SERP (search engine results page) analysis refers to analyzing the top results on Google (typically the first page) for a given search query to figure out what it will take to rank for that keyword. 

From what we’ve noticed, most marketers’ process for SERP analysis looks something like this: 

  • Determine high level intent (i.e., is it commercial, informational, transactional, or navigational) 

  • Determine how difficult it will be to rank (e.g., use a tool to check keyword difficulty, consider the domain authority of the top ranking content)

  • Find gaps in the existing content (e.g., are they missing key topics)

  • Find new keywords to target

While this is a great place to start, in our experience, it doesn’t dig deep enough to uncover the information you need in order to rank (which is the main goal of SERP analysis). 

SERP analysis is first and foremost about determining the intent behind the search because Google’s algorithm is designed to surface content that fulfills intent. So, the more you align with intent, the better your chances of ranking high.

But the simple high level “intent” categories most SEOs stop at — e.g., is the keyword commercial or informational — is not enough. Those simple categories don’t give you detailed enough answers to questions such as:

  • What knowledge level are these searchers? (For example, are these high school students writing a paper or an industry expert searching for thought leadership content?)

  • Do the top ranking articles offer video content? If not, would the searcher be interested in video content, and could this be an opportunity for you to provide more value? 

  • Is ranking for this specific keyword actually going to help you accomplish your goals? (Yes, SERP analysis helps you figure this out — more on this below.)

These are the types of questions you need to be able to answer in order to rank well on Google — especially for keywords that will drive customer acquisition, not just hollow traffic. 

Below, we walk you through our step-by-step process for conducting a SERP analysis. But first, we’ll talk about why it’s important to differentiate between the two stages of SERP analysis:  keyword research vs creating content.  

The Two Stages of SERP Analysis: Keyword Research vs. Creating Content

We’ve noticed that most people just refer to SERP analysis as one thing but in practice there’s actually two different stages of SERP analysis:

  • Keyword research to determine if a keyword is worth targeting.

  • Content creation to determine what you’ll need in order to rank (i.e., topics that need to be covered, what level of expertise to write for, etc.). Note: Nine times out of ten a new post needs to be created in order to rank because it’s often impossible to fully match intent with content that was created for a different purpose. 

Although there will be some overlap, how you conduct your SERP analysis actually differs between those two stages. 

For example, you’ll look at the top ten titles of the SERP during keyword research and when outlining your content. However, during keyword research, you’ll simply be trying to determine the underlying intent of the keyword and whether or not that intent will help you reach your goals (i.e. if the keyword has buying intent). Whereas, during the outline stage, you’ll take a closer look to determine what type of post you’ll need to write (e.g., list of options, step-by-step guide), what angle is the most compelling for readers, how your title can stand out, and more. 

In general, the keyword research stage will simply include an abbreviated SERP analysis (think, a minute or two per keyword), whereas you’ll need to spend a lot more time analyzing the SERP and the details inside each of the top-ranking pages, for example, when you create SEO content (think, an hour or more).

With that in mind, here are the steps we use to analyze the SERP for any given keyword.  

5 Steps for Conducting a SERP Analysis

1. Read the Titles of the Top Results

As we covered in the example above, this first step will look different depending on whether you’re doing keyword research or creating content. 

As you’re brainstorming different keywords to target, you’ll need to verify that your intent is in line with Google’s intent. 

For example, one of our clients, Cognitive FX, specializes in treating post concussion syndrome, which is typically abbreviated ‘PCS’. So, we thought ‘pcs diagnosis’ would be a great keyword to target for them. However, if you look at Google’s results for that keyword, you’ll actually find posts on pelvic congestion syndrome. 

pcs diagnosis SERP

So, this clearly isn’t a great keyword for them as a good fraction of searchers (or most, in this case) aren’t looking for help with a previous concussion. 

That’s obviously an extreme example of a totally different definition than intended. But there are more nuanced examples where scanning the titles can tell you if a keyword has the intent you want to accomplish your goal. 

Scanning Titles to Determine Buying Intent and Whether a Query Fits Your Goals

We’ve emphasized the importance of buying intent in your content and SEO strategy a lot at Grow and Convert. In short, our data across dozens of clients clearly shows that going after high buying-intent, bottom-of-funnel keywords produces far greater ROI in terms of customer acquisition than more common top-of-funnel content (see our Pain Point SEO article or scaling content case study for more information). 

