Anatomy of a Search Results Page - 2021 Edition
I have a confession to make. I’ve been putting off doing an updated post about the anatomy of a search engine results page for a while now. Back in the day, this was a simple job. Just take a screenshot of a Google search, highlight the ads on the top, right, and bottom of the page, (hey, Google’s gotta eat too) and call it a day.
Fast forward to the present and Google will show you different layouts depending on what it is they think you are looking for. It’s complicated. Gone is the ‘one size fits all’ Search Results Page (SERP). What query do I even use to start?
As I sit down to write this updated post it’s 12:30; lunchtime, and I am hungry. So let’s search for pizza, shall we? We’ll see what shows up and I’ll slice up the results for you. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Section 1 (of 4)
I purposely did a high-level search using the word ‘pizza’ with no qualifiers like ‘near me’, ‘recipes’, or ‘Greensboro’. Just ‘pizza’.
The top left of the page gives us the sponsored ads we’ve grown accustomed to seeing through the years. Directly under that is a map with locations that serve pizza near me. If you recall, I did not ‘tell’ Google where ‘near me’ was, but no matter; they know my location.
Below that are snippets from Google Business Profile (fka Google My Business) listings for specific pizza places should I want to dig in a little deeper to a particular restaurant.
The right side of the page is a completely different category of results. We start by seeing several pictures of the cheesy goodness we call pizza along with a definition of the term. Does anyone not know what pizza is?
Below that are videos of people answering top questions about pizza. Whew. That’s a lot to digest. And we are only on the first section of a long SERP. Let’s move on to the next section.
On the left we see the 3rd Google Business Profile listing of the 3 Google shows in queries they serve for local results. If this is what you are looking for but want to see more results you can click on the ‘View all’ link below the 3rd result.
After that you will see what used to be the main part of every Google search; an organic search result. Where you used to get 10 results shown you now see only 1 before Google pops in a ‘People also ask’ section. This section is here to let you see results for related queries should you want to refine your search. You will see more organic results after this.
Since Google is still not quite sure what your search intent is by just searching for ‘pizza’, we now have nutrition facts appearing on the right of the page as well as some gluten-free options. There are even some visual representations of related items people interested in pizza are searching for.
We are still on the first page of results, by the way. You can almost visualize an engineer at Google doing a facepalm and thinking “recipes – what if they want to COOK pizza”!
So now we get mouth-watering images of pizza accompanied by the recipe for each one should you decide to attempt to make your own at home. There are 3 shown on the page and they are displayed neatly in a little ‘recipe box’. You will notice a ‘show more’ button in case you want to see even more recipes.
As we move down you will see 4 more organic search results on the page. You are probably noticing that not only does Google not appear to feature what was once their bread and butter results, but in the overall layout of the page they are not nearly as visually attractive as the other results on the page. No picture, no maps, no stars; just plopped on the page.
We also start to see more ads creep in at the bottom of the page.
What is missing is content on the right side of the page like the 2 pages that preceded this one. When you get this far under the fold you will see less content appearing on the right. Google places what if feels is more compelling and relevant closer to the top.
We have finally reached the bottom of the page! Here you can see the rest of that paid ad at the bottom of the previous screenshot as well as a couple of more visual cues for helpful service offerings you may be interested in.
We finish up with more related searches just in case you’ve made it this far down the page without finding what you want.’
This was a simple search for ‘pizza’. Had I search for ‘pizza near me’, ‘pizza recipes’, or pizza delivery’ the pages served up by Google would look completely different.
Had I searched for ‘men’s shoes’ the results page would show a drastically different layout with Google shopping ads dominating the top of the page.
The point I’m trying to make is that there is no standard search results page anymore. A search results page is a mosaic of different Google widgets that are placed on the page according to what Google thinks you are searching for.
And they do all this compiling in .83 seconds!
I don’t know about you but I’m hungry. Does anyone know where I can get a good pizza?