Anatomy of Search Results & How to Rank in Google

12 minute read

Anatomy of Search Results & How to Rank in Google

It takes hard work to snag a spot on the first page of Google search results. There are many aspects to consider, such as creating relevant content, incorporating relevant keywords and links, and crafting an enticing search result that makes people want to click on it. But before you can create content that excels, you need to understand how it might be displayed. 

  • Understanding the anatomy of a search result page can help you create content that entices people to click your link.
  • Structure, organize, and promote your content effectively to rank high in SERPs.
  • Update and refresh content to keep it relevant.

In this article

Getting your page to rank well in search results is tough, but the payout is often worth the effort. In fact, a study recently found that the first page of Google receives 95 percent of web traffic. Perhaps more importantly, 90% of clicks on the first page of Google’s search results are made on organic links, and the other 10% go to paid ads.

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As you can see, there are some clear motivators to get your content to rank on well on Google. But how do you achieve this when there is already so much out there? There are some basic components that every page should have, and this blog post will provide tips to create a high-ranking page as well as a guide to the anatomy of a search results page.

Components of a search engine results page

Let's start with the basics. Before you can create an effective search engine results page you need to understand the components of one. Google provides a good primer on how to create good titles and snippets in search results but there’s far more to consider. Here are the main parts of a Google search result, later we’ll look at more sophisticated information structures.

  • Title
  • Snippet
  • URL
  • Sitelinks
  • Searches related to 

anatomy of google search results

Title

Your title is the first, and often only, part of your search result that people read. Keep it short and relevant while still providing enough information to give the reader a good idea of what your page is about. Keep in mind that the maximum length for  a title tag is about 70 characters. If it is longer, Google will truncate it. This is a good tutorial on how to write a solid Title tag.

URL

You’ll want to apply the same principles for your URL as you did for your title tag. Make sure your URLs are relevant and short, but still provide enough information to adequately display what the page is about. You will often find time stamps underneath the URL. This is common for blogs and news articles to highlight the freshness of the content. Make sure to refresh your content regularly to avoid people mistaking your work as old or irrelevant.

Snippet

The snippet is the description of the page and is usually limited to about 156 characters. While the snippet may be the meta description that you wrote, Google sometimes sources the snippet from contextual information on the page. This allows Google to tailor the snippet to each unique search query to provide relevant information pertaining to that search. They don't "make up" words though, they pull it from your content - just not always from the same place. So it’s not only important to write an effective meta description, but also to incorporate easy-to-digest chunks of information throughout the page that Google can identify and source.

Then there are rich snippets. Rich snippets provide additional information, such as a photo or a star rating. Since rich snippets are more visually pleasing and offer a better jumping-off point, they often have higher click through rates. You can increase your chances of getting a rich snippet by adding structured data to your site. A rich snippet looks like this:

Example of a snippet in search results

Getting snippets to rank at the top of search results

This position is called Position Zero or Featured Snippets. It's where Google places what it believes to be the best "instant answer" to the query. If your content is already on page one, and you've structured your content correctly, it may be featured above all other search results. You can learn more about Position Zero here. 

Sitelinks

Sitelinks are additional sub-listings that appear underneath the first Google search result, usually for recognizable brands and organizations. These links provide a quick way for people to jump to the correct page on a website. The maximum allotted number of sitelinks is six. The number of sitelinks any search result gets depends on how well-structured the site is, and how much unique content it has.  Want to know more about sitelinks - this is a good resource

Searches related to

The searches related to section shows other top search queries that relate to the one that you originally searched. This section is a great place to source other keywords to include in your content. Sprinkle these keywords throughout your content and consider incorporating a few into your subheads.

More complex search results

We've just covered the most common search result structure, but there are other, more complex structures. What you see on a SERP depends on the type of information you are searching for. Take Wells Fargo for example:

a rich search result for wells fargo

This search result includes more complexity:

Knowledge graph

The Knowledge Graph is a knowledge base used by many Google properties that was launched in 2012. Users see it as an info box or knowledge cards.

Where does Knowledge Graph get its information? It pulls information from many trusted sources including Wikipedia, the CIA World Fact Book, schema information and more.

The Knowledge Graph works behind the scenes to collect and analyze large amount of data in order to present its findings in an effective way to answer specific search queries. The data and information gathered by the Knowledge Graph powers the visible components of SERPs, including the Knowledge Graph Card, featured snippets, and carousels.