The number one way we determine the level of buying intent is to scan titles. 

For example, say you’re an accounting software company utilizing SEO to acquire new users. Many marketers would think about targeting “accounting best practices,” since it’s a common SEO piece for a company like that. 

But just scanning the titles reveals a bunch of issues with that keyword: 

accounting best practices SERP

Right off the bat, you see a variety of mixed intent here. There’s a typical list of tips from QuickBooks, followed by a discussion of GAAP compliance, then a podcast on accounting. This tells you that the searchers themselves aren’t that clear on what they want. 

You can also see from these results that there doesn’t seem to be much buying intent. So if your goal of SEO in this case was to get more signups for your accounting software, this likely isn’t the keyword to target. 

In contrast, take the query “best accounting software”:

best accounting software SERP

Here the intent is extremely clear — almost every ranking piece is a list of accounting software. You know exactly what you need to produce to rank and you know that there’s high buying-intent (as the goal is to buy or try an accounting software). 

Finally, here’s a common example between the two extremes: 

Let’s say your accounting software has a nice feature around automatically uploading receipts to create expense reports for employees. 

You can scan the titles of queries like “automatically upload receipts” to see if the searchers of that phrase are looking for the features of your product: 

automatically upload receipts SERP

In this case, they probably are. You see Zoho, an accounting suite, ranking with their autoscan receipts help page, you also see a Google Play store page for a receipt scanner app ranking. 

It looks like a decent percentage of users are looking for apps that let them automatically upload receipts. There’s clear buying intent here, so if your app does this too, this could be a good keyword to target. 

Tip: Be sure to use incognito mode so that the results aren’t affected by your search history. 

Using Titles to Determine Nuances of Intent

Finally, titles can also help you figure out what you’ll need in the body of the content in order to rank. Knowing what Google wants within the content can also help you decide if it’s a good keyword for your company to target.

For example, let’s consider the SERP for ‘tree care techniques’. 

(The SERP has been visually condensed for better viewability but is accurate at the time of writing.)

Tree Care Tips & Techniques at 

People Also Ask

  • What are the basic tree pruning techniques?
  • How do I make my tree healthy again?
  • How do I take care of my tree?
  • What are the five rules of pruning?

Discussions and Forums

  • New to tree pruning. How badly did I screw up…
  • What are some tips to keep trees healthy?
  • I’m new to pruning trees, and this is my first spring

Tree Care Tips & Maintenance 

Tree Pruning Techniques | New Mexico State University

HOW to Prune Trees 

Essential Tree Care Tips 


  • Don’t be a Hack | How to prune a tree
  • Ask an arborist | The ABCs of pruning 

Follow Proper Pruning Techniques  

Tree Care Tips & Techniques 

A Complete Guide to Pruning and Trimming Trees 

People Also Search For

The top organically ranking posts include slight variations of the keyword but half of the titles include some mention of pruning techniques. This tells you that your title should include both the keyword phrase and some mention of pruning. For example, “Tree Care Techniques and Tips: Pruning, Watering, and More”. 

But if we compare this to a slight variation of the keyword, ‘tree care tips’, you’ll see that the intent for the latter is more generalized. 

Tree Care Tips & Techniques at 

Tree Care Tips & Maintenance 

Tree Care Tips 

What Do Trees Need to Be Healthy? (Tree Care Information)

10 Ways To Keep Trees Healthy | Bioadvanced  

Essential Tree Care Tips 

Tree Care Tips & Techniques 

Tree care tips – Sacramento Tree Foundation 

10 Ways to Keep Your Trees Healthy: Tree Care Tips

7 Simple Steps To Keep Your Trees Healthy & Thriving

Discussions and forums

  • Its that time of year again: Spring tree care questions
  • What are some tips to keep trees healthy?
  • Advice for taking care of trees in garden

People Also Search For

This reader wants an overview of what needs to be considered when it comes to tree care rather than specific techniques for pruning. 

So if pruning is a key strength of your landscaping service or your brand likes to talk about pruning for whatever reason, the former keyword (‘tree care techniques’) would be better to go after versus the latter (‘tree care tips’), even though at face value it doesn’t seem like the intent is that different. 

As you can see, just one word can change the intent behind a keyphrase and therefore the angle you need to take. 

