The Guide to Handling Feature Heavy SERPs - The Experts Speak
October 2, 2018 |
How in the world are you supposed to compete with SERPs that contain an Answer Box, a Top Stories carousel, a video carousel, a Twitter carousel, multiple related search boxes, and even a Knowledge Panel? Oh, Mordy, no such SERP has that
many SERP features. Right. No SERP besides any for a sports team in the middle of their season. Type in your favorite band followed by the word "songs"... good luck to you producing a SERP with more than 8 results.
I don't really need to tell you this. I think everyone at this point gets the problem. SERP features
have become a mighty and formidable SERP competitor
. Want to hear a generic piece of advice on how to deal with this? No, of course not. So I'm not going to tell you to score more Featured Snippets, because that helps but one site, and if your site isn't it, then what? What if Featured Snippets isn't the feature posing a problem for you? (For these reasons I specifically asked the contributors to offer advice outside the "Featured Snippet" context.)
I have no idea what to tell you. Well, that's not entirely accurate. I have "fragments" for you. Things like 'make sure you actually use the Q&A feature inside the Knowledge Panel - It's free SERP space for your FAQ', or 'don't let the opportunity that is Google Posts pass you by, especially since they will enter organic results at some point (mark my words).
My point is, when I sat down to write a post about how to deal with feature heavy SERPs, I honestly did not feel that I had a comprehensive answer. In fact, when I looked around, I didn't see that anyone had a comprehensive answer. Perhaps none exists. Perhaps no one person has the answer. Obviously, dealing with feature heavy SERPs is a big problem for a lot of folks. Instead of offering my meager crumbs, I went around and asked some pretty smart people what they thought. The idea was to combine the different pieces of the puzzle into one resource. To be blunt, this is not another roundup so that a bunch of people can walk away with links where nobody really says much of anything. These are the best thoughts these fantastic folks have on how to deal with a SERP where Google itself is a formidable competitor.
Without further adieu (i.e., without me rambling on any further) here are the insights from the experts as presented in alphabetical order. (No favorites here. It's like I tell my kids, "you're all
What to Do When Competing with Google's SERP Features According to the Experts
When asked what I think SEOs should do to best deal with feature-heavy SERPs, I immediately thought about the 1-result SERPs that were much talked about in March. Even though they were pretty swiftly rolled back, I stand by what I initially wrote
about the matter, do not target unsustainable queries. By unsustainable, I mean queries that can be easily and precisely answered right in the search results in one or several sentences. I assume everyone agrees that going after weather, time, unit conversion, and similar types of queries
not the best use of one’s time. People don’t click on search results after googling "weather in Toronto.” They probably won’t click on anything after googling "Barak Obama’s height” either. It does not matter what you do, how strong your brand is, and whether you have a 10,000-word essay published about the former president’s life. They wanted to know his height, they found out what it is, and they left. They didn’t intend on reading anything else. This last sentence reminds us of a very important concept – user intent. And while we all know that intent can be navigational, transactional, or informational, it can also be many other things. For example, do users intend on spending
to read and research information after a particular search, or do they just want a quick answer? If a quick answer is all they want, Google will give it to them, even if their query is a little bit more complex than "U.S population.”
So, the two recommendations I could probably give are:
1) If you can afford it, build a strong brand known for something specific, so users go to your site directly even for simple answers.
2) If, like most companies, you don’t have the resources to do so, don’t go after feature-heavy SERPs, your CTR and ROI is going to be lower there. Before you go after a keyword or a topic you need to research the landscape. Not just competition score, keyword difficulty, or whatever metric your tool of choice gives you, but actual result pages as well.
I think all SERP features and elements compete for their place in search results (including the blue links). One of the biggest signals Google probably considers is whether the features meet users’ needs. To assess that, Google must look at user interaction with the features (i.e., click-through rates). So, if you see that a SERP above the fold for a particular query is full of various SERP features with no organic results, chances are – users are happy with it. Don’t spend your valuable time trying to prove your result is better than a Wikipedia-sourced Knowledge Panel, a Top Stories carousel, or an Image Box. Find a topic that Google already serves blue links for. Create a page that is 10 times better than anything you see there, promote the hell out of it, and enjoy the results.
Senior SEO Specialist: Optimising
This is obviously a tough one. We want to stay on top of Google SERP feature changes, although we don’t want to get too caught up in altering our strategies just to make the most of a new opportunity. I learned this one the hard way with meta descriptions. Google increased the length, then they decided to pull them back again. And I’ve noticed recently that length is now somewhere in the middle...
Aside from Featured Snippets, one area which is often lacking for many local businesses is keeping their Google My Business listings in check – with some studies showing that ~70% of keywords are now returning a Local Pack. This means that we shouldn’t solely rely on our website to get more visibility and instead integrating this strategy in with local. With many of the features that were once just on Google+ now being added to GMB, the emphasis on this product is only going to increase as time goes on.
