How to win at SERP Monopoly
Search Engine Optimisation

How to win at SERP Monopoly

14th June 2019

Monopoly is known as a game of capitalism and SERP Monopoly is no different. The goal of this game is to acquire as many properties in the search results as possible. This is both to prevent your competitors from gaining those spots and to dominate the front page of the search results without paying for ad placements.

Monopoly

Google’s standard organic listings are being pushed further and further down the page.  Subtle “ad” identifiers make it harder to distinguish between paid and organic results. On this board it is becoming increasingly important to use every available pixel of the search results to promote your brand.

That’s why SEOs are having to get smarter in how they play the game. On any given search result there may be a mix of paid and organic results that are a far cry from the original version of Google SERP Monopoly.

The 10-blue links of old have been replaced by an updated layout. We now have knowledge panels, featured snippets and carousels to take advantage of.  We can dazzle with review stars, populate the map pack and feature in exclusive “app-like” interfaces.

But how do you go about securing these properties and is conquering the board a winning strategy?

The properties

There are many different types of properties on desktop and mobile Google SERPs, some available to any business’s website and others more restricted:

Basic results – the standard links with a page title, URL and description.  Now with the added benefit or problem (depending on your mindset) of favicons on mobile results

Featured snippetsthe answer to a searcher’s query that is pulled directly onto the page of search results from a ranking website and sits above all the others in a lightly outlined box.

Knowledge panelusing multiple sources from around the web and its own knowledge graph Google displays information about an entity that is pertinent to the searcher’s query.

Rich resultsa featureful listing with additional styling, colours and images, often displayed for entities such as books and films.

Enriched resultsan app-like interface within the search results which allows for interaction with the information displayed, such as jobs listings.

When these result-types are triggered depends upon the search intent. 

The rules of the game

As with all games there are distinct rules which we can all argue over, but in this case, Google is the ultimate arbitrator.  In order to get your business onto one of these properties there are certain criteria that must be met. Oftentimes when Google is trialling a new property type, or augmenting an existing one, the features will be rolled out to a select number of industries first before being open to all.

There are some features that will forever be reserved for certain websites or business-types.  AMP is a good example of Google favouring one type of website above others. There are areas, such as the AMP carousel that only webpages using this technology can inhabit. Other industries, such as hotels, cannot currently make use of Google My Business Posts, the feature isn’t available to businesses with this category.

Strategising to win

Like any game of Monopoly, strategy is key.  It is important to know what your competition is up to but also to look to future developments that you can capitalise on now to get ahead on the board.

For instance, one aspect to keep an eye on is how Google is treating structured data mark-up.  This labelling system, also known as “schema mark-up”, enables website owners to convey the context of the content on their site and gives the search engines the certainty about what that information means.  Google often uses this information to tailor the way it presents data in the search results and is used to populate many of the features below.

Google and other search engines are always expanding on the structured data mark-up they use and how they display it.  If you stay alert to the mark-up they are recommending or using, then you have a head-start on your competition when new features populated by this mark-up are rolled out.

How do you secure a property?

First thing to make clear is, you can’t buy your way into one of these properties and if you do find yourself in one it is more akin to a short-term let, there’s no guarantee that you will be there for long.  Google might also change the features it displays over time.  For instance, I’ve seen the webpage ranking in position 0 change daily for the same query and then the featured snippet disappear altogether.  With that in mind, how do we go about getting our brand into some of the more prominent positions?

Rich Snippets

The snippets that appear in the standard organic search listings, can be enhanced for certain web-pages.  For instance, e-commerce sites can make great use of “Product” schema to bring through information about the items for sale on that page.  Below we can see how website mobiles.co.uk has used this mark-up on their site resulting in Google displaying it within their snippet.

Ratings and review information, price and stock levels are all picked out by Google because it can know with certainty that the information is correct through the labelling mobiles.co.uk has used.

Compare this listing with another one on that SERP, from tescomobile.com

The rich snippet of mobiles.co.uk is more engaging, takes up a greater area on the SERPs and details more information about what the landing page will include.  It allows for quicker comparison and also draws the eye of searchers.

Particularly of note for webpages that contain detailed specifications is that if you present your data in a structured manner, such as a table, even without the use of mark-up the information can still pull through to the SERPs.

Expertreviews.com has made use of tables in its content and has been rewarded with additional space in the SERPs.

Featured snippets

We’re all familiar with the organic search result that sits above the rest of the organic results which directly answers a user’s query.  This answer pulls data from a ranking web-page, usually displaying the answer in a table, paragraph or list.

There is no specific mark-up that Google uses to create these “position 0” results, but structuring your content in a way that lends itself to quick dissemination in the SERPs helps enormously.  The best first step is to identify the keywords related to the webpage you are looking to get a featured snippet for that already trigger a featured snippet and see what type of content is already taking that position.  Then use the simplest and sneakiest of tactics to win – copy and improve.

If your webpage is structured in a similar manner but better answers the searcher’s query that triggered the result it increases your chances of knocking the competing page off the top spot.

