What is a Google SERP Feature?

A SERP (search engine results page) feature describes a result that appears in Google search results that provides information or functionality above and beyond the organic search results — the classic "10 blue links." SERP features are part of Google’s overall goal of helping searchers answer their questions, solve their problems or achieve their goal as quickly and easily as possible.

The point behind SERP features is to satisfy their users’ search intent directly from the search results.

Here’s an example of Google results for the keyword "best sci-fi movies 2019". As you’ll see, it has a mix of organic results and SERP features:

SERP in 2019 with SERP features

In this example, the SERP features are highlighted in pink and the organic results are in blue.

A note about terminology

Even though we differentiate between these features and more "normal" search results by calling one “SERP” features and the other “organic results”, SERP features are almost always generated programmatically by Google, meaning there isn’t really anything you can do that will trigger a SERP feature for your website (although you can opt out of featured snippets).

Using "organic results" to refer to the classic 10 blue links developed in 2001 when the only “non-organic” results were paid ads, which would move up or down based on how much advertisers pay for clicks.

Organic SERP Features

The majority of Google’s SERP features are generated programmatically. Meaning Google uses an algorithm to detect the intent behind a user’s query, decide which feature works best to meet it and decide what content and/or page to display in that feature.

These are the SERP features that appear automatically.

Featured snippets

Featured snippets are Google’s way of answering a user’s specific question with content it thinks has the best, most authoritative answer on the web. It will show this bit of content at the top of search results (but below the paid ads).

Featured snippets are often referred to as "position zero" or “rank zero” because they appear on top of the 10 organic results.

However, it’s worth noting that the site that hosts the content displayed in the featured snippet will rank somewhere in the top 10 organic results.

Featured snippets are made up of 4 components:

  • The content
  • Image of images
  • Page title
  • Page URL

The content can be a sentence (or 2 or 3):

image alt text

Step-by-step directions:

Recipe featured snippet with step-by-step directions

A list of the top entries the top the user is searching for (the exact number of entries will vary from snippet to snippet):

Featured snippet with bullet point list

We don’t know exactly how Google generates its featured snippets (although we know the use of Schema.org markup doesn’t play a role) but if you can manage to snag one for your site, it can have great benefits for your website visibility and traffic.

Learn more about this feature, finding opportunities for your site and optimizing to win one in our guide to featured snippets.

Top stories

The top stories SERP feature is a carousel displaying Google News results relevant to the search query’s topic:

Google top stories carousel

While there’s no guarantee Google will pick your content for the carousel, getting your site into Google News is straightforward:

Getting into Google News doesn’t guarantee that your site will appear in the top stories feature for any particular query (Google News has its own ranking algorithm), but it’s the first step.

People also ask box

The people also ask feature, also called the related questions box, is a drop-down menu of questions Google thinks are related to the user’s search query. Clicking one of the questions will expand the feature to display a bit of content that answers the question, much like a featured snippet:

People also ask SERP feature

Clicking to expand one of the answers will also cause the feature to load more related questions.

This feature can appear anywhere in the search results — sometimes at the top, other times at the bottom and other times somewhere in between. It seems to depend on what other SERP features are appearing.

Related question snippets will display the question, answer (with the specific information in bold) and the page title and URL of where Google found the content.

Related questions are generated automatically by Google with the pages and content selected to appear chosen according to Google’s algorithm.

It’s also worth noting that if you search for the related questions, those results will show a featured snippet. However, the content and page used for the featured snippet will not necessarily be the same as the content and page that are shown in the related question feature.

Local pack

When Google decides that a keyword indicates the user wants to find a physical location near them, it will show the local pack (also known as the map pack) at the top of its search results. The local pack will list the 3 locations Google thinks is best based on the user’s query along with the Google Maps results showing relevant businesses in the applicable area.

The feature will list the information important to the user:

  • Business name, address and phone number
  • Aggregate star rating based on Google My Business reviews
  • Links to the business’ website (when possible)
  • Directions to the place based on the user’s location (when available)
  • Opening and/or closing times (which display in orange or red if it’s close to that time)

Google local pack feature

Clicking on one of the places in the local pack will open that place’s knowledge panel, displaying the information someone searching for a local business might be interested in.

Appearing in the local pack is obviously vital to any business that relies on bringing people into its physical location. And while the appearance of the map pack is determined automatically by Google, we do have a good idea of the factors that can influence a business’ ranking in those results:

  • Location. This is perhaps the most important factor. Ensuring Google knows your business is located in or serves a particular area is key.

