What Are SERP Features? The Evolution of Universal Search

Aaron Haynes
Dec 31, 2023
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Consider this: according to Get Stat’s 2023 data, 84 percent of all searches carried out on Google displayed the “Related Searches” SERP feature, while “People Also Ask” (PAA) appeared in 79 percent of searches, “Videos” were present in 53 percent of searches, “Carousels” in 52 percent, and “Image Packs” in 38 percent.

These numbers aren’t merely insightful—they underscore the significant influence and widespread adoption of SERP features in shaping Google search results.

To catch you up with everything SERP features, in this guide, we’ll

  1. answer the question, “What are SERP features?”
  2. dive into their importance within the realm of search engine optimization (SEO),
  3. and explore the most common SERP features you are likely to encounter.

What Are SERP Features?

Eliminating the need to click through to a web page, search engine results page (SERP) features are elements that Google and other search engines use to provide their users with immediate answers to their queries directly on the results pages. SERP features go beyond the traditional “10 blue links” that are used to characterize search engine results—they instead offer a more dynamic, efficient, and user-friendly experience for search engine users.

Learn more: Interested in broadening your SEO knowledge even further? Check out our SEO glossary, where we’ve explained over 250+ terms.

A Brief History of SERP Features

To better understand SERP features, let’s take a quick walk down memory lane.

In response to user requests for more immediate, relevant answers to their search queries, as early as 2007, with the advent of Universal Search, Google began introducing various never-seen-before SERP features, recognizing their potential to significantly improve search results.

The next big movement occurred in 2009 when the Google Wonder Wheel and other search options were rolled out, further expanding the range of SERP features offered to users. By this stage, a significant amount of uncertainty arose around the new SERP features’ impact on the SEO world and search as a whole.

While these uncertainties haven’t entirely dissipated—there is often chatter between SEO experts that certain SERP features “steal” clicks from websites—it quickly became clear that SERP features were more than just a passing trend. They have now become a permanent feature that has reshaped the landscape of search engine optimization.

Why? SERP features have not only diversified the types of content displayed on the search results page but also significantly influenced user behavior, search engine rankings, and the strategies businesses employ to gain visibility online.

In fact, the prevalence of SERP features has grown so much that as of the time of writing, data from Semrush Sensor data shows that a mere 1.04 percent of desktop searches (1.46 percent for mobile devices) don’t contain any SERP features of any kind. These numbers highlight the days of 10 blue links are officially over, replaced by a more dynamic and feature-rich search landscape.

Why Are SERP Features Important?

As we hinted at in the above section, the importance of SERP features can largely be attributed to their impact on click-through rates (CTR). It turns out that those SEO experts who had a gut feeling that certain SERP features would take clicks away from websites weren’t far off the mark.

This intuition is backed by SEOmonitor’s research. Their study, which analyzed around 4 million non-branded UK and US keywords (search terms that don’t include a brand’s name or any variation of it), revealed that when SERP features are present, they not only command a significant portion of SERP real estate but also reduce the need for users to click organic links to find answers to their queries.

For example, SEOmonitor found that a keyword with about 40,500 searches per month would only send around 28,300 clicks to websites that ranked for this search term. The remaining 12,200 searches never resulted in a click, suggesting their query was likely answered directly on the results pages by a SERP feature.

These findings highlight the importance of SERP features in choosing keywords and optimizing content for organic CTR.

Research from SISTRIX points to a similar conclusion. Their analysis, which included over 80 million keywords and billions of search results, found that the presence of SERP features reduces CTR. Let’s make a quick comparison to highlight this fact—the average CTR for the first position on Google is about 28.5 percent, followed by 15.7 percent for the second position and 11 percent for the third.

These figures, however, can vary significantly when a SERP feature is present. For example, the Shopping feature, which showcases ecommerce advertisements, accounts for the lowest CTR of 13.7 percent for the first position—a difference of 14.8 percent. This substantial decrease underscores the impact that SERP features can have on user engagement and click behavior, redirecting attention away from traditional organic results.

The Most Common SERP Features

SERP features are diverse, each designed to enhance the user’s search experience in unique ways. Here are the most prevalent features you’re likely to encounter on Google’s search results pages.

Featured Snippets

Featured snippets are possibly the most basic of all SERP features—text-based content that appears at the top of Google’s search results. Extracted from a webpage, along with the page’s title and URL, the text aims to answer a user’s query in the most direct fashion possible.

Paid Results (Top and Bottom Ads)

Paid results, also known as Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads, are paid-for listings that appear at both the top and bottom of search results. You can spot them easily enough as they are marked with the word “Sponsored” above the site’s URL.

Learn more: PPC services.

Image Packs

Image Packs are just as they sound—images that provide visual context to a user’s search query. Clicking on an image will take the user to Google Images, where they can find more related visuals.

Knowledge Panels

Knowledge Panels are used by Google to enhance its search results with supplemental information it scrapes from multiple sources. The information provided here is presented in a box, often referred to as a Knowledge Panel or Card.

Local Pack and Local Teaser Pack

The Local Pack is typically presented as a set of three local businesses that appear in response to queries that have local intent. Oftentimes, the Local Pack is complemented by a map that displays the physical locations of each business.

Learn more: local SEO services.

Shopping Results

Shopping results are product listings presented by Google to make shopping for the products they seek a breeze. Often, Shopping results include product images, prices, and the URL to the websites selling the products.

Sitelinks

Sitelinks are simply additional links that appear under a website’s main search result. Each supplemental link leads users to commonly visited web pages, helping them to navigate a website directly from the search results.

People Also Ask (PAA)

PAA boxes provide users with a list of related questions to their original search query. Each question, when clicked, expands to reveal a one to two-sentence answer and a link to the information’s source.

Videos

Video results are simply video content that Google embeds within search results. Google doesn’t discriminate, the videos are pulled from various video-based platforms, including their own YouTube, to provide users with visual content related to their search query.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Whether you’re looking to optimize your content for Featured Snippets, improve your local SEO strategy, or stay ahead of the latest trends, we’re here to help.

🚀 Check out our suite of SEO services and begin unlocking the potential of SERP features. 🚀

Written by Aaron Haynes on December 31, 2023

CEO and partner at Loganix, I believe in taking what you do best and sharing it with the world in the most transparent and powerful way possible. If I am not running the business, I am neck deep in client SEO.