Google SERP: The Definitive Guide 2020

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This is the definitive guide for Google SERP in 2020. In this guide, we cover SERP, Google rankings, SERP tools, SERP features and more. This post will help you get a better idea of how to best utilise these features to gain a better search engine ranking.

Well then, let’s get started.

What is SERP?

The full term for SERP or SERPs is Search Engine Results Pages. They are the web pages displayed by a search engine (eg Google) to a user in response to the user’s search queries.

Search queries are performed using specific terms or phrases called “keywords”.

Because there’s a massive amount of web pages related to each keyword or search query, SERP tends to be shown in multiple separate pages.

Results from the first page tend to be of higher relevance to the user’s search query while succeeding pages usually have results that are less relevant.

They are ranked according to each search engine’s own algorithm. But for now, we’ll be using Google as our primary example for an easier reference and understanding.

In Google, the websites or webpages ranked top 10 are shown on the first page of the SERP, while the top 20 on the second page, and so on.

Depending on the keywords, some can yield quite a lot of free traffic searches to the website or article, known as organic traffic.

However, not all things are created equal.

In most cases, web traffic going to the sites on the first page of the SERP is much, much higher than that of the second page. Few Google searchers ever go past the first page to visit the second-page results.

If that’s not worrying enough, here are some statistics based on research done by Backlinko.com:

1) The click-through-rate (CTR) on the second page is so low that only 0.78% of searchers ever clicked on them.

This photograph shows there's only 0.78% CTR for second page
Image sourced from Backlinko.com

2) Web traffic gained by the top 3 sites tends to be disproportionately higher than that of the remaining 7 sites on the first page. In fact, the top 3 sites get around 75.1% of all clicks, while the 7 remaining sites have to battle among themselves for a measly 24.9% of clicks.

This photograph shows that the top 3 SERP position get 75% of all clicks
Image sourced from Backlinko.com

3) The number 1 organic result has an average CTR of 31.7%, which is roughly 10 times the CTR of the number 10 spot.

This photograph shows the CTR for Top 10 Google rankings
Image sourced from Backlinko.com

4) The most significant CTR boost of 53.2% can be seen when moving up from the #6 to the #5 position in rankings.

This photograph shows the CTR boost moving up each Google ranking position
Image sourced from Backlinko.com

Because of the extremely disproportionate benefits available for the top search rankings, there is usually fierce competition among websites from different companies just to get ranked on the first page of Google, needless to say for the top 3 results on the first page.

How to Get Higher Google SERP Ranking?

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To get a better position in Google, or any other search engine ranking for that matter, your website or webpage has to fulfil certain conditions deemed important by Google.

The website or webpages that best fulfils those conditions stand the best chance of getting a high ranking in the search engines.

The above can be achieved by performing SEO.

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But what is SEO anyway?

SEO, otherwise known as Search Engine Optimization, is the process of optimizing websites or webpages according to a certain set of criteria, to obtain a better SERP position, with the aim of increasing the quantity as well as the quality of organic search traffic to the website.

But where can we find out about these criteria?

Take Google as our example, they periodically reveal some of their ranking factors to the public. These announced ranking factors form the basis of SEO guidelines that mostly everyone follows.

As such, website owners that hope for a higher Google keyword ranking performs optimizations to their respective websites or webpages, according to all the known criteria.

5 Most Crucial Google Ranking Factors Exposed:

Google’s ranking algorithm has always been a secret and there’s nothing we can do about it.

But the good news is…

Google has announced quite a few key ranking factors to the public, with the most important ones being:

This is a photograph of 5 Most Crucial Google Ranking Factors

  1. Off-Page SEO: Number of external links known as “Backlinks”
  2. On-Page SEO: Keywords in the page title, page URL and meta tags.
  3. Site and Page loading speed
  4. Trustworthiness
  5. Brand presence

And if I had to choose one, I’d say that backlinks are the most crucial Google ranking factor, ever.

You should also speed up your site and page loading speed, as this not only helps increase rankings but also improve CTR as well.

Two of the best ways to achieve this is to have a fast hosting and a fast WordPress theme respectively.

With that said, do we really need Off-Page SEO to get better Google rankings in 2020?

Of course we do.

As mentioned above, Off-Page SEO, or the number of backlinks has always been the most significant ranking factor.

The higher the number and quality of backlinks to your page or site, the better Google ranking it will attain.