2. Read Through the Top Results and Take Detailed Notes

Although the titles themselves give you an indication of intent, when you’re ready to dive deeper into a few of the keywords you’ve shortlisted, it helps to start reading or scanning the content inside the top few web page results. 

For example, in the screenshot below, the title is “Choosing the Right Ad Network for You (Checklist)”. However, both advertisers and publishers use ad networks.

If you only serve advertisers, you’ll need to make sure there’s intent for ad networks for advertisers not publishers, which you can’t determine just by reading the title. Instead, you’ll need to click in and scan through the content to see which audience they’re writing for.  

how to choose an ad network

In our work for clients, we typically read through the top 10 results. Here are some of the things we look for and take note of: 

  • What is done well (style of writing, topics that are covered, thoroughness of examples, etc.)

  • What needs improvement

  • Common themes/topics that all the top results cover

  • Themes/topics that the top results don’t cover that’d be helpful

  • What the top results are saying about certain topics

  • How the information is organized (e.g., are high-level definitions covered at the beginning of the content or in a frequently asked questions section?)

With each of these points, you have to decide if you agree with how they’ve structured their content or if you want to take a different approach. The overall goal here is to create high-quality content that satisfies user intent.

3. Look for Other Google SERP Features (e.g., People also ask, Local Packs) 

It’s fairly obvious that if Google decides to include shopping results (i.e., links to products that stores are selling now), you can safely assume that there’s buying-intent behind the keyword. However, there’s more to learn from the additional SERP features that Google’s algorithm decides to include. 

Here are the most common Google features and what they can tell you: 

AI (AI Overview + From Sources Across the Web)

Google uses AI to summarizes the results on the internet in two ways: 

#1: From Sources Across the Web

Decor tips

#2: AI Overview (Beta)

AI overview

These features can be useful because they tell you what everyone else is saying without you having to read through every article. (However, we still recommend reading through the top results.) Essentially, Google is giving you a summary of what they think the intent behind the keyword is. 

If you can match this intent better than any of the existing results, your chances of ranking well will be pretty good. 

One caveat is that you still need unique content. Yes, if you cover all of the topics mentioned in the summary, you’ll be off to a good start. But, you can’t just write what everyone else is saying and expect to stand out — let alone rank

How you make unique content will depend on the type of content you’re trying to create and its purpose. 

If your goal is to write SEO content that drives leads for your business, here are a couple of articles to help get you started: 

Featured Snippets

featured snippet example

Featured snippets typically show up for definitions or lists of steps, categories, strategies, etc. They tell you one key aspect of the search intent, but not the entire intent. 

For example, the snippet in the screenshot above was actually pulled from one of the frequently asked questions we included at the end of that post.

The bulk of the article was an in-depth summary of the study we did to compare the average SEO conversion rates of different types of keywords

SEO conversion rate FAQ

So, you’ll likely need to clearly state relevant definitions or include a condensed version of lists when applicable (typically under a dedicated heading) in order to get a featured snippet. However, the entire article rarely needs to be centered around the featured snippet. 

People Also Ask + People Also Search

These two features are great for brainstorming new keywords to target. As we saw in the previous section, even one word change can change the intent behind the keyword. So, ‘People also ask’ and ‘People also search for’ can help you find variations that people are actually searching for. 

This is where most marketers stop — they discover a few new search terms and move on. But these features are also helpful when creating your content.  

For example, in the screenshots below, you can see several mentions of free software. This tells us that at least some of the searchers are looking for free software:

People also ask example
people also search for example

Knowledge Panels

Google’s knowledge panel is what sometimes shows up on the right-hand of the search results. It’s similar to the AI features in that it summarizes what people search for and talk about in relation to the keyword. 

When you see this, you’ll know right away that the keyword likely has informational intent. 

Knowledge panel example

This is a great way to find new keywords. 

While you may be able to cover all of the necessary topics with one blog post, chances are that you’ll get more organic traffic and better success by covering each topic with a different piece of content. 

From there, you can utilize internal linking where relevant. You could also have one summary post that very briefly mentions each topic and links out to your other posts.

Google Ads

Google ads example

When it comes to ranking organically, we ignore Google ads altogether. 

Since businesses are paying for these spots, taking them into consideration won’t help you rank organically. And, they can be misleading during keyword research. 

During keyword research, many marketers see Google ads showing up for a given keyword and think it must be valuable because their competitors are paying for a spot. However, you don’t know how good the click through rate for those ads are or if they’re driving high quality leads. 

