads (Bottom)
- Ads (Top)
- AMP Detection
- Answer Boxes
- Dictionary definitions
- Element Positioning
- Event Finder
- Featured Snippets
- Featured Video
- Flight Finder
- Hotel Finder
- HTML Capture
- Job Finder
- Knowledge Panel
- Local Pack
- Number of Results
- Organic FAQs
- People Also Ask
- People Also Search For
- Refine By
- Related Searches
- Research Guides
- Spelling corrections
- Stock Prices
- Top Stories (News)
- Travel Finder
- Universal Rankings
As you can see, I’ve included alternative names for a few of these features as they have been changed by Google over the years or have been referred to by SEOs as different things over the years.
We also track whether the SERP feature is visible on page load and whether it is displayed above the fold on mobile and desktop devices.
As we have seen in the market and from various studies including from the well known, Rand Fishkin, Google is taking over the organic results. Therefore we wanted to know what percentage of keywords are generating these different SERP features and try and see where users should be optimising their sites to help them have the click-throughs to their site.
We analysed >125 million keywords across 10 markets (11 languages including 2 in Switzerland) and found some interesting statistics.
- The UK market sees People Also Ask (PAA) results dominating the SERPs, with up to 67.5% of keywords featuring a PAA section.
- PAA is hardly present in the Nordics (Finland, Norway and Sweden)…yet!
- Spain has the highest number of terms generating video SERPs and is just behind the US for image SERPs.
- Norway saw the highest percentage of keywords producing image SERPs – up to 90.1% in one month in 2019.
- News is barely present in Sweden where only 1% of terms result in a news SERP feature to appear.
People Also Ask
People Also Ask (PAA) was launched in August 2015, but it is really since 2017, that Google have been tweaking it and now we see the dynamic generated questions appearing for what feels like almost every query.
In our study, for the US market, we saw an increase in the percentage of keywords generating PAA results since the first quarter of the year. In March, the number of terms resulting in PAA was just 27.40% and this increased to 44.3% in April and then 57.1% in October (dropping to 52.6% in December). Despite the drop in December, we see the use of PAA to continue to be important in 2020.
The UK market saw the highest number of terms producing PAA results than in all our markets in the study. In March, the number of keywords generating PAA was 26.60% but this increased to 66.8% by October before dropping to 61.5% in December. The markets that saw the least number of keywords giving rise to PAA were the Nordics (Sweden, Finland and Norway). These terms resulted in up to 4.5% of queries appearing in PAA for Finland while Sweden and Norway had up to 1.4% and 1.7% of queries respectively. Even though the Nordics do not currently have many terms generating PAA for now, they may do so in future, therefore they should follow some of the recommendations on appearing for PAA so they can be ahead of the market.
How can you appear in PAA?
- For now there is no specific markup to guarantee having your site appear in PAA although this may change in future.
- Many in the industry have said it is how you structure your content and ensuring you are providing the answers your users want that help you appear in PAA.
- Therefore ensure it is short and concise (no sales language), use the proper heading tags, write in plain language and have FAQ pages.
- If you do not provide the content, then other competitors will. For example when looking for “joules wellies” we can see that although there are some great sites talking about “joules wellies” the actual site does not appear:
As we know Google has been updating SERP features regularly, therefore it is important to continue to test until you are appearing in PAA.
If you want to find a list of consumers’ questions that relate to the head terms you are targeting then why not give our Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) generator tool a try. It simply mines PAA results to find you large numbers of related questions for you to write about.
VIDEO and IMAGE SERPs
If you are not optimising for image search or for videos, then you could be losing valuable SERPs space. We found that 70% of terms occupied video SERPs and 69.70% for images back in March in the US market. This then increased to 72.2% in October and 74.4% respectively in October. This image figure was up to 80.4% in September.
However, it is Finland where we see the highest percentage of terms giving rise to image SERPs, up to 90.1%. This is followed by Switzerland where it is 86.1% for the German language.
Spain has the highest percentage of terms producing video SERPs and the fourth highest for image SERPs with up to 85.6% and 77.9% respectively. They are behind Finland, US and Switzerland for images which for the US peaked at 80.4%.
Sweden saw the least number of terms resulting in video SERPs out of the Nordics (Norway and Finland). In Sweden 37% of keywords gave rise to video SERPs. In Norway, we saw video occupy a larger percentage for video, up to 46.8%, while Finland had up to 53.7% for video. It seems as though video is more important in Finland and therefore it is important to optimise for video/create videos when working in the Finnish markets.
