Let’s say I want to find out something online. What I should do is go to Google, search for it, view the results and click the one that seems most reliable and informative, right? Wrong. Apparently, that’s not necessarily the way it works these days. Anyone with any connection to the field of digital marketing knows how big of a player Google has become.
Recently, however, a new question has surfaced, leaving many experts scratching their heads: Has Google become too big, even for its own good? Have all the old paradigms of search engine optimization (SEO) become irrelevant?
Let’s talk a little about a phenomenon that, while it may seem small and unimportant, has a lot of people in the industry worried: the zero-click search. Basically, it means just what it sounds like. People search for something or someone on Google but end up clicking on no result shown at all. How exactly does that affect you? Stick around to find out…
Zero-click searches – the numbers
If you take a look at an analysis conducted just last year, you can see that more than half of searches led to no clicks on any result. And it gets even more significant when you separate mobile from desktop, because on mobile the statistics climb up to nearly two thirds of searches being no clickers.
What does it mean? That people search with a purpose and reach that purpose solely by the act of searching. Whether it’s info, photos, prices or just answers – Google apparently gives it all on the search page and the searcher needs to take no further steps.
Take a look at the numbers in the study mentioned: Jumpshot studied 40 million Google searches in the year 2019 and found out that over half of them (%50.33, to be exact) ended up being “zero clicks”. To clarify, this means that no further websites were visited on the browser after getting the search results.
What’s more interesting is that, according to the finding, the amount of zero-click searches grew over time and the later months of 2019 had a larger percentage of them than the earlier months.
Add to that a certain amount of clicks that are directed to Google-owned sites or to sponsored results, you’ll see a new reality defining who controls what we know about something: Only roughly 40% of searches result in at least one organic click on a non-Google site. Think of it, that’s 4 out of 10. And, when looking at mobile data again, that number shrinks even more to about 3 out of 10.
What could be the cause?
It is too early to determine why zero-click searches have become so common, but our assumption is that Google is giving more and more information on the search screen, meaning you don’t feel the need to click on anything else. Try searching for someone famous. See that box on the side, near the top search results? That’s Google’s Knowledge Panel, and it is made up of information Google’s algorithms have accumulated about your search subject: Wikipedia page, photos, related searches, recent social media posts and even gossip.
Google tries to make sure that it only collects accurate information and does not create a knowledge panel until it has enough data, making these boxes as relevant as possible to the searcher. Kind of deters you from clicking anything else, huh? But that’s just one example. Today you can ask Google for information you’d normally search for on ‘specialized’ sites and Google will happily provide it: movie times, flight prices, game schedules and more.
This information Is taken from other websites and displayed on Google, minimizing the need to enter these sites. Of course, what you see on the search page is not all of the information you’d find if you entered the site, but it is the main information – and, as we can see, enough information for most searchers out there.
Want some more examples? Sure:
- You can read reviews on products and services, simply by adding the world ‘review’ to your search.
- When you search for something on Google, there’s a box, usually right below the first search result, dedicated to common questions asked by others and the answers pop up when you click on it – without being redirected.
- When Google recognizes you have asked a question in your search, it will try to give you an answer before all of the search results.
- On the bottom of the first search screen, you get other search options which may be a bit more exact and relevant to your desire. That way, you search again instead of clicking.
There are dozens of other features supplied by Google which can also explain the zero-click trend, but when trying to figure them out we face a serious problem. Google in general is reluctant to give us any information. It won’t tell us just how the information shown on search screens is gathered and displayed and is not willing to share how it chooses to arrange results. We’re kind of in the dark here.
OK, but is it bad or good?
This development could have many outcomes, and here are just a few:
- The end of SEO as we know it? – if SEO is all about finding the right keywords to boost your website in search results, does it still matter where your website is placed among results? Is it just a matter of picking different keywords or is it a lost battle? Well, there’s no “yes” or “no” here because zero-click searches are much more common in some types of searches (i.e. questions) but less common in others (i.e. photos or news). You can also use SEO to promote your message and content even in this new zero-click reality, since the information Google provides relies on data that already exists. The secret is to find out just how to do that, and since Google won’t share, you may need some professional help with it.
- The future of Pay Per Click (PPC) – wait, if there are no clicks on search results, why should we pay Google Ads to boost our site? The answer to that is complicated as well, since you can be sure that Google will avoid harming its own revenue. Also, as stated before, zero-click is only a phenomenon in some types of searches. That means that a certain mentality shift is necessary when working with Google Ads, but fear not – PPC will probably stay relevant.
- There’s more to life than Google – while this development is worth following, we must remember that there are other search engines. Even if they are not half as popular as Google is, the competitors (Bing, DuckDuckGo, OneSearch and more) are still responsible for nearly 8% of searches conducted these days (and, while that may sound like a little bit, we’re talking about billions of searches each day.
There’s also an opportunity here amidst the uncertainty
Having less and less clicks on Google searches does have quite a few advantages as well: It presents an opportunity for people looking to put an imprint on the way the internet displays them. If people are not clicking on content written about you, it means your online image is more in your hands. That may not make sense at first, but keep reading…
Consider traditional SEO taking a sort of “blow” here and needing to reinvent itself. However, ORM (online reputation management) is blooming as a result with endless new possibilities. For those of you less familiar, we are talking about the way you handle what the World Wide Web thinks of you (your online reputation). This includes articles written about you and your brand, reviews your app or services have received, talk about you on social media, etc. – basically, your ‘internet image’.
How can that be improved in a zero-click reality? What you need to do is find a way for “your story” to be told by Google on its search result page. For example: Remember that Google Knowledge Panel we discussed earlier? Well, Google allows the subject of the panel to have a certain say about its content, if they can prove they are indeed the subject of the panel (more on that on a different post).
Want another example? You got it: Since Google shows a few product reviews on the search result page, using the right keyword when replying to reviews can make them pop up and be much more noticeable. Add to that the ability to plan in advance the answers to most common questions people can ask about you or your product and have the answer you prefer stand out above the rest. Endless possibilities, did we say already? You just need to know how to do it right (or get help from the people who do it best).
There’s been a lot of talk lately about Google’s attempts to be more than just a search engine. We see it becoming more and more obvious, and the question left is will you know how to seize the opportunity that was created – as well as avoid the consequent negative effects – in order to turn this virtual lemon into a PR lemonade. It’s much simpler than it sounds, but it won’t happen if you stand aside and take no action, that’s for sure.