Organic Search Result Listings Explained

Posted by on Aug 15, 2011 in SEO tips | 0 comments

One question that comes up quite frequently when I’m discussing search engine optimization with clients is, what does “organic” search refer too?  If you’ve read up at all on SEO, you’ve probably come across this phrase.  The best way to answer this question is to start with an overview of the search engine results page, because there are several kinds of results on that page, organic being one of them.  I’ll refer to Google’s results in this post, since that is what most people use, although the explanation I give fits for all the major search engines.


Most of the time, when a person types a keyword or keyphrase into Google, the search results page (the page that has all the website listings on it, commonly referred to as the SERPS page by those in the SEO world), will have at least 2 distinct sections of website listings.

The first section of listings appear at the very top of the page in a “pinkish” colored box.  These are sponsored ads.  That is, these results are there because an advertiser is paying to have them displayed whenever someone types certain keywords (chosen by the advertiser).  These are called Pay-Per-Click (PPC) listings, because the advertisers pay a set amount (ranging anywhere from 5 cents to $40) to Google every time someone clicks their ad.  PPC ads are not only displayed at the top of the page, they are usually also displayed down the right hand side of the page.

Pay-per-click ads can be a terrific way to bring instant traffic to your website, since you can get ads set up and running within a few hours.  I go into more details about the pros and cons of PPC advertising in a later post.

The second type of listings that appear in the search results page are the local results.  These results are displayed whenever a searcher includes a local parameter within their search query, like a city name or zip code.  These listings are the websites of local businesses in your area.  For example, if you type “Chicago plumber” into Google, you’re going to get the listings of plumbing businesses in the Chicago area,  usually denoted by a red, lettered “push-pin” beside or under the listing.  Along with being displayed on the map to the right, there will be a link to the businesses Google Places page, in addition to the business’ own website.  What is the Google places page?  Again, that will be discussed in detail in a later post, as it is HUGELY important nowadays for local businesses.  These listings are free to be included in and Google determines what order the businesses show up in.

Now, on to the third, most important, listings on the search results page – organic listings!  These website listings are the main part of the search results page, and run down the center of the page with big blue headings.  These are the listings that the vast majority of searchers will click on.  In fact, these listings receive about 60% of the clicks (and the first 3 organic listings receive about 70% of that!).

These listings are referred to as organic listings because they are natural results.  You know, like organic food, they are completely natural, “unfooled around with”.  Google determines the order of these listings based on which websites it deems the most relevant to the search query; most relevant at the top, least relevant on page 100.

Here’s a picture outlining the different types of listings on search results pages.

chicago plumber search results

Search engine optimization is the process of making your website as appealing and relevant as possible to Google for specific search terms so it shows up in the top spot in the organic listings.  There really is no SEO necessary for PPC ads, and local listings take a different kind of optimization.

So, next time you hear “organic results” think” oh yeah, those are the main results shown on the search results page running down the middle of the page and their order is determined by Google according to relevancy”.

Got it? Good :- )

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