Search Engine Optimization

How to Conduct a SERP Analysis

Kevin Kessler
July 24, 2020
17 minutes

By now we should all know that marketing success can be summed up in three simple words.

Search Engine Optimization.

Also known as SEO, this content marketing strategy is the best way to get your content featured on popular search engine results pages, or SERPs.

codeless serp analysis seo overview
SEO is a process

SEO is comprised of a series of content tweaks both on and off the page of your website. But before you start peppering keywords through your content, you’re going to have to do some homework.

From a SEO standpoint, homework involves a SERP analysis. By understanding the makeup and current rankings of the SERP for your most relevant and high value keyword ideas, you can form a fool proof SEO strategy that will propel you to the top of Google’s first page.

But what is SERP analysis? How do you conduct a SERP analysis?

Read on to find out.

What is a SERP?

SERP is an acronym for Search Engine Results Page, and it’s a term that digital marketers should be intimately familiar with. If SEO analysis is a battle, then the SERP is the grounds upon which the battle occurs.

A SERP pops up when you perform an internet search. That’s true whether you’re using Google, Bing, Yahoo, or any other internet search engine.

Google and Bing, the two largest search engines on the planet, have SERPs that are strikingly similar. Google is, of course, the largest search engine on the planet, holding more than 62% of the search engine market share in 2020, so we tend to default to Google’s preferences.

codeless serp analysis serp knowledge card and knowledge panel
SERP features: knowledge card, knowledge panel, and related questions

A SERP is made up of several different features. In order to better analyze the SERP, you first need to understand what each SERP feature is and how it works.

PPC Ads

These paid advertisements are pay-per-click, and they’re often featured toward the top of the page. PPC ads are always marked as such with a green rectangle that says “Ad.” While their placement is excellent, PPC ads don’t receive nearly as much traffic as a strong organic search result.

Places

The Places feature on a Google SERP is a map that lists the top three location results. Usually these results can be clicked on in order to connect to a website, see reviews, or get directions via Google Maps.

Knowledge Graph

This graph is off to the right side of the page. It features information on entities which are clearly defined. It’s a good way to find the answer to a question without having to click around too much.

Featured Snippets

 A featured snippet, or rich snippet, is a piece of a larger article that specifically answers the question posed in the Google search. Featured snippets can be paragraphs, lists, or tables, depending on the question that was asked.

People Also Ask

This is a list of searches that are of a similar nature to the initial query. When conducting a SERP analysis, it’s a great way to determine some additional search terms to go after when creating your content.

News

All of the items under the News tab will be news articles pertaining to the query. For example, if you were to Google the COVID-19 pandemic, the organic results would turn up informational articles regarding what the virus is. The news tab would give you the most recent and relevant updates on what is going on with the pandemic worldwide.

Images

The images section is a list of images that correspond to the search query. When conducting a SERP analysis, this can be particularly helpful in designing the media that will accompany your copy.

Organic Results

Last but certainly not least, an organic result is generated for the search term by Google’s search algorithm.

These results receive the most attention and garner the most traffic.

Content that actually performs.

Transparent, BS-free pricing in under one minute. No meeting necessary.

Step 1: Determine Search Intent

To rank for the terms you’ve identified through exhaustive keyword research (using a keyword research tool for the best results), you first have to determine the intent of the searcher. What are they looking for specifically when they type in their query? Who are the people searching for this? What common pain points are they trying to alleviate? And what are the highest ranking sites on this SERP doing to help with that?

You can determine intent by doing test searches for the key terms in question and seeing what results pop up. Pay close attention to any knowledge graphs or featured snippets. These features tend to get a lot of organic traffic. By getting a featured snippet you could see a 30% increase in your click-through rate.

You should also pay attention to the People Also Ask section to see what related terms users are searching for.

When you do a sample search, you’re going to get a good sense of what Google believes is useful and relevant information concerning this topic. You can then use that knowledge when creating your content.

There are three forms of searcher intent that you’ll have to differentiate between.

  1. Navigational queries, meaning that the searcher knows what they are looking for but requires more information on where it is and how to get there.
  2. Informational queries, which is when someone is seeking information about a specific topic but doesn’t necessarily have a purchase intent. These search terms are often voice queries or long tail keywords. They often have direct answers and most likely include a featured snippet.
  3. Transactional queries are when someone knows what they’re looking to buy and are searching with purchase intent. These search terms often include specific brand names or types of products.

Once you see this information laid out in front of you, there are a few questions that you can ask yourself to further classify searcher intent.

  • Is it a local search?
  • Are they looking for visual content like an image or video?
  • Is this a news related search?
  • Are they typing in a specific brand name?
  • Can this search apply to more than one of these?

Something to keep in mind while trying to determine what your audience is searching for; Google once characterized the four most important moments that surround search intent.

They are:

  1. I want to know
  2. I want to go
  3. I want to do
  4. I want to buy

Step 2: Content Review

Once you know what your audience is looking for, you’re going to have to take a look at what they’re currently finding when performing a search.

