What is organic search? Everything you need to know

Organic search refers to the unpaid search results from a search engine. These results cannot be bought or influenced by advertisers. they are the ones that the search engine considers most relevant to the user's query.

In this guide we cover:

What types of organic search results are there?

In Google, most organic search results look like this:

These are known as the “Blue Link” results.

Many years ago, all of Google's organic search results looked like this. Now there are more variations and you will see that different "types" of results come up quite often.

Let's look at just a few of them.

Selected snippets

Featured snippets are short snippets that briefly answer the searcher's question. They appear at the top of Google's organic search results and the snippet is pulled from one of the top ranking results.

You can view all featured snippets your website owns for free in Ahrefs Webmaster Tools (AWT).

Here's how:

  • Sign up for free Ahrefs Webmaster Tools (AWT) Account
  • Paste your website into Site Explorer
  • Go to Organic Keywords 2.0 report
  • Press the "SERP Properties “filter
  • Filter by featured snippets "where the target ranks"

Video carousels

Video carousels contain videos related to the search query. The entire carousel takes an organic position.

Top stories

Top story boxes contain recently published content on a topic. These usually appear in the organic results for newsworthy topics.

People ask too

People also ask (PAA) Boxes show frequently asked questions that people are also looking for. Each question is answered with a short excerpt from a relevant page on the web.

Recommended literature: What are SERPs? Search engine results pages explained

Why is organic search important?

The ranking in the organic search for relevant keywords leads to "free" traffic on your website.

For example, the Ahrefs blog receives an estimated 355,000 views every month from organic search:

If we had to pay Google for this traffic, it would cost us an estimated $ 946,000 per month:

Since you need to create and produce content to appear in organic search results, the cost of organic search traffic is never really free. But, like us, this is often the most cost effective way to drive high quality targeted traffic to a website.

Organic search is also important for anyone posting videos on YouTube, as Google often ranks YouTube videos in its video carousels and featured snippets.

Video ranking in the Featured Snippet, also known as a suggested clip.

In other words, ranking your videos on Google can often get you lots of views.

For example, this video showing how to make an apple sale receives an estimated 6,600 monthly visits from Google, according to Ahrefs ’Content Explorer:

How to check and monitor the rankings in organic search

If you're curious about where your website ranks in organic search for a particular keyword, try Ahrefs' free Rank Checker.

Alternatively, if you want to see all of the keywords that placed you in the top 100 organic search results, try the following:

Here you can see all the keywords from our database with over 450 million keywords as well as ranking positions and other keyword metrics.

Side note.

You can also see keyword rankings in the Google Search Console. In contrast to AWT, it limits you to 1,000 keywords and shows average ranking positions.

If you want to monitor your rankings for a specific keyword over time, just add it to a ranking tool like Ahrefs' Rank Tracker.

How to rank higher in organic search results

A higher ranking in organic search usually leads to more organic traffic to your website.

Nobody knows exactly how Google ranks web pages, but we do know some of the more important factors that play a role.

Here are just five of them:

Backlinks are an important well-known ranking factor.

Google's Senior Strategist Search Quality, Andrey Lipattsev, confirmed this in a 2016 webinar. In our independent study of over a billion websites, we found a clear connection between backlinks and organic traffic:

There are many link building tactics that can help you get more backlinks, but arguably the best place to start is to analyze who is linking to competing top ranking pages and why.

For example, let's say you wanted to rank for "Resume Tips".

If you include one of the top ranking pages for this keyword in the Ahrefs site explorer and the Backlinks report you will see some backlinks from sites that offer career tips.

With this in mind, it may make sense to post your link to the authors of posts about career counseling.

Recommended literature: Link building for SEO: The beginner's guide


Google has many options for determining page relevance. The most basic signal is whether your page has "the same keywords as your search query".

However, the inclusion of keywords will not help you rank higher in organic search unless your page matches the search intent, which is the reason for the search query.

For example, the resume tips search results show that people are looking for a blog post in listicle format.

