Posted by Dr-Pete
The Google landscape is constantly changing. Two years ago, I created the Mega-SERP, and within days it was already outdated. This time, we’ve set out to create a more permanent glossary of Google features – a reference that we’ll update as the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) change.
If your focus is on organic SEO, why should you care about the wider world of Google features? Put simply, because rich SERP features are no longer the exception to the rule. Across 10,000 keywords tracked daily by the MozCast project, this is what we saw as of September 1, 2015:
Of course, this is just one data set, but even with a healthy margin of error, the story is clear – Google SERPs are dynamic and feature-rich. In our data set, 97% of keywords show at least one rich or paid feature. Only 3% of these SERPs are still pristine, organic wilderness. Times have changed.
Table of Contents
This glossary is organized by the sections in the graph above and is an attempt to cover major SERP features currently seen on Google. To make it easy to come back and see what you’re interested in (or check out new features), here are a few jump-links to the sections:
- New & In Testing
- Organic & Enhancements
- Vertical Results
- The Knowledge Graph
- Local Results
- Ads & Shopping
This list won’t cover every variation (there are dozens, possibly hundreds, of variations of Knowledge Panels, for example), but our goal is to cover every significant feature. We’re also working to find common naming conventions between the SEO industry and Google. If you think something is missing or incorrect, please leave a comment.
Each feature in this glossary is paired with a thumbnail image, which shows the approximate location that feature occupies on a hypothetical SERP. The light-gray boxes show generic SERP elements, and the dark-gray box shows the location of the feature. In this instance, the feature appears in the left-hand column, mixed with organic results.
Let’s start with what’s new and currently in testing. We’ll update this section regularly as Google introduces new features, so we’re going to keep it at the top of the post. As these features roll out and accumulate some history, we’ll move them to other sections.
“I’m Feeling Curious” Card (Sep 2015)
Type “I’m feeling curious” into Google, and you’ll get a card-like feature with a random trivia question. Like Featured Snippets, these factoids come from indexed pages and include attribution.
Search: “i’m feeling curious”
Popular Times (Sep 2015)
Some local Knowledge Panels are beginning to show a graph of “Popular Times” (by day of the week), to help visitors sort out when best to visit a location, especially popular destinations.
Search: “art institute of chicago”
Book an Appointment (Aug 2015)
In partnership with Demandforce (an Intuit company), Google launched the ability for local businesses to book appointments from the Knowledge Panel. Searchers are given a dropdown list of appointment types, which takes them directly to the Demandforce website.
Search: “bjs auto repair” (Chicago)
Twitter Results (Aug 2015)
Google recently made a new agreement with Twitter and has started displaying tweets directly in SERPs, mixed in with organic results. Unlike Google+ results, Twitter results do not seem to require or be affected by personalization.
Search: “rick bayless”
Home Services Ads (Aug 2015)
Google has announced their entry into the home services market, and they’ve started testing a pilot program in a couple of niches in the San Francisco area. The AdWords team has confirmed that this result is part of that test. We have no timeline on when and how this program might expand.
It all started with 10 blue links, so that’s where we’ll start the rest of this glossary. This section will also include “enhancements” – add-ons to organic links that enhance them but aren’t technically stand-alone SERP features.
Simple Organic Results
They’re the things we spend all of our time chasing. A simple organic result, if such a thing even exists these days, has a linked title (in blue), a destination URL (in green), and a “snippet” of descriptive text.
Search: “tacos are the best”
Only 13 reasons?! Step it up, BuzzFeed!
Organic w/ Date Add-on
Sometimes, Google will algorithmically add information to a snippet. One of the most common examples is a date-stamp added to news and blog results. These add-ons appear at the beginning of the snippet.
Search: “are tacos healthy”
Organic w/ Virtual Path
Google will occasionally replace a page’s URL with a breadcrumb-style path. These URL rewrites are common on mobile SERPs and will likely become more common on desktop. These virtual paths replace the destination URL.
Search: “walking taco news”
Organic w/ Long Snippet
Most descriptive snippets are limited to about two lines (conventional SEO wisdom is to keep them below 155 characters). Recently, though, longer snippets have appeared, often paired with Featured Snippets.
Search: “how much is a taco bell”
Organic w/ Brand Dropdown
Brands and other known entities may get an additional linked reference to their name. Clicking on it reveals a dropdown with general information about the entity.
