Zero-click searches — what they are and how to deal with them?

Michał Szylko
Zero-click searches — what they are and how to deal with them?

Zero-click searches, otherwise known as no-click SERPs, are constantly on the lips of many e-commerce owners or SEO specialists. As a rule, they are treated as a threat -— intuitively, we think of it as a slice of the pie we barely got, and then Google comes along and… snatches it away from us. If this is the case, how can you defend yourself against such a threat? Continue reading to find out.

But first thing first...

For those who are unfamiliar, zero-click searches are a type of SERP (Search Engine Result Page), or search results. We deal with them when we type a search phrase “on the Internet” and immediately get an answer — without any interaction with the page.

Examples? Here they are.

City + weather

Awesome, right? We receive the information we need without having to visit the site. Google immediately “hands” us the desired answer. This works not only with such short queries, the same goes for slightly more complex ones.

On the other hand, for the keyword “pancake recipe” we will also receive some brief information about how much nutritional value can be found in pancakes, such as sodium or potassium — this is referred to as a knowledge graph.

Zero-click searches vs. Internet users

From the user’s perspective, this is a great solution, and the cherry on top is the fact that you don’t even have to type a given query, but just say it… it makes you feel like Marty McFly from “Back to the Future”. This is also evidenced by research — as users we like and highly appreciate such solutions.

Google as a search engine is not about providing a link as a result, but rather a straightforward answer. This is in its best interest — we, as users, definitely like it.

On the other hand, i.e. zero-click vs. website entries

Unfortunately, there are two sides to any coin, so this situation has its followers as well as opponents. Every e-commerce owner, every SEO specialist or specialist wants “their” site to be ranked first, and with good reason – that’s where potentially interested users are most likely to click – and after all, that’s what it’s all about. By itself, display gives us nothing. The situations described earlier clearly show that we get the information we need without visiting the site, so from the site owner’s perspective it’s a lousy business.

Based on SparkToro’s report, we know that almost 65% of all search queries from 2020 are zero-click searches (unfortunately, we only lack the data for Poland, the provided statistics apply to Google overall, in all languages).

Source:https://images.sparktoro.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/2020-google-zero-click-similarweb-1.png

It is safe to assume that this trend will keep growing. Those interested more about the methodology, I would like to refer to the study itself, while we take a look at what this means for us.

Zero-click searches - what exactly are they?

First of all, it is worth clarifying that zero-click searches are not always harmful to a site’s overall interest. There are situations in which they are completely natural.

For example:

  1. We type in the desired phrase, and we get no results or the results do not satisfy us. So we type in a different phrase.
  2. We check if our favorite pub is still open and a knowledge graph informs us that it is — so we close the browser and head to it; similarly, we search for a plumber and GMF (Google My Business — a kind of online business card for local businesses) profiles of plumbers along with their phone numbers appear, we dial the number and close the browser.
  3. We do a quick check on a short fact — such as who is the Queen of England.

By doing so, Google appears to be “defending itself,” having to step up to the plate by the aforementioned report — more on how Google addresses this issue here. We have to admit that Google’s reasoning behind the argument is valid. It’s true: it won’t always be beneficial for business if a user follows a link, i.e. visits our site. If we take a closer look at Google’s actions, we can see that both the number of knowledge graphs and direct answers that appear on an ever-growing number of Google queries, are increasing.

And this is likely to be the case for the foreseeable future. Google has already reduced the space for organic query results. We can see this if we compare the current SERPs with what was visible in the search engine just a few years ago.

Google's evolution vs. zero-click

The first organic position is not the same as it was some time ago. Currently, before the first result we are often presented with: PLA campaigns, Google Ads, local results and we are only talking about the first organic position.

It is worth remembering that this is all an evolution, not a revolution. Google has been moving in this direction for more than a decade — as have other, less popular search engines at the same time.

Google Maps, for example, which has been with us since 2005.

First results from 2005.

Source: https://jbh.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/plus-box.png

And featured snippets along with a knowledge panel for almost a decade ago, meaning 2012.

Source: https://jbh.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/screenshot-6.png

Having this in mind, it’s worth being aware that search results are likely to head in this direction.

Google ecosystem vs. zero-click, or the devil is not so black as he is painted

Now that we have a clear understanding of what exactly zero-click searches are, it’s worth considering how and whether to defend ourselves against them. First of all, as we mentioned earlier, Google rightly points out that zero-click searches are not only a lack of interaction with sites, but also the type of searches where only Google’s ecosystem has been interacted with. This is good news for online store owners, because depending on what they offer, they can take advantage of different solutions. These include such options as:

  • Google My Business — the aforementioned GMF is a type of business card, where we can put all the relevant information: phone number, place of business or address. It’s a solution for local businesses — it’s especially good for mobile searches, where the percentage of zero-click results is almost… 55% (source), and for desktop results it’s less than 34%;
  • Google Travels — if, for example, you run a hotel or hostel, you might want to be interested in Google Travels. This is an additional form of promotion at your disposal. Example below:

  • Google Maps — a GMF-connected form of promoting your business on Google maps;
  • featured snippets — the most extended service, giving the widest range of possibilities for site promotion. These are short snippets of text (snippets), which are a “sneak peek” of the content we can find on the site. There are three main types of them: tables, lists and paragraphs like People Also Ask, which shows us a list featuring similar questions. This seemingly lowers our CTR (click-to-rate, i.e. how many clicks we received in relation to how many times our page was viewed) by displaying the answer already in the search results, in fact this is not true. Quite the opposite: not only do they not lower the CTR, they are even able to increase it (obviously, the results here depend on the industry/query). Source.