If you were to publish a page selling a resume tips book, it would almost certainly not rank in organic search for that keyword because it doesn't match search intent. Seekers want to learn, not buy.

The opposite is true for the resume builder keyword, where searchers are looking for a tool rather than a blog post.

Recommended literature: What is search intention? A Complete Beginner's Guide


HTTPs encrypts all data sent between the user and your server to improve security. It's been a minor Google ranking factor since 2014.

How do you know if your website is using HTTPs?

Just look in the browser bar. If you see a lock icon, the connection is secure:

If it doesn't, it's worth fixing it.

Recommended literature: What is HTTPS? Everything you need to know

Mobile friendliness

Mobile friendliness became a ranking factor for mobile results in 2015. Since Google has now almost completely switched to mobile-first indexing, it is also a ranking factor for most websites on desktop computers.

If you're curious about how mobile-friendly your website is, check out the Mobile Usability report in the Google Search Console:

Recommended literature: Mobile-First Indexing: What You Need To Know


Freshness is a notable ranking factor because it is a query-dependent signal. That means some keywords make it more important than others – and that comes back to search intent.

Take a keyword like “best smartphone”. All results were published recently.

That's because freshness is important to this term. With new smartphones constantly coming onto the market, searchers will probably hardly want to see a test of the iPhone 10 in 2021.

Now look at the results for a query like "How to Tailor Jeans":

Although some were published recently, some of the best organic search results were published in 2014. This is because the timeliness of the results doesn't really matter. The process of tailoring jeans today is largely the same as it was ten years ago.

Recommended literature: 10 Google Ranking Factors That You Shouldn't Ignore

How can I get more clicks through organic search?

Ranking high on Google is the main part of the equation for search traffic, but you can get more clicks by creating compelling title tags, meta descriptions, and URLs.

These are the three things that will show up in Google's search results:

Side note.

Google doesn't always show the meta description of a page. They often use different content on the page for the descriptive snippet in the SERP.

Let's look at a few best practices for each.

Title Tag Best Practices

  • Keep it within 50-60 characters. Long title tags are cut off in the SERPs.
  • Write in the sentence or title case. Never capital letters.
  • Insert your keyword. But only if it makes sense.
  • Match search intent. Pick an angle that matches what the searchers are looking for.
  • Paste your content USP. Let users know why your content is unique (e.g., "How to make an apple pie" → "How to make an apple pie." in 20 minutes")
  • No clickbaiting. Be honest and don't sell too much.

Recommended literature: How to make the perfect SEO Title tag

Meta description best practices

  • Expand the title. Add details for which there was no room for in the title.
  • Match search intent. Keep it aligned with the wishes of the seeker.
  • Use active voice. Talk to the seeker directly.
  • Keep it within 120 characters. Meta descriptions are also cut off.
  • Insert your keyword. But even here only if and where it makes sense.

Literature recommendations: How to write the perfect meta description

Url recommended course of action

  • Be descriptive. Provide an insight into the content of the page.
  • Make it evergreen. Remove unnecessary dates and numbers.
  • Avoid keyword repetition. It looks spammy.

Recommended literature: How to create SEO friendly urls


If you still have questions about organic search, hopefully you'll find the answer here.

What is Organic Search in Google Analytics?

Organic search is one of the sources of traffic in Google Analytics. It represents the visitors who landed on your website by clicking on it from one of Google's organic search results. You can see a breakdown of all of your traffic sources by navigating to Acquisition> All Traffic> Channels.

What is good CTR for organic search?

There is no definitive answer to this question as many things have an impact CTR. For example, you usually see a much higher one CTR for branded searches (i.e. when someone searches for your brand) than for non-branded searches. You also tend to see lower CTRs for keywords with see SERP Features in the results. We advise you not to worry too much about this unless your website is receiving a lot of traffic.

How do you get extra links in organic search results?

These are called sitelinks. We have a complete guide on how to influence these.

Final thoughts

If you're looking to drive more traffic to your website month after month, it pays to understand how you can influence Google's organic search results and rank higher. Here are some helpful resources:

Any questions? Ping me on Twitter.

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