Table of Contents

Beyond Primary Search Results

Cost Per Click/Pay Per Click

Knowledge Graph

Primary Search Results

Sitelinks

Image Links

Video Results

News Results

In-Depth Articles

Miscellaneous Search Features

Product Schema

Authorship Markup

Review Markup

A Practical Example

1. Navigational Hierarchy & Taxonomy for Sitelinks

2. Image Optimization

3. Video Optimization

4. Reviews

 


Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) have changed drastically since the days of 10 blue links. SERP changes occur every day, and query to query. One clear example is the difference between Google search results for the same query based on if you are logged into your account or not, have personalized search turned on, or with personalization turned off. Nearly any query you can think of has different sets of elements in different places. The amount of search result variations is pretty significant with personalization on or off. Each set of search results is unique to the location of the searcher, the phrase that was queried and whether or not the searcher was logged in to a Google user account when the search was performed.

 

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Personalized search results

Personalized search results toggled off

Personalized search results toggled off

Dr. Peter Meyers covered this topic pretty heavily last year, and a lot of this research came from things he’s published concerning the ever-changing Google SERPs. That said, I have compiled some of the SERP elements that have a greater impact on eCommerce, and hopefully provide some direction when these elements can be optimized to increase organic eCommerce conversions. Personalized search results toggled off   The ability to influence the elements within each of the different search result modules is incredibly valuable, because richness in search results compels people to click. It’s important to remember that while we can influence Google with signals about what we would like to see in the SERPs, at the end of the day, Google chooses what it displays in search results query-to-query. While we can make suggestions about what we would like to see, we cannot control them. An image, aggregated reviews, tabular data and other media in a search result is called a Rich Snippet.

A snippet includes just text.

A snippet includes just text.

 

This “rich” snippet includes the author’s image, and links to Google+.

This “rich” snippet includes the author’s image, and links to Google+.

What does this mean exactly? Well, after taking all of the time to mark up your content appropriately and testing it to make sure it was done right, Google can still choose not to display rich snippets within its search results. It may seem like doing all of the extra work will result in just spinning your wheels, however without it, your website has little to no chance of showing users anything in the search results beyond one little blue link and a text description. Furthermore, by defining and disambiguating the information on your webpages, you are giving Google greater context that it uses to rank and index your content.

Beyond Primary Search Results

Cost Per Click/Pay Per Click

Cost Per Click (CPC) or Pay Per Click (PPC) ads are the links typically displayed above, below and to the right of the organic results. These paid query results change just as rapidly as the rest of the SERPs. Without a dedicated PPC agency or in-house specialist, these trends can be difficult to keep up with. Basically, there are two primary types of paid search engine results.

AdWords CPC (Top, Bottom and Right)

AdWords units, displayed at the top left of the search results, are by far the most recognized paid search results. They make up about 72 percent of paid results and contain anywhere from one-to-three ads, some of which include extensions that push organic links further down the page. These extensions can contain the richest results, including photos and additional sitelinks in some cases. Google separates these ad units from organic results with a beige background (the first image below). Google appears to be testing a new format for desktop ads that look the same as their mobile ad format (the second image below). The least common are shown below the organic search results. These AdWords units are currently used only about 16 percent of the time. Finally, AdWords displayed on the right side of the SERP are much simpler and there can be up to eight results shown per results page. This is the second most common AdWords SERP at around 42 percent.

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Product Listing Ads (PLA)

Product Listing Ads began showing up on the right hand side of SERPs at the end of 2012. These results show product images and names, along with prices and the vendor’s name. Before that, product results were organic and they could be optimized along with other on-page elements. In November 2012, these organic product results would become Google Shopping, which combines PPC with Google’s powerful comparison shopping engine.

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Knowledge Graph

Google’s Knowledge Graph is designed to help users get information quickly and without having to dive too deeply into their search results to find a quick answer to a quick question. The Knowledge Graph is a SERP module with a wide variety of displays that pulls data from a variety of different trusted webpages throughout the Internet.

