How To Do Intelligent SERP Analysis To Raise Google Rankings

SERP Analysis

Google’s Search Results Pages (SERPs) refer to the pages that turn up on our screen after we search for some topics. 

We do SERP Analysis when we explore the search results to discover what some top-ranking websites are doing right to be listed so high and what we need to do to outrank them.

The idea of analyzing the SERPs for clues on how to outrank the listings is a hot topic these days. It gives brand bloggers a feeling that if they reverse engineer the process followed by top-ranking sites, they too can rank high.

But life is more complex than that because we are all still guessing a lot about Google’s mindset. What does Google value as a rankable blog post, and why?

Doing SERP Analysis can be the start of our blogging and SEO process, but it cannot – and should not – be something held sacrosanct as the only way to outrank existing posts for any search term. I want to decode SERP Analysis for you and show you what’s important to note and what’s useless to follow.

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What is SERP Analysis? Why did it become so hot in SEO?

How SERPs listed blogs when Google was a dumb machine

There used to be a time (a pretty horrible time) when Google was still unsophisticated in the way it evaluated blog posts against the keywords they were hoping to rank for.

Google used to simply count the number of times the keyword appeared in the blog post and decide the blog post is really “full of value” to the searcher looking for answers to a particular keyword.

On the Search Results Pages (SERPs) of Google of any keyword, the posts with the most usage of the keyword used to rank highest.

Keyword stuffing is dead and gone – thank God

This naturally led to many people attempting the ridiculous art of “keyword stuffing.” Also, we were told that the same keyword should appear in the blog post in italics, bold font, all caps, lowercase, and other “variations.”

So you would see plenty of blogs with sentences like this: “KEYWORD RESEARCH is a valuable idea because keyword research helps you know what blog posts you should write based on certain keywords you pick from your keyword research.”

When we now say "keywords", we mean "topics"

Thankfully, Google got smarter with time and more sophisticated in its algorithms.

It now evaluates the topic depth and breadth of your blog post based on whether your blog has covered many sub-topics (and sub-sub-topics) related to the searched keyword to make your blog a resoundingly complete resource for someone reading on a desired topic.

The Google SERPs of today are so far away from older ones, that’s it amazing to see how we’ve come into a whole new world of SEO.

"E-A-T" is the way to grow fat in the new SEO

So what works today, when you want your blog post to rank high on the SERPs?

The more substance your blog post has – i.e., the more related sub-topics and sub-sub-topics that drill down to add more meat to the blog post – the more Google believes you have E-A-T (expertise, authority, and trustworthiness). Blog posts with E-A-T rank high on Google SERPs, beacuse Google now wants to see topical authority before it ranks you.

The race is on to "reverse-engineer" ranking posts

All bloggers, marketers, and brand owners are now on the hunt to try an discover what topic depth and breadth the top-ranking blog posts have to make Google think so highly of them.

How have they scored? What do they have that others don’t? If we put together a blog post more or less similar, or even a tad better, can we outrank the top guys on the SERP?

Why do SERP Analysis? Hear experts who're in the know ...

There are lots of reasons the top gurus give why SERP Analysis has to be your first stop for SEO … and it’s worth reading a few of these opinions:

Luke Harsel

"To be a great SEO, you need to be able to read a SERP like a book. With every query comes a unique marketing challenge and opportunity. It’s your job to uncover them and take advantage. By running SERP analysis, you can determine your challenges and opportunities and devise an SEO plan to get to the top of the results and bring new traffic to your site.”

Chris Haines

"SERP analysis is a process that helps you determine if and how you can rank for a keyword and whether the effort is worth the reward. It’s important because not all keywords are created equal. Some are harder to rank for than others, so you must choose wisely. It’s just a case of following the process and asking yourself: Can you provide a better answer to a keyword query than what is on the current SERP? Can you create higher-quality content than the top result for the query?"

The 8 keys to intelligent SERP Analysis to raise your rankings

Here is my list of 8 crucial factors that go into SERP Analysis. I’ve emphasized what kind of analysis works for me to get good SEO results for my site and my clients’ sites. 
8 Keys To Intelligent SERP Analysis
(Please use this infographic with credits intact.) 

1. What should you be looking for in SERP Analysis and why

Start with an inexpensive Chrome-extension keyword tool

Let’s begin with a hypothetical example. Let’s say you are looking to research the SERP for a keyword you want to write your next blog post on … and it’s the keyword “blogging mistakes.” There is one simple (and very inexpensive) tool you need to put on your browser as an extension. I use the Chrome browser, so I have installed the extension “Keywords Everywhere.”

