What is a SERP?

What is a SERP?

So, just what is a SERP?

Imagine someone doing a search in Google for a word or phrase.  Google will return results for that particular search on a Google search results page.

You’ve seen SERPs many times. Above is an example of a SERP in the Bing.com search engine.

The acronym SERP, or sometimes the plural form SERPs, tends to be used in discussions about search engines or search engine optimization.  It might be used in a sentence such as:  ”You appeared number 3 in the SERPs.”  Translation:  When we did a search in Google for the type of product your company sells, your website appeared as the third result down on the search page in Google.

The person making that statement usually means the website appeared number 3 after all the paid ads (outlined in yellow in the image above).

But not always — it’s also possible to buy a number 1 position in the SERPs, simply by buying pay-per-click ads from a search engine like Google or Bing.  That’s because there are two types of results returned on most search engine pages in Google, Bing or other engines:

  • Organic results – These are results that come from natural placement in the search engine hierarchy.  If you have good content on a useful page with links pointing to it, that page may show up high in the search results for people searching on a relevant term or phrase.
  • Paid search results – As the phrase implies these are purchased ads. You buy text ads that show up at the top or top right column of the page. They are commonly called “pay per click ads” because most of the time the advertiser pays only when someone clicks on the ad.  In Google these are called AdWords. In Microsoft’s Bing they are called Bing Ads.

Either type of result can result in your website appearing high in the search engines for a specific word or phrase. But of course, paid ads can be expensive unless you really know your way around the bidding system for buying paid search ads.

So why are SERPs important?

Studies show the higher up you appear in the search results, the more likely someone searching will click over to YOUR site.  Most SERPs consist of multiple pages.  A search for a popular term will return dozens,  hundreds or thousands of search result pages. In the example pictured above, over 700 million results were returned.

Imagine being a searcher faced with all of those SERP pages. Who has the patience and time to click through them all?  No one.

Therefore, the Web pages that appear highest in the search engine results pages are more likely to get clicked and get the traffic.  That usually means that if you want to get meaningful traffic, your business needs to appear on the first page of the SERPs or possibly the second or third page.

Who uses the acronym SERP?

SERP is a technical acronym.  Most of the time the people using a term like SERP are search engine optimization professionals or marketing professionals.  If you hire a professional to help you with your search engine placement — or even just read up on the topic yourself — sooner or later you will encounter this term.

Either way, as a small business owner or manager who realizes the importance of your business being found online you will want to know what a SERP is.  The more you know, the better informed the business decisions you make.  And you’ll be better able to hold your own with the people or firms you hire.

For more on this topic and related topics, see:

SEOBook:  Search Engine Marketing Glossary

SearchEngineLand:  What is SEO?

Google: Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide (PDF)

3 Ways to Perform SEO on a Shoestring Budget

Small Business SEO Trends to Keep an Eye On

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Anita Campbell - CEO


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses, and also serves as CEO of TweakYourBiz.com.

11 Reactions

  1. As a PPC wizard I use this term all the time, but I forget that for most it’s as if I’m using some foreign language. Great, simple explanation.

  2. Anita Campbell

    Hi robert,

    That’s why we started the “What is” series. Every weekend now we are publishing one article that explains a word, acronym or phrase that gets bandied about, but often people don’t understand. Everyone assumes people know them.

    Even when there are explanations and definitions out there, they’re usually not from a business perspective. All too often the explanations are overly technical and just confuse people more.

    Our goal is to boil them down to what an entrepreneur or small business owner, manager or professional needs to know.

    - Anita

  3. Good basic explanation of SERP. Unfortunately, with personalized and universal search in play, SERP is not as straightforward as it used to be.

    • Anita Campbell

      Hi Rich, Yes, and for our purposes here, we didn’t want to get into lots of exceptions and qualifiers – that just makes the concept more complex. We’re not trying to help anyone figure out how to rank or explain things such as how one person might see a different rank versus another, depending geographic location or whether they are logged in for search. We just want to give an introductory explanation of “what is a SERP” ….

      - Anita

      • I understand. You definitely provided a very good introduction to SERP – thank you for reminding me to look at these concepts from a small business owner perspective. I look forward to more posts in your “What is” series.

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