Knowledge Graph (Brand or identity)

When someone is talking about the Knowledge Graph, this is what he or she is referring to. It appears on the right hand side of the SERP and contains the basic information about the specific entity (person, place or thing) that was queried. Sites that have a good reputation for giving clear information (such as Wikipedia, Freebase or the CIA World Factbook) are typically used to create the informational Knowledge Graph. Users have observed Knowledge Graph data taken from public sources, such as the three named above, as well as Google+ and even personal or brand websites and other data sources. The easier it is for Google to understand an entity, the better the chance that it will appear in the Knowledge Graph. Well-defined brands and personalities are easy entities for Google to disambiguate. Strong branding, and also author/publisher markup, is the key to this valuable piece of SERP real estate. Having a Wikipedia page is very helpful as well.

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Music Carousel

This is a relative newcomer to SERPs and it is currently tied directly to music. This result displays a list of potential song results in a carousel format. Clicking on one of the song titles in the display will display a YouTube video for that song. This feature is not really related to general eCommerce but, dammit, I love rock and roll and I really wanted to include it.

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Disambiguation Box

When a search is vague or ambiguous, this display pops up to help the user clarify their search a little bit more. This box gives a few extra options for search terms, and clicking on one takes them to a brand new Google search while using the disambiguated subject as the new search query. For example, clicking “Agents of Chaos: Hero’s Trial” in the search result below will take the user to a new Google search, for the phrase agents of chaos: hero’s trial.

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Primary Search Results

These SERPs give results categorized into different verticals or similar result types, such as videos, images and tabular data. You might see more than one vertical search result on a SERP if more than one vertical applies.

Sitelinks

This feature gives top search results an expanded set of links underneath a link to their main page. These results help users more easily navigate the site and provide instant links to the most commonly visited areas of the site, such as locations, contact information and hours of operation.

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Google developed snippet sitelinks as a handy way for users to find other pages of a website relevant to a their query without having to dig through the site’s navigation. Instead, Google tries to provide users added convenience and places links to additional internal pages directly in the snippet. Beyond just the convenience to the user, sitelinks bring a lot of extra visibility to a search result. The added information extend a snippet’s length and provides a little more punch than just some meta description text. Additionally, sitelinks can take up more space than any other rich snippet element that Google currently allows. Currently, sitelinks are automated and, as usual, Google does not let us know what they use in order to determine which sites are granted sitelinks or which pages on the site are listed below the main link. However, due to clever sleuthing and a lot of research, we believe that we have figured out as closely as possible how to influence Google in order to gain sitelinks for your website. Though there are no guarantees when it comes to a foolproof way to get sitelinks for your business, here are a few good tips to help better your chances.

Be the Top Ranked Domain for Branded Searches

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It should be noted that sitelinks do not typically appear on just any Search Engine Result Page (SERP), and broad queries tend to produce sitelinks less often. Instead, targeted searches for brand names are great targets for sitelinks. Again, while Google’s exact specifications aren’t clear, the sitelinks associated with the primary search result tend to be the most commonly searched categories. For example, when searching for the term “Adidas,” (in addition to the huge amount of PPC real estate and all of the rich brand content surrounding the organic search results), the first result is the brand’s homepage and the sitelinks underneath include direct navigation to six different landing areas of their eCommerce store.

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What to Avoid: Don’t forget about the importance of your brand. Brand entities are easy for Google to understand. Good search engine branding makes it easier to determine searcher intent than general keywords such as “clothing” or “furniture.”

Have High Natural Search Traffic

As with all basic SEO rules and general best practices, your website’s popularity in organic search is an important factor for your sitelinks, too. This means that your site is informative and Google considers it a trustworthy source of information for the topics of which you are focused. High click-through rates on certain searches correlate to changes in the sitelinks shown below the main search result. Of course, high natural search traffic can only come with time. This is the case with sitelinks as well. Websites that have been around for a while, and are properly optimized, are much more likely to generate sitelinks in Google results than newer sites.   What to Avoid: Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket when it comes to SEO. Many times, sites that have focused their efforts on only a handful pages, rather than a variety, are less likely to show up with sitelinks under the primary search result.