Knowledge graph card

The Knowledge Graph Card displays information compiled by the Knowledge Graph and is found on the right side of the SERP. The Wells Fargo Knowledge Graph Card displays a snippet from Wikipedia, as well as the CEO, a customer service number, and links to social media profiles. Google tends to pull information from established databases like Wikipedia; however, there are a few ways to increase your chances of appearing in a Knowledge Graph Card. Start with improving site attributes like:

  • Business details like physical location and contact information
  • Marketing details like your official name, logo, and social profile info

Knowledge panels

The Knowledge Graph is not visible. But the Knowledge Panel is. Knowledge panels account for 35.6% of search results. On a desktop browser these are located in the upper right corner of search results. They look like this. It's interesting (at least to us) to note that images are shown in search results less often than knowledge panels.

Google map

For local searches you'll often see a Google map show up with nearby locations. Google Maps provides geographical information for locations around the world. It includes aerial maps, road maps, street view maps taken from Google vehicles, and more. Google maps data is often added into search result data, especially for local queries. 

If your business isn't already on Google Maps, it should be! How do you do it? Sign up for Google My Business and add each of your locations as well as other relevant information about your business. Google will use that information to populate your map location in search results. 

Top stories

When the entity being searched generates enough news coverage a top stories section will appear at the top of the SERP. The top stories are pulled directly from the News tab and are mainly sourced from credible news sites. 

example of twitter in search results and also news

Twitter

Google now includes results from Twitter in many search results. This section doesn't appear as often as top stories, but it is a testament to the growing impact and legitimization of social media. This section shows up when a brand is highly active on Twitter and shows the most recent tweets in full.

Carousels

example of a carousel image strip in Google search

Google uses clickable image strips called carousels for many items. Examples include images of people, like the male supermodels pictured above or the cast of a movie, or images of things, like types of lilies. When you search for a list of items it is more likely that a carousel will appear.

The many ways Google describes your brand

Today there are least 18 different ways for a business, or person, to be seen in search results - and that doesn’t even count social channels. Different types of search results include Adwords at the top or bottom of the page, the Knowledge Panel in the upper right, images, reviews, news, shopping, videos and of course normal blue link search results.

18-ways-to-be-seen-in-google.png

The chart above is based on data collected by Moz about how often different types of search results appear.

Ads show up more often than anything else

Adwords (often called Pay Per Click) ads at the top of the page show up the most often at 54.3% of the time. Adwords at the bottom show up just over 42% of the time.

This makes sense of course because at the end of the day Google is an advertising agency. They draw you in with search results to show you ads - it's how they make money. In fact, Google makes $658 per second, twenty four hours per day.

Download our capabilities deck

 

Other types of content displayed in Google

Reviews show up in 33% of search results

Reviews can breathe life into a business, or kill it. They show up in about 33% of search results. According to Yelp, about 46% of their reviews are five stars. Add to this the fact that about 68% of consumers report their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews and you can see why even one bad review can spoil a company’s chances of even hearing from a prospect in the first place.

HTTPS results for secure websites

HTTPS results are secure websites. If you look at our website you'll probably see a little lock near our URL. The website address starts with https instead of http. That means our site is secured. About 33% of search results feature secure websites in them.

Site links are deep links to site content

Site links are links below a normal search result that take the searcher to a popular page on the site. For example, for Reputation X, the About Us and Contact Pages are popular, so they often show up as additional links when someone Googles us. 

What about voice search?

There are surely more than 18 ways to portray information. Notice that voice isn't mentioned in this graph. We know that voice is a growing segment of search. In fact, the graph below shows how the term "call mom" has grown over the past three years. Clearly people are using their mobile devices more to perform natural language searches, and calling Mom (and presumably Dad too) is indicative of that. 

call-mom-2.png

Since mobile search has outstripped desktop search, and Google is experimenting with using mobile versions of websites in search results before desktop versions, it's pretty clear the direction things are heading. Mobile is it, but Google isn't stopping there. Mobile is just a mile marker on the road to their ultimate goal.

Their goal (so far as we can surmise) is to build a Star Trek like computer. Not only will search be ubiquitous, it will be invisible. They've already come a long way. So while the 18 ways Google portrays you in search leads with ads now, it could lead with voice in the future. 

What will happen when search results go away?

Like any giant corporation Google exists to make money. They make enough of it to be able to afford to do some extra social things as well. If Google makes most of its money selling text and display ads today, what happens when the world goes primarily to voice? Will Google insert ads into your ears when you make a query?

 

Google Search Results FAQs

What are the different types of search results?

Today, there are at least 18 different types of Google search results. The most common are featured snippets, Google Ads, knowledge panels, local pack results, organic search results, and rich answers.

What is a featured snippet?

A featured snippet is a selected search result that Google features on top of organic search results and below ads. The featured snippet is also known as an answer box because its aim is to answer the user's question right in Google without having to click on any links.

What is the most common type of search result?

Ads show up more often than anything else. Pay Per Click ads appear at the top of the page more than half of the time.

How often do reviews show up in search results?

Reviews show up in 33 percent of search results. This is why it is so important to develop an online review management strategy.