A search engine results page (SERP) analysis is exactly what it sounds like. Open a browser, search for a keyword, and then look at the results with human eyeballs. There is no SEO tool out there that can perform this analysis as well as you can. As Gianluca Fiorelli (@gfiorelli1) so elegantly tweeted, “Do your job.”
SERP analysis for SEO is the only way that makes sense to make recommendations for new content on your website. If we want to create content that is going to be useful for people and will rank well in search results, we need to know what type of content is already ranking on page one and then figure out what it will take to gain that level of visibility.
There are definitely some good tools out there that will help you evaluate content. But remember that search engines, especially Google, are designed for people to use. The best way that I’ve found to go about a SERP analysis is to look at the search results for your target keywords and:
- Make a note of the different types of SERP features on the page.
- Determine the searcher’s intent for the keyword, as decided by Google.
- Click through, read the content that’s ranking, and evaluate the format it’s in.
Only then can you make the call as to whether there is an opportunity for you to update your content in an effort to rank for the same search query.
So, let’s take a look at how I typically run through a SERP analysis for my clients, starting with the results pages themselves.
SERP features are generally considered to be everything on a results page that is not one of the ten blue links. But, even those organic results have features of their own like the number of results per page, title length, etc.
Google is always adding new SERP features and testing searcher responses. They are continually trying to figure out, just like we are, if the new features are useful to people and whether or not they are going to get clicks.
STAT Search Analytics keeps an updated list of all the different SERP feature types that they come across in their knowledge base. Rank Ranger also has a great visual guide to Google SERP features. Some of the most common SERP features are:
- Places: map with a three-pack of locations
- Knowledge Graph: information on defined entities
- Answers: featured snippets in paragraph, list, or table form
- People Also Ask: related questions to the original query
- News: articles from known news sources
- Images: a row, block, or carousel of related images
Determining Searcher Intent
SERP features play a huge role in determining searcher intent. By looking at what Google is showing in the search results, we can make a pretty good guess as to what content they have found to be useful for that search query and the millions of other related searches.
So, what are the different kinds of searcher intent? It depends on how detailed you want to be: There are three broad, established types of searcher intent that you may have heard of already:
- Navigational – when you already know what you want to find out and you need a little help getting there (branded search queries).
- Informational – when you’re trying to find an answer or some additional information about a topic (long-tail, voice queries with direct answers, or featured snippets).
- Transactional – when you know what you want to buy and are looking to make a purchase (product names, specific product types, or searches that use “buy” words).
Back in 2015, when mobile searches first started outnumbering searches made from desktop, Google published Four Moments Every Marketer Should Know. They call them “micro-moments,” and they focus on the searcher intent of smartphone users, categorizing searches into four different “moments”:
- I-want-to-know moments
- I-want-to-go moments
- I-want-to-do moments
- I-want-to-buy moments
Then, if you want to be even more specific, Kane Jamison and the team at Content Harmony took a more modern approach and dove deep with their recent work on classifying searcher intent. They have allowed for overlapping intents and added a few new types of classifications including:
- Local intent
- Visual intent
- Video intent
- Fresh/News intent
- Branded intent
- Split intent
All of these different searcher intents have a lot to do with the types of SERP features that show up and what kind of content will perform well enough to rank on the first page.
Focus on the Content
Now that we have an idea of what people are searching for and why they’re searching for it, we have to find out what kind of content is ranking and what that content is focused on.
Companies like SEMrush and Ahrefs have their own versions of competitive analysis tools that can give you useful things like word count and keyword usage but, nothing can beat your highly trained human brain! So, click through the search results, look at the content, how it’s formatted, and then READ IT.
Always start with the top-ranking page, there’s obviously something about it that Google deems to be useful and authoritative. But, you should also take the time to look at and read through everything else that made the first page of the SERPs. These are your competitors, and if you want to outrank them, you’re going to have to match or exceed their content in both quality and usefulness.
Is the number one ranked content an exhaustive 101 guide or a glossary definition page? Are there comparison tables? Videos and transcripts? How-tos or FAQs? Take notes and be sure to include the types of content that rank best when you create yours.
In addition to format and content type, remember that Google uses the idea of E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) in their Quality Raters’ Guidelines. But please keep in mind that E-A-T is not a ranking factor, it is merely a part of the aspirational guidelines for quality content on the web. If you talk about your “E-A-T score” or call E-A-T a ranking factor, Ian Lurie will find you and kick you in the shins.
Now, the question you have to ask yourself is, “can I compete with what’s already ranking” for your target keywords. If the current ranking pages are from Wikipedia and other 90+ Domain Authority websites, you might have to build up your own topical authority with a content hub strategy and target longer tailed, less competitive keywords first. But, if after reading through what’s ranking on page one and you feel like you have the expertise and resources to provide something better, then this is your chance.
Optimize Existing Content
Take inventory of your content to see if there is any existing work that you can refresh or combine, and then optimize it based on your keyword and competition research. Here are some ways you can quickly update your existing content:
- Tweak the format to fit the searcher intent of your target keywords.
- Find other related pages that you control and add some internal links to your target page using smart anchor text.
Create New Content
If there isn’t anything on the existing website that can crack into the top ten, it’s time to create something that can. Pull together the notes you took on what’s ranking for your target keyword, bring your list of content features and formatting. Then, do the research! Google wants to rank content that is useful, authoritative, and trustworthy, and that’s not something that is easily faked or half-assed.
Connecting your analysis of the SERPs and your website’s content is not a one-and-done task. The searcher intent behind a query and the SERP features displayed in search results will change over time. So, keep an eye on your rankings (and those of your competitors) and revisit your content from time-to-time, updating whenever necessary.
Most importantly, write for the user! If you are creating something just for the sake of SEO, it will never be as successful as content that is designed to answer a question or solve a problem.