  • Reviews. Having good reviews is almost as important as being in the right location. A business that is a bit further away from a user will outrank a closer business if that closer one has terrible reviews.

  • Relevance. Does this place actually do what the searcher is looking for? i.e. is it the right type of restaurant or store?

Google has its own ranking algorithm for the local pack which is entirely separate from the organic algorithm and relies heavily on the information stored in a business’ Google My Business entry.

Image pack

When Google thinks a user is looking for a particular image it will show the image pack.

Google image pack SERP feature

Google will also show the image pack if it thinks the user’s search will be best served by an image.

Google image results SERP feature

If you head over to Google Images and search using the same keyword, you’ll notice that the image pack is made up of the top results in image search:

Image results from image pack

Clicking on one of the images in the image pack will take you to the Image search results for the keyword with the image you clicked on expanded in the results. Clicking on the image from there will take the user to the page hosting the image.

While there’s no way to ensure the image pack will appear for your site’s target keywords, you can optimize your site to get your images higher in Google Image results and, therefore, get into the image pack.

Learn more about that with the WooRank guide to optimizing images for SEO.

Video carousel

The video carousel appears so Google can display videos relevant to a user’s search query. This carousel is made up of cards showing the video page’s title, URL, description and the video thumbnail.

Video carousel SERP feature

Google introduced the video carousel in June 2018, replacing the older video box SERP feature. You can click the arrow on the right side of the carousel to scroll to see more related videos.

These results often link to YouTube videos but, as you can see in the example above, not always. If your pages have embedded videos they can appear in video snippets.

Those embedded videos don’t have to be hosted on YouTube either.

You can use structured data to tell Google all about the videos on your pages. Adding Schema.org properties using JSON-LD markup for videos to describe your videos:

  • A description of your video
  • The title
  • The URL of the video thumbnail
  • The date you uploaded your video
  • The URL of the actual video file
  • How long it is
  • The URL of the program that plays the video
  • The date after which the video will no longer be available
  • A counter of the number of times the video has been viewed

The first 4 properties (the ones in bold) are required in order for Google to consider your markup valid. If you don’t add those, your videos won’t appear in your site’s search snippets.

There is a second video-based SERP feature you can earn for your videos, but you can’t get your site’s URLs in.

Google’s suggested clips are YouTube videos that contain the answer to a user’s query. The feature contains the video title, YouTube URL and length of the suggested clip. The video thumbnail will show where in the video’s progress bar the answer occurs:

image alt text

While you can’t optimize your site to appear in suggest clips (remember: YouTube only) you can optimize your videos for suggested clips.

Twitter carousel

Google will display recent and trending Tweets most relevant to the user’s query. Like most other SERP features, the Twitter carousel can appear anywhere in the search result but seems to appear most often nearer the top.

image alt text

These Tweets can be from official sources (such as the @Avengers account or the @Russo_Brother account) or an unrelated account that’s posting on the topic (@AMCHelps is an official corporate account, but isn’t affiliated with the Avengers, Marvel Studios or Disney).

The Tweets that make up the carousel can come from Twitter search results on a topic, as they do in the example above. Or they can come from a single feed.

Twitter carousel from a single account

It all depends on what Google thinks best serves what the user is looking for.

App pack

Google’s app pack SERP feature brings results from the Google Play (for Android users) or the App Store (for Apple users) into the search results for searchers using mobile devices. The app pack shows the top 6 apps that Google thinks is relevant.

Google App pack SERP feature

Google will show the app pack when it thinks a user is searching with the intent to find a particular type of app. It makes this decision based on the keywords the person uses in their search.

Getting your app to appear in Google’s app pack, and to appear in at the top of app packs, is called "app store optimization" (ASO). Many describe ASO as “SEO for your app” and that’s a nice way of phrasing it. But the danger of thinking of it that way is that it hides the fact that app stores use completely separate ranking algorithms that rely on completely different signals than Google’s regular ranking algorithms.

So doing what got your website at the top of the SERPs (speed, links, content, etc.) won’t really get your app into the app pack, and vice versa.

It’s also worth noting that the app pack SERP feature isn’t the same thing as app indexing. App indexing refers to Google crawling the content within an app and displaying it in its organic search results.

Jobs

When someone searches for a job opening, Google will display its jobs SERP feature that shows relevant job listings in the user’s area.

