The word “SERP” stands for “search engine results page.” It’s pronounced “serp,” just like in the first syllable of the word serpent.
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:
Google: Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide (PDF)