Evolution of the Google SERP

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the digital marketing tactic that is used to increase the quantity of traffic to a website. More specifically, SEO is directly related to the practice of optimizing content to show up in the Google search results page (AKA 'Google SERP'). When a user does a Google search they enter a search query (keyword) and Google returns a list of websites that are most relevant. Note: There are other search engines, but Google accounts for 80% of the search engine market.

The Google SERP was very simple in the early days. Users saw a list of results for relevant web pages. Each result was made up of 4 lines of text. The first was a classic blue hyperlink to the resulting webpage. This was typically the Title tag pulled from the HTML source of the resulting page. Note: The Title tag was a on-page ranking factor back then, and it is still an important on-page ranking factor today. Next there was 1-2 lines describing the resulting page and then a green link that was the URL to the page. That was it. Things have changed dramatically.

The SERP has evolved and now includes at least 5 distinct types of listings:

  • Ads (AdWords)
  • The Knowledge Graph
  • Local Search Results (Google My Business)
  • Featured Snippets
  • Organic Results

SEO Potential of the Google SERP

The different result types are affected by different factors, and require distinct optimization techniques. These SEO factors represent different degrees of SEO potential, but for many organizations it typically starts with the prioritization of the organic results. This is the area of SEO that is considered the ‘on-page’ ranking factors and they are foundational to the overall success of your SEO campaign.

Organic Listings
When it comes to organic listings the main focus is on-page SEO factors. No single factor is going to guarantee SEO success, but having several of the top favourable factors addressed increases the overall ranking potential of the content. 3 of the top factors that must always be considered are:

Content Factors relating to the content and quality of your material. Anticipate what the user will be looking for and then provide useful, unique and relevant content.
Website Crawlability Factors about the overall technical functionality of the website. If search engines can’t easily index your content it will have an negative impact on the overall SEO ranking.
HTML Tags Factors specific to web pages and specifically the Title tag. A well written Title tag is still one of the top ranking factors. The big difference today is that it has to be written for humans, not stuffed full of keywords.
Special Note Google said they would update their algorithm to factor in whether a website is mobile friendly or not. Mobile has become a stronger and stronger ranking signal, but having AMP specific pages isn’t a ranking factor...yet. Google has stopped making regular announcements about updates to the algorithms but their Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller has been clear that “we make changes almost every day."

Each year SEO thought leaders Search Engine Land publishes the Periodic Table of SEO Factors. It looks at the SEO factors that will help to gain more traffic from organic search. This is a very useful resource for marketing teams that also consider SEO as part of their marketing mix.


Things have changed when it comes to SEO. Understanding how will help you to focus on the user and present them with the right content at the right stage of their journey.

In conclusion we'd like to share a couple of articles that dive deeper into the anatomy of the Google SERP, their distinct features and their potential for SEO. To get started understanding how the Google listing has changed and the opportunities for expanding SEO, start here:

Main Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash