Updated December 1st, 2021 — version 307

The UnFair Advantage Book
Winning the Search Engine Wars

Chapter Four, The Various Types of Search Results

Chapter Four
The Various Types of Search Results

When generating search results, search engines make use of many sources of information which include, but are not limited to, web pages, images and videos. We often refer to this as Universal Search.

High ranking success is dependent on learning where the search results are coming from so you can position your content accordingly. Keep in mind there are many different paths to the top of the search results.

For instance, some search results are heavily influenced by Personalization. This means the results YOU see from your east coast city location might not be the same results that your friend in Seattle sees for the same search. That's because personalized search results can vary according to:

  • Reported Location
  • IP Location
  • GPS Location (Mobile)
  • Search History (signed-in / cookies)
  • Social Networks (Likes / Friends / Circles)
  • Device (Mobile / TV / Desktop)
  • Language
  • Previous Searches

You should expect each of the above personalized factors to affect your search results significantly.

Most search queries generate results from many different sources. Such Universal search results are pulled from a variety of sources like images, video, news, Twitter, Facebook and so forth. In the screenshot below we see our search for BMW generated AdWords (paid), a Knowledge Box, News, YouTube and Organic results.

Universal Search

The content, source, and mix of Universal search varies greatly depending on circumstances such as, but not limited to, query, time, location, history, personalization, and so forth.

Sometimes Google generates a Featured Snippet (formerly known as an 'Instant Answer' or 'Position Zero' result) as seen in the screenshot below.

Featured Snippet

Many search results for more detailed queries return only "organic" search results. These are unpaid search results also known as natural results. They do not comprise a Knowledge Box or News Feed or AdWords (i.e. paid) results. Below is a screenshot of organic search results for the query Wiring Diagram Trailer Lights.

Organic Search

Notice that the organic results lack any specific label that identifies them as something other than organic results.

Local Results are becoming more prominent, fueled by the explosion of mobile search devices. mobile devices Google assumes that, if you're searching on a mobile device, then you're probably looking for a local result.

The local and mobile search revolution are so active these days that Google seems to be changing the way they present Local and Google My Business listings and their search results almost daily. We expect this element of search to continue to evolve most dynamically throughout this year and beyond.

Whenever Google isn't quite sure what kind of results you're seeking, they'll deliver a combination of results that may include Partial Local Results. The screenshot below blends a mix of AdWords (paid ads), Google Shopping, Google My Business listings, Google Maps, and organic search sources.

Bear in mind the Local Search results layout can vary greatly depending on the query and the location of the person who is doing the searching.

News & RealTime Results are displayed whenever the search query is considered news related or if the query is currently a hot topic. (Yes, the screenshot below is dated but it's still a great example and remains relevant today.)

News & Real Time Results

The screenshot above shows the results of a Superbowl query just prior to the game being played. It leads with the Featured Snippet (formerly Instant Answers), which is the game schedule followed by the most relevant web page in the organic results with that followed by breaking news.

The screenshot below shows results from the same Superbowl query done a short time after the game was played. The Featured Snippet has changed. The top two organic results are displayed just above the News.

News & Real Time Search Results

A month after the Superbowl, the Featured Snippet is gone and the organic results have risen to the top.

More News & Real Time results

The above three screenshots illustrate how search results change with respect to hot topics in the News.

The screenshot below shows that commercial product queries often trigger a Google AdWords product result. Such Shopping Results include product names and part numbers that are supplied to Google Shopping by advertisers via Google's Merchant Feed.

Shopping Results

As you've seen in previous screenshots, certain kinds of queries generate an Instant Answer aka Featured Answer that appear at the top of the search results, which is immediately followed by 'People also ask' links as seen in the screenshot below.

Instant knowledge box

The screenshot below shows how Google's Knowledge Box summarizes data from multiple sources to provide answers for the most popular questions, (a little too) conveniently, so the site visitor doesn't actually need to leave Google to get their answer.

Knowledge Graph

When we add "What is..." to the same query, we get a Featured Snippet and a Knowledge Box.