Have Solid, Clear Navigation and Organization

In the summer of 2013, Google updated a patent that “looks at how the search engines might use directories in URL structures to help it better understand the categories on a Web site.” It is clear that Google emphasizes well-planned site navigation and organization. Think of it this way: if it’s hard for a person to find a page on your site, it’s likely that a search robot will have a hard time with it, too. Since those robots are how Google indexes your site, it’s very important that they can easily crawl it and determine which sections are the most important. Organize your information architecture (IA) in a way that limits the amount of choices users have on the main page to just the most important. Keep it simple so that users can easily find the links that they need.   Another way to help clarify your information architecture is to ensure that you have given your website an easy-to-understand URL structure and written unique, descriptive page titles and meta descriptions for each page.   What to Avoid: When planning your IA, avoid placing every URL in a top-level directory (www.domain.com/{every-URL-on-your-website}/). Sure, it’s great to make it easy for search engines to find popular entities (Ex: location, contact, FAQs), but that doesn’t mean you should overwhelm them with information. Speaking of information, often times a company will overlook page titles and opt to have them filled in automatically. This is a huge disservice to your website, since strong, unique page titles help Google determine what each page is about.

Demoting a Sitelink

While we work hard to figure out how exactly the Google algorithm works, it’s not infallible and sometimes it creates sitelinks that might not be relevant. On occasion, sitelinks will highlight a page it thinks is important in your hierarchy, but is, in fact, irrelevant. On these occasions, Google has provided us with a way to tell them that this particular page should not be used in sitelinks. Here’s how:

  1. Log in and select your site in Google Webmaster Tools.
  2. Click Sitelinks, located under Search Appearance.image_17
  3. Get the full URL of the search result that has sitelinks underneath it, and paste it in the “For this Search Result” box. This box is NOT for the URL you want to demote. This box is for the primary search result for the query that returns sitelinks. (For many people, Google’s instructions about this are not clear)
  4. Paste URL that you want demoted in the box marked “Demote this Sitelink URL.”

For example, let’s say that for some reason we felt that the one page at seOverflow.com (the name of our company before the 2014 rebrand) was not an ideal landing page for a branded query.

example of SERP listing

Of course we wouldn’t want to demote Everett’s employee profile, but since Google wonked the meta description, we’ll use this one as an example.

Since the sitelink we want to demote is below the homepage link in this example, we will leave the first box blank within Google Webmaster Tools.

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Next, we want copy and paste the About Us link into the second box within Google Webmaster Tools, and click Demote.

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The demoted sitelink URL will appear below, displayed with the search result to which it applies. There will also be a “Remove Demotion” button that will allow you to undo the change. Once you’ve demoted a sitelink, it might take some time for it to go into effect, so be patient. Search results can change within a couple of days to as much as a month or more. As with everything in organic SERPs and SEM, change takes time. That said, if your sitelinks haven’t updated within a couple of weeks, you should check your configuration within Webmaster Tools.

Image Links

This is the horizontal display of images that shows up on the left side of the SERP and features images that meet the query specifications within Google Images. On occasion, on very specific searches (ex: “pictures of…”), what’s called an “image mega block” will appear. This display features heavily on images and downplays other types of verticals on the SERP.

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Video Results

These results show a thumbnail of the video and on occasion, the publish date as well as the title of the video. They can show up just about anywhere on the SERP. This seems simple enough, however, video can be such an incredibly valuable part of your SEO strategy that just looking at the snippet alone would be missing out on the much bigger role that video can play in the areas of conversions, brand awareness or social media traction.

