We digital marketers all have one thing in common.
We want to get to the top.
We want to top our numbers of pageviews, conversions and revenue generated each month.
But all of us have different approaches to scoring more organic search rankings and generally just staying on top of the SEO game:
- Some may focus on specialized techniques while others will focus on promotional.
- Some may spend money on direct advertising (like AdSense) while others will concentrate on content marketing and audience engagement.
- Some may focus on improving on-site SEO (internal linking, content optimization) while others may be focused off-site (backlinks, guest posts).
So, there are different ideas and approaches.
But they all hinge on a few important pieces of knowledge about organic search ranking.
Let’s get to all the juicy stuff that you need to know.
Organic Search Rankings: Everything You Need to Know
Now, here’s the real trick.
Each of the bullet points we listed above may directly or indirectly affect keyword rankings.
Apart from Google itself, nobody knows exactly what signals are helping you rank in organic search. We have a pretty solid idea, of course. We know all about keywords, backlinks, technical SEO and all kinds of other important things.
We have evidence from putting these ideas into practice and seeing firsthand what does and doesn’t work.
Still, Google has over 200 ranking factors to evaluate web page quality and usability for its users, and to determine where each page falls in search rankings, and we don’t know every single detail of it.
The complete list of ranking factors is one thing Google never reveals. No matter how much the E.U. may push for full disclosure, the secret sauce’s recipe isn’t about to be released any time soon.
Heck, there may not even be an exact recipe. Just drop the entire list of ranking factors and focus on what matters at the moment.
If you can get a metric ton of organic traffic right now, why bother digging deeper? We know what works well enough to scale the SERPs any day of the week.
At the simplest level, Google shows results based on a user query.
Google shows results for a single query in six main formats as listed below:
- Paid Results
- Map Results
If a search query contains a location, you’ll see local business listings in the results. If it’s something related to brick-and-mortar businesses (e.g., hardware store), then you’ll also get these local results.
The simple types of results which I mentioned above are still in place today, but Google is constantly tweaking and updating these search results and their different formats.
In my opinion, these tweaks are a strong signal from Google to webmasters to focus less on keyword ranking and concentrate more on quality, quality, quality.
And I’m sure you’ll agree. We all know that quality content is the name of the game these days.
So, let’s get into the specifics.
5 Different Ways to Appear in Organic Search Rankings
1. People Also Ask
Google’s goal is to be the ultimate source of online information.
They want everyone to use Google as their go-to place when they need information.
They aim to provide quick answers to any queries as often as possible.
They’ve succeeded by and large, due to their focus on providing the perfect search results as often as possible.
People Also Ask (PAA) takes your original search term and predicts what you might also be wondering about, based on the related queries other users have made. You’ll usually find that this is triggered by a question word, one of the six W’s (who, what, when, where, why, which) or the H (how).
For example, “which VPN is good” triggers a People Also Ask result:
While Google mostly pulls the content and data from their own index, it almost always adds a link pointing to the original source, which allows the website to get click-throughs from the search.
You’ll also notice that there are infinite people also ask results these days. You click on one result in this box, and more related questions and answers will appear below.
This goes on forever!
So, what can do to increase your odds of appearing in the People Also Ask box:
- Write informational content in your industry niche
- Create content that answers very specific questions
- Research keywords that include question words (who, why, how, etc.)
- Always provide answers as specifically and as thoroughly as possible, don’t go off-topic
- In one part of the content, provide a detailed summary of the complete answer in one or two sentences.
- Put the keyword/question itself in heading formatting (H1, H2 or H3) within the content
- Once you’ve completely answered the target question asked by the keyword phrases, then you can ask and answer related questions.
2. Featured Snippet
We’ve all heard of the covered featured snippet. We all want one ourselves. Right?
This feature in organic search results shows a direct answer to a particular search query. It’s similar to the People Also Ask feature, but does not cover as many questions and answers. It just provides one answer to one question.
Often, there will be a featured snippet to answer the question targeted by the keywords (the search query) and then a People Also Ask feature below that for searchers who have more questions to answer. Actually, take a closer look at the organic search rankings for “which VPN is good,” which we used as an example earlier:
It has both!
To get the featured snippet, Google pulls the data algorithmically from a web page it believes has the best information to answer the user query.
To get featured snippets, you don’t need to rank #1 for your target keyword—you don’t even need to be on the first page. If Google finds that your content gives value to the reader, you’ll be rewarded with a featured snippet.
Now, here’s where these results are lacking. A featured snippet is just a summary of a web page. You can’t always expect to get good answers displayed to your questions.
Take a look at the picture below:
The answer to “how to cut hair” query isn’t a direct or thorough response.
The article page itself is about how to cut hair. If you click through to the source, you might end up finding the information you were searching for. However, the snippet result doesn’t give you enough information.
