Zero-click searches are on the rise and have been for some time, recently clocking in at over 50% of searches on Google. So this is it; the end of search, again. We watch in despair as the holy grail, the click-through, the consumption of content, recedes further from our grasp.
Or do we?
We’ve heard about the end of search nearly every year since 1997. Is this any different?
Putting Zero-Click in Context
The zero-sum view that zero-click searches necessarily reduce overall click through is misleading, and must be understood in context. Though it’s difficult to get hard numbers, users’ search behavior is expanding. The use of mobile and voice search is increasing, adding to overall search volume, and Google is adapting to this behavior by providing quick answers to database-style queries that ideally would never have required a click-through in the first place. These are searches by people needing to make a substitution in a recipe, or wanting to win an argument among officemates. They never were queries that needed to be served by a 1,890 word piece of content.
Google is adapting to this behavior by providing different forms of website excerpts in the search results, such as answer boxes, knowledge panels, and featured snippets, helping users access the information they need in as quick and low-friction a way as possible. Do these SERP features take up valuable real estate at the top of the page? Do these features sometimes occupy the entirety of the above-the-fold space, particularly on mobile? They must, by necessity, in order to accomplish what they were designed to do.
But this doesn’t mean that people are actually searching for content less than they were before.
A 2008 study on mobile search habits in the EU found that as much as 29.4 of mobile search queries were navigational in nature, and as search engine technology has evolved to better serve user needs, the ways that we use search has expanded. Users make Google Search queries to find restaurants, look for coupons, check prices before making a purchase, and other things on the go. The search infrastructure has responded to make those queries faster and easier.
By adding these features, Google is further embedding search into the daily life of the user, and this is a good thing. It’s a good thing for Google, it’s a good thing for the user, and it’s a good thing for the SEO professional.
It’s A Good Thing
Nearly three billion people in the world carry a smartphone, and those people all use search in one way or another to support decision-making. They use it every day, many times a day.
It’s a wonderland of possibility.
And as search becomes easier and faster, users will search more. Psychologically, it becomes a self-reinforcing behavior.
The clicks that are being “lost” were never best served with long-form content anyway. Making a user click through to a website to convert cups to tablespoons or find out where Gary Busey was born only wasted time and caused users to get annoyed. This along with the prevalence of content marketing increased ad hostility. We are here to serve the user. Boxing them into long-form content where a quick and short answer will do is and has always been counter to the interests of all involved.
Yet, I have only read about the zero-click search phenomenon written about in tones ranging from the nervous to the apocalyptic.
Our job, as it has always been, is to get the user to the content they want as quickly and easily as possible. The means of achieving this are both expanding and specializing.
Search was never going to be a static field.
Google Search Trends: Content Is Still King
The fact is, some things don’t change. Search still is as it has always been a method of problem-solving. When the user has a question they must answer, an obstacle they must overcome, a decision they must make, they turn more and more to search.
Long-form content is neither dead nor dying; as recently as 2017, the average length of first page results on Google was found to be 1,890 words. Users still want in-depth information, and Google is still rewarding websites that provide that content.
A modern school of thought is to bury the heart of a page’s information near the bottom of the page, sometimes several pages in. In food blogging especially, the desired recipe is teased with beautiful photos and then hidden behind paragraph after paragraph of personal anecdote.
It’s so annoying it’s become a meme in its own right.
What To Do Instead
Give the user what they want up-front. Tell them what they need to know, and then elaborate. Sure, if the answer they’re looking for is appears on the SERP without the need to click through, they won’t click. But they’ll remember.
For those looking for more in-depth information, they’ll know that you have what they’re looking for and they’ll click through first.
This also increases your chances to be featured in a SERP snippet.
This “inverted pyramid” structure, in which the sought-after information is stated up-front and refined later in the piece allows users to find what they’re looking for immediately and explore further at their leisure. It also reduces resistance to clicking through, as search users are less likely to feel trapped, tricked, or manipulated.
Search Is Changing And We All Benefit
Search is changing, search has always been changing, and search will always continue to change. As the way people use search changes, Google adapts by providing results honed to what people are looking for, and we in turn must adapt our strategies to thrive in online search. All of these things function together in an ecosystem that evolves over time. This is a refinement of a technology that moves along with human behavior and a world that is both expanding and contracting at the same time. Markets are broadening and flattening, and at the same time becoming more sharply local.
Does this present challenges? Absolutely. But those challenges are more than equaled by the opportunities.