When performing a content review, you’re trying to figure out what is ranking and how that content is focused.

For this step of your SERP analysis, it’s always a good idea to use some kind of tool to give you an upper hand. If you’re able to, we recommend subscribing to a SERP analysis tool like MarketMuse.

codeless serp analysis marketmuse screenshot
Example of MarketMuse’s SERP Analysis

This particular tool is a SERP checker that shows you related keywords and chief competitors for your search term. It will also assign a content score to each SEO competitor while letting you know what you have to do in order to compete.

When reviewing competitor content, it’s always a good idea to start with the top ranked page. This is your stiffest competition. What are they doing right? What are they doing wrong? Once you understand this, you’re able to form a more well-rounded content plan.  

It’s always a good idea to read through the entire first page of SERP results to determine the similarities and differences between each piece of content.

When you know what everyone on the first page is doing, you’re able to answer two key questions.

  1. What kind of content is the number one ranked item?
  2. What are they including on the page that sets them apart?

Armed with this knowledge, it’s time to determine how you measure up.

Step 3: Opportunity Analysis

In order to rank for your top search queries, you’re first going to have to ask yourself a few questions.

Are you able to compete?

There’s no shame in not being able to compete with some heavy hitters. Depending on the size of your business, this could be a big moment where you either give yourself a long term goal to strive for, or decide that you need to go after search queries with less competition.

What kind of competition is the stiffest to overcome?

If you’re competing with Wikipedia pages and branded results, it’s going to be harder for you to rank above them.

For example, if you’re a travel agent and you’re writing content about Walt Disney World vacations, you won’t be able to easily outrank the Walt Disney World website no matter how optimized your blogs might be.

It’s incredibly difficult to compete with high domain authority sites.

What is a domain authority?  

It’s an important SEO metric which speaks to a Moz search ranking that can predict how well a website will rank on the SERP.

Your domain authority score is assigned anywhere from one to 100. It should be noted that this is not a metric used by Google. It’s a Moz-created ranking that is meant to give you a sense of where you’re at and where you need to be.

By performing an opportunity analysis, you’ll be able to better plan your content strategy. If you have to increase your domain authority to compete, it helps to know that.

If you have a very low domain authority score and you’re up against some heavy hitters, you might want to consider adopting a content hub and spoke strategy.

codeless serp analysis hub and spoke model
Hub and spoke content is a great link building strategy

When you create a hub and spoke content, you’re writing one long and detailed central article which then branches out into smaller linked articles.

Let’s say that your main piece touches on 15 different strategies that your ideal customer can use to alleviate their main pain point. Each of those 15 sections would then connect to 15 different articles, each one going more in depth on that specific item.

These articles would all link back to the central piece, and ideally link to one another in some form. It’s a great way to create content and conduct some much needed link building on your site.

Think of it as creating a content web on your site that Google’s spider search bots can crawl over to gather relevant information.

Step 4: Create and Optimize Content

Now that you’ve got a good idea on how to rank on the SERP, it’s time to start optimizing. A good place to begin is with your current content. If you’ve developed content that is not ranking, you can use your SERP knowledge to optimize and move your existing pages up the ranks.

Use a SERP tool like MarketMuse to get a content score for your existing pages and see what you need to do in order to beat the scores of your competition.

codeless serp analysis marketmuse content score
MarketMuse’s content scores help you compete with other sites

This could also be a good time to change up the format of some of your existing content. If you have a list article, try to repurpose that into a hub and spoke cluster.

You should also add some fresh images and videos to some of your old content. It can make a world of difference.  

Tweak the copy to add keywords. Add image alt tags and titles. Make sure you’re also including optimized metadata. Remember, SEO occurs both on and off the page.

Also, make sure that you’re linking internally between your pages. It will be helpful when trying to rank on a Google SERP.

Once you’re sure that all of your current content is as optimized as possible, it’s time to create new content from scratch with SEO in mind.

Refer back to the notes that you took on your competition, specifically the content and opportunity analysis portions.

Make sure that you’re creating quality content, using keywords naturally and not keyword stuffing. That is something Google hates. It helps to create a content outline before drafting.

Whatever you do, don’t create duplicate content. While it might be tempting in the interest of time to copy and paste some optimized content into your new article from a previous page, you’ll end up hurting your SEO score.

Finally, use a grammar checker like Grammarly or a similar content analysis tool to double check everything.

Conclusion

The road to SEO greatness starts at the results page. By analyzing the SERP for both intent and competition, you’re creating a clearer path to victory.

In a battle, you don’t just run in blind and expect to gain victory. You have to survey the area, determine the strengths and weaknesses of your enemy, and come up with a plan that will give you the best opportunity to win.

SEO is a constant battle. Remember, if you manage to claim that number one spot, there is someone else out there analyzing the SERP, ready to come after you. Make sure that you’re ready to defend your spot. You should be constantly analyzing the SERP once you’ve gotten where you want to be to determine how things are changing over time.