How to Use the Search Results for Key SEO Research

Using Google search results.

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:

Competition Research

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.

Example Google search results page.

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.

Research Summary report in the SEOToolSet.

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:

SERP results analyzed.

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).

Google results with transactional intent.

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 feature 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 a 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.

People also ask section on Google SERPs.

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. Be sure to answer those questions well, as it could be an opportunity to rank for a featured snippet (see this link for more).

Links Research

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.

You can use tools like Ahrefs or Majestic to get a picture of your competitor’s backlink profile.


  • 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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FAQ: How can I effectively use SEO research strategies to improve my search engine rankings?

Search engines are the lifeblood of online discovery, and mastering SEO research strategies is essential to secure a prime spot in search engine rankings. To embark on this journey, it’s vital to comprehend that effective SEO isn’t just about keywords but a holistic approach combining technical finesse, content quality, and user satisfaction.

At the heart of every effective SEO campaign lies comprehensive keyword research. Start by identifying a set of relevant and high-performing keywords that align with your content’s intent. Leverage keyword research tools to analyze search volume, competition, and trends. Integrating long-tail keywords can offer a competitive edge, as they cater to specific user queries and exhibit lower competition.

Content optimization is a cornerstone of SEO success. Craft compelling, informative, well-structured content that naturally incorporates your chosen keywords. Remember, quality trumps quantity. Search engines reward content that provides genuine value to users. Strive for readability, relevance, and originality while avoiding keyword stuffing—a practice that can lead to penalties.

User experience is a pivotal factor in modern SEO. A website’s loading speed, mobile responsiveness, and overall usability directly impact its rankings. Conduct regular audits to identify and rectify technical issues hindering user experience. Intuitive navigation and engaging visuals contribute to longer visit durations, reducing bounce rates and signaling value to search engines.

Backlinks remain a potent weapon in the SEO arsenal. Focus on acquiring high-quality backlinks from reputable sources within your industry. Guest posting, influencer collaborations, and participation in online communities can help establish your platform’s authority. However, avoid dubious link-building practices, as search engines prioritize authenticity and relevance.

Stay vigilant and adaptive. SEO algorithms and trends evolve, demanding ongoing commitment. Monitor your website’s performance using analytics tools and adjust your strategies accordingly. Keep abreast of industry news and algorithm updates to stay ahead of the curve. Remember, SEO is a patient pursuit, and results may take time to manifest.

Step-by-Step Procedure: How to Effectively Use SEO Research Strategies to Improve Search Engine Rankings

  1. Keyword Research: Identify relevant keywords using tools like Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush, or Ahrefs.
  2. Long-Tail Keywords: Include long-tail keywords to capture specific user intent and diversify your content strategy.
  3. Content Quality: Create valuable, original, well-structured content that integrates chosen keywords seamlessly.
  4. Avoid Keyword Stuffing: Maintain a natural flow of content and avoid overloading with keywords.
  5. Technical Optimization: Regularly audit your website for loading speed, mobile responsiveness, and technical issues.
  6. User-Friendly Layout: Design an intuitive and user-friendly website interface for enhanced experience.
  7. Engaging Visuals: Incorporate relevant images and videos to make your content more engaging.
  8. Backlink Building: Seek high-quality backlinks from authoritative sources within your industry.
  9. Guest Posting: Contribute guest posts to reputable websites to expand your reach and authority.
  10. Influencer Collaboration: Partner with influencers for mutual backlinking and extended audience reach.
  11. Avoid Black Hat SEO: Avoid using unethical practices like buying backlinks or keyword stuffing.
  12. Regular Updates: Keep your content fresh and up-to-date to show search engines your platform’s relevance.
  13. Algorithm Monitoring: Stay informed about search engine algorithm updates and adapt your strategies accordingly.
  14. Analytics Tracking: Utilize tools like Google Analytics to monitor your website’s performance and traffic sources.
  15. Competitor Analysis: Study your competitors’ strategies to identify gaps and opportunities.
  16. Local SEO: If applicable, optimize for local search by including location-specific keywords and information.
  17. Social Signals: Maintain an active social media presence to encourage shares and engagement.
  18. Voice Search Optimization: Consider optimizing for voice search by using conversational keywords.
  19. Patience and Persistence: SEO results take time; consistently apply best practices and adapt to changes.
  20. Continuous Learning: To refine your strategies, stay updated with industry trends through courses, blogs, and forums.

This article was updated on December 20, 2023.  

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn or through the website.

See Bruce's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (11)
Still on the hunt for actionable tips and insights? Each of these recent SEO posts is better than the last!

11 Replies to “How to Use the Search Results for Key SEO Research”

I really loved this article! Actually i read blogs daily and it is a great resource to help those people out.Keep sharing amazing articles with us. Thanks for this great post!

heads-up! I wish to reread this blog, very very informative and if implemented can serve better.

Nice guide, Keyword Research is main step of on-page SEO Optimization.

this article is really helpful to SEO personnels.

SERP analysis is a process of looking at the top ranking websites in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) in order to evaluate whether the keyword you want to rank for is relevant and the possibility to outrank your competitors. It is an important part of keyword research.

Effective use of SEO is more than setting your sights on one major aspect of your business or limiting your budget to just that one focus. You have very well described about SEO or Search results. I have been working in marketing for past 8 years, I don’t consider myself an expert because there is still so much to learn in marketing. Marketing ideas are born every day and it makes for an exciting career, I am known for my skills in SEO, Paid advertising, and PR etc.

Hi Bruceclay. I have been following many of your posts for many years .. I mainly seo on social networks like: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, … combined with local seo to create the entity. Thank you for sharing the post write this and provide information about featured snippet, I will apply it.

I do local SEO. Website design is now a major factor for SEO. I have added plugins for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google listing, Linkedin and Yelp. Google SEO has processed major changes.


Great Post!
So much useful information about assessing the SERP for a particular keyword, before creating content around it.
This approach has led us to many PAA boxes and featured snippet.

Thanks for sharing :)

Google has been experimenting with universal search and different result types and keep on adding and deleting the functionalities. However the charm of organic web result will always remain.

I will say SERP Analysis in my language, which we done in many clients. 5 things to do in it
Search any keywords, make a excel of top 10 results with landing pages. Things to check and add in excel against the landing page.
1. Content length and keywords ration
2. Optimised status (Not Optimised, Optimized, Fully Optimized)
3. Speed of the page
4. DA of domain
5. Referring Domain
6. Estimate Referring domain to rank this keywords


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