Out of all the above-mentioned solutions, I would like to focus a bit more on featured snippets. Firstly, because they allow for the widest possible spectrum of activities by being featured in various forms. And secondly, unlike GMF, Google Maps or Google Travels, it is a solution that requires actions that are not fully outlined. Of course, optimizing a business card requires work, knowledge on how to do it, etc. Even Google Travels requires the right steps, featured snippets is even more complex.

However, before we get into what kind of featured snippets exist, we need to address one topic, which is intent search.

Prior to any attempts to “get” to position zero, i.e. featured snippets, we need to check if they exist in the query that interests us. In order to do this, we can use programs such as Ahrefs or Semstorm, or manually check queries related to our industry/website. This is because our intuition has to coincide with search intent, that is, the intent of people who are searching for something. Or, more specifically, whether Google is already showing any specific featured snippets that we might be trying to target. With search intent, Google is able to match the intent of the query much more accurately and, for example, “understands” if we type the phrase in question with a typo or enter the query in a certain way — e.g. with the words “ranking,” “number,” etc. It is a subsequent consequence of Google’s algorithm development, in this particular case Hummingbird from 2013.

In Polish search results, we can most frequently see featured snippets with a paragraph, list, table or video. Popular (mostly dominated by Wikipedia) is the definition — as a rule, these are answers to queries referring to brief facts, such as “who was Iron Man?”.

These results are at position zero, and are aimed at answering the question directly, i.e. providing a short definition that can, for example, come from a voice search. According to the study, in Polish SERPs, we usually have three quick direct answers: 70% are paragraphs, 28.46% are lists, and the remaining 1.5% are charts. So let’s review these solutions one by one.

A Paragraph carrying content

This is a type of box with a quick response to a specific query. It can either feature an image or a whole gallery. And it always carries a title and a link to the site.

By the way, this is a wonderful example of how intent search works, understanding the query despite the incorrect spelling “best podcasts” instead of “best podcasts” — and strangely enough, the latter query will not show us that answer. According to Google’s site, there is no guaranteed way to appear there — Google only tells us how to not appear there.

Practice, however, suggests taking care of:

  • the website’s title,
  • listing via a specific points coordinates,
  • using <h2> tags as table elements,
  • good quality images appropriately tagged with ALT,
  • strong page authority and good on-page optimization — unfortunately, it’s a never ending story, however, it is worth taking care of a proper link profile along with good on-page optimization and making sure the content is responsive to long-tail queries.

Bulleted/numbered list

We also have an instant-response box, but in the form of a numbered or bulleted list.

In order to be found in such a table, whether we are numbering or just bullet pointing, we need to take care of the appropriate tags: <ol> or <li>. It is also worth taking care of the schema.org tags.

Table

Tables are most often found in connection with data, numbers, exchange rates, etc. Again, nothing guarantees our success. It is worth taking care of the schema.org/table and including the data in <table>. Of course, before that, you need to “wrap it up” well with HTML and appropriate tags such as <table> and then <tr>. At this point, we are largely dependent on how much our website allows us to interfere with it.

These are the three most popular models. We covered them in detail due to the fact that at the moment these are the most dominant models in search results in Poland. However, coming back to the topic of snippets, it’s worth mentioning another one that can help us “fight” zero-click searches, namely FAQs, which often appear in the first place of organic results, and don’t have to — which also makes them easier to “cut in “. It’s also much easier to achieve the much-desired visibility in the SERPs. This is what you need to do:

  • during your keyword research, you should find out all the possible questions that users may ask and prepare complete, albeit brief, answers to them;
  • such prepared questions and answers (FAQs are exactly “frequently asked questions”) should present well in HTML code and add schema.org/Faq tags according to Google guidelines — source

Featured snippets, although very interesting and useful, have a certain “defect” — It is relatively difficult to be featured. We stand virtually no chance if our site is new or the competition is too strong. So are we left helpless if we only have GMF or GT at our disposal? Absolutely not!

Content is the king, aka engaging content still holds power

One thing that stands out in zero-click searches is their… simplicity. They tend to be simple, yet short questions that can be answered quickly and confidently. The response is to create content that engages. For example, since we already have an answer to the keyword “city + weather” at position zero, we can prepare an analysis of the weather over the months/years – what has changed, which direction we are heading. And if we have a predefined response to the question of who Lady Macbeth is, let’s prepare a whole analysis of her character, her contexts, etc. We shouldn’t try to fight Google, instead, let’s continue to create the answers we need – users are constantly looking for them.

Summary

Zero-click search is a vast topic, and one that is worth looking at in a broader context. As you may have noticed, it is not an entirely self-explanatory topic, as it contains many nuances. The very first problem is to specify what exactly such a search is. Then we encounter the following: “how to deal with it?”, “what to do?”. One thing is certain, such search, especially on mobile devices, is the future, and Google, that is, users, do not want links, they want answers.

Michał Szylko
Team Leader SEO at iCEA Group
His work combines an analytical approach with technical savvy. His day-to-day work involves creating long-term strategies for his clients and executing them. Michał stays updated with trends and market news to prepare him for anything at work.