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A few years back, if you and one of your friends typed the same phrase into the Google search box at the same time, you would each get a listing of the same 10 web pages and maybe a few ads that pertained to your searched keywords.

Now, Google results are like snowflakes - each page returned for a set of keywords is completely unique. Google will serve up results from local business listings, product advertisements, news stories, you tube videos, images, Google+ pages and more. In addition to all of these different types of content, the search results are personalized for you based on your location, past search history, Google+ activity and more.

By taking a little bit of time to de-construct the search results pages for some of the more common keywords in your industry, you can take advantage of the opportunities these enhanced search pages provide. We’re going to dissect a standard results page below for a generic term - “fence company” - and give you some insight into each section and what’s important for getting your listings to the top.

Paid Search Ads/Google Adwords

The listings that appear at the top of the page (in the yellow box) and along the right side of the page underneath the maps are paid search advertisements from Google Adwords. They look similar to typical search results but companies actually pay every time someone clicks on one of these listings. It’s usually referred to as pay-per-click advertising. 

Search advertising can be a very effective form of marketing for a lot of companies. You only pay for traffic that actually makes it to your site. Additionally, you are putting your company’s name or product in front of a prospect at the very time he or she is searching for the exact type of product or service you provide. It is very targeted and you get very good data around each ad’s effectiveness, so you can continually improve your advertising strategy for a better return on your investment.

What determines how high you rank for Adwords?

  • Usually the amount of money you are willing to pay for each click to your site has a large impact on how high you will rank.
  • Relevance to the search term also impacts how high you will rank. Each keyword has a quality score that is made up of many factors, including the percentage of times users click on your ad, how long they stay on your site after clicking and more.
  • The higher your quality score, the less you will have to pay for each click through to your site.

Great Adwords Resource: PPC Hero Blog

Organic Search Results

Below the paid ads section in the main column you can find the traditional organic search results—where it all began for Google. Organis search results are basically a listing of the pages that Google deems to be the most relevant to our search intent when we typed the words "fence company" into the search box.


Even though these results are the most similar to what I would have seen five years ago from the same Google search, you can see that a lot has changed. Not too long ago, all of the organic results would have been generic information about the term "fence company". Now, you will see that the top results are for fence companies in Austin—even though "Austin" never appeared in my original search.  Now, in addition to its traditional ranking formula, Google takes a number of personal factors into account before presenting search results, including the searcher's location, browsing history, Google+ connections and more.

Due to changes Google has implemented that make organic search results vary widely from person to person, the old SEO strategy of focusing entirely on certain keywords has gone out the window to some extent. It's still important to optimize your web pages for keywords that are relevant to your business, however now it has become a priority to cast a wider net. This has ushered in a recent "content marketing" explosion that focuses on the continual creation of content (mostly blog posts) and promoting this through your social media channels.

What determines how high you rank in Google's organic results?

  • How relevant the content on your web page is to the entered search terms
  • The number of links you have to your site and individual pages on your site from other high-quality sites
  • Social media sharing and "liking" of the page and author
  • Several technical factors such as how quickly the page loads, how your site is organized, whether your site has duplicate content and more
  • Several quality metrics such as how long visitors stay on your page and how they interact with other areas of your site

Great SEO Resource for Beginners: The Beginners Guide to SEO (Moz.com)

Local Organic Results

Local results are listed after the first set of traditional organic results. These are the locations shown on the map to the right, and are based on your current location within a certain number of miles. Google usually presents local results for search phrases that show an intent to find a local service provider. In our "Fence Company" example, Google has determined that people using this phrase would likely be searching for a company that builds fences. And, since most fence companies would serve a limited geographic area, Google sees that I'm located in Austin and serves up the listings of local fence companies and also maps their locations on the map in the upper right corner. If I was performing the same search in Cincinnati, I would see completely different results.


Local results are ranked differently than traditional organic results. This means that websites that don’t rank at all organically could still rank well in local results, and the opposite is true as well. In the past few years, Google has dramatically increased the frequency that it serves up local results. The local results are also pretty tightly integrated with Google maps that are popular on many smart phones. So, in short, if your business serves a specific geographical area, you should be paying attention to local search.

What determines how high you rank on Google Local Results?

  • Physical address located in the city of the search
  • Properly categorizing your company in local directories
  • Overall strength of your web site
  • Number and consistency of "name, address and phone number" (NAP) citations
  • Quantity of user reviews

Great Local Search Resource: GetListed.org

The Miscellaneous Content Types

There are also a number of other content types that Google will stuff in search results, depending on the search phrase and what Google deems as a relevant result for the searcher's intent. From time to time you will notice the following result types on your Google results page:

  • images
  • video
  • books
  • flight information
  • hotel comparisons
  • product listings
  • knowledge graph information
  • nutritional information
  • news
  • forum questions and answers
  • reviews
  • recipes

It's Time to Focus on What Your Customers Want Instead of Keywords

The bottom line of the new search world is that Google has been spending millions of dollars figuring out how to predict a user's intent when they search. They will then serve up the results they think are best-suited to help the user accomplish his or her mission. To succeed in online marketing on search engines, it's time to figure out what your customers want and build your content around those needs. It also doesn't hurt to spend some time researching what Google thinks your customers want. Search on some of your most popular keywords and see what the Google search engine results page looks like. That's what Google thinks your customers want after spending years and millions on research. So it serves as a great starting point for a content strategy or overall marketing planning.

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