This is something that cannot be neglected no matter you are a small local business or an international chain of companies because it helps to bring in lots of free, organic traffic if done in the right way.

However, it will take some time even for high-quality backlinks to improve your rankings.

But how long will that be?

This graph shows the time needed for rankings to improve following addition of new backlinks
Image sourced from Moz.com

According to Moz.com, it takes around 10 weeks on average for rankings to improve following the addition of backlinks to your site or page.

Does Site Traffic Affect Google Rankings?

The short answer? It depends.

There are actually two different types of site traffic, namely paid traffic and free organic traffic.

Paid traffic from PPC Ad marketing campaigns does not impact your ranking while organic traffic does, but indirectly.

Specifically, it is the Organic Traffic Behaviour Signals including CTR, Bounce Rate and Dwell Time, which influences ranking in Google.

CTR or Click-Through-Rate is the ratio of users that have clicked on a link versus users that have seen the link. Higher CTR tends to correlate well with a better Google ranking.

Bounce Rate represents the percentage of visitors who enter the site and then leave (“bounce”) rather than continuing to view other pages within the same site. – Wikipedia

Though not part of Google’s key ranking algorithm, a lower bounce rate usually correlates with a higher ranking in Google.

On the flip side, higher Bounce Rate normally equates to a lower Google SERP ranking, lower CTR as well as conversion rates.

Dwell time is the amount of time a visitor spends on a webpage before returning to the SERP results.

Google likely deems a site with more organic traffic to be more valuable than a site with zero traffic.

But, as you might have noticed, organic site traffic and google ranking are essentially chicken/egg question, whereby each impacts the other to a certain extent.

Luckily, organic site traffic alone (not counting CTR and Bounce Rate), is not a major ranking factor in Google’s algorithm, but it is just one of the 200+ ranking factors in Google’s complex ranking algorithm.

Sudden Huge Google Ranking Drops?

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Google ranking drops can be due to a multitude of factors, but here are some of the common culprits behind them for you to check through:

1) Recent big changes to your website

Website redesign or migration, technical errors and changes (page speed slowdowns, crawl errors, etc), and content changes within a website can cause Google rankings to drop significantly.

Hacked websites usually suffer a lot because hackers tend to add lots of spammy contents and links to your website, which are very harmful to your search engine rankings.

Therefore, these factors should be continually monitored so that fixes can be carried out swiftly to minimize the damage, and to restore your rankings.

2) Google algorithm updates:

Google makes big and small algorithm updates throughout the year, which adds up to about 300 updates per year traditionally.

You should always check if your ranking drop coincided with one of the Google updates.

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A nifty tool for this purpose is the Panguin Tool that lets you see a map of your site traffic vs the time each Google update went live so that you could find the possible correlation between them.

But do note that ranking drops don’t always happen immediately. They might occur gradually over the course of a few weeks.

3) Google penalty:

Manual Google penalties are no unicorns, they do happen, albeit rarely.

They come in several flavours, with the spiciest form being a complete de-indexing of your personal or company website. This usually only happens to websites that employ spammy tactics trying to game Google’s ranking algorithm though.

The other, milder form of penalty still allows your site to rank for your particular branded search queries but prevents you from ranking at all for keywords not related to your brand.

4) Lost backlinks and Disavowed backlinks that are valuable

Backlinks play the main role in Google’s ranking algorithm, so if you have lost some high-quality backlinks, then the backlink loss would probably have dealt a severe blow to your rankings in the search engines.

SEO tools such as MajesticAhrefs and Monitor Backlinks, can be used to check whether any backlinks have been lost.

These tools can also be used for monitoring backlinks so that you’re alerted when backlinks are lost, and can quickly reach out to the linking sites in an attempt to get the backlinks restored.

Photograph showing Google John Mueller's stance on disavow tools
Image sourced from searchenginejournal.com

According to  Search Engine Journal, Google discourages the use of the disavow tool and intentionally makes it hard to find in Google’s Search Console.

John Mueller says that random low-quality backlinks collected over the years can be safely ignored.

Only backlinks that were paid for or unnaturally gained should be disavowed, if and only if you know which backlinks are the bad ones.

Disavowing those low-quality backlinks can hurt your SEO and search engine ranking, so you should probably be careful if you plan to use the disavow tool.

5) Competitors upping their game

There’s a never-ending battle for the top SERP positions as it is considered one of the scarcest resources on the Internet.