It costs just about $10-$12 for 100,000 credits which lasts you ages. It’s not the ultimate SEO tool, but no tool has the absolute correct numbers or data, so I prefer the one that is the least expensive and easiest to work with because I only want the “rough trends,” not accurate data.

Google-search your topic-related keyword to get to its SERP

Now just put your search term “blogging mistakes” into the Google search bar of your browser and hit the search button. You get the Search Results Page (SERP) for the search term “blogging mistakes.”

Using the Keywords Everywhere Tool, you’ll find two things of interest. You’ll find the monthly search count under the keyword … and below each listing on the page, you’ll find the MOZ DA (Domain Authority) score for that listing. These are the only two numbers that matter to me.

Look first for the seed keyword's monthly search volume

Monthly Search Count For Keyword On SERP

Does the overall search count for the keyword sound good for me to write a blog post? In this case, it shows a monthly search count of 260 (i.e., low hundreds), which is good for me because I have a strategy for attempting low-volume but less competitive keywords that I can rank for. 

Next, look for the MOZ Domain Authority of all ranked posts

MOZ DA scores under SERP Listings

The MOZ DA scores of all the posts listed range from 28 (lowest) to 93 (highest). (The MOZ DA score is a popular score created by MOZ, the SEO experts, to give sites an authority rating … see yours at the MOZ DA Checker. )

The one listing on the SERP with the low MOZ DA of 28 may catch my eye because my own site’s MOZ DA score may be close to that range. So I can also have a shot at ranking on that page.

Make your decision on going ahead with the topic

If the search volume is decent, and the MOZ DA of posts ranked on the SERPs look within my shooting range, that’s settles it for me … and I go for that blog post on “blogging mistakes.” I make no extra fuss beyond this.

2. The most important factor to gauge: it's the search intent

How to get a "feel" of the search intent of a keyword

When you look at the listings of various blog posts on a SERP for a keyword,  you’ll notice you get a “feel” of a searcher’s search intent.

For example, if we go with the same keyword example of “blogging mistakes,” at least 8 out of the 10-11 blog posts listed seem to be about “how to avoid blogging mistakes.” 

Search Intent Discovery

Looking for how Google has understood the search intent

We get the feeling that Google has read the intent like this: “People searching for ‘blogging mistakes’ are looking to avoid them, and so most of the ranked articles have to emphasize this point more than others.

Notice a couple of listings deal with the kinds of blogging mistakes people make. But the majority of listings deal with how to avoid blogging mistakes. That suggests that we, too, have to write about how to avoid blogging mistakes.

Search intent is always about people trying to reach their goals

The important thing about “search intent” is that we have to visualize all keywords as “someone trying to solve some problem to reach some goal.” So what problem or goal could there be behind the keyword “blogging mistakes”. On the surface, we can imagine the searcher aiming to avoid blogging or correct them.

But why would someone aim to avoid blogging mistakes? Is the searchery getting nowhere with blogging? Or does the searcher want to improve the results of blogging? Think about that person searching. What underlying goal could that person be seeking to reach by avoiding blogging mistakes?

Plan the angle for your blog post based on search intent

After you have got a grasp of the search intent, you can check whether it falls into one of these four categories:

Information seek … someone looking to know something

Navigational seek … someone looking to find someplace online

Commercial seek … someone looking for buying information

Transactional seek … someone looking to take some actions

Your blog post can then need to be structured to match the search intent.

What can you do if search intent is fractured?

Incidentally, search intent is not always so clearly visible. Sometimes, you may get a search keyword like “cost of apples” when you don’t know whether the person meant the fruit or the computers.

This leads to something called “fractured search intent” … it’s good to know how Google (and you) should handle such queries, so there’s more of it in the example video below. from Ahrefs.

3. Looking at the ranking difficulty from the SERP listings

What is the Keyword Difficulty Score? Is it reliable?

When you look up some good Keyword Tools like Ubersuggest, Semrush, Ahrefs, or Keywords Finder, you’ll find they do their calculations to arrive at something they call Keyword Difficulty (or sometimes called SEO Difficulty). This number suggests how difficult the keyword may be to rank for. 

