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SEO Analysis

SERP Analysis Guide: How To Outrank The Competition

How your business shows up on Google matters more than almost anything else when it comes to digital marketing. Any time your customer looks up keywords, the Google algorithm presents them with what is known as Search Engine Result Pages, also called “SERPs.”

Of course, your brand must be at the top of those SERPs so customers can find you.

That is why it is essential to understand what a SERP analysis is and what you should look for when doing one.

This article will cover all the essential information you need to understand why you should do a SERP analysis for every article you write and what the benefits are.

What is SERP Analysis?

SERP analysis is the strategic exploration of top-ranking pages to see who is ranking and, more importantly, why they are ranking.

Understanding the “who“ and the “why” helps you create content that can outrank them.

Reviewing the top ranking pages can help you gain insights into a competitor’s content structure, keyword density, and backlinks. This is also a great time to look at other important SEO metrics like website authority.

Doing this gives you an edge in creating content that can make it to the top of the SERPs.

You can also determine what helps pages rank in the organic search results and get insight into the other types of SERP features that the competition may have. When you see your competition in those SERP features, you know you should create content that can improve your chances of landing those features too.

Types of SERP features

  • Paid Search Results — Paid search results, like Google ads, are always at the top of the SERPs because people paid Google to put them there. These are worth reviewing to see if you should also be investing in paid ads.
  • Featured Snippets — This will be seen as a top organic result (though it will no longer be listed twice) with a small passage of text from the web page. Featured snippet optimization can get search result formats like answer boxes, tables, or lists.
  • People Also Ask – These show as toggles that open and close and deliver quick answers to questions users often ask about specific topics.
  • Organic Search Results — These are the traditional search results that will show a page title and meta description. They may appear at the top of the page or below a featured snippet.
  • Top Stories – These are news boxes that will appear in the search results for a query when there is recent news about the topic.
  • Knowledge Panel — This SERP feature (sometimes also called a knowledge graph) offers an information box when users search for items like people or organizations. Google scrapes “publicly known, factual information” to answer these quick questions or show data.
  • Video Results — As all digital marketers have learned in the past decade, complex ideas are often better explored via video. Google recognizes this and will suggest videos whenever it feels necessary. (This is another reason why investing in organic video marketing is ideal alongside an SEO strategy.)
  • Carousel – Carousels are often seen for searches related to recipes, sports rosters, movie lists, and colleges to name a few. They are found at the top of the search results and will usually have an image and title.
  • Maps – Local businesses will benefit from having their website appear in map listings. Local SEO professionals often work with map listings which combine onsite and offsite optimization techniques to rank.
  • Image Packs – If Google decides that images are the best experience for a user, they will display an image carousel that is usually located at the top of the search results.
  • Related Search – Often appear at the bottom of the search results and are related terms that people search for that are relevant to a user query.

Google may include, or remove, SERP features at any time.

For example, there is currently a new test going on for a Things to Consider SERP result as well as a few others.

There are always changes happening in the SERPs.

That is why it is important to run a SERP analysis for your top keywords every few months. This will help you make sure your content continues to the best it can be and that you take advantage of all opportunities that exist for your keywords.

serp analysis showing organic results and featured snippet

Why do SERP analysis?

Once you have completed your keyword research, a SERP analysis is the next step to helping you create content that will resonate with your readers and rank well.

Not only will it help you understand what is ranking, but the content types that are ranking.

If the search results are showing all organic search results, there would be no point in worrying about video or images. But, if the results were heavily focused on video – then you would want to add that to your content.

A typical, manual SERP analysis can take hours to complete — and that’s for optimizing just one web page. That is why tools like thruuu are recommended as they can make your SERP analysis easier and faster.

Other tools like Moz and Ahrefs can help you gain important insights as well for the top ranking pages and help you with keyword research.

But, using the tools does not remove the need to use your SEO skills!

The tools can help speed up the process of curating data, but you should still review it to make sure you understand how to create a proper content outline for your writer.

Below are a few things to analyze in the SERPs:

Understand the Google Search result types

When you understand what you’re looking at on Google’s SERPs, you can plan your top-ranking SEO strategy better.

But getting there requires knowing what SERP features are important to your reader, too.

With a better understanding of the search engine results page, you’ll be able to quickly answer questions like:

  • What information is vital to the reader regarding this topic?
  • How are they consuming that content — video, text, or something else?
  • What other questions can we answer about this topic?

Remember: Informed content is valuable content. In SEO, being informed means going beyond a single search query or the first two ranking pages.

Identify search intent

Do you know why people find you when they do?

