Spend some time in the SERPs

One of the key steps of any good keyword research that often gets overlooked is to actually spend some time in the SERPs. You can use all the tools you want to research search volumes, competition, etc., but none of them will give you a great picture of the search intent for a keyword or what is really going on in the SERP.

They also won’t tell you what kind of results Google is showing in the SERPs.
Without looking at the actual SERPs and the results on page one, it’s tough to get a good picture of the actual problems users are trying to seek out an answer to when searching for a particular query.

Whenever you pick out a new keyword to target or decide to go back to an old piece of content to refresh it, take a look at what kind of results Google is showing.
You want to pay attention to a few things.

Look for Google featured snippets. If Google is displaying a featured snippet at the top of the search results, you want to take a close look at the query and the featured snippet.

Does it fully answer the query? If it does, chances are the search results below, even the first organic position, are not getting very much traffic. Keep this in mind. If you do not replace that featured snippet, the keyword is probably not going to bring much traffic.

A simple example of what I’m talking about would be a search such as “How tall is Mount Everest”… Google immediately shows the answer of 29,032 feet.

This is a simplistic example, but there are plenty of other queries to think about like this. Someone might search for something like “What size X should I use for Y”. If the answer to that is simple and doesn’t require any additional explanation, a featured snippet is going to solve it. Very few results below are going to get clicks.

You also want to pay attention to what type of content is ranking. Is it product listings? Tutorials? Lists? Service pages?

This will give you a good indication of what Google has decided is the most common search intent for the query and what it is favoring for search results.

What kind of sites are ranking? Is it mostly news sites? Local businesses? Directories? Blog pages?

This can also give you some clues into what Google has determined to be the search intent. For example, if you look at a search result and see a lot of directories, that can be an indicator that the search intent is to find a list of places that can offer a solution. This is common for a lot of local searches.

How far do you have to scroll before you see the first organic search result?

This is often the answer when people are confused as to why their high ranking page is not bringing them more traffic.

If you see a featured snippet, followed by ads, followed by a ‘people also ask’ box, and then the organic results, keep that in mind. Even if you rank #1 in the organic results, you are probably not going to get the usual 45-70% of clicks you could expect from a #1 ranking.

All of those other things are going to siphon away clicks.

Do this on both a desktop and mobile device.

Today we are obsessed with the user experience on our websites, but few of us take the time to check out the user experience of the SERPs.

Try to look at a SERP without bias.

What are the common themes you see in the search results? How could your page better serve searchers? Again, forget about your own bias and what you think might be best. How can your page better fit into what Google thinks is best?

Lastly, this process can be useful when trying to identify ranking drops.

Sometimes the user intent for a search query changes over time, or more precisely, based on new data Google’s interpretation of it changes.

If you see traffic drops, it can be because suddenly Google is showing a featured snippet when they weren’t before. Maybe a ‘people also ask’ box popped up in the search results.

If you see ranking drops, inspect the SERPs compared to what they looked like previously. Maybe over time the search results have shifted from showing tutorials to showing more products and services, or the search intent has shifted in another way.

Ranking and traffic drops are not always because you did something wrong or just because competitors overtook you. Sometimes they are because of new ‘features’ showing up in the SERPs ahead of you or because the search intent is shifting.

Some time in the SERPs can make your job easier.

Tools I Use:

🔎  SemrushCompetitor and Keyword Analysis

✔  Monday.comFor task management and organizing all of my client work

🗄  FraseContent optimization and article briefs

📆 Akiflow – Manage your calendar and daily tasks

👑  Conductor Website MonitoringSite crawler, monitoring, and audit tool

📈 SEOPress – It’s like Yoast, if Yoast wasn’t such a mess.

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