Keyword Difficulty Score

How do different keyword tools calculate this Keyword Difficulty number? Each tool uses its yardsticks, but in general, it is believed that these keyword tools use a combination of the MOZ Domain Authority of listings on the SERP and the number of backlinks these listings have – to arrive at a difficulty score. 

Ahrefs has a table showing how wildly these Keyword Difficulty numbers fluctuate between different keyword tools.

Keyword Difficulty Scores Comparison

Should you take these Keyword Difficulty numbers seriously?

I do not take these KD calculations seriously because I don’t believe in soliciting backlinks in any way. I’d rather get them organically.

So I wouldn’t depend on a Keyword Difficulty score that necessitated my looking at a specific number of backlinks to pip the competition on the SERP. 

But, as I have said before, I do look at the MOZ Domain Authority scores of competition on the SERP, and if they are low, there’s a good chance for me to try and rank for the keyword.  The KD number is, therefore, irrelevant to me.

4. Analyzing competitors' content coverage and structure 

Analyzing competitors on the SERP is really worthwhile

This is the part of SERP Analysis I pay the most attention to (after deciding that my chances of running for the keyword are good enough to attempt the blog post on the topic I have chosen). Looking at the competition’s coverage of the topic – and their article structure – are two keys to this part of the process.

If we take the same example of the keyword “blogging mistakes,” as we have done earlier, let’s look at the top 5 articles on the SERP. (Some experts and tools give you even the top 20 articles on the SERP, but that is stretching things a bit too far.)

What to look for on SERP competitors' blog posts

So take the first five articles on the SERP and note down their article structure first.

This would cover the kind of opening paragraphs they have, the sub-points they have included as sub-headings in the article, and the sub-sub-points, if any … plus their end summaries.

Competiotor's Structure

Look to see if the competitors have any common sub-points, and where they vary from one another.

Check how competitors have addressed each sub-point's copy

Look at the content below each sub-point to see how superficially or deeply they have dissected the point. Have they given enough textual meat or a lot of sub-sub-points to elaborate the main sub-point?

Have they given explanations, examples, visual support, and quotes/data from reputed sources that nail the point?

Spot the content gaps that competitors have left open

From the above analysis, see what common points all top 5 ranked articles have covered. See what exclusive points some have covered. See what content gaps you feel they should have covered.

To spot the content gaps, put yourself in the shoes of the searcher and return to his search intent. What do you think the searcher may be looking for additionally in these five blog posts to get his expected answer?

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5. Looking at Google's suggestions on the SERP for more ideas

Google plugs many of its "features" (i.e. clues) on the SERP

Did you know that on every SERP, Google gives clues on what is important to cover in your blog post for a chosen keyword? If you look at how Google SERPs used to be some 4-5 years ago and now, you will see a changed landscape with so many different kinds of content that Google itself publishes on the SERP.

Studying these will give so many clues on the search intent of the keyword (as Google sees it) and how Google thinks you should cover the topic.

A quick run-through of the features Google adds to SERPs

Let’s go through what all Google may add to a SERP … not every SERP has all these features, but most SERPs have at least 3-4 of these Google features.

1. The Rich Answer: These are also known as answer boxes, quick answers, or direct answers, and they usually answer specific questions that the search query may demand.

2. The Rich Results: These used to be called Rich Snippets and offer a little more depth of content than Rich Answers – like customer ratings, prices, or additional links.

3. Rich Cards: These are mobile-friendly versions of rich results.

4. Knowledge Cards: They are similar to Rich Cards, except these offer research data-driven answers. 

5. Knowledge Graphs: These are displayed above organic results or in the right-hand sidebar. They include images, facts, maps, and related search topics. 

6. Knowledge Panels: These are almost identical to Knowledge Graphs, except Google will pull information from Google Maps or My Business listings.

7. Local 3-Packs: These usually show a map and a list of three local businesses as rich results.

8. Image Packs: These are collections of images shown where the search query would benefit from visual results.

9. Videos: Google will also sometimes display a carousel of three YouTube videos –if valuable for the search query.

10. Vertical Search: These appear at the top of the SERP when Google may pull information from many different categories, such as images, videos, or news. 

11. “People also ask” Boxes: These contain related questions to help users further explore a topic. 

12. Twitter: This feature is usually a carousel of the three most recent tweets from a Twitter account.

13. Top Stories: This feature displays breaking news or trending stories related to a search query. 

14. Featured Snippets: These are usually parts of blog posts that Google wants to highlight to searchers. They could be paragraphs, numbered lists, bulleted lists, tables, or YouTube videos.