It’s a little thing called search intent, also known as user intent. The quicker the reader gets the info they need, the better.

When your content matches the intent of the search, it has a better chance of ranking.

This is why it is so important to do a SERP analysis and really see what every top competing page is doing.

  • How are they answering questions?
  • What kind of visuals are they using?
  • How is the content being structured?

You should review every aspect of their content to determine how to do it better.

A few quick tips to improve your search intent match:

  • Get straight to the point. For example, we defined SERPs in plain terms within the first paragraph of this blog post.
  • Provide a table of contents. Long blog posts aren’t always the answer, but when they are, they increase accessibility (and conversions) to the entire post without scrolling.
  • Summarize at the bottom. Leave quick bullet points outlining the main pieces of knowledge at the end of your posts.
  • Meta description. Ensure your meta description clearly defines what the user can expect to see on your page.
  • Title tag. A clear title tag describing the page content and some emotional triggers can help increase your click-thru rate (CTR).
serp analysis example with ads and featured snippet

Competitive analysis

When completing an analysis, knowing the competitive landscape is essential. You may now understand how you can create a better piece of content than the competition, but can you compete with them on just content?

Here are some items an analysis can help you with:

  • Understand the page authority and domain authority of the top-ranking pages
  • Get a look into how many backlinks they have and how authoritative those backlinks are
  • Take note if there are forums ranking like Quora or Reddit

For example, if the top ranking pages are NY Times, Wirecutter, and Wikipedia; you might have a hard time ranking content no matter how strong it is.

These kinds of websites have what is called strong page authority and can be very challenging to outrank.

Using a keyword research tool can help you understand the keyword difficulty level for the content you want to create. If a term is too competitive you need to rethink your strategy.

What SERP analysis delivers

When you have completed your analysis, you will have everything you need to not only create an amazing piece of content – but the confidence to know it will rank.

This research eliminates the guessing many other content creators do when they are not putting effort into this analysis, meaning you can outrank them.

After a full SERP analysis is complete, you will be able to create the following:

Content structure

Whether you do a manual or automated analysis, you should have a strong understanding of the content structure on the top-ranking websites. When you understand other websites’ content structures, you can create a comprehensive content outline for your own article.

What to evaluate for your own outline:

  • Suggested article word count
  • Content structure format (header tags, paragraphs, number of images, etc.)
  • External link sources
  • Internal link sources
  • Target audience
  • Are there images or video

While you should take others’ outlines as a template, don’t box yourself into creating the same old content someone else already has.

Think about how you can satisfy the searcher’s needs better than your competitors.

Remember: SERP Analysis aims to create better content than your competition, content that’ll outlast them.

Title tags and meta description

Small details like proper title tags and a compelling meta description will take your keyword research and optimization farther than simply writing more content.

View what the competition has created for each of these items, and see what Google is using to better understand how you should write your own.

Pro tip: To keep your metadata “snippable” for Featured Snippets, keep your meta descriptions to 155-160 characters and your titles under 60 characters. Make sure your keyword is in both.

Featured opportunities

Content gaps like missing featured snippets or search intent are a great opportunity to get some fast organic traffic.

  • Notice one of your SERPs missing a Featured Snippet that a competitor has?
  • See a longtail keyword that competitors have a video for?

Use these opportunities to fill the content gap and grab a top-ranking spot!

Question ideation

Here’s a fun SEO game: Take one of your target keywords and try to create questions around it. Using who, what, why, when, etc. with your main keyword can open a lot of opportunity for your content.

You can extract questions from Google or manually review the SERPs and create your a list.

Then use a SERP analysis tool to review them all for volume and difficulty to identify where new content opportunities are.

Content Optimization

Look for opportunities to better optimize your content with common keywords and phrases. While you may focus your optimization efforts on one particular keyword, many related keywords are often used as well to provide a better signal to Google about the topic.

Understanding the keyword frequency of those relevant keywords on the top-ranking pages can also help you be able to compete and grow your organic traffic.

Understanding how your competition is using specific keywords in things like headers, ALT tags, title tags, etc. can all help you be able to compete for those top results.

Is SERP analysis necessary to succeed in SEO?

In our opinion, yes.

SERP analysis allows you to develop your content strategy with data-backed decisions and creates a more robust understanding of where you’re not meeting your customers’ needs. It can also help you understand why your content isn’t showing up on page one.

By getting behind the searches consumers do, you’re getting a glimpse into their daily lives, and then you can provide them with the resources, information, or products they need to improve their lives.

And as we all know, if you can gain someone’s trust, you can certainly gain their click.

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