What Is a SERP Analysis and How Can It Keep You Competitive?

artistically painted letters for the word SERP on a white backgrounds


October 3, 2022 (Updated: March 8, 2023)

Any content marketing strategy isn’t complete without factoring in SEO. And the goal of any brand doing content marketing and SEO is to get to the top of the search engine results page (SERP). That’s where you get the most organic traffic possible for any term or topic. But SERPs do a lot more than just help your audience get answers to their questions. Today, we’re looking at what a SERP analysis is and how doing one during content planning helps keep your content competitive online:

What Is a SERP Analysis?

SERP analysis is a review process to look at the top-ranking results on a search engine results page and determine if you can outperform your competitors for a particular search term. According to SERPWatch, about 68% of all clicks on SERPs go to the top five results on page one. For this reason, a SERP analysis typically only looks at the first page of results because that’s where you want your content to appear.

Doing a SERP analysis for any keyword or phrase is a helpful part of content analysis. Conducting one can help you plan for new content. It also helps you decide whether the search term is a good one to target. Finally, a SERP analysis tells you how well your old content performs and gives insights for optimization to make it better. Reviewing top-ranking pages and sites gives you the details you need to improve your website’s visibility and rankings.

Why Should You Do a SERP Analysis?

SERP analysis answers many questions you may have about keyword research and content creation related to SEO. Some questions you can get answers to from doing this type of analysis include:

Is the Keyword Relevant to Our Brand?

SERP analysis provides more information about the context and intent behind a search term. What appears on the first page of results, both as organic links and in the featured snippets and ads, gives you an idea of what people expect to see when looking up the term.

Let’s look at the example for the search term “clogged drain.” This could be a term a plumbing company conducts a SERP analysis on to see if the results apply to the services it offers.

screenshot of serp analysis ads for the term clogged drain

The ad terms and sponsored content all promote plumbing services with local intent. When we reach the organic results and the first featured snippet, People also ask, the term also shows intent for people who want to clean or unclog drains themselves, and want how-to instructions.

screenshot of google serp analysis of organic listings and people also ask

The rest of the organic results and the featured snippets, like the video and map packs, provide information about DIY solutions to fix a clogged drain, or recommendations from plumbers nearby to do the job. In both instances, the keyword applies to the plumbing company. It could provide information content for its audience or promote its services to get the job done.

Related: Search Intent: An Introduction for B2B Marketers

What Is the Search Intent for the Keyword?

Though we already discussed it above, a SERP analysis can also reveal the search intent of any keyword or phrase. The most common types of search intent include:

  • Informational: The search provides knowledge and facts about a particular topic.
  • Commercial: The search compares products or services across brands and platforms.
  • Navigational: The search provides links or directions to a specific place, online or offline.
  • Transactional: The search provides information on how or where to purchase a specific product or service.
  • Local: The search intent takes on one stance above with a local spin to find resources in a specific geographic area.

In the “clogged drain” example, the SERP shows results with informational, local, and possibly either commercial or transactional intent. This means plumbing companies may have options for how to approach this keyword in content and still rank on page one for the results.

Related: How Important Is Navigational Search Intent for Content Creation?

How Difficult Is It To Rank for the Keyword?

Looking at a SERP can also give you a clue of how difficult it could be for your content to rank for a specific keyword. This process is a lot easier when you use keyword and SEO tools to help. We’ll discuss these options later in the article. But with no additional tools, you can still make educated guesses about how easy or difficult it may be to rank for certain keywords.

Let’s return to the “clogged drain” example. You can see, just from the screenshots and descriptions above, that this term triggers a lot of featured snippets, including People also ask, a map pack, and even a newer feature called “Things to Know.”

screenshot of Google things to know featured snippet for keyword clogged drain

The more featured snippets a search term triggers, the more chances you have to rank on page one with a variety of content. But more featured snippets also mean the search term is likely more popular, and more competitive, to get your content there. Another factor to look at to determine keyword ranking difficulty is which sites and sources rank on page one for the term. The bigger and more prominent the names and URLs ranking, the more difficult it may be to unseat them and land on page one.

For “clogged drain” many of the ads come from chain plumbing companies like Roto-Rooter and Mr. Rooter. The organic results show for sources like This Old HouseThe New York Times, and Liquid-Plumr. A small, local plumbing company may have a harder time ranking for this keyword against big names like these, as they likely have many authoritative backlinks to their content.

Are There Ranking Opportunities Our Brand Can Capitalize On?

Just because it might be more difficult to rank for a specific keyword doesn’t mean you should give up on it. Especially if that keyword is highly relevant to your brand, products, or services. A SERP analysis can show you additional opportunities your company could have for getting content to rank on page one.

For example, there are many featured snippets for the term “clogged drain.” Video content, local map packs, photos, product listings, and more are all opportunities for a smaller or lesser-known brand to rank on the first page. Use the SERP analysis to find out what’s missing from these top-ranking pages. Some of the best places to look include the “People Also Ask” and “Things to Know” sections.

By providing the most logical information or best answer to a question, you could get your content to show up here, even if it doesn’t have an extensive number of backlinks to appear organically on page one. For businesses with a local angle, you could also optimize your Google Business Profile, website, and content to appear in the top three results on the map pack.

Related: How To Uncover Search Intent for Local SEO

How In-Depth Should Content Be To Rank?