15. Scholarly Articles: Related scientific or research-based articles may be shown here.

16. Related Searches: These are additional related search suggestions from Google.

Phew … all this is in addition to the Paid Ads Google may run on the SERPs. Use these Google features on SERPs to know how Google’s mind is working on the topic of the SERP.

Learn more about Google's features from this video

For a quick run-through of all the most popular SERP features from Google, watch this video from The Egg Company.

6. Identifying content gaps or opportunities you can exploit

The purpose of all SERP analysis is to locate content gaps

Content Gaps

When looking at the quality of content and depth of topic coverage of competitive listings on the Google SERP, there has to be a purpose why you need to analyze that.

The purpose is to find “content gaps” that others have created through their blog posts – which you can aim to fill to score one over them on the rankings.

Six places to look for those valuable content gaps

There are six areas where you could look for obvious content gaps. Here they are:

Quality of the competitive blog posts: What do we mean when we say quality? We mean the writing style has to be credible and authoritative. We also mean the blog content must be beneficial to readers and match their search query and intent. The blog post has to be proofread and grammatically correct. The tone of voice must be consistent and “on-brand.” If there are sub-optimal posts on the SERP, that’s a content gap – so, grab your chance to rank with a top-notch article.

Quantity and type of content coverage of the competitive blog posts: Brian Dean of Backlinko has a theory that the more your post breaks into sub-topics and sub-sub-topics like an accordion, the more depth of coverage your readers will get. If your post says 6 steps to achieving something, you need to show not just the 6 steps but maybe 4 smaller steps within each step. If others haven’t gone far enough into a topic with their posts, you’ve found a content gap – you can slap on more depth and quantity of topic coverage into your blog post.

Freshness of the blog posts of the SERP competitors: If you glance through any SERP, you’ll find new articles cheek-by-jowl with very dated ones. If the SERP is full of ancient articles, and you can do a fresher, more up-to-the-minute one, you’ll stand a better chance of ranking. You can also use this ploy to freshen up your older, dated articles by mentioning a date when you’ve recently updated them.

Throughness and factual accuracy of the competitive posts: If the SERP is full of factually wishy-washy posts with inaccurate data or improper source credits for quotes or charts – or if the content has just been mindlessly copy-pasted from less than impeccable sources – you have a great chance to pry open the content gap and create better accuracy for your article.

Usability and device-responsive user experience of competitors: This is something that often provides the best opportunities for ranking your posts. Significantly, very few blog posts, even by top experts, really do justice to the idea of user experience and usability on all devices, especially mobiles. With a webpage that can score on mobile SERPs and desktop SERPs, you’ll have a winner.

Wow factor missing in the blog posts of competitors: This is a hard factor to quantify, but you always know it when you see it. Some blog posts just have that something extra – some innovative thought or idea, some visual that resonates more with audiences, some pithy unseen quotes from some wise sources … see if your blog post can add some “wow factor,” and you may well sail to the top ranking spots.

7. What valuable data to glean from SERPs and what's irrelevant

Why I go with my own instincts for SERP Analysis

There are some things to look at when you do SERP Analysis – and some things that I find superfluous. Again, I am going to put my neck out and earn the wrath of some SEO pundits for saying some points they so highly value on SERPs are useless.

Here is the SERP Analysis feature I find absolutely valuable

Inclusion of a list of important LSI keywords that tools supply us with and including more frequency of these just to beat other posts: 

Okay, here’s a big one that pundits swear by, so pay attention to this point. What are LSI keywords? They are semantically related words often used in association with your chosen keyword.

For example, if your keyword was “Apple devices,” some LSI keywords would be “hard disks,” “laptops,” “Mac, “iOS,” “Apple watches,” … and so on. These are the terms commonly used when articles cover Apple devices, right?

Different SEO or SERP Analysis tools have created lists of LSI keywords and how frequently they appear in other people’s ranking articles. The idea is that if you, too, use the same LSI terms as many times or more as other listings do, you can run the race against them for SERP rankings. Some tools go so far as to show a meter that gives you a rating on how many of these LSI terms you’ve used!

Using a good distribution of LSI keywords in blog posts does help with rankings, as I have found from my own experiments. So I would give this idea a thumbs up.