Search: “taco bell menu”
Organic w/ Mini Sitelinks
For internal links or on-page anchors, Google will occasionally display mini-sitelinks directly to those pages/anchors. These sitelinks occupy a single row below the result snippet.
Search: “how many tacos are there”
Organic w/ Full Sitelinks
Dominant entities in the #1 position may be rewarded with a set of full sitelinks. A #1 result can have anywhere from 1-6 full sitelinks, and each row of sitelinks displaces one organic result. So, a #1 result with 5-6 full site links (3 rows) removes 3 organic positions from page 1.
Search: “taco johns”
Organic w/ Review Stars
Review stars and rating data are sometimes displayed for products, recipes, and other relevant items. Review/rating data is shown between the destination URL and snippet.
Search: “best taco holders”
Organic w/ Video Thumbnail
Video results (especially YouTube) may display a thumbnail of that video. Video results used to be a true vertical but are now more of an organic enhancement.
Search: “taco of destiny”
I have absolutely no idea what’s going on in this video.
Organic w/ Recipe Thumbnail
Recipes are eligible for a specialized square thumbnail. This type of thumbnail was also used for results with authorship, but that display format has been discontinued.
Search: “brisket taco monkey” (yeah, you heard me)
There is a recipe site called “in sock monkey slippers”, and so every result title is in the form of “Some food – in sock monkey slippers”. This is an act of pure genius.
Organic w/ Knowledge Snippets
Knowledge Snippets are factoids from the Knowledge Graph that complement an organic result. The snippets appear in a list-like format below the search snippet.
Search: “1968 olympics”
If you can find a taco-related Knowledge Snippet, I’ll give you $10.
Organic w/ Forum Results
Discussion forum results sometimes show a special snippet with links to related results. These appear as individual rows below the snippet, and may show additional data.
Search: “in-depth taco discussion”
Organic w/ Event Results
Similarly, pages about events may show rich snippets that link to specific dates and locations. These appear as individual rows below the snippet, and may show additional data.
Search: “taco events”
Verticals results are blocks of specialized results that are triggered for searches with specific types of intent and use ranking rules beyond the core organic algorithm. Each block of vertical results takes the place of one organic result (as of this writing).
Image results are displayed as a horizontal row of image links, which click through to a Google Images search. Image results may appear in any organic position.
Search: “show me the tacos”
For searches that are clearly image related (containing keywords like “pictures” or “photos”), Google may display a large block of images that takes up three organic positions.
Search: “best taco pics”
Time-sensitive and newsworthy topics may generate a block of results from Google News. Since the “In the news” update in late 2014, a wider variety of sites are eligible to rank in the news block.
Search: “taco news”
For broad or ambiguous terms, Google may return a block of “in-depth” articles, which are almost indistinguishable from organic results. They follow somewhat different ranking rules than core organic, and are dominated by large publishers. Each block of three occupies only one organic position.
In personalized search, Google may return matching posts from your Google+ circles. Like other verticals these results are intermixed with organic results, but they don’t occupy an organic position.
Search: “talking tacos”
The “Knowledge Graph” covers a lot of ground, from semantic data from human-edited sources (such as WikiData) to semantic data extracted from the Google index to private data partnerships. We’ll use the term “Knowledge Graph” loosely for the purposes of this glossary.
Knowledge Panels (Person)
The most familiar incarnation of the Knowledge Graph is the Knowledge Panel, a rich entity that appears in the right-hand column of Google desktop searches. This is a pretty typical example, containing images, a descriptive snippet, relevant factoids, and related searches.
Search: “glen bell”
Knowledge Panels (Celebrity)
Actors/actresses, musicians, and other celebrities may have very rich Knowledge Panels, including information about music and movies, social profiles, and more. This has nothing to do with tacos – I just love Justin Timberlake.
Search: “justin timberlake”
Knowledge Panels (Brand)
Brands may also qualify for Knowledge Panels. Big brands may list detailed information (like the one below), but even smaller brands and local businesses that Google recognizes as entities can qualify for a Knowledge Panel.
Knowledge Panels (Nutrition)
Food items may show a specialized Knowledge Panel with nutrition facts. Google is constantly adding specialized Knowledge Panels and will likely continue. Sometimes, though, ignorance is bliss – just enjoy your taco in peace.
When a search is ambiguous, and Google doesn’t have additional data (like search history), they may display a disambiguation box. The example below is a rich one, covering astronomy, mythology, and science-fiction television.
