Hunting Down SERP Features to Understand Intent & Drive Traffic – Next Level

December 27, 2016
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Welcome to the seventh installment of our educational Next Level series! In our last episode, Jo showed us how to better optimize our sites when we think we’ve done it all (but still aren’t ranking). This time around she’s giving us the tools and the knowledge to finally capture ourselves a SERP feature. Read on and level up!

Are you within striking distance of traffic-bumping SERP features?

The content on your freakin’ awesome site better be targeting the intent of the searcher.

People of the world want different types of content depending on what they search. If you get this right, your content will earn the engagement signals that tell search engines you’re fighting the good fight.

The stakes are even higher now. Not only are you battling it out in the organic results, but there are attention-grabbing features that draw clicks away from organic results.

But, hey now, chin up! You can use these features to focus on keywords with higher opportunity and win those bobby-dazzlers to drive even more traffic.

I’m going to show you how to use the ever-impressive SERP features to check whether you’re targeting intent and whether the entirety of your content satisfies searcher intent, putting you within striking distance of owning some of those queue-jumping features.

Follow along in your Moz Pro account or start a free trial, it’ll be fun, trust me.

What is searcher intent?

Intent is the nuanced language people use to search different things, and it drastically changes what they’re really, truly seeking.

Every single time a human inputs their heart’s desire into that blank, judgement-free rectangle, they’re asking Google to satisfy their intent.

Show me your best “headphone reviews,” your most reliable “sewing machine repairs,” your funniest “cat vs printer gifs,” I command thee!

Headphone reviews – I want comparisons, specs, images, first-hand experiences. Maybe I’ll buy something, eventually.

Sewing machine repairs – I’m looking for a local business who I can call or visit. Or an instructional article or video.

Cat vs printer gifs – Desperately seeking images in the .gif format of a furry friend freaking out over a machine friend.

With a few simple clicks on my keyboard, my intention is revealed. As a marketer, if you’re targeting keywords with particular intent, then this needs to be reflected in your content. As a searcher, I haven’t got time to read a long article about cat gifs and printers. I want an array of images to choose from. Likewise, I don’t want to scroll through an image gallery when I’m looking for a service, or an in-depth guide when I’m on the precipice of entering that ever-so-tempting sales funnel.

Now let’s look more specifically at the headphone niche. If you sell headphones you might think, “If I can stuff my landing page with a bit of jazzy content and get it in front of every person who searches for ‘headphones’ in every weird and wonderful way, I’m bound to get a chunk of traffic and *bam*, I’ll sell a bunch of headphones.”

It doesn’t really work like that. If your content doesn’t satisfy the intent indicated by the searcher, they’re likely to head back to search — and you just know Google is paying attention to this behavior. So you could end up sending signals to Google that your content isn’t all that good as it sends your visitors back to search. And because Google wants everyone to find what they’re after, your rankings could take a trip to page-two obscurity.

The different types of searcher intent

Intent for the purpose of marketing your content can be lumped into three different types that broadly encapsulate what warm bodies are looking for. This is explained in more detail in this post by Tom Anthony. Here is a brief recap that looks at how searches in the headphone niche can fit into vastly different intent types:

Informational: what were the first earbud headphones?*

Navigational: cnet headphone reviews

Transactional: cheap travel headphones

* I’m going to go all hipster on you and say it was the stethoscope, which morphed into it’s current shape around the 1850s according to Wiki.

Can you see how the implied intent varies depending on the phrasing around the search term? As you research your own target keywords, build up lists, and use those lists to formulate content, the implied intent of the searcher plays an important role in what form your awesome content will take.

It also goes hand-in-hand with your journey into long-tail keywords.

As the marketers of the world have been paying attention to the implied intent to guide their content creation, so indeed has the biggest website on the planet. The website that reduced internet usage by 40% when it went down for 2 minutes a few years ago. Yeah, you’ve heard of them, right? Well, they’re taking a big, old, sloppy bite of the intent pie. In their quest to give the people what they want right in the results pages, Google unleashed The Glorious SERP Feature.

