THE RISE IN CLICKLESS OR ZERO-CLICK SEARCHES

How to Approach SEO For Zero-Click Searches

The Rise of the Clickless Or SERP-Click Search

First, What Exactly is A Clickless Search?

Zero-click or clickless searches happen when a user’s search query is answered directly on the search engine results page (SERP), thus eliminating the need for the user to click through to a website to learn more. Today we are seeing a clickless search phenomenon, a trend that data proves is here to stay.

Background

The SEO industry has been discussing this topic for a while now, and new data published by SparkToro reveals that the zero-click trend is on the rise. The study’s most powerful finding? For the first time ever, over half of Google searches ended without a click to website content.  

According to SparkToro’s report, here’s how Google’s U.S. searchers (mobile and desktop) are clicking (data from Q2 2019):

  • 50% of searches don’t result in clicks (**this is the clickless or zero-click search**)
  • 41% of searches result in clicks to non-Google websites
  • 5% of searches result in paid clicks to non-Google websites
  • 4% of searches result in organic clicks to Google-owned sites (think YouTube, Maps, etc.)

What does this mean for brands? More searches are generating impressions (when a link appears in search results) but not clicks, regardless of the average position on the results page. And fewer clicks means reduced click-through rates and fewer visits to websites across industries.

SparkToro’s report is no anomaly. When collectively analyzing the search data of Nina Hale’s clients, we found similar trends:

  • 93% of brands experienced a decline in click-through rate year over year (3% of brands saw an increase in click-through rate YoY)
  • Total organic impressions increased 45% YoY across the accounts analyzed
  • Total organic clicks rose 29%, with clicks increasing YoY for only half of the accounts reviewed

Why Are People Clicking Less In Search?

  1. More search real estate is occupied by Google rich snippets than ever before. Google continues to roll out new search results features – or rich snippets – that serve short answers directly in the results page (see photo to right). Google’s rich snippets include features like Knowledge Panels, Google Instant Answers, People Also Ask, and more. The purpose of these features is to improve the user experience by immediately providing the information users are looking for. However, the result is a diminished need to click through to a brand website to find the same information. These rich snippets also push down traditional organic rankings.
  2. Third-party sources and general information websites are replacing websites that have a clear transactional focus. Google is using different tactics to serve different types of content. While expanded paid ads feature more transactional content – like a lead form or a product page – organic results are increasingly dominated by longer-form informational content that appeals to users researching a product or service. This means that more and more, the quest for informational content may be satisfied by general third-party websites instead of brand websites, especially in the compare phase of the consumer journey.
  3. Visibility is becoming more concentrated. Top sites (usually industry leaders) with a proven track record of meeting user intent are appearing more frequently within the SERP. And because Google is better able to understand which sites are experts in a specific topic (rather than for individual queries), these highly authoritative sites rank for a wider range of queries. This is especially true for longer-tail searches. So, positioning a website as a thought leader within a particular vertical is more important than ever before.

HOW IS THIS IMPACTING TRADITIONAL SEO KPIs?

Honestly, the better question may be: Is there any part of SEO measurement that won’t be affected by this change? The impact of zero-click searches and changing search behavior on SEO key performance indicators (KPIs) cannot be understated. Brands must shift the way they think about SEO success. SEO is by no means any less important than before, but it’s critical to adjust processes and measurement practices to effectively quantify organic performance going forward.

Key SEO measurement considerations include:

  1. Organic search impressions must become a primary metric within your SEO measurement practice. Don’t forget: your brand will still be garnering visibility and supporting customers throughout their journey even if they don’t click through to your site. Measuring SERP impressions ensures that marketers will get a more complete picture of organic performance.
  2. On average, each position in search results generates fewer clicks and less traffic than in 2018. This means sites must have a higher average position to simply maintain the same traffic volume as seen in the past. And even with an improved position, clicks and resulting traffic may still be down due to changes in search behavior and how results are displayed. Making this even more complicated? If a few terms within a brand’s keyword set lose positioning, it is more difficult for substantially higher-ranking keywords to offset traffic losses.
  3. Organic search must also be thought of and measured like an awareness channel – especially for high-level nonbrand informational searches. Simply looking at traditional traffic and last-click conversion KPIs will no longer communicate the full value of organic visibility.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR MARKETERS

The changes in search behavior and resulting metrics do not mean organic search is losing value. In fact, a 2019 BrightEdge study found that organic search is still responsible for 53% of all website traffic, which makes it clear that organic search and SEO are still as important as ever. The challenge now is shifting the way the value of organic search is measured.

KPIs like impressions will need to play a more significant role in measuring organic search success. This is becoming increasingly important as visibility on high-volume nonbranded keywords creates brand awareness that will ultimately lead to traffic and conversions via other channels. That said, if organic performance is down, don’t automatically assume decreasing traffic and conversions are attributed to clickless searches. Investigate to see if conversions and impressions are up, but organic traffic is down for specific topics that have more rich snippets in the search results pages.

The rise in clickless searches is a trend observed across verticals, but the degree of impact varies. Nonbrand informational searches are almost universally impacted because they tend to generate more rich snippets, like Quick Answers. However, websites that receive a higher percentage of organic impressions from branded searches are better insulated from the trend.

So, with all this in mind, what should marketers do to drive success in a clickless world? Identify keywords that have higher click-through rates, optimize content to win featured snippets, and create a holistic on-SERP strategy. And continue to work through opportunities to use data to tell a more holistic story about organic search’s role in the consumer journey.

Photo Source: Unsplash

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