For another search query, you may well get a better answer from the featured snippet result:
To get a featured snippet, you can follow almost the same steps as you did to get into the People Also Ask box:
- Optimize your content for keywords that ask specific questions
- Dedicate content to answering specific questions in detail
- Use on-page SEO tactics to highlight the keyword and related keywords throughout the post, so Google knows that you’re answering the question
- Provide a summary of the answer in one or two lines somewhere within the content
3. Knowledge Graph
The knowledge graph is something else that you’re likely familiar with, but perhaps didn’t know by name before now.
To give you a quick introduction to what we’re talking about, here’s the knowledge graph that appears when I search for Walmart in Google:
The knowledge graph is highly efficient, and provides lots and lots of information and links related to one single query about a person, place or organization/brand/company (what’s called an entity search).
This can go a heck of a long way if you manage to get your knowledge graph to appear for your specific business name, the owner’s name, the blog’s name or a local search (for example, “hardware store in Locust Valley, Long Island”).
Like the featured snippets feature, this feature pulls data from web pages indexed by Google (blogs, websites, social media pages, profile pages and data collections like Wikipedia) and it’s presented in position zero in search.
Fortunately, this is something you can customize such that the following information appears, if you have it:
- Company logo
- Social media profile pages
- Contact information
- Books (and book series) published
- Related or sponsoring educational and government organization
- Brick and mortar information
- Movies or TV shows produced
- Songs or albums produced
- Periodicals published
- Owners, board members and other involved people
- Affiliated sports team
- Website links and information
- YouTube channels and videos (with links)
To earn a knowledge graph for certain queries, start with this guide. The basic steps towards having a knowledge graph appear (with all the information you want) are:
- Create a Google+ profile
- Create a Google+ Local location listing (or claim an existing one on the maps)
- Create a Google My Business Account
- Make sure all of your social media profiles and other profile pages (such as Google My Business, for example) contain the information you want to appear, including: location, contact information, store hours, questions and answers, etc.
- Ask your customers to leave reviews on one specific profile page (or the one of their choosing, but having them mainly consolidated on one site is a great thing)
4. In the News
The In the News feature in Google search results is highly beneficial for content publishers.
Whether we admit it or not, we’re all biased, and many of us like to turn to trusted sources of information when we need news. If people want news in your industry niche, you can score a News search ranking and blow competition out of the water like this.
In the image below, you can see that a search for “how to win on Facebook” has been done. It’s not ranking anywhere on page #1 of the SERPs, and yet, here is a Quick Sprout blog post appearing prominently thanks to the In the News feature.
You don’t have to be a news website to have this feature enabled for your site. In the image above, Quick Sprout is an active blog with over 30,000 indexed pieces of content, which is probably what made the site eligible for the News feature.
Here are some tips to be featured as News in organic search rankings:
- Cover timely topics
- Invest plenty of time and energy in keyword research, generating long lists of topics to stay on top of for daily content publishing (you never want to run out of ideas!)
- Use keywords that contain the word “news,” or create a whole “news” category for your content
- Boost your content production rate to the point where you’re publishing content daily
- Ensure that your writing style meets journalistic standards
- Back up your statements by embedding links to high-quality resources
- Connect with other companies in your industry and journalists alike on HARO
5. Rich Snippets
And we’re back to the snippets.
The better you can communicate with Google’s crawl bots, the better Google will understand exactly what you want to offer to searchers.
In old Google’s plain, ordinary snippets, you only see the page’s title, URL, meta title and meta description.
In this format of results, users might be left unsatisfied and unsure of what to click to get the right answers.
Google clearly sees this issue. It wants users to feel satisfied after running just one Google search, and feel like they always leave with exactly what they were looking for.
With this in mind, Google has opened the door to all kinds of rich snippets, which are loaded with links and information:
As you can see in the image above, the new search results have site links, maps and even directions on how to go to each local entity. Did you notice that the map results are above the organic listing?
This is called the Local 3-Pack, and it does wonders for local SEO.
The map image above is just one example of a rich snippet feature. There are other formats of rich snippets available for every web page out there for the following content:
- Software Apps
For example, if I search for “best book about affiliate marketing,” Google gives me this rich snippet full of options:
There are as many ways to get a rich snippet as there are rich snippets themselves. So, a lot.
There’s no one way to optimize for these. The first step is to decide on your goal. Do you want your published book’s title and cover image to appear in the scrolling list of images and titles shown above? Do you want your local business location to appear on a map?
To appear on the Google Maps results, you need to focus on getting in the local 3-pack, which is its own game. See the steps to achieve this here.
Aside from the issue of Maps, you’ll mostly be dealing with structured data and Schema markup. This allows Google to comb your site and pick up the key information quickly. Just see what Google has to say about this.
Google has moved away from keyword rankings and into more informational rankings.
However, a lot of SEOs are still focusing more on keyword targeting, optimization and ranking rather than informational content.
The signals coming from Google are crystal clear, and their actions are confirming it—I mean, think of RankBrain and HummingBird.
I hope the information about these five organic search features is more than enough to help you make better decisions and get higher organic search rankings.
Good luck out there!
Joseph Gojo Cruz is a content marketing enthusiast with a lot of experience. He enjoys doing SEO, content development and social media marketing.