Anatomy of a search result

Content model and structure of a search result in Google.

I recently wanted to check my knowledge about the structure and origin of search results as served in a Google SERP before a meeting with a stakeholder. I specifically wanted to check their design and how to influence their utility for users.

Here’s a great, but slightly dated (2007), primer from Matt Cutts, a Software Engineer at Google.

Search Result Structure

The major components of a search result snippet:

Google Search Result Snippet


  1. Title
  2. Query term “City University”; emphasis applied and styled bold
  3. Content Snippet
  4. Cached version
  5. Site Links
  6. Google index of the domain


  • Developers and content creators have a great deal of control over the content in their results.
  • Critical to consider labelling and information scent; especially in the document title which will become the result Title.
  • Description Snippet is drawn from many places, including:
    • Meta description tag. Particularly important if content cannot be crawled or is missing.
    • Page contents. Weighting to query relevance rather than just location in content order and hierarchy.
    • Open Directory Project; especially if content missing or cannot be indexed
  • Can use Webmaster Tools to A/B test conversion rates for different Titles and Snippets.
  • Cached copy a clue regarding indexing freshness and indexing frequency.
  • Site Links are based wholly on search algorithm.
  • Search terms are styled bold to provide visual emphasis. The algorithm understands stemming and synonyms but these will not receive any visual emphasis if returned in results.

By Rik Williams

I write about how to collaborate to design simple, usable and inclusive information experiences that make the lives of customers easier. Read more in Categories and Tags.

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