Rich Snippets for Video

Properly marking up video content can offer the same benefit as any other rich snippet. Namely, it draws a user’s attention to your listing. Below is a screenshot of product videos for Slap Chop. When a user clicks on a video result, they are taken to the page where that video is hosted. You’ll find that nine times out of 10, that page will be YouTube, although sometimes you will be taken to a company website, blog or in some cases, even a product page.

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Video Sitemap

It is possible to markup your video content using schema.org formatting in order to achieve rich snippets. While marking up your videos will help search engines to display rich snippets, a video Sitemap is an XML feed that offers detailed metadata that will also tell search engine robots to look directly at where the videos live. Briefly, Google requires that the Sitemap contain the URL of the page where the video is published, the URL of the video thumbnail and the URL of the actual video file. For SEO purposes, it’s helpful to also include the video duration, date published, category, tag and uploader. Defining these tags in your video Sitemap gives more information and context to search engines about each video that you publish.

Hosting Videos

Uploading your videos to YouTube, Vimeo or any of the other video hosting platforms is a free and convenient alternative to self-hosting, but they don’t directly impact your search engine rankings. They can help spread videos virally, and potentially increase your brand’s overall visibility however, the search engines will typically serve links to YouTube, Vimeo, etc. and not your website. In order for your videos to impact your overall SEO value, they should be third party or self hosted. Using a third-party hosting service or hosting the videos yourself offers some distinct SEO advantages. Google chooses to show the source of a video in rich snippets, so if the source of your video is YouTube, then YouTube will get the credit. If the source is your domain, then your website will be shown in the SERPs and not the hosting service. Finally, when a video is hosted on your domain, every time your video is shared or embedded on another web page it will link back to your website.

News Results

These results typically show up near the top of the results page on the left side and are designed to feature current events on a particular topic. The news items are recognizable with a thumbnail for the first news item and the title “news results for.” There can be up to three results in the news module, with a link to “More news” underneath.

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Unlike Video results, it is not absolutely necessary to submit a news-specific XML Sitemap to be included in the news results. However, it is highly recommended, as it gives webmasters the ability to tag each article element like date/time, genre, title, the name of the publication, etc. They are a more difficult type of Sitemap to maintain because they have a short shelf life. Google recommends that your News Sitemap should only contain URLs that are no older than two days. Your content must be published fairly regularly in order to qualify.

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Everything you need to know about getting into Google News, including technical requirements, can be found here: https://support.google.com/news/publisher/

In-Depth Articles

This is a new addition to SERPs and is designed to do exactly what the title implies: it features more in-depth articles on the query at hand. Unlike most search results which seem to feature more current posts, in-depth articles seem to focus more on evergreen content. The articles in this area are typically from well-known publications such as National Geographic. The articles in this area can also be a month or sometimes several years old.

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So far, it is rare to see in-depth articles in the SERPs from websites that aren’t already considered leading media brands (e.g. nytimes.com, wsj.com, wired.com). However, regional newspapers (e.g. wvgazette.com) and niche publications (e.g. yogajournal.com) can also obtain an in-depth listing provided that the content, author and publication meet certain standards as outlined here: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/3280182. Some of these include the use of Schema.org Article Markup, Authorship markup and proper handling of pagination.

Miscellaneous Search Features

Some aspects of SERPs just can’t be neatly categorized; I’ve included them in this catchall category here.

Product Schema

Product Schema from schema.org provides a set of HTML tags that are the universally accepted standard agreed upon by Google, Bing and Yahoo search engines. This standard was developed to improve the indexation and display of search results. When website elements are fitted with schema.org markup, it helps search engines find your products and in some cases, provides rich snippets of your product. The spec for product pages can be found at http://schema.org/Product, which is a sub-category of http://schema.org/Thing. The properties that you want to be sure to include are:

  • Product Name
  • URL
  • Offer
  • Description
  • Brand
  • Manufacturer
  • Model #
  • Product ID
  • Reviews
  • Aggregate rating

Authorship Markup

This feature adds a thumbnail of your G+ profile picture if Google can connect your account to the articles you’ve written. It also adds your name and some basic stats from your profile. There is speculation that Google can score authors and rank them based on the content that they write. We are confident that this will be useful to organic search in the future however; Google Authorship is not currently a ranking factor.