Google Jobs SERP feature and service

In this feature, Google will show some or all of the following information:

  • Job title
  • Hiring company
  • Location
  • The website where the opening was originally posted
  • How long its been since the opening was posted
  • Whether the job is full-time or part-time
  • If your Google Account has a home address saved, it will also show the estimated commute time

The feature also allows users to filter job openings based on

  • Category
  • Title
  • Location, including distance from that location
  • Date posted
  • Full-time vs. part-time
  • Industry
  • Company name

Searchers can also save or bookmark a job opening and set up alerts for new job openings that meet their criteria.

Google creates this feature using the job openings it finds while crawling employer websites and career sites (such as Indeed or Monster).

If you host job openings on your site, you can help get your job openings into this feature by using the job posting schema and adding this to your jobs pages using JSON-LD. For those who don’t publish their own job openings, make sure the career sites you post on include this markup (most of the big players do).

Before you publish, use Google’s structured data testing tool to make sure your structured data is correct. Once it’s validated, publish your content and submit your URL using Google’s indexing API. If you don’t have access to the API, you can wait for Google to find and recrawl your pages.

Knowledge Graph panel

Knowledge Graph panels show for Google searches for entities: people, places, things and brands. These panels contain all of the information Google knows about and sees as relevant to the entity.

Google Knowledge Graph panel SERP feature

Google will also rely on the information in its Knowledge Graph to answer user’s questions in search results.

Knowledge Graph answer SERP feature

It’s incredibly difficult to get your site’s URLs into Knowledge Graph results. For some, it’s impossible because they don’t have any URLs or link to any pages.

So your focus should instead be on making sure the information about your business, brand, website or even yourself is up to date on your site, Google My Business listing, social media platforms, Wikipedia (if applicable) and other directories and citations.

Your Google My Business information is particularly important because it’s used to generate the Knowledge Graph panel for local businesses.

Local Knowledge Graph SERP feature

Paid SERP Features

As we all know, Google makes its money from showing ads that advertisers pay to appear in. There are 2 types of SERP features that website owners and marketers can get win on a pay-per-click (PPC) basis.

Ads

It’s debatable whether paid ads should be considered a true SERP feature, but they’re generated outside the normal organic search results and change the way the SERPs look, so they’re worth mentioning.

Formerly known as AdWords, paid search results are now known simply as Google Ads.

Google Ads appear at the top of search results pages, above the non-paid SERP features and organic results, but below the Google Shopping results (if there are any).

Google Ads look almost the same as organic results but are denoted by the green "Ad" label next to the URL:

Google Ads result in SERP

Unlike programmatic SERP features such as featured snippets, Google Ads appear when an advertiser with a Google Ads account bids on the user’s keyword. Their rankings are determined by how much an advertiser is willing to pay for a click.

Google Shopping

The Google Shopping (formerly Product Search and, originally, Froogle) carousel is a paid SERP feature that displays products related to a user’s keyword. It usually appears at the top of search results but can sometimes be shown to the right.

Google Shopping carousel results

Google Shopping results list the product name, price, website the ad is for, star rating (when available) and any discounts on offer.

Clicking on one of the ads takes the user to the product’s landing page.

Shopping results are special Google Ads results, so their appearance and order are determined by advertiser bid and Quality Score (but mostly bid).

Google Flights

Google Flights is Google’s service that allows users to find and book flights through various providers. It appears when Google detects that someone is searching with the goal of booking a flight.

It appears above the organic results, but below the Google Ads results.

Google Flights results SERP feature

Clicking on a flight in the SERP feature takes the user to the Google Flights results where they can select and book their itinerary. The results shown in Google Flights are paid for by the booking services and Google receives a commission on bookings made through Flights.

While you can’t get your URL into the Flights SERP feature organically, it’s worth knowing if keywords a site is targeting triggers the feature.

Depending on your site, it might be worth avoiding these keywords because the Flights feature takes up so much space in the SERP, or running a Google Ads campaign to appear above it.*

Plan Your SEO With SERP Features in Mind

Knowing when and how SERP features show up in Google is really beneficial to your keyword research and SEO in general. Some SERP features like featured snippets, local packs, image packs and top stories can be targeted with your content to make your website more visible in search results.

At the same time, knowing which queries trigger features you can’t target (Knowledge Graph, paid features, the Twitter carousel) should influence how you do keyword research and prioritize your efforts.

Want to know which of your keywords trigger SERP features? Are there any SERP features that show your site’s URLs? Start tracking your keyword rankings with WooRank’s Keyword Tool.

Any keywords that show SERP features will highlight them in blue, with SERP features showing your site’s URLs will show in green.

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