Sites that take the top positions on the SERP are doing something Google likes, and analyzing them could help you knock them off the top spot - or at least get you a bit closer to there!
This article will look at how you can perform a SERP analysis, step by step, and some handy tools that will help.
What is a SERP analysis?
A SERP analysis examines the top-performing websites and SERP features to understand the intent of a search query and the potential requirements for a webpage to outrank competitors.
This analysis is a key part of the keyword research and content briefing process for SEO.
Why do a SERP analysis?
There are plenty of benefits to performing one, so don’t consider it an optional task.
It’s a significant step as part of your keyword research because it’ll uncover:
Other keywords to target
The difficulty to rank
Content depth required
SERP features to target
Not only will it inform you how to knock your competition from their spot, but it will also make sure the terms you’re trying to rank for are the right ones — before you’ve spent hours creating content.
You’ll also get a better idea of how Google understands the intent of a query.
The benefits don’t end there; a SERP analysis is also a great way to:
Understand the potential organic clicks available
Uncover insights on what users are asking
Find whether you have the link authority required to compete for a query
Find how frequently a SERP changes
Understand content types you could create
While you’ll be doing detailed SERP analysis when you do content briefs, it’s also important to do analysis during the keyword research process to ensure the keywords you’re collecting will benefit the site.
The main reason being that a SERP analysis can uncover the type of content you’ll need to create and how viable ranking for the keyword is.
For example, if you’re thinking of writing an article targeting "how to screenshot on mac?" It might sound like a great idea, but a quick SERP analysis would show Google:
Favors the Apple support site
Shows Apple's YouTube channel videos
So potential above-the-fold SERP real estate is minimal, meaning lower potential traffic, so it’s best to remove it from your keyword research.
Tools that can help
While I’d advocate for doing your SERP analysis manually to get the hang of it, especially if you’re new to SEO, several tools examine Google and provide you with data to help.
Here are some top tools to help with your SERP analysis:
Rank trackers (such as Advanced Web Ranking).
SERP comparison feature reports. Sistrix shows how a SERP changes over time as well as search features data.
Keyword research tools to find important SERPs to analyze and understand click data:
Ahrefs Keywords Explorer
Requirements before you start
Before you start with your SERP analysis, you need a good keyword dataset.
If you’re new to keyword research or just want some new ideas, here are some articles to help:
Ahrefs Keyword Research
Once you have this, move on to analyzing the SERP.
SERP Analysis Steps
Check traffic potential from click data
You might have a seemingly great keyword in your head, and you could have even checked the search volume and seen it gets a reasonable number of monthly searches.
That isn’t enough anymore.
The number of no-click searches has been increasing for years due to an increased prevalence of SERP features.
That means as part of your SERP analysis process, you need to verify that when people visit the targeted SERP, they’re clicking on a result.
Remember, a search does not equal a click.
You can do this easily in Ahrefs Keywords Explorer. Just check the clicks metric in the overview to see the number of clicks vs. the search volume.
For "eiffel tower," the number of searches without clicks is a massive 60%, although you can’t be too surprised given the amount of information on the SERP.
Understand the pages ranking and types of content
Being aware of the ranking pages and types of content provided by those pages will ultimately help you understand query intent and create content to match it. This is an essential part of your SERP analysis as it impacts what your content will contain.
Intent takes many forms; a simplistic approach could be to group intent by:
Informational: This is top-of-the-funnel content when the user is in the research stage
Commercial: this is bottom-of-the-funnel content, when the user is actively looking to buy
A more detailed approach could map informational queries into:
Know queries: broad questions that require a more complex answer, e.g., "eiffel tower"
Know simple queries: questions with a concise answer, e.g., "how tall is the eiffel tower"
And action-based queries into:
Do queries, where the user wants to download, buy, or interact.
Visit-in-person queries, where users want to find a local business or services.
Website queries, where a user is looking for a specific website to visit
It is critical to understand these intents to put the correct type of content in front of your audience that matches their search meaning.
For example, the intent behind a query for "lilies" is primarily informational; specifically, a "know" query.
While there is mixed intent between "know" and "do," targeting a "know" query with only a bottom-of-the-funnel product category page isn’t going to be as successful.
Not only will the audience not want to see this, but Google also will likely not even give them the option of seeing it by keeping you away from page one.
How do we know that? I’ll run you through.
Understanding user intent is simple; just start by checking the SERP for your keyword.
Focus on the top results shown and understand the types of intent they cater toward by scanning URLs, titles, and snippets.
Once you’ve checked the page’s ranking, check the SERP features.
The types of SERP features shown clearly indicate what Google believes is the searcher's intent.
