The Top SERP Features and How to Optimize Them

Everyone likes to be #1. but what if you could be zero?

That’s not really as crazy as it sounds, and in fact, being zero is now something positive to aim for, thanks to SERP Features. Not sure what that means? Keep reading and we’ll cover the top SERP features, as well as how to optimize them.

The New #1 in Google

If you haven’t kept completely up to date, you may not know that SERP Features have taken the #1 spot in Google, or even #0. What does that mean? It means it comes in above #1.

SERP Features refers to results pulled by Google, outside of the usual organic ones. In fact, they have usurped the top spot that has traditionally belonged to organic results. That is why it is vital that you learn to optimize for SERP Features. Simply put, if you want to be the first thing searchers see, then you will need to make some changes.

SERP Features isn’t just about the visibility– although that is certainly something that many will be aiming for. It also involves being better optimized for Google’s algorithm.

The main purpose of SERP Features is to offer the best, most relevant information to querents as quickly and clearly as possible with the goal of providing the best user experience possible. Therefore, if you approach the creation of your content with the same goals, you’ll be a step closer to reaching that top position.

That doesn’t mean that traditional SEO is no longer of any value; Google typically pulls SERP Features from their first page of results, meaning that if your content is not ranking well, it won’t be considered.


What to Watch in SERP Features

Google pulls some features partly based on your page’s content and partly based on information gleaned through structured data. Google’s explanation for categorization is as follows:

  • Content Type. Many features are closely tied to the content of your page. Google Search results can apply content-related features that may, for example, cause your page to appear in a top news story carousel or events list, if appropriate.
  • Enhancements. These are features that relate to more than a single type of content.

We will discuss which Features fall into which category as we go along.


1. Local Pack

You are likely rather familiar with the Local Pack, which, as the name implies, targets “near me” searches that give results in the local area. If, for example, you are looking for the closest pizza place, you can simply type “pizza near me” and Google will pull up results based on your location.

How to Optimize

Google looks at three main things for the Local Pack: relevance, distance, and prominence.

While you can’t do much for distance, you can improve your chances with the other two. Specifically, you can make sure that all your directory listings– such as Google My Business— are up to date and accurate. They should have complete information, and that includes hours of operation, location, and services or products offered. You will also want to bring in all the reviews that you can through Google My Business, Yelp, etc.

In terms of prominence, well-known businesses might have a bit of an advantage, but your prominence in the eyes of Google relates largely to how you are represented online.


2. Local Knowledge Panel

Local Knowledge panel differs from Local Pack in that it is focused specifically on a single business and it displays in a highly visible location along the right side of the results page. It shows a large amount of company-specific information along with a photo, such as operating hours, location, reviews, and more. The amount of visibility it offers is the greatest benefit.

How to Optimize

The Local Knowledge Panel relies upon the same three factors of local rank: relevance, distance, and prominence. Where it differs is that it is tied to brand searches, so there should be very little in the way of competition.

To be able to claim this spot, however, you will still need to be up to date and optimized in Google My Business, while using that same information across your web citations (BestWeb, Facebook, etc)



3. Featured Snippet

Featured Snippets are effectively Position Zero in the results, outranking organic results. As such, they are one of the more important SERP Features.

Featured Snippets offer the most relevant answer to a search, in the most direct and visible manner by putting them right in the results. If you are unsure what that means, you can Google “what are featured snippets” to see them in action.

Featured Snippets can appear in a number of forms, such as paragraphs, bullet lists, numbered lists, or tables. They will include the source of the information provided, and also include a link to the original article.

Most of us already know the importance of ranking first in Google, so how much of an impact do snippets have? According to studies, first organic results have shown a significant drop in click-through rates on pages that include a Featured Snippet.

How to Optimize

Your content will need to be presented in the appropriate form in order to qualify for a spot in Featured Snippets. By that we mean it should:

  • Answer questions pertaining to your target keyword
  • Have answers in brief or list form
  • Place questions in H2 (subheadings)
  • Already be ranking on page one of SERPs

Your content should be written clearly and in a concise manner, use natural language, and include an FAQ section when appropriate. Featured Snippet answers are often taken directly from FAQ sections.

You should also write your content based on the type of snippet you are aiming for. For example, if you want a bullet list, write your content as such. If you want a paragraph snippet, write in short, concise paragraphs.


4. Knowledge Graph

The Knowledge graph appears for searches related to specific people, places, and companies, and often includes information collected from several sources to be displayed together. Typical results include descriptions and relevant information like date of birth for a person or founding date for a company.

