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When you use a search service such as Google, the results are displayed on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP). This may be one of the most valuable pieces of geography in the on-line universe, because people use these listings to locate products or services they are considering for purchase.
We find people are often confused about what they are seeing, so it makes sense to take the time to look more closely at elements of this page.
At one time, the SERP only contained listings of web pages, but now most search services provide blended results on the page. This means that there may be multiple regions, each containing a particular type of listing.
The features that display vary, because all features don’t apply to all searches. For example, if your search appears to be for a product, the SERP may dedicate considerable space to relevant product ads. If it appears that you are searching for a local business, a substantial part of the page may be dedicated to listings for firms in your area.
The most basic feature of any SERP is still the regular search results, often referred to as organic listings. This is a listing of the web pages (not websites) that the search service feels best satisfy the user’s search intent.
There are two elements that are considered when determining which pages to display, and in what order:
The organic search results area is still considered one of the most important pieces of real estate on the Internet, since the click-through rate is often higher than for pay-per-click advertising. SEO professionals and their clients fight tooth and nail over this space, and companies are investing heavily in both internal staff and outside agencies to gain a competitive advantage.
Led by Google, pages from most major search services do not contain display ads. They only show small pay-per-click text ads, typically on top and to the right. These ads are clearly labeled as such, enabling the search services to maintain the non-commercial nature of their organic listings. Even companies that invest heavily in search optimization (SEO) usually include a substantial commitment to pay-per-click in their mix, partly because it is far more controllable than organic search.
In an attempt to satisfy users who are searching for a local business, the search services include relevant local listings if that appears to be what you are looking for. They will use a location name if the user enters it as a search term. Otherwise, they may infer your location from the IP address from which the inquiry is performed.
It is often far easier to appear in a prominent position on the Search Engine Results Page with a local business listing than a regular organic listing. In fact, local businesses often appear in a far more prominent position than larger companies spending thousands of dollars per month on Search Engine Optimization, and they can get there relatively inexpensively.
In addition to organic listings, ads and local listings, a Search Engine Results page may contain other, specialized listings. For example, Google Products allows advertisers on Google to display text-based product ads if the user seems to be searching for a specific product. Image listings are also included if that seems relevant.