Medical Knowledge Panels
Early in 2015, Google launched a first of its kind – original content in the Knowledge Panel. Medical Knowledge Panels are curated by Google along with third-party professionals, and even contain original illustrations.
Search: “irritable bowel syndrome”
Knowledge Cards (AKA “Answer Boxes”, “Direct Answers”) return semantic data directly from the Knowledge Graph. These answers are usually factual, such as a date, relationship, measurement, or some verifiable piece of information.
Search: “where is my taco”
Knowledge Cards w/ Reminder
Knowledge Cards are driven by mobile search, and tie neatly into newer formats, such as Google Now. This is an example of a date-based answer that allows a logged-in searcher to submit information directly to Google Now.
Search: “when is national taco day”
Rich Knowledge Cards
Some Knowledge Cards return rich, structured information, including images. The example below shows Dr. Seuss’ birthday, but also includes a picture, a list of birthdays of other childrens’ authors, and a header that restates the question.
Search: “dr. seuss birthday”
Knowledge Cards w/ Graph
Knowledge Cards may return even more specialized and structured data, such as a graph. The example below shows the population of Mexico City over time. This graph also includes source attribution.
Search: “population of mexico city
There are some unique features that look like Knowledge Cards. One example is conversion calculators. The taco one below is just for fun, but Google also allows many types of unit and currency conversions.
Search: “how many calories in a taco”
Google also includes a fully-featured scientific calculator, that can be triggered by simple formulas, such as “7 X 6” or “sqrt(1764)”. The example below is a Google Easter Egg. Some formulas, such as “sin x” will launch a graph card instead.
Search: “answer to life the universe and everything”
Google is beginning to invest in more specialized calculators, such as this mortgage calculator, which triggers for a wide range of competitive queries. Expect to see more niche calculators and tools in the near future.
Search: “mortgage calculator”
Google Now Cards
Some personalized data, especially data from Gmail, can be pulled directly into Google-Now-style Knowledge Cards. This includes upcoming flight information, frequent flyer numbers, hotel bookings, and product purchases.
Search: “my flights”
Live Results (Sports)
“Live Results” are a special type of card driven by private partnerships in select verticals. Many of these contain very rich data. There are multiple examples in both professional and college sports, including the box score card below.
Search: “cubs score”
Live Results (Weather)
Another common Live Result is regional weather forecasts. This is another very rich feature that includes current conditions, a short-term forecast, a long-term forecast, and even some interactive features in the UI.
Search: “seattle weather”
Live Results (Stock Quote)
Financial information for many ticker symbols is also available via live results. Nearly real-time results (including after-hours trades) are available from major financial news sources, along with graphs over multiple time windows.
Search: “yum stock quote”
Googles “Mega-Video” format promotes a single video to a prominent card-like result, with a very large thumbnail and song/artist data. Mega-Videos are dominated by YouTube and the Vevo music video network.
Search: “never gonna give you up”
Lyrics Cards (from Google Play)
In the first half of 2015, Google started to display song lyrics directly in a card-like format. Lyrics are taken directly from Google Play and link to Google Play for more information and the option to purchase the song.
Search: “never gonna give you up lyrics”
Restaurant menus for specific locations may be shown in a specialized, card-like format. These generally list the name of the restaurant, the address, and tabbed categories that allow you to scroll through a text-based menu.
Search: “el pollo loco menu” (Seattle)
When Google wants to answer a question that isn’t in the core Knowledge Graph, they may attempt to find that answer in the index. This creates a special class of organic result with information extracted from the target page.
Search: “who invented tacos”
Featured Snippets w/ Tables
As Featured Snippets expand, they are also becoming more richly formatted, including images, lists, and tables. The example below shows a Featured Snippet made up of tabular data.
Search: “how much is a taco”
Some niche searches may bring up a carousel with a black background that extends across both columns. This carousel may also have unique search filters related to the search. The image below is truncated for a close-up view.
Search: “best movies of 1984”
Another carousel format presents lists in a table across both columns. This format seems to be expanding, and can include songs, travel destinations, nutrition information, and other list-style data.
Search: “songs by taco”
Local SEO has changed dramatically in the past couple of years, and local features are evolving rapidly. Especially if you have a brick-and-mortar business, it’s important to be very familiar with Google’s local space.
