What’s a SERP – and which features are best for news publishers?
This week, Jessie looks at the features available to news publishers in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Hello and welcome back, this week it's Jessie, reporting live from my living room – and I can call it that now that I finally furnished it with a couch. Before it was sad, empty room one on the floor plan. Now, it’s a couch and a taped-off section where a rug will soon live.
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Let’s get into it.
In this issue:
What is a SERP?
What is a SERP feature?
What news features exist?
What is a SERP? Search engine result pages (SERPs) are what is returned to a user after they search for a specific query. SERPs are determined by the many ranking factors that make up Google’s algorithms. Getting on the first page of Google is the result of having strong signals from a number of ranking factors (there are too many to cover, so focus on what we have control over: strong E.A.T. signals, good keyword research, smart on-page SEO, and a solid backlink profile).
What are the SERP features? Any result on a SERP that is not a traditional organic result (your standard set of blue links) is considered a SERP feature. According to Moz, the most common SERP features are:
Rich snippets (a visual layer added to the existing results);
Paid results (Google Adwords and Shopping);
Universal results (appears in addition to organic links);
The Knowledge Graph (data panels or boxes).
Of the 16 most common SERPs features, we will focus on the news-specific areas (for more on Adwords or Shopping Results, etc., consult Moz – it’s a very detailed resource).
Why SERP features? SERPs are becoming increasingly competitive. Content that ranks in position 0 serves the query’s answer without the reader ever having to click on a page. According to Ahrefs, if there is a featured snippet in position 0, it will only get around 8.6 per cent of clicks on average. But the first position on a SERP (the first blue link) will see a much higher click-through rate than the rest of the organic results. The click-through rate for position one links is 34.36 per cent (which is massive!), according to SEMRush.
A note on verbiage: “Rich results,” “search result features” and “SERP features” mean basically the same thing. It’s the non-organic results. The fun stuff, the sprinkles on your cake. They are used interchangeably in tools and in this newsletter.
THE HOW TO
Thinking about SERP features
The features that show up in SERPs will vary depending on the keyword query and its search intent.
Quick background: Search intent is the why behind a query, and that intent shapes the kind of results Google returns. There are four types of search intent: navigational, commercial, transactional and informational. We focus almost exclusively on the informational intent, because, well, news.
When doing keyword research, a tool like SEMRush’s Keyword Magic Tool or Ahref’s Keywords Explorer will show which features are triggered on the specific results pages for a SERP features will be provided on a specific query. This is useful for planning which term to target, how to structure your content or the proper structured data to add.
For example, if your term is likely to trigger a People Also Ask box, it’s worth including the FAQ schema and consider structuring your content into an explainer or Q&A. If the SERP for a keyword includes an image pack, consider including a well-captioned and keyword-conscious image or infographic.
Check that your page supports rich results using Google’s rich results testing tool, then track your keyword rankings using a position tracking tool.
Let’s talk news SERPs
Top Stories are the newsiest of the news features (sometimes called the News Box). The area is located at the top of the SERP for a keyword that has trending news. It features recently published (24-72 hours) news stories related to your search term from a variety of publishers around the world. To be eligible, Google says publishers need to produce high-quality content and comply with its content policies.
The carousel is populated by news stories and shows the published date and the outlet. Google recently expanded Top Stories for some queries to provide more real estate to bigger, more prominent images for the top five stories (plus an additional two Also in the news links).
Use strong visual content to entice readers to read your story instead of a competitor (along with a great headline, of course).
This is especially important in news events – the Oscars, the Olympics, the MET gala – where photography drives so much of the story.
For video: Make sure it’s clear readers can watch the event – the gold medal game, a press conference, live scenes from protests – as it happens since Google prioritizes video and images during live news.
Under the main carousel, you might also see From your subscription, which is Google serving up stories specifically from sites you, the searcher, have a subscription.
Speed matters. You want to be right, but you also need to be fast. Get a short story up as soon as you can, then expand and update with chunks of content – even as short as 50-100 words).
As Christine Liang covered at NESS, updating the meta description, inline images, videos, the headline, updating quotes or re-sharing on your homepage and social channels can all send freshness signals to Google.