You can’t even be sure that there’s buying intent — let alone buying intent for your specific product/service. 

We cover this topic in more detail here and here

The only thing you can learn from Google ads is what messaging other companies are using.

4. Take Note of Other Types of Media That Show Up

Sometimes Google will include the top results from one of their other search results tabs (i.e., images, news, videos, shopping, etc.). 

Top stories examples

This gives you a clue as to what the high level intent is (i.e., commercial, informational, etc.) and what type of content the searcher is looking for (e.g., images, video, news article). 

In order to determine how important it is to include video, for example, you’ll want to look at where on the first page the videos are ranking (e.g., are they at the top of the SERP or near the end). If videos aren’t the first result, you may be able to rank with a detailed blog post that uses helpful images instead of a video.

5. Look at the Backlink Profile & Domain Rating of the Top Results

This step is more relevant during keyword research to help you prioritize which keywords to target first and less relevant when you go to create the content. 

There are various SERP analysis tools you can use to check keyword difficulty (KD), backlink profiles, and the domain ratings of the top ranking websites including Ahrefs, Moz, and Semrush. 

Ahrefs example
Ahrefs example

If you don’t have access to these keyword research tools, you take a pretty good guess as to how hard it will be to rank by asking a few questions: 

  • Who’s ranking? Are they a big name in the industry? Have they been around for a long time? 

  • Are there any paid ads? 

  • How well do the top results match intent? 

This last question is the most important and is where small businesses with low domain authority can outrank high performers. 

For example, we helped our client Cognitive FX — a clinic that specializes in post concussion treatment — outrank websites such as Mayo Clinic and WebMD:

Cognitive FX outranking competition

Final Thoughts

Most keywords have multiple layers of intent. For example, a searcher may want to know what the ‘best accounting software’ is, but they also want to know what actually makes it the best. 

Your job is to identify and rank all the layers of intent for a given target keyword and then address each layer accordingly. 

Continuing with the accounting example, it might look something like this: 

  1. Intent: Compare accounting software options — you’ll want to include a list of options.

  2. Intent: Learn how to compare options — you’ll want to include a list of key features and factors to consider in order to choose the best option.

  3. Intent: Cheap options — you’ll want to rank the list in order of cheapest to most expensive.

To a certain degree, you’ll need to copy what everyone else on the SERP is doing (if the searcher wants to know the definition of ‘SEO marketing’, you’re only going to rank if you include that definition).

However, creating great SEO content that actually ranks well is about marrying everything you gleaned from your SERP analysis with the idea of creating helpful and original content. 

You should use your SERP analysis to identify intent at a deep level and then provide a more helpful answer than any of the existing pieces of content. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is SERP analysis? 

SERP (search engine results page) analysis is the process of reading through organic search results on the first page of Google for a particular keyword in order to determine intent and what your content will need in order to rank well. 

What are the steps for conducting a SERP analysis?

Here are the five overarching steps for how to do a SERP analysis: 

  1. Read the titles of the top results.

  2. Look for other Google SERP features: People also ask, related searches, rich snippets, local packs, etc. 

  3. Take note of other types of media (e.g., images, video, shopping).

  4. Read through the top results.

  5. Look at the backlink profile and domain rating of the top results.

What tools do you need for SERP analysis? 

Although you can conduct a SERP analysis simply by entering a keyword into Google’s search engine, it can be helpful to have a SEO tools, such as:

  • Ahrefs (to track your SERP rankings).
  • Clearscope (to help find relevant keywords to include in your content).
  • Semrush (to determine keyword difficulty).

How to Work With Us or Learn More

  • Work with our agency: If you want to hire us to create and execute an SEO strategy by identifying your best keywords, creating content that is laser-focused on ranking and driving conversions, and link building to improve your ranking positions, you can learn more about working with us here.

  • Join our team: If you’re a content marketer or writer who wants to do content marketing in this way, we’d love to have you apply to join our team.

  • Learn our methods in our content marketing course: Individuals looking to learn our agency’s content strategy and become better marketers, consultants, or business owners can join our private course and community, taught via case studies, and presented in both written and video content formats. We include several details and examples not found on this blog. Our course is also built into a community, so people ask questions, start discussions, and share their work in the lesson pages themselves, and we, along with other members, give feedback. Learn more here.

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