SERPs (search engine results pages) are the listings of web pages returned to a user in response to a search query. To put it even more simply, when you type a search into Google (or other search engine) and hit enter, the SERP is the page that you are taken to with a list of all the web pages related to your search, ranked in order of importance.
Where your site ranks on a SERP is a benchmark as to how easy and likely it is for it be found by users who are looking for the goods or services you provide. The higher up the list your site is, the better chance you have of being discovered.
Users don’t tend to look beyond the first page of the SERP (usually displaying the first 10 most relevant web pages) when seeking information. If they can’t find what they’re looking for on the first page, then they will usually rephrase their search query and start again. It is therefore essential that you find a way of ensuring that the ranking of your site is as optimised for search engines as possible – a practice know as search engine optimisation (SEO).
Things that affect your SERP ranking
Google is quite a sophisticated beast these days and it never fails to attempt to try and be as useful as possible to a user with a search query. Google takes into account a user’s location when he or she punches in a search query, and the closer you are (according to your server) to that user, the higher your site is likely to be ranked on the resulting SERP. So, if a user isn’t being specific about the location of the company (i.e. yours and your competitors’) that he or she is looking for, Google will make the assumption itself and offer a results list ranking that is in part affected by your location (though don’t panic – location isn’t the only facet of SEO, and indeed isn’t really regarded as being too important of one – it is the World Wide Web after all).
Indeed, perhaps one of the most valuable tools of SEO that helps your site climb up SERPs is your use of keywords. When people type a specific search query into Google – ‘flights to Amsterdam’ or ‘pure bred poodles’ for example – the words that they use are known as keywords. Google then sends out its spiders to crawl through all of the websites in its database and return to the SERP any pages or sites that it finds that contain those keywords.
So, one of the tricks in making sure your site returns highly on a SERP is to try and think like your potential customers. Ask yourself: what are my customers likely to type into Google when searching for the service I provide? Once you’ve got a few ideas, you will want to try and embed those words and phrases as much as possible (though without overdoing it – the last thing you want is a poorly written website, which in itself will be enough to see it start slipping back down the SERP) into the content of your site.
Try and make sure that those keywords are liberally yet thoughtfully scattered around your pages. Put them in your headings, your URLs, your image names, your alt text and your content – basically anywhere you can, though always bearing in mind that an overuse of keywords will get you labelled as a ‘keyword-stuffer’, and Google will penalise your SERP ranking accordingly.
Links to your site from other websites act like little recommendations. The more recommendations your site has, the more important and relevant Google deems your site to be, and so rewards you with a higher SERP ranking.
Even if you’re lucky enough to have lots of external links to your website, and therefore lots of recommendations, then there is still a way of improving your SERP ranking even further through the use of links. If you integrate some internal links on your site, i.e. directing visitors from one of your pages to another, these still act as little recommendations, and the pages to which you are linking (provided people are clicking on them) will also receive a higher ranking on a SERP.
But the most important thing that will see your site creeping up the search engine results pages is to ensure that the information that you provide in your web pages is of superlative quality – that is to say that it is informative and genuinely useful and valuable to visitors. ‘Content is king’ as many authorities on SEO profess, and so you must always remember to provide content for your users and not for search engines.
Google’s spiders are able to determine how often your web pages are visited, and it stands to reason that the more hits a page has received, then the more useful the content will be for the user with the search query. A site will only get regular and repeated traffic passing through it if it has something good to say. So make sure yours does, and you will find that you will naturally generate more traffic, and will be further rewarded for your efforts by appearing higher on the SERP, making it even easier for more and more people to find you.
The clever use of keywords and links combined with great content are the three sure-fire ways to see an almost immediate improvement to your ranking on SERPs. Bear in mind your location, but don’t get hung up on it. Provided you are producing a regular flow of decent, interesting and useful content, you will start to see your site creeping up and up the SERP. And once you’ve got to the top, your challenge then is to stay there.