Instant Answers

At times, you may see both, or either one, depending on the query. Here are some Featured Snippet – Quick Facts:

  • Featured Snippets have nothing to do with Structured Data Markup or code on your site.

  • Featured Snippets power 80% of Google’s voice search results for their Digital Assistants (Google Home & Google Now).

  • Featured Snippets are NOT currently found in Google’s Local Search Results.

  • There are 3 types of Featured Snippets: List Style – Paragraphs – Tables.

  • Google’s Featured Snippet results are currently very volatile and are constantly changing.

  • There has been a steady increase in Featured Snippets as Google focuses more on Voice Search.

Follow up Reading: A Pro’s Guide to Understanding Featured Snippets.

Certain search results are served based upon a Query Deserves Freshness (QDF) basis. When an engine becomes aware of a trending topic, something that is “HOT” showing a clear uptick in interest, they believe the term deserves very up to date results and will rank fresh content much higher than older pages that have more PageRank.

Quality Deserves Freshness

For insight into what might constitute a Hot Trend, visit Google Trends or visit Bing's Popular Now, accessed from the Bing homepage.

Sometimes it's difficult to determine the intent of the searcher's query. Unless the engine knows your history, ambiguous search terms produce results based on Query Deserves Diversity (QDD).

For example, the screenshot below shows a search for touch. But since the keyword, touch has multiple meanings, we find the results include a TV show, music player, and restaurant all called touch.

Query Deserves Diversity

Query Deserves Diversity explains why a page with far less authority can rank well when it's relevant for an alternative meaning in a search.

If a search term matches a Trending Topic that's generating a spike in traffic, most engines will favor recent content over otherwise superior ranking web pages. Generally speaking, this places News at the top of the listings.

Trending Topics

Google, Yahoo and Bing all generate specially tuned results whenever a Brand or Product Name search is used. That makes these kinds of searches difficult to rank well in unless you happen to be the owner of the brand.

Brand or Product name

Mobile Results...

It's important to understand there are now more people searching on mobile devices than on laptops and desktop computers. All of the screenshots above are taken from desktop search results in order to provide consistent examples of how much search results actually do vary.

But you should bear in mind that, today, your efforts should be focused on mobile device users. Be sure to check all of your sites and specific searches using your mobile device.

mobile search results

In 2016 Google released their Accelerated Mobile Pages project and sites that were testing it began to show up in Google's Mobile Carousel, specifically large news sites that were already in the Google News Feed. Since then a number of ways have surfaced for smaller sites to get started with the new Super Fast Loading easily, restricted HTML format AMP offers.

To be clear, Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) are webpages that have been specifically coded according to Google's AMP guidelines with strictly controlled HTML. Only Google approved Javascript, CSS, Structured Data, and HTML syntax are allowed to be used in AMP-compatible pages. By strictly limiting the resources used in AMP pages, they can load FAR faster than your average, un-optimized responsive web page. When loading an AMP page, it's clear to see why Google is pushing this format. They load almost instantly.

AMP is a complicated topic and not something you need to understand right now. It's good enough for you to just know they exist. However, if you want to learn more then go the Google's AMP project site and see SEN's article here.

google accelerated mobile search results

Each of the aforementioned types of search results are, ostensibly, displayed without fee payment. This means the order in which the results appear depend on each search engine's proprietary algorithm for displaying results in their order of relevancy. Pay-Per-Click (PPC) results are the exception.

PPC results are simply paid advertising. And, these ads are the reason why search engines operate and what makes them profitable. For YOU, they are a quick, but very expensive route to the top of the search results.

The screenshot below shows how these paid ads appear in the search results. Both the Shopping and the AdWords sections, seen below, are Ads that are purchased via the Pay-Per-Click route.

Pay-Per-Click Ads


Universal Search Results include all of the following types of search results:

  • Organic
  • Local Search
  • News & Realtime
  • Shopping
  • Featured Snippets
  • Knowledge Box
  • Social
  • Query Deserves Freshness
  • Query Deserves Diversity
  • AMP results
  • Trending Topic
  • Brand and Product Name
  • Pay-Per-Click

...all of which are pulled from their respective sources.