In mid-2015, Google phased out the familiar 2-7 result local pack (that blended with organic results), and rolled out a new 2-3 result entity that’s more closely aligned with Google Maps.
Search: “gastroenterologists” (Seattle)
Local A/B/C Packs
In some cases, Google may display a variant local pack with A/B/C labels and map pins. This sometimes occurs when all of the locations in a pack are related to the same entity (such as a restaurant chain).
Search: “taco bell” (Seattle)
Local “Snack” Packs
Before re-launching local packs, Google rolled out the “snack pack”, a specialized local 3-pack with search filters, and no direct website link. These packs are still being used in some niches, including general restaurant searches.
Search: “mexican food” (Seattle)
If Google finds a single, authoritative location for a search, they may return a “one-box”. This is a single local result represented by a map pin and address/phone, integrated into an organic result.
Search: “topolobampo” (Chicago)
Local Knowledge Panels
Often tied with Authoritative One-boxes, Local Knowledge Panels display rich information about a local business, including address, phone, hours, reviews, and, most recently, a graph of when you should expect a crowd.
Search: “frontera grill” (Chicago)
Google’s financial empire is built on pay-per-click (PPC) ads, but in recent years the simple Google ad block has transformed into a rich advertising ecosystem. Here are a few of the more prominent types of paid results.
AdWords Ads (Top/Bottom)
Traditional AdWords ads come in many flavors now, but the most common type appears at the top and/or bottom of the left-hand column, above and below organic results. Each ad has a colored [Ad] label next to it.
Search: “tequila gift baskets”
AdWords Ads w/ Extensions
Traditional ads can have many different extensions and enhancements, just like organic results. The example below has review stars, Google+ follower count, and mini-sitelinks. Ads may also qualify for full sitelinks.
Search: “chichen itza tours”
AdWords Ads (Right Column)
Ads in the right-hand column are a bit smaller, horizontally, and may appear in packs with up to eight total ads. The [Ads] label only appears once in the right-hand column, above the first ad.
Search: “destination weddings”
Paid Shopping (Left Column)
Paid Shopping results or Product Listing Ads (PLAs) sell products directly with rich information, such as images and pricing. Paid Shopping results in the left column usually appear as a horizontal row of products.
Search: “taco shells”
Paid Shopping (Right Column)
Shopping results in the right-hand column are very similar, but they may take up multiple rows. Google has experimented with larger Paid Shopping results, but most current results are either one or two rows of products.
Search: “buy tortillas”
Paid Shopping w/ Rows (Right)
For a smaller product count, paid shopping in the right-hand column may also be displayed as one product per row. The functionality is similar, but this allows for additional space and a line of ad copy.
Search: “pace picante”
Paid Product Panels
Unique product models may trigger a specialized entity that looks like a Knowledge Panel but is actually a sponsored result. The example below is from a smartphone search, which shows retailers and the option to filter by carrier.
Search: “iphone 6”
Movies w/ Watch Now Ads
Knowledge Panels for movies that are available to watch online may display “Watch now” ads to services such as Google Play, Amazon, etc. These are currently labeled with the AdWords [Ads] marker.
Search: “cloudy with a chance of meatballs 2”
Music w/ Listen Now Ads
Similarly, Knowledge Panels for musical artists and album titles may give you paid listings to listen to songs online. Recently, some books have added “Read now” ads as well. Expect this type of paid feature to expand.
Hotels w/ Book a Room Ads
Some Local Knowledge Panels for hotels allow you to check availability dates and link directly to booking services. Google is actively expanding both organic and paid hotel elements, including amenities data.
Search: “hotel monaco” (Seattle)
Paid Flight Results
Flight searches can trigger a number of paid features. The example below is a card-like format that allows you to check and book flights directly via the Google Flights engine.
Search: “flight from chicago to seattle”
Cataloging and naming the Google feature ecosystem is not something I could ever do alone. Many features were spotted and named long before I re-entered the industry, most notably by the tireless work of Danny Sullivan and Barry Schwartz. I’d also like to thank Jennifer Slegg for her great work over the past year identifying and tracking down names for new features. Thanks also to Gary Illyes at Google, for being willing to talk openly with us about new features and naming conventions. Special thanks to the local SEO community for their ongoing generosity and geekery, and my sincere apologies for ever creating the name “snack pack”. Finally, thanks to Kevin on our design team for being willing to listen to instructions like “Think glossary + Godzilla + tacos!” without murdering me.
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