Today is Valentine’s Day. The gift of flowers and chocolate are always nice, but so many include that perfect bottle of wine to enjoy with dinner or take a romantic excursion out to their local winery. So in the spirit of the holiday, we thought the wine industry would serve as the perfect backdrop for exploring the modern face of search engine results pages (SERPs).
People will be searching for that perfect bottle or the best winery near them, and you want to reach that audience. Just a handful of keywords can demonstrate the complexity of SERPs today. Search engines, especially Google in the examples below, have transformed far beyond the traditional “10 blue links” used in the early days. The modern SERP presents multiple avenues for you as a business to optimize not just your website but also your marketing strategy and capture all these potential customers. So like ‘Scenes From An Italian Restaurant”, open a bottle of red or a bottle white and let’s explore.
What you can (mostly) control
A large portion of SERPs are built from elements that you can control and optimize for directly.
The traditional organic search snippet still plays a vital role in SERP visibility for websites. It defines “search engine optimization” in the old-school sense through title tags, URLs, and meta descriptions. But even this has evolved to include longer titles, longer meta descriptions (most recently being expanded to around 300 characters), and product information through structured data.
As a winery, this will be one of the main points of contact with users searching for information. Optimize your content around the varietals you offer and the location of your vineyards or tasting house. Pair that with off-site factors like inbound links and you have the core of what goes into organic search (however there are 200+ various factors in the algorithms, so they are by no means the only elements).
After the traditional “10 blue links”, paid search results have been one of the longest standing features. Through an AdWords account, businesses bid to appear for targeted keywords that match a user’s query and only pay when ads are clicked.
Google Ads have undergone many changes to their visual appearance. A full PPC ad can dominate screen real estate when you include the headlines, ad description, and the number of Extensions - site links, callouts, local info, phone numbers, product details (number of reviews, rating, price), Structured Snippets, Promotion, App, and Messages. For wineries, there are also certain restrictions on where and how alcohol can be promoted.
A subset of AdWords is Google Shopping. These results connect users directly with the products they’re looking for with dedicated results from e-commerce sites. But setup and optimization are a bit different from regular AdWords.
Instead of keywords, these ads are generated by product data supplied by retailers through the Google Merchant Center. When Google believes the user intends to find a product, it creates Shopping ads based on all that product data - name, price, size, gender, local availability, attributes and more. Campaigns are still controlled through AdWords and ads are still based on cost-per-click. Wineries might be able to find this as a successful channel through their sites or distributors.
If not a bottle to enjoy, some customers may also be searching for local wineries and tasting rooms for a little romantic getaway. You can reach these people through local search, with the current result being a “local pack” that showcases three businesses nearest to the user or in a city-specific search that displays reviews, hours, phone numbers and more. With so many users on their phones and on-the-go, local search is a critical tool for wineries that want to generate more foot traffic to their tasting rooms and shops.
Optimizing for local search is a combination of free listings and sweat equity. You can’t be in the local pack without a Google My Business listing, but those accounts are free to manage as a business. Claiming your listing is not enough though. You need to have accurate data, a healthy level of citations (references to your local info), positive reviews and active participation in both positive and negative reviews. So your sweat equity goes into implementing a process to ensure all of those happen.
What is harder to control
A growing amount of SERP real estate is going towards features that are harder for you to control. These are elements programmatically generated based on search trends, structured data, and the vast amounts of information Google owns to present the best possible answer to searchers.
The Knowledge Panel is one of the most visible features out of this list. Search for almost any general topic, person, place or thing and Google will present a right-hand side result with useful information about that query.
Ask a more direct question or at least the intent of who, what, where, how, etc. (it’s not required to be in the form of a question) and Google will likely give you some Featured Snippet, a result above everything else that answers the question directly. These results are usually pulled from an organic search result on Page 1 of the SERP, meaning sites can optimize for the chance to be chosen but results are not predictable or guaranteed, and Google can remove that snippet or swap its source at any moment.
People Also Ask or Searches Related To
These two features follow the same basic premise. Based on query volume, searcher behavior (search refinements, multiple searches, etc.) and most likely other factors we don’t know, Google presents related queries to help you extend the search and stay on Google’s property.
Related Results & Discover More Places
Google has evolved to understand the semantic relationships between topics. Search for a movie, and it knows all the directors and actors. Search for one of those actresses, and it knows all of her other starring roles. Search for a place and Google will show you more. It’s another way Google can enhance search results and provide the right answer to users.
For broad queries, Google will show topical news results. Publishers can have a chance to be included here via stories published on their own sites or working with Google News.
Modern SEO is a Blend
So what does all of this mean? First, it means that search engine optimization today is no longer a singular focus on ranking in a top spot. In many situations, when you add up 3-4 of these features for a given query, the natural “10 blue links” are less visible, pushed down the SERP. Attention and clicks are diverted to other results. Paid search alone is taking away clicks from organic results. The amount of Featured Snippets is growing too.
So the idea of organic traffic coming from the 10 blue links has been slowing evolving and will continue to do so. Instead, think of SEO more as SRO - search results optimization. Consider all of these features as a potential roadmap for your website, content, and marketing strategy:
- Use People Also Ask or Searches Related To as inspiration for your copy. These queries are shown for a reason, so building your content to answer what the audience is looking for is an effective way to optimize your site.
- Reviews are critical to the success of local listings, so develop company processes to seek reviews from satisfied customers and respond to both positive and negative reviews in your listings.
- Optimize your traditional snippets with the right Schema structured data to highlight relevant information and take advantage of longer meta descriptions when necessary to encourage clicks.
- Tap into paid search for faster, more direct traffic and increased sales. When combined with other features, you end up controlling much of the SERP real estate.
A shift in thinking to SEO as the sum of all these individual parts will lead to the best chance at success. There are multiple ways to help people find your wine. Just don’t forget that perfect gift yourself.