Anika Sharma

Jan 23, 2019

6 min read

#Mobilewatch: From Pancakes to Zara, it is All About Owning the SERP!

Search is always laden with rich intent. A search query is the closest we will ever come to knowing what is in the mind of a potential customer. For example, today I started my day with ‘how to make pancakes from scratch’. I was already in the kitchen and my phone was next to me, so I looked it up. Making pancakes was a last minute decision and I had run out of pancake mix but on a hunch, thought that perhaps I could try and make it from scratch with regular flour. What were the top searches that came up? The first row was videos, which shows Google’s understanding of my intent and the fact that perhaps a video might be better than a 1000 word blog, when making pancakes on-the-go. I ignored the videos and clicked on the link that said, “My grandmother’s proven recipe from her old cooking notes”. How could one go wrong with that? The surprising part however was that no brand thought it was a good opportunity to target me for any of the pancake related products such as flour, sugar, eggs, pancake mix, gluten-free pancake mix, pancake mix home delivery. Better still, it would have been the perfect opportunity for an ad by IHOP (International House of Pancakes). The pancake chain is barely 3 miles from my house and is desperately looking for local business. So many missed opportunities when it was clear that pancakes were on my mind.

The only page that matters in search is page 1. Nobody goes to page 2, which is why, I always say, it is the best place to hide anything, including a dead body. The results on that 1st page become limited as our devices become smaller, bringing it down to an option of 1 in the age of digital assistants such as Alexa or Google home. The 1st page is referred to as SERP or Search Engine Results Page. The SERP can refer to the page of any search engine, including Bing and Yahoo, amongst others. But as Google is the king of search, especially when it comes to mobile (93% market share), when people refer to SERP and best practices, they usually refer to Google.

Aah. Google. Over the last 20 years it has made all of us smarter and wiser, tapping into the collective wisdom of the globe. But Google is a tricky thing. To ensure that it is serving up the most ‘relevant’ search results in relation to what people are searching for, Google makes changes to its search algorithm everyday and sometimes as much as three times a day. Not including any big announcements, those daily changes can amount to as many as 1,100 a year! All these changes are made to ensure a frictionfree experience for me, while I am trying to make the perfect pancakes from scratch in the morning. But for a business to keep up, it can be a nightmare.

To add to the complication, no two search results or SERPs are the same, even if it’s the same person searching. The type of device, time of day, IP address and of course, past search history all play a role in the SERP being served up. In many ways it is the closest we have come to the marketing of ‘one’.

The main elements of SERP are usually SEM and SEO. SEM is defined as Search Engine Marketing and involves paying for ads, so that they appear on the first page. For example, a flower company may want to buy relevant keywords such as ‘flowers’, ‘valentine’s day flowers’, ‘red roses’ or even ‘last minute flower deliver’ for the husband who forgot that it was Valentine’s Day and now needs a company to make him look good! The flower company knows that if someone is searching for ‘last minute flowers’, the person is close to making a purchase and therefore the company is willing to bid on that term against other companies who may also be bidding for the same terms.

Compare that with SEO or Search Engine Optimization. SEO refers to the organic results that are served up by Google. For e.g., for my ‘pancakes’ search today, almost all the results on my smartphone were organic results. These results are based on ‘content’ relevance.

But if you are a small business and looking for some quick wins, it is important to look at an overall SERP strategy that goes beyond the typical SEM and SEO results. As search continues to become more human, Google is changing its SERP to reflect more relevant results. These searches now include images, videos and even, maps. In my mind, those are three quick ways for anyone who is looking to create an impactful SERP strategy. Think about it: there are very few companies who have tagged their videos, images or have even looked at Google Maps as an extension of their marketing efforts. These are basics, especially for retail outlets that have both, an online and offline presence. I urge you to google your favorite brand and see how many images, videos or map options come up. In fact, go a step further and check out their YouTube and social channels to understand the kind of content they are focusing on. You will soon realize that there are very few companies who have created a content ecosystem whose only objective is to help a consumer make an intelligent choice, with the hope that the intelligent choice will be their brand.

I am personally excited at how search is becoming more human. Next time I am going to ask Alexa how to make pancakes from scratch. Let’s see if she figures out my intent and offers me an option to add flour or pancake mix to my Amazon shopping cart. I will keep you posted on that. With Alexa and Google Home, search will only become more complicated, yet more human. It will boil down to one thing and one thing only — understanding the intent of the potential consumer with surgical precision. Post which, ensuring that one is using all channels to try and answer that intent. What will this entail? It will mean more time with Google Analytics, more time looking at the right kind of data and definitely, a larger emphasis on a keyword strategy to better understand the division of keywords between SEM and SEO. In the case of my pancakes search, it was a hands-down win for grandma’s recipe and a total loss for IHOP. Ask yourself, how are you looking at all that search has to offer.

Join me every week, as we navigate these ever-changing waters to make sense of this ‘always-on’ consumer and the technologies that define their everyday. I will be bringing you insights from some of the sharpest global minds in the industry as well as in academia. And do join the conversation.

Until next week.


A seasoned Advertising and Digital expert, Anika has worked across countries and continents and spoken at companies such as Google and universities such as NYU. She is currently Professor of Business at NYU’s Stern School of Business, teaching Digital, Social and Mobile Marketing. Follow Anika on twitter @anikadas or on Medium.

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