How to Optimize

Sadly, this one isn’t really viable for most, as Knowledge Graphs rely on data agreements with specific Google partners. Information may come from Wikipedia or even a specific business’s About Us page.

In general, local businesses will do better here in terms of optimizing, as information specific to the business is used. Similar to other SERP features, you can work on reviews and testimonials, and being up to date with your information is important.

You will also do well to use schema markup geared specifically toward the Knowledge Panel.


5. Top Stories

Previously known as “in the news,” Top Stories display the top or trending stories related to a Google search. They may appear either as a card with a thumbnail image at the top of the SERPs, or vertically without the image.

How to Optimize

You won’t really need to, unless you are a news organization, but if you are, it’s also worth noting that the Top Stories spots normally go to major news sources (New York Times, USA Today, etc).

As a smaller news organization, you can still optimize your content by once again staying up to date as much as you can, and when possible, covering topics that may not be getting a great deal of coverage. It has also been suggested that enabling AMP increases your odds of ranking among Top Stories.


6. Direct Answer

As the name suggests, these are direct answers to questions being posed. They are short and to the point, and given that they are considered general knowledge questions, they do not cite any sources.

How to Optimize

Basically, you don’t.

Direct Answers are public information, not pulled from a brand’s website. Accordingly, they are less useful than other SERP features.


7. Site Links

This useful feature provides an additional set of up to 10 links that will appear when searching for a particular company or organization. As reported by Moz, 10 site links occupy 5 organic positions. This is in a prime spot, so it grants great visibility, as well as directs searchers to relevant areas on your site.

How to Optimize

Google picks site links through schema markup, though applying the schema isn’t a guarantee of your site showing. According to Moz, your chances may be affected negatively by the following:

  • Low traffic to your site
  • No markup
  • Wrong URL attribution
  • Query input not matching

You may improve your chances of showing site links by reviewing your technical SEO and overall traffic.


8. Image Pack

Image Pack is a carousel of images that shows up when images are more appropriate to a given search. One example of this might be a search for memes on a given topic.

How to Optimize

Your best bet here is simply to follow best practices for image SEO, which means including targeted keywords in the image file name, title tag, caption, and alt text. You should also optimize the image size and use an image XML sitemap.


9. People Also Ask

Like Direct Answers, this one explains itself. Basically, this feature displays commonly-asked follow-up questions, or related questions to a search query. Clicking on one will cause it to expand and generate new related questions. This can cause it to take up a lot of space, pushing organic rankings further down the page.

How to Optimize

This feature will often appear under a Featured Snippet, and the optimization for both is pretty similar. For this feature, you want to use your keywords in a strategic manner, in a very natural, or even an FAQ-style manner. Try to think of and include related questions when you cover a topic.

One of the better manners in which to use this is to analyze the type of content being pulled and build content around those questions and keywords. If you have a bit of luck, you could end up in the Featured Snippet box.


10. Paid SERP Features

AdWords (Top)

These paid ads appear at the top of organic search results. They are most often text ads or Shopping Results. Both run as usual AdWords ads, though Shopping Results typically also include additional information such as reviews, price, and availability.

How to Optimize

You will need to look at PPC optimization, in general. Your rank is determined by a combination of factors, including your budget, Quality Scores, and the ad’s click-through rate (CTR).

For Shopping Ads, you will need to optimize your product feed according to basic SEO, such as using a target keyword for each product, including rich results, optimizing images, and more.

AdWords (Bottom)

This is the same as AdWords top, except for the location, and is optimized in the same way, though this is obviously the less-desirable location. If you are placed here, perhaps you will wish to re-evaluate your budget and evaluate what your competitors placed at the top are producing. It may simply be that they are a better match for search queries, in which case you can evaluate what they are doing well and apply it to your own ads.



To wrap up, these SERP features will give you much greater visibility in the results page, and although not every feature will be appropriate to your brand, the appropriate SEO combined with schema markup will give you the best possibility of appearing in the new top position.


About Marwick Marketing

Marwick Internet Marketing is a Premier Google Partner Agency specializing in Search Marketing (SEO, Google Ads, PPC & CRO). With offices in Vancouver, Victoria and Squamish, Canada.


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Christian Thomson

Christian is a British-born entrepreneur and founder of Marwick. For over 19 years, Christian has successfully helped businesses excel in digital marketing. Founded in 2012, Marwick has grown from a start-up to the 11th Fastest Growing Company in Canada in 2020 and expanded into the UK in 2019.

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