The "lilies" SERP has a few features that indicate the intent is "know."
For example, it has a People Also Ask box:
A Knowledge Panel:
As well as images:
The indication of a mixed intent with some users having a "do" action comes from the more commercial SERP listings alongside the Google Shopping result at the top of the SERP:
When you have a mixed intent on broad terms like this, you can optimize for both. Have a page targeting the "do" intent and another page targeting the "know" intent.
Your SERP analysis will be less ambiguous than this for many terms, especially if it’s a long-tail query. You’ll either need to create an article/tool or a service/product page.
For example, the intent of the search "how does bitcoin work" is clearly "know," given the SERP results and features are all informational.
Picking the correct content type
Once you understand the searcher's intent, it’s time to ensure you get the content type right.
This step is relatively easy as you should already have a good idea based on your analysis.
Match informational intents with content types such as:
Match "do" intents with:
Pick your SEO content type based upon the results; if competing results are calculators, you’ll likely need to create one to compete.
Gauge the competitiveness
Next, it’s time to understand the competition better. There are two key ways to measure competitiveness — link authority and content.
You’ll want to compare the authority of competing sites by checking both page-level authority and domain authority. By using both, you’ll get a good indication of the difficulty to rank.
Most link tools offer extensions to see the authority of the sites on the SERP, including:
SEO Toolbar by Ahrefs
A quick scan of the page shows that "keyword difficulty" is a difficult keyword to rank for. Competitors have both high-authority domains and lots of incoming links to individual URLs.
Use this information to gauge whether you could compete. Compare domain authority metrics to your site, and consider whether you can invest the time making the page more linkable than competing content.
Not only does this metric consider the link authority, but it also breaks down the score based upon:
Understanding the competition is a critical element of SERP analysis and your overall SEO strategy.
Do not waste valuable time creating content when you don’t think you can:
Create better content
Provide a different angle on a topic
Acquire more links than existing articles
Check SERP features
SERP features are appearing more often; if they’re showing for your keyword/query, you best start working toward showing up for them.
If you’re new to SERP features, they essentially make an ordinary listing look more visually appealing.
SERP features include:
Featured snippet opportunities
People Also Ask
And that’s just to name a few!
A SERP analysis will indicate what SERP features Google favors for your keyword.
For example, do you want to rank for "how to make a lemon drizzle cake?"
You’ll see images
Recipe rich snippets
As well as a PAA:
What should you do with all this information?
These are all opportunities to rank outside the classic ten blue links, so you should target them as part of your strategy.
If you’re monitoring a keyword set in Advanced Web Ranking, you can quickly see the SERP features available across keywords you're tracking.
This top-level view is handy as it helps you answer questions such as:
Is image SEO important? Should we get custom imagery?
Do we need to incorporate video?
What rich results should we target?
Should we answer any FAQs?
Unfortunately, if you make it to a top organic position, you’re not guaranteed to keep that place as the SERP is ever-changing.
This means you need to monitor and keep up to date with potential changes. The quicker you notice a change that affects your position, the faster you can address it.
SERPs can be volatile, especially if:
There is mixed-intent
Keyword search volume is high
The best way to understand volatility is by using a rank tracker with daily tracking. Most rank trackers offer a way to see your position compared to your competitors on a line graph.
Make sure to monitor the volatility of different search results to know what’s a normal ranking fluctuation and what’s an indication of something wrong.
6. Check the top-ranking URL’s content
At this point, we should have plenty of data on the query we’re targeting. Next, analyze competing articles to understand the requirements to rank further.
This ties back to where we mentioned content is a critical factor in understanding the difficulty to rank.
There are several questions to ask yourself, starting with, is the competing content good?
Good content should always be well-written, but it also tends to include the following:
Links to authoritative sources
Bespoke data insights
A unique viewpoint
A great design
With this list in mind, scan through the competing content and note which of the above is included.
Once you have your list, be sure to incorporate it into your content, too.
For example, if a competitor at position one includes lots of imagery, it may be the case that Google is favoring image-rich content, so you should include that too.
Some other things to consider are:
What’s the word count? if a competing article is around 500 words, try at the very least to match it. But remember, it isn’t the word count that matters; it’s how well you cover the topic.
How does the article answer questions? Which could lead to the next point.
How is the article structured? How are headings used to organize content?
Does it optimize for SERP features? In this case, the content will likely be answering a direct question in an informative but concise way.
Some advice - just slightly outdo competing content. Aim to make content that can’t cover the topic better than you have.
So, all in all, a SERP analysis is fundamental to start you on the right path to create content that will perform as well as it possibly can.
From this article, you should have all the details required to understand the requirements to rank and beat the competition and start working on your content plan.