Organic search refers to unpaid listings in Google’s search results pages. The order in which these pages appear is calculated using a variety of ranking factors. Search engine optimisation aims to improve page rankings in organic search.
What is organic search?
Organic search is the part of Google’s web search where the ranking cannot be bought. Here, Google wants to show the web pages that are most likely to answer the searcher’s query in the best possible way.
Google has a page dedicated to explaining how their web search works. You can find a lot of information about the individual components of the search at https://www.google.com/search/howsearchworks/. This page also outlines the steps that need to be taken before a results page can be created.
How do I recognise organic results?
Generally, Google displays a maximum of 10 organic results per results page. For an informational search query for ‘hummus’, for example, the search results page on the desktop may look like this:
Not all the results shown are organic but the left-hand column is generally build up of organic search results. The exceptions here are the “People also ask” (PAA) box and the Knowledge Graph on the right hand side.
A mobile search result for universities could look like this, with organic results showing across multiple page scrolls:
Google mainly shows results from organic search in this space. The different webpages are sorted by Google’s ranking algorithms, so that the best information should rank at the top.
Are there other types of search results?
Yes. A Google results page can present more in-depth information or questions about a topic, as you can see in both the box on the right and beneath the organic results in the above image. It can also display search ads. As of 2021 there are over 50 different search ‘feature’ boxes.
Advertisements in the search network occur most frequently in transactionally interesting search queries (do-searches), and they can range from text advertisements to product advertisements with images. These can be bought via Google Ads and are subject to an auction process in which each search represents a separate auction
Organic search and SEO
Search engine optimisation is concerned with strategies on how to get websites to rank better, and wider, in organic search results. There is a wide range of things that can be done to achieve this, and they tend to fall into one of two categories: On-Page and Off-Page optimisation.