Certain keywords cover a lot of ground, and even multiple search intents, as we noticed in the example. The more you learn about the rankings for specific search terms, the more you know about how in-depth your content pieces need to be to rank.

For certain terms, a simple blog post covering the basics could be enough to rank high, as long as it’s well-written and helpful to the audience. But in other cases, a thorough analysis of the topic will do more to help your content rise in the ranks.

Look at what the current top performers include in each piece of content. Are there areas they’re missing? Could you add more or different sections to better target search intent or audience need? Similar to finding new opportunities, if there are gaps in the top-ranking content that your brand could fill, create or optimize your content to do just that.

Do Results Appear Differently on Different Devices?

You can also conduct a SERP analysis with Google on different devices to see how content rankings change. According to Semrush, only 17% of websites keep their positions on mobile and desktop SERPs together. You may wonder, what’s the difference? Shouldn’t the search intent or rankings stay the same no matter where someone conducts it?

Maybe, but Google knows that people typically want more local search results on mobile devices. And while Google also has a mobile-first approach to providing results across devices, those with the most mobile-friendly content appear higher in searches for those devices. Doing a SERP analysis and comparing the desktop SERP to a mobile SERP, and even a tablet SERP, could help you find more areas for opportunities to rank. It could also give you ideas on how to better optimize your content for searches on different devices.

Do We Have To Engage in SEM To Appear on Page One?

SEM differs from SEO. Though similar, SEO focuses more on organic search results while SEM deals with the paid side of search. Ads like those shown in our example search show SEM at work. If your company doesn’t currently have an SEM or paid advertising plan in place, you may question if creating one for certain keywords or topics is the right move to get more visibility.

SERP analysis may help. Look to see if any ads appear for your search term. If so, you know there’s already a market for SEM for that term. But you’ll have to do further research to see if creating an ad for that term fits within your budget. Though paid advertising is really a different discussion of its own, a SERP analysis can help you determine if that’s an option worth exploring for more brand visibility and reach.

Related: Family Tree: How Are SEO and SEM Related?

Should You Look at Specific Features During a SERP Analysis?

When conducting a visual SERP analysis and taking notes about the content, there are certain segments of the page, and the links you click, worth reviewing. On the SERP, these areas include:

  • Meta descriptions: What does each description tell you about the content inside?
  • URLs: What keywords do each top-ranking link include in the address?
  • H1 titles: What is the title of each page or piece and how does it use the target keywords?
  • Search questions: What related questions appear in the People also ask section or at the bottom of the first SERP for related terms?
  • Featured snippets: What featured snippets appear for the search term and who currently ranks for them?

It’s also helpful to look into each organic search result during your SERP analysis. Click each link to view the content and get a better understanding of what it’s about. When visiting each page, look at:

  • Subheadings: What subheadings does the source use to explain the topic and how does it handle keyword distribution?
  • Links: How does this source handle internal and external linking and anchor text?
  • Content visuals: How does the source use visual content, like images and videos, to enhance or expand on written content?
  • User-experience features: Does the content use any additional user-experience features, such as adaptability functions or customization options?

Who Should Use a SERP Analysis?

Any marketing team that creates content, works with SEO, or wants to learn more about its competition can use a SERP analysis. This review is beneficial for members at any seniority level in a marketing department. But strategy professionals, SEO or content managers, or even a marketing director, might be most likely to conduct the analysis. Then, those leaders could pass relevant information to other parties within the department, such as content writers or digital marketing specialists.

Do You Need Special Tools To Do a SERP Analysis?

You could do a SERP analysis just by sight and taking notes on what you find. But this process is more beneficial and easier with the help of additional software and tools. Keyword research tools or domain tracker tools are some of the best options to give more insight into what you find in your at-a-glance SERP analysis. The data from these tools gives additional insight into how hard may be to rank for certain keywords and what the true search intent is for each term.

For example, if we search “clogged drain” in Ahrefs, it gives us true data about the ranking difficulty for the term. The small plumbing company would need about 63 backlinks on its content to reach the Top 10 search results.

screenshot of keyword ranking difficulty ranking in AHREFs

Through Semrush, the program reveals the search intent for “clogged drain” as informational and commercial. Having this information makes it easier for a brand to tell how it should tailor content for those intents.

screenshot of search intent for SERP analysis from SEMrush

These tools also provide additional information about SERP content, such as:

  • Search volume: How many people search for a term on average every year
  • Traffic potential: The amount of organic traffic a site could receive in a year from holding the top spot for the term in SERPs
  • Clicks: How many clicks search results receive for each term
  • Cost per click: The average price that advertisers pay per click to appear in search ads for the term
  • Global search volume: How many people search for a term on average every year, broken down by country
  • Backlinks: The number of backlinks a top-ranking page gets
  • Domains: The number of unique domains that link to a specific search result

Related: SEO Analysis Tools: Why You Need One and Which To Use

Let CopyPress Provide Data on Your Content Analysis Journey

SERP analysis is just one type of competitive analysis you can use to influence your content strategy plans. After conducting your SERP review, contact CopyPress for your free content marketing analysis report.

This document looks at how your online content compares to your top three competitors in SERPs and across the internet. View areas like your low-hanging fruit topic opportunities and your best-ranking content. Then compare your backlink profiles with your competitors and browse syndication partners to help spread your content across the internet right onto the screens of your most qualified leads. Ready to get started? Fill out the form below to get your customized content analysis report delivered right to your inbox.

Author Image - Christy Walters
Christy Walters

CopyPress writer

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