What the wicky-wack are SERP features?

The fancy-schmancy SERP feature is Google’s way of dazzling users with its more-than-a-result result.

It’s Google’s way of saying ‘I hear you’ with its finger guns out, blowing imaginary smoke and reholstering them back into its pockets whilst leaning over the back of your chair, all pleased with itself.

Features might pop up all over the results, like this:

The one with its paw in the air ready to swat? Argh, too cute.

Or they might shuffle into the results, like so:

Then again, they may hang out over here, all nonchalant but desperate to please at the same time:

With 16 different varieties currently documented, they’re like the chameleon of the SERP kingdom: taking relevant content and reinventing itself like a shapeshifting lizard queen (or Madonna).

What SERP features can I win?

There are a handful of features you can reasonably have a punt at without throwing cash at Google: Featured Snippets, Related Questions, Image Packs, Site Links, Tweets, Videos, and the News Box. I’m going to focus on Featured Snippets, Related Questions, and Image Packs.

The rest of the features are within the reach of larger sites, Google partners, or local businesses. I’m not going to dive into the local aspect in this post, as our Local Learning Center is a good place to start that journey.

For regular schmoes like us, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on all 16 features and their presence in the results for keywords you’re tracking. Even if you can’t win them they will elbow out organic results.

Featured Snippets: These are like having those fast-track passes at your local theme park. You can jump from somewhere else in the results to position ZERO, and then you’re pretty much owning that SERP.

Rob Bucci is my featured snippet guru and you’ll probably join the ranks after watching his talk at Brighton SEO.

Related Questions: If you’re tracking Featured Snippets, then you’ll want to familiarize yourself with their buddies, the Related Question.

Winning a Related Question will most likely get you a small bump in clicks through to your site; nothing wrong with that. However, the treat you don’t want to miss out on is grabbing those questions and adding them to your tracked keywords in Moz Pro. Often, this will help you sniff out a Featured Snippet you can target.

Image Packs: I looove image packs — there aren’t enough ways to display that in text form. I’m very visually motivated and I spend a fair bit of time searching for animated .gifs. If you watch Rob Bucci’s talk then you’ll know that they didn’t tend to find overlap with Featured Snippets. So these are a good opportunity to target the visually minded and increase your chances of getting traffic through features across more keywords.

How to use SERP Features to target intent

Back in the olden days, like 6 months ago, you would look at keyword modifiers and find transactional terms like ‘buy,’ ‘cheap,’ and so on, then bundle these into the ‘transactional’ pile, and so on and so forth and rinse and repeat.

Now, in the bright and shiny land-of-the-future, we can use the presence of particular features to understand the intent as Google sees it. You’re doing two very important things here: lumping your keywords into piles to understand intent that you will use to guide your content, AND identifying features you can win and those that may push you out of the results.

Identify the features present for your target keywords

As with every job there is a manual method and a tool-based method. Manual is totally fine for people with small sites, like a personal blog, and a handful of keywords. I hope that by explaining the basic manual method it will lay the foundation of understanding when we ramp up to the tool-based method.

Okey dokey spreadsheet fans, get ready for the keyboard + mouse dance we do when filling up a spreadsheet with lovely data. Start by searching your keywords one-by-one, use incognito mode to avoid personalised results, and add a mark to the sheet next to the features that are present.

Here’s a sheet with all the features already added to get you started. I even added some gentle colors inspired by the first episode of Black Mirror Season 3. Lacie’s giving it 5 stars.

Don’t forget to check out the second tab with your handy-dandy SERP feature cheatsheet.

This is a good way to start understanding more about the different SERP features, identify what they look like, where they hang out, and how intrusive they are.

Identify and track SERP features with Moz Pro

Got more than a handful of keywords? Want all this data for your site and your competitors? Want a tool to do the heavy lifting for you? Don’t we all.

Did I mention before about the Moz Pro has a 30-day free trial? I’m pretty sure I did, but it was so far up the page and the follow-along-with-me part is starting right now! It will do all the SERP…

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