When performing a Google search today, users are increasingly likely to receive a fully responsive featured result, leaving them with no need to click further to get the requested information. This is the world of zero-click search. While some may call it an enhancement in user experience (UX), others will tell you it’s just another way for Google to reinforce its market dominance by driving clicks towards Google Ads instead of business websites.
When thinking about your company’s online presence, search engine optimization (SEO) is a critical consideration. Can businesses find ways to leverage zero-click searches to their benefit? Let’s explore the growing phenomenon of zero-click searches and how businesses have been responding.
In general, a zero-click search simply means a search where the user chooses not to click on any of the search results. But more recently, the term specifically refers to an enhancement of the Google search engine that provides a user with all the information needed to answer their query at the top of the search engine results page (SERP). Query results appear in extended featured snippets above all of the other search results in what is known as “position zero.”
Google introduced the zero-click search enhancement purportedly to streamline the search experience and reduce the need for users to click through multiple unnecessary links to reach the information they sought. Google’s zero-click tactic started with math – things like calculations and conversions (such as degrees Celsius to Fahrenheit) would pop up as calculators at the top of the SERP.
But it has expanded recently, with featured snippets providing detailed information in several ways, including whole descriptive paragraphs, definitions, lists, maps, etc. The structure of featured snippets may also decrease the likelihood of a click-through because the link appears at the end of the snippet rather than at the beginning.
According to one recent study, since the enhancement, the number of searches resulting in a click-through to another site decreased substantially, from around 50 percent to 35 percent. And most users seem to think this feature makes it easier to find the most relevant information. So what’s the problem?
Many businesses and online content providers have taken substantial efforts to appear high on the first SERP, precisely so that users will click through to their site. Anyone who has published online content is familiar with SEO, which uses keywords to increase a site’s ranking in Google search results.
An entire industry arose around offering SEO services for businesses, including link-building tactics, strategic guest blogging and social media strategies. But if a user never clicks on a link, does it actually matter where a business appears in the search results?
In addition to reducing the likelihood that a user will follow a link, zero-click searches also make it more likely that a user will never look beyond the featured snippet. This makes positioning on the SERP irrelevant.
Zero-click searches seem to offer SEO benefits only for Google, whose ads will still appear on SERPs. The feature has created some controversy, reinforcing the perception that Google is abusing its search-market dominance. Google, in turn, contends that zero-click searches actually help users refine their searches, getting to a click faster.
For businesses that are spending a lot of time and money on SEO and website conversion rate optimization (CRO), zero-click searches are a concern. After all, the goal is to have users reach the business website, which they cannot do unless they click through.
Lead generation and client management are such a concern for companies that many invest in dedicated software to streamline the process, saving them more than 550 hours a year on average in project management time. But all the focus on lead generation and SEO in the world won’t help if prospective clients never see your business website.
As brand awareness remains essential, businesses can still benefit from their position in the SERP. Even if users don’t click through on a given search, they are more likely to seek you out if they have at least seen your brand at the top of their search results. But now, businesses must also consider how they can become the featured snippet.
Before even getting to the featured snippet, businesses must make sure they are taking advantage of all the other ways to increase visibility on a SERP.
Having a Google My Business (GMB) listing allows users to find basic information about your business such as name, contact information, location information and hours of operation, all on a knowledge panel to the right side of the SERP.
Businesses should optimize their GMB information just as they would optimize their website content. Information-rich listings will create more user engagement. Ensure that your business is categorized correctly. Include photos that will grab a user’s attention, and encourage reviews from satisfied customers.
Businesses should also continually keep their GMB information updated. Consumers can become frustrated when information on a business listing is inaccurate or out of date, and this can be damaging to the brand.
But how do you make it into the featured snippet? Pushing too much content is not the answer. Content creators should develop content strategically for maximal impact. Businesses should consider the types of questions users might ask that would lead to the business. They can then build content optimized to respond to those questions.
The more unique website content is, the more likely it will be to appear in a featured snippet. When Google algorithms detect “duplicate” content, they default to the site with the higher authority ranking. So make sure you are that highest authority or that your content is completely unique to avoid getting bumped.
Additionally, building directed content into websites can increase the likelihood of appearing in a featured snippet. Targeted content will help convert leads into customers, increasing the effectiveness of a company’s online presence. Including optimized images along with the content also helps create visually engaging snippets to catch the viewer’s eye.
Website FAQs are another way to create snippet-worthy content. Featured snippets are still short form, having between 40 and 60 words on average, fitting the FAQ model well. And FAQs can target a variety of potential user queries, so one FAQ page may be the basis for several featured snippets.
Schema markup is an SEO enhancement that creates rich snippets of information on a site. In effect, schema markup gives context to a website’s content, allowing it to be more responsive to user queries. Using schema markup may increase both the likelihood of appearing in a featured snippet and improve a site’s ranking on a SERP when there is no featured snippet.
Google allows sites to opt out of featured snippets, but you may wonder why a business would want to opt out of being featured. This is because the goal of position zero is to create a zero-click interaction.
So while being in the featured snippet will draw most eyes to your result, it may decrease the chances of getting click-throughs. This is deadly for sites that rely on pay-per-click (PPC) advertising revenue, which can generate anywhere from $0.05 to $0.50 per click depending on the ad.
Worse yet, if a business website appears in a featured snippet, Google will not show it again on the first SERP, no matter how effective the underlying SEO efforts are. Instead, the site will appear on the second SERP. Given that most users never get past the first five listings on the first SERP, being on the second page has limited to no value.
Businesses must balance the value of being in position zero versus being right after the featured snippet. On pages with no featured snippets, 26 percent of clicks go to the first result in the SERP. On pages with featured snippets, only 9 percent of clicks go to the featured snippet, while 19.6 percent of clicks go to the first listing under the snippet.
On Google, choosing to opt out of the featured snippet requires adding a data-nosnippet tag in the code for the section of the page that would otherwise appear in the featured snippet. This may be the best method for businesses that rely on click-throughs and actual site traffic to make their money.
Zero-click searches are an unquestionable usability enhancement for internet users, but they present a challenge for businesses concerned with SEO. To continue to drive clicks, businesses must consider whether it would be beneficial to appear in the featured snippet, or if they would be better off avoiding it.
Perhaps the SEO business community needs a code of ethics to balance between the user’s search experience and the business’s return on investment. No matter what, businesses must continue to optimize their content and their website metadata to ensure they have high visibility on SERPs, and this makes zero-click searches an important consideration.