Everyone in the SEO world knew it was coming and now that zero-click future is here.
Zero click searches are those search results that don’t require search engine users to click through to a website to get the answers they want and they are eating up more and more of the traffic that would previously have been directed to websites.
Whether this is fair or not is irrelevant, zero-click searches now account for more than half of all search clicks. If we digest this for a moment, that is more than half of all searches never leaving the search results or resulting in a click to a website.
If your site has seen a significant drop in the traffic it had in the past, there is a good chance it’s not anything you have done wrong SEO wise or even the competition getting better, it may simply be down to Google itself stealing the traffic.
The results you see above didn’t happen overnight. I can recall seeing some of the first big impacts back in 2017 when working on travel and tourism websites.
Google’s decision to muscle in on area guides saw traffic drop by a third to these types of websites. If you want to find out what to visit in a particular part of the country, why would you waste time clicking through to a website if Google presents those results neatly with photos at a glance? They even provide the maps to help you find your way there.
Take the example below for Brighton. The most attractive result with all the nice pictures is the one Google provides and it is there at the top of the page. You will need to click if you want more in-depth information but that click is more likely going to go to Google’s own travel guide and not the official Brighton tourist website.
So, with more than 50% of searches not going to websites, does this mean that investing in SEO has become a pointless exercise?
This really depends on how you look at SEO and what you are attempting to achieve with your investment.
SEO in the past was simply a matter of trying to optimise for prime search results. The keywords that statistically brought the most traffic were the ones everyone tried to improve their rankings for. This can still work for some businesses but if the query can be easily answered without leaving the search results then this is what will happen sooner rather than later.
Even for local businesses, the local pack has reduced the effectiveness of a top position. If you’re searching for an electrician in Chester, your first stop is going to be one featured in the local pack. The phone number is also there on display in the local pack so there’s no need to click and read a blog or an about page to find out more. There are the five-star reviews to reassure you these are the best-rated electricians.
These results are only returning those electricians based around the centre. They may not be the best electricians and in your city, they may not even be the ones that call you back but they will be the ones fortunate enough to have their hq near or in the city centre. Zero click searches don’t necessarily provide the best answers.
So how must your SEO strategy change to cope with the new reality of zero click search?
The answer is to think of Google as a knowledge engine rather than a simple search engine. People increasingly search to learn about things and use a multitude of other channels to find what they need quickly. This may be Facebook, Amazon or perhaps a Youtube video.
The opportunities to improve traffic and generate business are in longtail search queries that remain as yet untouched.
There are still plenty of opportunities to target the kinds of queries people are typing in when they want to know more about a product or service than simply an at a glance answer. If you want to know the time then you don’t want to read a blog about it but if you want to know how to build an engine, this can’t be answered on a search results page. Once you have your captive audience then you can sell them the parts they need for the engine.
Google is certainly smart enough to know the difference between a query that requires short snappy answers and those that require further reading.
So the answer to improving SEO hasn’t changed that much. The prime keywords were never really up for grabs in the first place unless your business or organisation was one of the lucky few.
The opportunity with SEO for smaller sites is to aim at longtail queries and those that are as yet undiscovered by the competition. If you own an eCommerce store, then you need to be answering customer queries about a particular product type. So rather than rank for ‘wellington boots’ you create pages around specific types of wellington boots people are looking for.
If you run a tourism website you may have the advantage of local knowledge Google has yet to discover. Being a smaller local operator means being more agile and it is the smaller opportunities that can add up to big results in SEO in a zero click future.