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A more in-depth look at Google Authorship can be found here.

Review Markup

For products and recipes, review markups show relevant review data, such as stars or a thumbnail of the product or recipe.

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A Practical Example

It is difficult to look at all of these SERP elements and decide which ones are most appropriate to use on your own website. What happens if I have a product page with a product demo video, and the product info is marked up with Schema? Do I get the video thumb, the product schema, including product reviews, or both? Which would be better to have? Optimizing eCommerce websites for search ranking and visibility can be much more difficult than optimizing a blog or a 10-20 page company website. Product pages are a particularly difficult problem, primarily because people don’t want to link to these pages naturally. Without going too much into product page optimization, here are some of the ways that you can spice up product pages in order to pull out some of the value that rich SERPs can provide. Here is just one example of how to employ design and markup practices to get the most value out of your SERP placement, no matter where you are ranking in the search results.

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1. Navigational Hierarchy & Taxonomy for Sitelinks

One way to manage sitelinks in the search engine result pages is through your information architecture and navigation. Breadcrumb links help to give users a visual aid as they find their way around. They also reduce the number of clicks that a human user, or a search engine robot, needs in order to get to a higher-level page. They also provide contextual information about a page in the website’s hierarchy that is easy for both humans and crawlers to understand. URL structure and Information Architecture can also play a role in expressing page hierarchy. Google published a couple of patents titled Training set construction for taxonomic classification and System and method for determining a composite score for categorized search results that describe how documents may be categorized according to directory structure, and hints at how that could be used as a ranking factor.

One example of a site with a URL structure that is difficult for search engines to understand is the online classifieds website, Auto Trader. One click from the homepage, and you see the following URL: http://www.autotrader.com/cars-for-sale/vehicledetails.xhtml?zip=80221&endYear=2015&showcaseOwnerId=57536347&startYear=1981&searchRadius=25&showcaseListingId=364049234&listingId=346011873&Log=0

An example of a descriptive URL that includes keywords describing the product category and name can be found at the online retailer Overstock.comhttp://www.overstock.com/Clothing-Shoes/Boston-Traveler-Mens-Square-Toe-Lace-up-Dress-Oxfords/7915076/product.html

2. Image Optimization

Images are an indispensable asset for organic search, although image optimization can be one of the most overlooked elements of an SEO strategy. Optimizing your images can help you to earn some of this traffic, and it’s one of the easier SEO activities that you can do. Image optimization, in its simplest form, involves Alt attribute, file size, file name and captions. Image optimization is so straightforward that there’s not a whole lot of reason for rehashing all of the things that you can learn in a couple of search queries. For reference however, it will be helpful to take a look at this link.

3. Video Optimization

There are two key elements to video optimization. These two elements are A) the video Sitemap and B) schema.org markup. While adding schema.org markup to your videos will help them to be indexed better, you should be sure not to neglect your video Sitemap. The biggest decision that you need to make is whether or not you want your videos to be a tool for search engine ranking or for viral traction. The answer to that question will help you to decide if you upload your videos to services like YouTube and Vimeo, or self-host them on your own domain. (Pro Tip: YouTube for viral and self-hosting for SEO)

4. Reviews

eCommerce websites that do not offer a place for users to leave product reviews have really missed the boat. Whether you decide to build reviews directly into your website, or call a third-party review system to parse user reviews, allow your customers to describe their experience with a product, or your service. If you are hand-coding review markup into your website, the three following tools can help you get it right:

One final, brilliant example of using many of these SERP elements is Zappos.com.

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So there it is. SERPs will constantly change and the best strategy is to be agile so you can adjust your eCommerce site to take advantage of new features.