But if your competitors are trying to get on top of you in the Google rankings, during the time when your website is experiencing some form of technical difficulties, your site’s rankings will definitely suffer as a whole.

If this is the case, you should fix all your technical problems and then step up your game to win back your Google position so that all your marketing efforts do not go to waste.

With all the talk on Google rankings above, it’s time for a slight breath of fresh air.

“Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”

– H. James Harrington

The same goes for your SERP SEO efforts, you’ll have to measure and track your SERP or Google ranking (they are basically different names for the same thing) using various SEO tools in order to improve it.

How to Check Google Ranking For Your Webpages?

Well, there are various SEO tools called SERPs checker, or alternatively, Google rankings checker that can be used for this purpose. They are also called “Rank Trackers” or “SERP Tracking Tools”.

Ranking metrics form the backbone of these tools, which allows you to perform a SERP check so that you could track your ranking position movements in Google’s listings.

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Cheapest SERP Tools with Daily Reports?

The cheapest tool is usually not the best tool. That said, by doing some digging, you could probably find some budget SERP tool that could rival even the most expensive options.

Though it might not be the cheapest, SERP Robot is the best SERP tool in the budget SEO tools category that provides daily keyword ranking reports.

However, if you are looking for the best, all-in-one SEO tools overall, then you couldn’t go wrong with either SEMrush or Ahrefs.

Alright, now let’s take a look at Google’s SERP.

SERP Features Explained:

The era of 10 blue links on each page has long since ended. What we now see are search engine results pages filled with quite a few elements that are not traditional organic search results, called SERP features.

These special results are shown on each SERP page with the intent to provide useful information for the user, without them having to click on any results.

They largely fall into one of these four types: Paid Search Results, Rich Snippets, Knowledge Graph, and Universal Results.

Paid Search Results are valuable for local and international businesses alike, as they help to increase visibility, CTR and traffic to the site of various companies.

Rich Snippets are structured data markups that can be added to the HTML of the site. They produce a richer visual experience for the user and tend to help increase click-through-rate.

Some examples include the Review Stars for product ratings, Product Markups, Music, Recipes, Videos, Top Stories, Events and so on.

Universal Results, on the other hand, includes Featured Snippets, Image results, and News results.

Here are some common examples of SERP features, according to Ahrefs:

1) Adwords Top & Adwords Bottom:

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Adwords top and bottom are paid results that appear at the top and/or bottom part of the left column in the SERPs. Each of these business advertising has a green-colored [Ad] label beside the link address.

They are especially useful for both local and international companies that want to do marketing for their products or business on the search engines.

Needless to say, these are the lifeblood of any marketing companies looking to help their clients increase traffic from search engines.

These premium listings can help to increase visibility to a local business, a product, and even build brand awareness.

Paid search listings, however, will push organic results to a lower position on the page and impact their CTR (especially for mobile ranking).

2) Featured Snippets:

This is a photograph for Featured Snippets

Featured Snippets are designed to give a summarized answer to specific search terms on the search engine.

These answers are extracted from various third-party websites and then displayed in boxes located at the top of the SERP, along with a link to the site from which the information was extracted.

Featured Snippets almost always comes from a result on the first page of the SERP. Result pages ranked number 1 to 5, have the highest chances to be shown in the Featured Snippet listings for respective terms.

This is a photograph for Google SERP January Core Update

Edit: Google struck their big sledgehammer for the January 2020 Core Update, and with that came a few changes:

  1. The site chosen as Featured Snippet now effectively becomes the #1 search result. With this, Featured Snippet is no longer the “Position Zero”, but becomes “Position 1” instead, as there are now only a total of 10 results in total for the first page on Google. (Previously there will be more than 10 results if you include the Featured Snippet in the count)
  2. Deduplication of URLs: No more duplicated URL in the first page, which means if you get shown as the Featured Snippet, you’d not be shown in any other position on the first page (unlike before the update where the site chosen for Featured Snippet is duplicated somewhere from the 2nd to the 10th result on the first page as organic results)
  3. However, deduplication doesn’t happen for Video Featured Snippets and other features such as Interesting Finds or Top Stories. Google will only deduplicate the exact URL in the Featured Snippet, and only within the first page results as well.

3) People Also Ask:

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This feature presents questions determined to be related to your search terms by Google’s algorithms.

Each of these questions is shown as a drop-down menu that can be expanded into something that looks similar to Featured Snippet.

