Google search results used to be so simple. Sponsored results at the top and then organic, that is, non-paid, results following. If you weren't paying attention, you probably didn't even notice the changes as they crept into the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). As a web page owner, you worked on your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to get to the top of the organic results and may have also bid on some keywords to get listed at the top. But now organic results can get pushed way, way, way down the page and paid results have to compete with Google itself.
Transactional or Informational?Read More.
Sponsored links are clearly marked with little "Ad" icon or in a big box that is labeled "sponsored." But there is so much more than sponsored and organic. The SERP you see depends on the type of search. Transactional searches are searches where Google interprets the search as a wish to buy something. For, example, you search on "dishwasher." Informational searches are clearly not. For example, you search on "influenza."
Let's try an informational search on the perpetually popular series "The Office." At the top right, I get a result that is neither organic nor paid. This is a knowledge panel where Google uses its own database to splice together the most relevant information about the subject. The panel gives me a montage of photos, basic information like the plot summary, the cast, the first and last episode, and so on. For most people, there is no need to click on any link, either sponsored or organic.
Next to the knowledge graph is the sponsored Google Shopping panel where Office fans can buy, among other items, a blue sweatshirt bearing the words "Dunder Mifflin." For the uninitiated, if they exist, Dunder Mifflin is the fictional company of the said series. Below this is a carousel of links of where to subscribe to or buy the series. Finally, we reach the first two organic results, imdb.com and wikipedia.
A "Top stories" panel follows with links to news sources like People Magazine. Then we get three more organic links: YouTube. NBC.com, and Netflix. Notice that all these organic links are different. To give a wide source of information, Google does not repeat any of the websites. Now Google returns to its own database and provides us with its "People Also Ask" panel, with crucial questions, such as "Where is the real Dunder Mifflin building?" Here again your organic link is competing against Google's own database with the succinct answer provided with a click of the down arrow, although Google does provide a link to the website from which this information was gleaned. It's hard to imagine most people needing more information on this subject and clicking the link.
A few more carousels and a few more organic search results follow. However, it is clear that getting your organic link seen on Google these days is more and more difficult, leading some to ask if SEO is dead.
Compare a transactional search
Try out a transactional search like, say, "cat litter." For transactional searches, you are less likely to see a knowledge panel. So, as a website owner, your main competition is paid search. However, you still need to compete with the "People Also Ask" box which seems to have even found relevant questions about cat litter, such as, "Is cat litter harmful to humans?" For transactional searches, the local places panel is one of the best places to be seen.
How can you compete in the new Google SERP environment? The old rules still apply. Develop your site as a site that is trusted, relevant, and expert. Tell Google your site is important by getting as many inbound links as possible. Provide answers to long-tailed search questions that aren't covered by the major sites. And now, make it easy for Google to easily pick out nuggets of information that it can include in its "People Also Ask" box.