Use the structured data for live news where it makes sense
Note: if you’re in Canada, too bad! The red live blog flag that’s available in some regional SERPs (including the U.S.) does not work in the land of beavers and maple syrup.
When performing keyword research or just monitoring SERPs, you might also review the related terms in the news caption under the “Top stories” label. Is the caption (in the example below, that’s “Canada police move in to disperse protestors at the U.S. border.”) catering to a specific angle? Is there a related keyword in the caption – likely lower volume but also less competition – you can target?
Where relevant, a Local news carousel will also appear under the main Top Stories spot, providing an additional set of at least three links specific to your region.
FAQ & People Also Ask
The FAQs and People Also Ask are thematically, if not officially, related. The feature includes questions – usually four to start – that Google’s algorithm has determined are related to your query. This is a place for question-and-answer-style content. Think: structured content. The Washington Post has a great template for FAQs, such as this explainer on why some artists like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell left Spotify. Use the FAQ schema and a well-structured body copy to target this feature.
When preparing to write a story, check People Also Ask and Related Searches for insight about what else readers want to know.
For example: readers looking for information on the Peace Bridge (the bridge connecting Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada, to Buffalo, New York, U.S.A) are also interested in developments at the Ambassador Bridge (the bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario to Detroit, Michigan) and the overarching news story (“trucker protest”).
These terms can inform secondary on-page areas of optimization (the meta description, subheads, or cover as subtopics).
Related Searches are just that: searches similar to the initial query. They appear at the bottom of the SERPs, and can offer other questions readers want answered (also known as: additional keywords you could target or areas of coverage).
The Featured Snippet or Instant Answer is sometimes referred to as “position zero” because it shows up before the list of organic results. The snippet is pulled directly from your content (picked by Google!) to answer a specific reader’s query. Featured snippets can show up in overall results, in People Also Ask or along with Knowledge Graph.
Video & Image Packs
The Video feature will show a YouTube/Vimeo video or link to a page with embedded video, while the Image Pack will show a carousel of photos when Google thinks that’s the best response to the query.
Note: When readers click an image from the Image Pack, it redirects to the Images tab of Google’s results.
To rank for the Image Pack, write a descriptive file name and alternative/title text, a clear URL, and optimized image file size.
As mentioned in the Top Stories section, for news files where what’s happening is best captured visually, it’s worth including optimized images and videos in your coverage (galleries or articles with multiple images). It both gives readers multiple entry points to a story, and your outlet multiple opportunities to rank.
The Knowledge Panel provides top-level information about people, places or things. It is located at the bottom of the page on mobile, but in the top-right corner of your search result on desktop. This feature is powered by human-edited data or is the result of data agreements between Google and its partners.
For a person query (“Doug Ford”), the panel will include key biographical details and links to official profiles (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube).
For a thing (“the Super Bowl”), it might include the next event, the place where it happens, or basic information.
For a place ("radio city music hall"), it might show the location, the history and size or capacity details.
Get verified by Google and claim the knowledge panel if one exists about you, your brand or your products (i.e., a podcast).
Twitter and Google teamed up in 2015 to include relevant tweets, from verified and unverified accounts, in results pages. Tweets from individual accounts and a general Twitter search are included.
Bottom line: If you’re developing new content, always look at the SERPs for your keywords to see which features might be available. The click-through rate for featured snippets is often much higher than traditional organic results.
THE JOBS LIST
These are roles across the globe we see that are audience positions in journalism. Want to include a position for promotion? Email us.
The Sunday Times is hiring an SEO Strategist to work on personal finance content. (Deadline to apply is Feb. 20).
Recurrent Ventures is hiring a Senior SEO Specialist to work on technical search.
How @wirecutter is tapping into the news space as they become more “newsy”. 🧵
Barry Adams has written everything you need to know about URLs.
28 SEO experiment ideas to help move your stuck rankings.
How to get your SEO tickets into this sprint. 🧵
Eight SEO tools to get Google Search Console URL Inspection API insights.
Visualizing crawl data from Screaming Frog.
And the big question: Is SEO even worth it?
Have something you’d like us to discuss? Send us a note on Twitter (Jessie or Shelby) or to our email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Don’t forget to bookmark our glossary.)
Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley