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Reading the SERPs: The Art of Competitive Webmastering

Another inquiry, another proposal, another SEO client. And in between those three lies 15 hours of studying the search engine results pages (SERPs).

SEO is one large part of the competitive Internet, but not all of it. The SEO toolset, however, supports most of what we do when we get competitive. SEO tools are not just for SEO. They are for searching, gathering competitive intelligence, teaching and training. SEO’s drive the development of tools. They provide the knowledge base for understanding what the tools do. What they show. How they can be interpreted. We owe a lot to a small handful of really good SEOs for the tools we use every day.
But I think the number one activity of competitive development is studying the SERPs. Sadly, that is also one area where many clients have spent very little time. They spend more time in analytics reports than in the SERPs. Why? Because Analytics companies are marketers. They make their reports look like meaningful data. Did you ever spend an hour clicking around inside of Webtrends Enterprise? What a waste of time, yet we all do it on occasion. Why? There’s an excellent SEO lesson in there…one that Markus Frind would be all to happy to tell you.

SERPs look like what they are : results sets. Clients feel inept at search. And why not? They can’t find anything, so naturally they will feel they are not expert searchers. But the real issue is what you get, not what you wanted to get when you entered a query. Because what you get is what everyone else gets, too. That’s reality.

Is that clear? Go ahead and search for your company name. What comes up? I don’t care if you don’t come up, or you come up third, or whatever. I care about what comes up first. Who is it? Why did they come up first? That is where the gold lies. And I spend my time looking at that, not your web pages. And so should you. Only after you understand the market can you compete.

I do recognize that many people don’t know what to look for in the SERPs, or how to examine them. Recognition of that means progress. Should I help with that? You tell me.

I am thinking it might be good for me to present here, in this blog, specific steps for understanding the SERPs. Simple yet effective ways to look closely at what matters when you run a query against Google or Yahoo!. Basic but important stuff that should be checked each and every time, for specific clues. What do you think? Let me know if that is a good idea and I will consider it. I have plenty to say on the topic.


  1. Gemme wrote:

    I think that would be interesting. If only to see whether what you see/read in the SERPs is the same as me. Having said that, I’m pretty sure I miss about 60% so I could learn from it a great deal.

    I noticed one peculiar thing yesterday. I get searches for China related words and in this case the keyword phrase was part Dutch, part English. As I’m currently hosting in Holland with an English language page (still have to move host) Google picked my site as the number one result eventhough the Dutch word doesn’t appear on my website. Hosting location seems to get more and more weight and maybe words are even translated by GG. So much for my tealeaves though.

    Monday, October 2, 2006 at 8:49 pm | Permalink
  2. If you don’t watch the SERPS, you’ll miss those easy directory links, split listings, regional results, opinion on products, services and topics, what Yahoo are suggesting as searches, basically the whole playing field.

    It still suprises me just how many seo’s only go off website and sales stats. If you don’t have your finger firmly on the SERP pulse your going to miss out on who your main competition is, what they are doing, why they are partnering with, where they are getting their links from, etc. etc.

    One client I recently started consulting for is from a traditional marketing background. Awesome guy, a punter for any good idea. Basically I just approached the whole link buying off page seo component as media buying and branding. Now he just scours the SERP’s looking for spots to place a banner or unique text link ad. Once the average searcher see’s his listing on 5 of the top 10 sites why are they going to buy from? (assuming the rest stacks up.) How does that compare to the competition’s PPC branding?

    – Ben

    Tuesday, October 3, 2006 at 12:04 am | Permalink
  3. Peter wrote:

    i really support that idea, would be very interesting to learn more about how you analyze the SERP’s! i bet it could learn a lot from that :-)

    Tuesday, October 3, 2006 at 8:42 am | Permalink
  4. GWB wrote:

    Bring it ON!

    Tuesday, October 3, 2006 at 9:37 am | Permalink
  5. Peer wrote:

    I like your blog. Please tell us more about this topic. It sounds very interesting.


    Tuesday, October 3, 2006 at 12:58 pm | Permalink
  6. kid disco wrote:

    Hey John! I’ve had you in my feedreader for a couple of weeks now and have been enjoying your posts. I would love to hear your analysis of the SERPs.

    Tuesday, October 3, 2006 at 2:39 pm | Permalink
  7. John Andrews wrote:

    Thanks for the comments. I’m a busy guy, so I will need to see more demand than this, though ;-)

    Tuesday, October 3, 2006 at 9:48 pm | Permalink
  8. Kirby wrote:

    I like your approach to the game, so here’s one more aye vote.

    Wednesday, October 4, 2006 at 4:38 pm | Permalink
  9. J'm wrote:

    Yes, please. You’re the game master, I am listening.

    Thursday, October 5, 2006 at 4:42 am | Permalink
  10. Richard wrote:

    More please!

    Monday, October 9, 2006 at 10:31 am | Permalink

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] Some time ago I mentioned the importance of SERP review and analysis, and even offered to cover some SERP review on this blog. I haven’t forgotten, but that project grew into something a bit more interesting and will take a bit more time to get posted. In the mean time, I was just reminded again of the importance of perspective when looking at the SERPs. […]