Questions and Answers

Also powered by schema mark-up is the “questions and answers” format on Google SERPs.  This type displays in searches when a searcher asks a question and the webpage listed includes answers submitted by the website’s users.  These answers are labelled using QAPage schema.

An example of a webpage winning this position is tripadvisor.co.nz which gained a carousel under its organic search listing of the answers on the webpage by using the QAPage mark-up.  This mark-up can be achieved by following the guidance on Google’s Developer blog.

FAQs

In a similar vein to the Q&A rich snippet the FAQ listing allows a webpage to gain extra visibility in the SERPs.  The intention of the FAQ listing is to bring questions and answers often asked around a particular topic straight into the search results.

This too requires schema mark-up to be used but simple guidelines are provided by Google.  The documentation also gives an example of how the FAQ feature looks in the SERPs.  Again, it takes up a fairly large portion of the search results page, dominating the listings around it.

Knowledge Panel

There are two types of knowledge panel results that can be triggered dependent on a searcher’s query; “brand” and “local”.  Under some circumstances both types will appear.  The knowledge panel appears at the top of a mobile search and on the right of the desktop search and contains information in a visual and prominent way about an entity.

Brand

The knowledge panel result is formed from information gathered by Google from multiple sources on the web.  It sits at the top of the search results and gives an overview of an entity including a variety of information depending on the nature of the entity.  The example below, is of the Financial Times’ knowledge panel.

It isn’t possible to force Google to display information about you or your business in a knowledge panel.  It is entirely up to Google to decide if the entity is noteworthy enough.

It might be possible, however, to encourage Google to consider an entity as important.  Schema mark-up can be used to link that entity with others on the web so Google gets a better idea of their relationship; such as social media accounts, family members or colleagues or parent corporations, board of directors and industries.  Another way is to denote their importance is through gaining profiles on authoritative sites such as Wikipedia.  Through connecting the dots Google will begin to see a picture of the entity in relation to other notable entities.

If an entity does get a knowledge panel it can be claimed by an authorised representative.  By clicking on “Claim this knowledge panel” the representative can prove their connection to the entity in order to suggest changes.  They will be asked to sign in to a site or profile requested by Google, such as Twitter, YouTube and Google Search Console and if able to do so will be able to make suggested edits.

Local

Local knowledge panels are far easier to create and are an absolute necessity for any company that has a brick and mortar presence.  Better known as Google My Business listings, these properties will appear in Google Search and Maps when a searcher displays some local intent, such as “restaurants near me”, or “Mexican restaurants in London”.

Google may already have created a local knowledge panel for your business but if not then simply following the instructions on Google’s dedicated Google My Business hub will see you making your way towards owning this property.  If you do find one already in existence for you then you can go about claiming it in a similar way to the brand knowledge panels.

Jobs

Recruitment is a difficult and costly endeavour.  One neat trick in the game of SERP Monopoly is not just about brand dominance but also helping discovery by job candidates through Google’s Job Search Results.  These are enriched results that function like an app within the SERPs, allowing job-seekers to filter vacancies from an abundance of websites and job boards all without leaving Google.

Candidates are often looking for similar information – the remuneration and benefits package, the location of the job and whether it’s full or part-time.  If implemented correctly mark-up can allow Google to pull all of this information through from your webpage.  Google’s page on Job Posting gives more guidance on what mark-up to use and how.

Events

If your organisation hosts events it is crucial to use Event schema mark-up to get your content into the enriched result in the Google SERPs.  Triggered when users are searching for something to do, or for specific types of events, the results sit right at the top of the mobile search results and give a clear outline of the event and when it is.

Favicons

Although not really a position in the SERPs that you might want to take advantage of, it is worth mentioning the appearance of favicons in the Google search results.  Google recently released an update to the mobile results page that includes a webpage’s favicon next to its listing.  Not a ranking factor, and not really something that can be optimised, the favicon is still important. Its presence in the SERPs means it will be taken into consideration, even if subconsciously, by searchers choosing which result they want to click on.

It is necessary that as the final move in the game of SERP Monopoly you ensure your favicon is a easy-to-recognise representation of your brand.  Make sure it is clear, in line with Google’s policies and easily distinguished from your competitors.

Conclusion

Google SERP Monopoly, like all versions of the game, is a slow process that sometimes causes arguments and almost always involves some shouting.  This is a game that can be won however, and despite the time and dedication required, it can yield great reward for the players.

Getting your brand across the search results increases not only your click-through rate, but also the positioning of your company as an expert in the field or premier supplier.

Some of the moves towards acquiring properties are easy and others, like structured data mark-up, can see you land in “jail” if implemented in a spammy way.

However, perseverance really will pay off.

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Written By
Helen is the Head of Digital and lead SEO at Avenue Digital, and has over ten years of experience in digital marketing, SEO and analytics. She regularly speaks at industry events and loves sharing her knowledge through teaching and writing.
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