How to Use the Search Results for Key SEO Research
When some people look at the search results, they see blue links, images and videos. I see countless ways to analyze how content is ranking on the results page. Using the search results for SEO research can give you precise instructions on how to approach your SEO strategy per keyword.
Let’s look closer at how to use the search results strategically, starting from a bird’s eye view of your competition all the way down to the nitty-gritty details of how to create a webpage based on the top-ranking pages.
How to Get Started
To get started on your SEO research, you’re going to use a mix of tools and manual work with the search engine results page (SERP) as your study guide.
For both methods, the assumption is that you’ve already done your keyword research. So you have the words and phrases that you will plug in to analyze the search results. (If you don’t have your keyword list, check out this beginner’s guide to get you started).
For the manual piece, take your keywords, type them into the search engine, and start analyzing the results. Make sure to search while logged out of your Google accounts. And search in incognito mode in the Chrome browser, or in a private window using Firefox, so that the results aren’t biased.
In this article, I’ll also show you how to use some of our tools to get even more data.
Next, let’s look at how to get started, step by step, using the SERPs for:
A good first step in analyzing the search results for SEO data is to see who is competing in the results for your target keywords.
It’s important to remember that who your competition is online may not be who your competition is locally or your defined market competition. So the results may surprise you at first.
But keep in mind: SEO is all about beating the competition in the search results, not beating the Google algorithms.
Now, to see who is ranking for your target keywords, you can do the research manually or use research tools.
To do it manually, enter the keywords into the search engine and check out the search results.
To do this step using our SEOToolSetⓇ, take advantage of the Research Summary report, which generates an unbiased list of top-ranking domains and pages for your key terms.
Next, look at the websites and their brands to find out who is taking the top spots. Is it big name brands like Amazon, for example?
At this point, if you are a smaller company and are running into a lot of big brands ranking for your key terms, you might decide to abandon that term and go for a longer tail keyword that’s still related to what you offer.
Of course, it will always be challenging to outrank huge brands in the search results, but that does not always mean you shouldn’t try. (Here’s more about how to compete against big brands.)
If you have a website and brand that demonstrates expertise, authority and trust in your niche, with the right data, it is possible to create content that is as good as or better than the webpages ranking for your target keywords. I’ll talk more about that in a bit.
Content Research – Bird’s Eye View
The next thing you want to do is to analyze the type of content that is displayed on the search results page. Remember, the search results page can look very different from query to query. This gives you clues on the types of content that Google ranks for each query.
To clarify: We know that there is a pretty standard set of search results features that can show up for any given query (think featured snippets, images, videos, knowledge panel and more). Which combination of those features Google displays depends on the query itself and what Google believes is the best way to answer the intent of that query.
So for example, here is the search results page for “how to train a cat,” which presents informational results:
In contrast, here is a search results page for “cat training supplies.” Labeling what Google presents on this SERP makes it clear that Google expects this query to have transactional intent (to purchase something).
Looking at the search results in this way is what I call a whole-SERP SEO strategy. A whole-SERP strategy analyzes the features and types of content that show up most in the search results for target keywords and then optimizes for them.
This helps you set a strategy for each keyword. Some of these strategies will require you to not only create and optimize the content on your webpages, but also create content for other search verticals that get pulled into the search results page.
Do you see images in the search results for the target keyword? Then make sure you have an image optimization plan. Are videos showing up? Make videos for that keyword, too, and also don’t forget about YouTube SEO. Is there a featured snippet in the results? Try to optimize your content for featured snippets.
As an aside, for some useful data on how the features in the search engine results impact click-through rates, check out a recent study by SISTRIX. One interesting data nugget is that when you target longer tail keywords, you tend to see fewer of the SERP features that distract clicks away from the 10 blue organic links.
In the last section, I talked about the option of abandoning more generic keywords that are being dominated by big brands in the SERPs in favor of long-tail keywords. That’s something to consider if some keywords generate a lot of SERP features and you do not want to do a whole-SERP SEO strategy.
Content Research – Granular
Next, you’re going to get more granular in your content assessment. Look at each features area on the search results (videos, images, blue links, etc.) and check out the top results.
You may want to focus on the top three, but particularly the first result in each area is key. Click through and make note of what type of content is ranking. For example, what attributes do the top-ranked videos share, if any?
For the regular “blue link” organic listings, what types of content show up there? Guides? Lists? Here, you’re looking for a common approach to the content.
And here is also where SEO tools can come in handy. Using the Bruce Clay SEO WP plugin, you can run your keywords through our patented tool and get real-time intel on the specific details of the top-ranked pages and their content.
This is especially important as you are planning and writing the content for your target keywords. So often, website publishers rely on generic data from one of those large-scale studies that says you must write so many hundreds of words to rank well. Or you need to include “x” amount of characters in your meta data.
Unfortunately, this data is not based on your specific keywords. So why guess?
Using our WordPress SEO plugin, you can get information like:
- How many words to include in your meta data based on the top-ranked pages (check out our article on meta tags to understand why meta data is important).
- How many words to write on the topic, based on the top-ranked pages.
- The readability score of the content you create based on the top-ranked pages.
This is a game-changer for your SEO program’s content strategy. To learn more about this, I suggest you check out our step-by-step article on custom SEO advice per keyword using our SEO plugin.
And, as you are writing your content, you can once again go to the search results for more ideas on what to include.
The “People also ask” (PAA) section on the search results page is Google’s way of telling you of other popular searches related to the target keyword. Use these as fuel for subsections within your content or create entire webpages around them.
You can use the exact phrases you find in the PAA section as either a subheading for a subsection in your article, or as the title of a webpage. And be sure to answer those questions well as it could be an opportunity to rank for a featured snippet (see this link for more).
Once you know which websites are ranking in the coveted SERP spots for your target keyword(s), you want to know who is linking to them. Why? Because this is an opportunity for them to also link to your content once it is live.
- Identify the links to your competition’s webpage for your targeted keyword.
- Analyze the linking domains and choose the top most relevant domains and their webpages that might link to your new content.
- Make sure you are confident that you have better content than your competitor for your targeted keyword(s) before you do any outreach.
- Start promoting your new content with the target domains/brands by beginning to build relationships.
This is not about creating one of those “link to me!” emails. It’s about forging business relationships with actual human beings at the websites and brands that you are targeting for links. Maybe your strategy is quoting a business leader in your webpage from the target domain. The goal is to be creative here.
When you’re ready to start creating content for your SEO program, turn to the search results. There, you can get a blueprint for what type of content you need to create and how to create it based on what’s already ranking for your keywords.
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