For any queries that you want to rank for local, try to optimize your site for these terms to the best possible extent. This means having targeted landing pages and a solid link building strategy that can’t be easily replicated by competitors. It also pays to try and influence engagement on your GMB listings which correlates well with improved rankings. Anything from added high res imagery, Google Q&A’s, having a description, or an additional appointment link can make all the difference.
Classic SEO'ers answer but: "It depends."
It depends on which SERP features there are - there are so many. You need to use different methods to approach securing different SERP features. For example, if there's a big Map Pack, local SEO is the answer. That said, I'm not sure that's what Mordy had in mind when he asked me to contribute to this piece, so I'll try to be more specific.
Generally, schema and rich text markup will help. Google likes to know what it's showing, especially in SERP features. It wants to help searchers get to the best result as quickly as possible. That's why you see answers to certain questions directly in the SERP.
Try it yourself, if you search for "How old is Barack Obama?" Google tells you, right in the SERP. Heck, for things like that it now tells you in the auto-complete, even before you've finished typing the search.
That kind of stuff, it's pulling from web pages like Wikipedia.
Most of us are not Wikipedia.
Google looks at your website and it sees a whole bunch of words and a stack of numbers. Schema markup helps it work out which number is which. So, for a shoe product page: which number is the size; which is the price; which is the amount left in stock, etc.
It's the same with words. Which is your company's name; which the address; which is the name of your CEO, etc.
Don't get me wrong, you can get into SERP Features *without* schema and adding schema is not a guarantee of features. However, it'll really help. And there is a schema for *everything*. There's even one for public toilets; including sub-schema to specify if it's within another address, like a café or library.
So yes, you can find
that applies to your business. Check out schema.org
and get started. There's schema for blog posts - start there. Markup your 'listicles' and your postal address. That'll be a great start. Then work from there.
Marketing Scientist: Moz
The dissatisfying but honest answer is "it depends." I think we have to be much more aware of what SERP features signal about intent. Let's say, for example, that you're competing on a SERP with a Knowledge Card and it's a definitive answer, like "When is Labor Day?" CTR data suggests that this is a lost cause. That answer is closed (you can't compete on it, like a Featured Snippet) and it's going to be enough for most searchers. You're better off moving on.
Likewise, consider a SERP that's loaded with paid/shopping features. Should you be spending a ton of organic marketing effort and money to compete on a competitive SERP with four ads on top and multiple product ads (PLAs) down the right-hand column? Should you be thinking about paid search in those cases? Should you be targeting keywords at a different stage of the funnel? From an organic marketing standpoint, I think we need to consider shifting up and down the funnel sometimes. It might not be worthwhile to rank for "wedding dresses" (which also has local intent, making it even more tricky), but what about a query like "How much is the average wedding dress?" where the intent is informational, you can compete on it, and it likely leads to a commercial query?
These are just a couple of examples, but ultimately we have to stop taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Every set of SERP features signals a unique intent and we have to target the intents that match our objectives the best. That's going to mean giving up some keywords (say goodbye to your vanity) and doubling down on others.
I like to think about focusing on general topics rather than on one or just a few keywords. I want to open up the possibility of ranking for a topic where there are hundreds of keywords that are relevant. The idea is to be able to appear in not just "a” search, but in a series of searches. The upshot is that I can either rank on SERPs that are not feature heavy, score more Featured Snippets, or appear closer to the top of the page.
To do this, I "broaden the tail.” The idea is to make the keywords more applicable to more queries. So instead of targeting a keyword like best air conditioner
, I might try something along the lines of best air conditioner with low noise
. With the former, you have the chance to rank for a high volume keyword but will need to face-off against Google’s SERP features (most likely a Local Pack or even a Featured Snippet). However, with the longer keyword, you open the possibility of being more relevant for more searches, which is a nice balance to appearing on feature heavy SERPs. Also, I would bet a good deal of the SERPs relevant to the long-tailed keyword would not be feature heavy.
To sum this up, the idea is to try to not limit yourself. I’m not saying don’t try to rank on feature heavy SERPs, but don’t make that your sole practice. Keep your options open by opening up your ability to rank for a variety of keywords. The best way I would say to do this is to gear your content towards longer tailed keywords.
Although it may be tough to deal with the fact your hard-earned organic results are being pushed lower by Google’s SERP Features, take it as a chance to learn more about what Google considers the searcher intent to be and use that to make your website’s content more relevant, and to be more present across as many channels as possible.
Right now, my
advice would be to utilize Structured Data best practices across your pages. This not only ensures you can leverage the data Google uses for entity-type features such as Knowledge Panels and Quick
but using that Schema markup properly to create rich results can help you stand to win those organic clicks even if Google has a more prominent SERP feature.
Yes, you may be feeding Google’s ability to take your data and use it how they see fit, but ask yourself if denying them that possibility is more important than being available in those features in the first place. Not being present in transactional-intent features such as Local Packs or Google Jobs (to name a few!) allows you to take full control over your website's belongings but it also means you could be missing out on many potential leads or conversions, or giving them away to your competitors.