Here are the SERP Analysis features I find totally useless

Word count of the competing listings on the SERP:

Again, since I have a content marketing strategy of only writing long-form blog posts with a specific structure that works for me, I don’t see any point in trying to adjust the length of my blog posts to match the average of the other posts in the listings.

I have found SERPs where ultra-short articles ranked #1, while longer posts were at the bottom of the SERP. I have also seen the longest posts at the top with the shortest posts at the bottom. In either case, taking the average of these two extremes would give you neither of their advantages. That’s my opinion.

Looking at 20 competing listings instead of just the top few – to get a better analysis of the SERP: 

I have seen some SERP Analysis tools go to great lengths to outdo each other by scraping 20 listings for each SERP or even more. What use is it to analyze all these 20 competitive pages when we are just aiming to beat the top three, which get all the traffic from the SERP?

If you have time to waste, you can go ahead and check all 20 competitors, but no sane entrepreneur-marketer has that kind of time for deeper scrutiny, even if a tool is analyzing on their behalf.

Following the exact structure of other competing listings, including the order of prioritizing the points in the article: 

Some SEO gurus, again, insist on us knowing the precise priority of points others have made in their articles so that we can follow the same priority. They even list the data-points or research stats others have used and where they have got their backlinks from, so we can attempt to get the same ones.

I should think we would be right to see what other listings on the SERP have got, but to do that to be able to ape their structure and content is meaningless. If I wanted to rank on the SERP, I would aim to be more meaningful to my target audiences than to Google.

8. SERP Analysis tools and their limitations in helping rankings

The pros and cons of SERP Analysis tools – judge for yourself

SERP Analysis tools emerged in the SEO World to try and reverse engineer Google’s SERPs to try and see why certain listings have got top rankings. But many people in the search community have doubts about the usefulness of such tools.

Those who value these tools say they save bloggers a lot of time and effort. Those who decry SERP Analysis tools say these tools scrape SERPs content from the top 10-30 search results and extract commonalities or differences. They then use term frequency calculations to tell you what to write about. 

Use the tools – but also use your eyes and intuition

I agree to use SERP Analysis tools, provided I am also doing SERP Analysis by using my own eyes on the SERP. Looking at scraped SERP results is never enough, without looking at a SERP with your own eyes to “get that intuitive feel” that helps you assess the quality of listings there.

Intuition has a way of kicking in creativity to help you innovate with methods to beat competitors.

Some SERP Analysis tools you can try out

Some of the leading SERP Analysis Tools are ones like these (among many others):

How far should you rely on SERP Analysis tools?

Many of these tools go beyond scraping to help you decide on an outline structure for your article based on what they believe are valuable insights from the SERP on topic coverage, including how long your article should be and how many LSI keywords to use. The tools often say, “Just take our article outline recommendations, tweak or amend them to your liking, and give it to your freelance blog writer  … and your work is all done for you!”

That is useful when I want to brief a freelancer for a blog post, but when I have to write a blog myself, unless I look at the SERP with my own eyes (as a reader would) and try to understand the search intent and the blog posts that rank, I cannot form my own humanistic opinion and blog post outline. My intuitive understanding of the SERP is what sets me – and my article – apart.

An idea of how a SERP Analysis tool actually works ... watch this

If you’d like to have a glimpse of how a SERP Analysis tool works here is an explanatory video from SE Ranking that’s worth a watch. 

Pro tips to take away in summary ...

1. The idea of analyzing the Google Search Results Page (SERP) for any keyword – for clues on how to outrank the other listings – has spawned a lot of SERP Analysis tools these days. They are based on the idea that if we reverse-engineer the process followed by top-ranking sites, we too can rank our blog posts high.

2. But life is not as easy as that because we are all still guessing a lot about Google’s mindset. What does Google value as a rankable blog post, and why? Doing SERP Analysis can be the start of our blogging and SEO process, but it cannot – and should not – be held as the only best way to outrank existing posts for any search term. 

3. Feel free to use my list of 8 keys to intelligent SERP Analysis to raise your rankings. It’s a battle-tested plan I have used to grow my own entrepreneurial venture and my clients’ businesses.

Although I am against solely depending on SERP Analysis tools, I have tried many out of curiosity. They are interesting to the extent that we get to know what factors they consider to be important for SERP rankings.  But we can never know if Google ranks by their yardsticks or not. And ultimately, our own eyes and intuition are the best judge of SERPs because they switch on our brains to be innovative to beat the competitors.

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