How can you appear for Image and Videos in the SERPs?
- Follow best practice guidelines for images, this means using clear images with descriptive file name, alt tags, image captions and ensure they are compressed before uploading to your website.
- With regards to videos, they need to have the description name of the video in the title (along with the keywords).
- Videos should have a description along with thumbnail plus have the correct tags (in YouTube).
This is highest in the UK where up to 15.9% of keywords feature direct answers. This is followed by the US at 13.4% and then Sweden where it is between 9.6 and 12.4%. Italy does not get above 5.7% of keywords generating direct answers. Norway is the lowest between 1.9% and 2.2% of keywords producing direct answers.
How can you appear for Direct Answers?
- Your site needs to answer the user’s question.
- A direct answer is as the name suggests, providing a direct answer to the user’s query and it appears at the top of the search results below the paid ads.
- Google returns this direct answer when it thinks that a website’s content is answering the user’s search query.
- The direct answer is also called the “answer box” or “position 0” and “featured snippet”.
Many companies want to rank for this position 0 since Google launched it in 2015. Ranking in these snippets also affects voice search. According to a study by Roast, 80% of the Google Home results are from snippets. There are three different types of these answer boxes, paragraph answers as above, list answers as in the example below and table answers.
How can you rank for position 0?
- You can increase your chance by creating the content to directly answer a user’s question.
- Do research in the market first to see if there is already a direct answer for the question.
- Find the queries that ask the question, you can do this by using Google instant search, plus use Answer the Public.
- Conduct keyword research, it is still important in 2020.
- Then write your content in a concise and easy to read way.
- You can use text, put it in lists or in a table.
Looking at Norway, 16% of keywords gave rise to places in the SERPs. This was higher than in any other market. Sweden came in second, seeing between 13.4% and 15% of queries resulting in places. The US market came in third, peaking at 15.5% in October but for most of the year it was around 13.7%.
How can you appear for Places?
Make sure you have a Google My Business set up with correct information about the business including address, photos, about us. Plus ensure you also have reviews within your Google My Business.
Brand appears to occupy the highest percentage of terms in Norway and Sweden compared to the other markets, up to 12% for Norway and up to 10.4% for Sweden. For the US and UK, it occupied less SERPs, for the US, it was 9.1/9.2% of keywords for most of the year and for the UK this was 7.2%. Looking at the Nordics as a whole, for Finland, this figure was between 6.6% and 7.2%.
NEWS also called Top Stories
The US followed by the UK market saw the highest percentage of terms (out of our markets in the study) appearing in the news SERPs, up to 10.8% in August for the US. However, it then dropped down to 2.5% in October. In Sweden, keywords generating news results was the lowest of our countries surveyed at, barely 1% of all queries in most months.
How can you get into Google News?
- Barry Adams clearly sets out the different ways to ensure your site is in Google news, but the main one is that your site needs to be an actual news site, it cannot just have a news or a blog section.
- You need to have static URLs and the content needs to be in plain HTML. There are different schools of thought as to whether your site needs to have AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) implemented or not.
- Some have said that in order to get into Top Stories, you need your site to implement AMP.
- Google is always making changes and released their announcement of Top Stories in December last year.
- One thing is consistent throughout all the updates, make sure the content adheres to Google content guidelines, the content is accessible and the page loads quickly.
What does this mean for you and SEO?
Keyword research is still important, you can never do enough. At Authoritas that is one of the reasons we launched the Visibility Explorer and the FAQ Explorer. Using both these two features you can see what Universal SERPs your site (and that of competitors’) is ranking. FAQ Explorer is primarily used for PAA but can also be used for organic FAQs and can be used for direct answers to help you find those content gaps and make sure you are owning as much organic SERP space as you can.
Technical SEO and having your site technically fit or sound will continue to play a key part in appearing high in the SERPs. Run regular crawls on your site and check the messages within Google Search Console.
In 2020, schema can no longer be ignored. Featured Snippets are here to stay. In fact there may be more changes we see in 2020. Danny Sullivan announced on January 22nd that now pages who have a featured snippet will no longer be repeated in regular Page 1 organic listings. This means that the opportunity to appear within the SERPs twice is no longer a possibility and if you use featured snippet you need to make sure the right page is appearing in the SERPs. ‘Position 0’ is no longer present – it is now officially ‘Position 1’! Make sure you structure your content on specific pages so you can appear for Featured Snippets on the right page and continue to monitor your organic traffic and impressions in Google Search Console.