In many ways, Marketing is survival of the fittest. It is an industry of eat or be eaten. And, in recent years, Google has been making it harder and harder for digital advertisers to eat. The search engine’s algorithm is smarter than ever before, and this means it is learning to deliver user search results without the need to click through to any given website.
Featured snippets, calculators, definitions, news briefings, weather: Google is simply getting better at providing what the user wants directly from the search engine rather than its search results. This results in zero-click searches, and this is bad news for marketers.
Let’s unpack what this means for the industry and what marketers can do to beat Google at their own game.
The Rise of the Zero-Click
You have probably noticed: Google is getting more accurate at delivering search information within the platform. Data from Marketing analytics firm Jumpshot shows that zero-click searches on Google have steadily risen over the past three years. In the first quarter of 2019, almost half of all U.S. Google searches ended without a click, an increase of 12% from the first quarter of 2016.
Zero-click searches are result pages that display the answer to a user’s query at the top of a Google result. This kind of search result – like currency conversion, time-zone conversions, location-based listings – satisfies the user’s intent without having to actually click on any other search links. There is no doubt that such results are handy to the user – yet detrimental for the marketer. Why? Because serving the user intent without additional click-through results in lower visits and less marketing opportunity.
The results are concerning. About 35 percent of all desktop searches result in no click, while this is even more pronounced on mobile at more than 60 percent. This is an important point as nearly 80 percent of internet usage is expected to have been mobile in 2018.
Clicks and Consumers
Google is doing what is best for Google – servicing its massive user base with the information that is being searched for. However, the rise of the zero-click search means that conversions, and therefore consumer eyeballs, are harder to achieve – and this means that they are more expensive to achieve for advertisers.
Further, Google is increasingly cannibalizing its competitors in other services that it offers. Jumpshot showed that, in the first quarter of 2019, more than two-fifths of Google searches resulted in organic clicks to non-Google sites. Further, about 6% of searches ended with the user heading to another Google-owned property. When only looking at the searches that resulted in a click, 12% went to Google sites. This means that if service providers are in a field that Google has decided to enter – like travel, hotels, flights, lyrics – the search giant certainly poses a traffic threat.
Organic clicks are simply eroding on the back of Google changes. Jumpshot estimates that there were 61.5 billion organic, browser-based search clicks available from Google in the first quarter of 2019 – which demonstrates a decline of nearly 20% from the first quarter of 2016.
All signs point to Google becoming less of a search engine, more of a portal. So, how should companies prepare for this significant shift?
A Zero-Sum Game
With nearly half of all searches going no further than a search results page and 12% of those headed to an Alphabet property, some marketers may be feeling an organic search pinch. What marketers should not do in response to the rise of the zero-click phenomenon is go into a frenzy and make significant changes to their SEO tactics. In fact, optimizing for ranking is still important despite possible zero-clicks. This is because featured snippets, the primary cause of zero-clicks, are in essence still “snippets”.
While users are able to see condensed answers to their queries, they do not offer comprehensive solutions and will still choose to click in when a snippet does not fully answer their query. When a featured snippet does not offer the solution, there is a tendency to look for the second or third option that is ranking on page one. Hence, marketers should still continue their efforts towards optimization for page one.
Focusing on other channels such as social, public relations and community management should also be a priority, as these all add up toward branded search demand, in turn getting Google to recognize your brand as in-demand and pushing you up the algorithm. With the digital realm ever-changing and evolving, marketers must keep up with trends and look for ways to work around these changes instead of choosing to restructure strategies entirely. Marketers must continue to keep up with the world’s largest search engine or risk getting left behind.