They are mixed in between organic search results and have varying locations in the SERPs depending on the respective search term. However, they are generally only present on the first page of the SERPs, in the top half of the page.

When you click on the menu, more algorithmically generated Related Questions menu listings will appear in this section, effectively pushing down the other organic results further down the page.

Related Questions are usually keywords with Featured Snippets, thus, winning a position in Featured Snippets usually comes with a bonus position in the People Also Ask section.

Having positions in this section also tend to result in a small boost to your site’s CTR.

4) Knowledge Card:

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Knowledge Card result is part of the Knowledge Graph. It is normally displayed on the top part of the search engine results for desktop search.

They are intended to form concise and definitive answers to a question in the search engine directly. It normally only shows human-edited data such as WikiData and semantic data from Google’s index and private data partnerships.

Therefore, the position in the Knowledge Card section is usually out of reach for majority sites.

5) Knowledge Panel:

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Knowledge Panel is also part of the Knowledge Graph. Unlike Knowledge Card, these often appear on the right-side column of the SERPs for desktop browsers and at the top for mobile browsers.

Knowledge Panel result features extensive answers to provide background knowledge about a topic without the need for users to click on any results. They frequently appear for queries involving famous people, places or things.

These are also extracted from human-edited data and semantic data from data partnerships with private companies. Therefore, the position in the Knowledge Panel is usually out of reach for majority sites.

6) Sitelinks:

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Sitelinks are shown below the search result description when a user’s search query contains an exact domain. Up to 10 sitelinks are presented to the user to provide them with easy access to respective pages on your site, directly from the search engine results page.

These sitelinks occupy roughly 5 organic search positions, pushing the other results way down the page, thus decreasing their visibility, especially on the SERPs of mobile browsers.

Sitelinks typically appear on branded terms, when the user keys in an exact domain in the search engines. They are also more likely to appear on high traffic, large, branded or company websites.

This feature is very useful for local business with established brand awareness because they can help to bump up your site’s click-through-rate (CTR) and user experience, as they can get to the page they want directly.

7) Top Stories:

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Top Stories is one of the rich snippets frequently shown as a block of news articles in the top half of the SERPs.

They are shown if there are current news or events that are related to your search query. Top Stories include time stamps and publisher names as well.

8) Image Pack:

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Image Pack appears as a range of image thumbnails with embedded links, that can show up in any position in the result pages.

Clicking on these images will bring you to Google’s Image Search tab, with the website link of the relevant photos appearing on the black-coloured panel to the right side of the page.

These only appear in the SERPs when Google deems that visual content aid would be valuable to the searcher.

9) Shopping Results:

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Shopping Results, otherwise known as Product Listing Ads (PLAs) is also one of Google’s paid search listings. Shopping Results display product advertising of companies using the Google Shopping Network.

They are designed to sell products from advertisers directly in the search engine by showing rich information to the users such as images and pricing for the products. These paid listings appear at the top of the search engine results page, and they show up for a search query that includes product names.

They can be pretty useful for marketing products in the retail business. Local companies from the retail segment often utilize this advertising placement to increase their product’s visibility to the users.

10) Tweets Box:

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Since 2015, Google partnered with Twitter to show recent or trending tweets related to the user’s search directly in the search engine results.

They are shown in the middle of the search engine results page, mixed in with organic results.

11) Video:

This is a photograph for Video SERP Feature

Video result listings are one of the rich snippets which offer video listings directly in the search engine. They contain a title, a description, a link and also a video thumbnail. They are usually shown in groups of 3, at the top of the search engines.

Though sometimes they are shown with a small video thumbnail on the left along with other organic search results in the SERPs. In this case, they will be presented in other positions in the search engines.

These listings only appear for certain keyword terms with visual-intent behind them. In addition, the pages chosen for video listings must also have video schema markup on the page.

12) Thumbnails:

This is the photograph for Thumbnails SERP Feature

Thumbnails are another one of the rich snippets that are technically small images that gives a preview of the larger one. They usually appear as “video thumbnails”, which gives viewers a preview of the video content directly in the SERPs.

Conclusion:

I hope you got a lot of value out of my Google SERP guide.

I’d like to hear your input about this topic.

Are there any other important Google ranking factors that you think we’ve missed?

And how do you plan on using SERP features to get a better Google ranking?

Anyway, just let me know by leaving a quick comment below.

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