Clout is the New Click: Strategizing for Zero-Click SERPs

“Yes, we’ll let you crawl us, you just make sure to give us credit when we give you the data. […] We [SEOs] made Google just as much as they made us, and all they owe us is what they promised at the outset: traffic and credit.”

This is one of the most apt descriptions of the relationship between SEOs and Google, and was shared by Rand Fishkin in 2016, months after the introduction of the featured snippet earlier that year. When Rand made that statement, it was at a time where Google had all but plagiarized the bulk of the information shown in featured snippets and answer boxes, without attributing all information to the original content creators they scraped the data from. Since that time, they’ve done a better job of providing the appropriate clout from those answers to the websites who provided them, while still keeping the core answer in the search result. Today, Google continues to change the way that search results are displayed in an effort to provide answers, not websites. Great for the customer, but not so much for the business. 

Many (if not most) search results are now populated by featured snippets, local packs, carousels, related questions, and in some cases, they receive the answer outright. These are intended to help the customer get to their answer quickly, and in most cases, without needing to click through your website. As a result, we have seen a drastic increase in zero-click search engine results pages (SERPs) in the first quarter of 2019 (where the user does not move forward to another website)—a 20% change from the same time period in 2016.

A vertical bar graph demonstrating the 20% decline in organic clicks from a Google search engine results page from January 2016 through to March 2019. Data was provided courtesy of Jumpshot and assembled by SparkToro.

Growth in zero-click SERPs is not a new concept. Google introduced the featured snippet in February of 2016 and have only continued to grow their SERP features since that time—and so gradually, you probably hadn’t even noticed. Zero-click actions have been slightly higher than organic clicks for some time now, but as of June 2019 they have now surpassed the 50% threshold, leaving less than half of all potential customers left clicking to either organic results or paid advertising. It stands to reason: if we know that the way customers are using search has changed, what changes do we need to make to our marketing strategies?

Re-Strategizing How We Target SERPs

As Google continues to update their search algorithm and populate the SERP with features to deliver answers, content marketing (regularly creating and maintaining well researched, informative content on your website) is more imperative than ever. With our current content marketing clients, this shifts our goals slightly. Not only must we focus on the user experience we’re providing for customers who do reach any given page on-site, but we must also change how we plan to re-vamp existing content on-site. This means changing our strategy to target potential SERP features even more aggressively than we previously had, in addition to the normal organic blue links, maximizing our opportunities to put your dealership in front of the customers who never make it to your website. 

This also places increased importance on technical items like title tags and meta descriptions, as well as finding a balance between utilizing keywords but also writing compelling copy, to both entice a click AND provide value for users who don’t click. Frankly we think that we can do a better job of this for all website clients, not just those with a Content Marketing product. If you’re a client, expect your Online Marketing Manager to reach out with information regarding the details of a cleanup our SEO team will be performing for each site in the coming month. Free of charge, both because we like you and we know we can be better.

While it sounds like our recommended strategies are solely SEO-focused, and completely ignoring paid search advertising, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Paid search ads continue to be a clear and easy opportunity to ensure your brand sits at the top of a SERP. Not only that, but it involves substantially less labour-intensive work than SEO presents, while providing invaluable customer data that SEO cannot replicate, all the while being able to lend that data to further bolster your SEO efforts. Add that to the strategies shared by the two, like using ad headlines and descriptions as title tags and meta descriptions, and we now have two tactics working smarter, not harder. Two tactics that can both entice a click, AND provide value for the users that don’t. What’s even better: if customers see your ad and don’t click, you’re not paying for the ad to be there—but if they do click, you have just paid for data (that we can’t get for free) confirming that a potential customer is predisposed to click on certain topics associated with your dealership. Another Rand quote, about SEO but applicable to your paid strategy: “Is the branding value, the opportunity to control what people see, without clicks valuable to you? If that answer is no, go for those other keywords . . . If you’re going to lose, the next question you have to ask is would you rather have that than [allow] a competitor [to have it]?”

Re-Thinking How We Measure Success

We have always valued micro-conversion goals like domain and page authority, two proprietary metrics from Moz that score the predictive performance of an entire site, or specific page, in organic search. Likewise, ranking position and search visibility are two more examples of how we’ve traditionally gauged your business’ performance in search. However, we have more emphatically valued the importance of macro-conversion items, such as organic traffic to the website, on-page form completions, chat launches, engagement metrics from high value areas to the dealership, and significant actions (clicks to website, calls, and driving directions) taken from a Google My Business listing. But what happens when over 50% of users don’t even make it to the site?

If we understand that more than half of users are not likely to make it to our websites at all, then we must also acknowledge the inevitable: all those macro- and micro-conversions we’ve used in the past need to be reevaluated. Not done away with entirely, as they still provide valuable data, but the weight of their importance needs to be adjusted. If we shuffle what we once considered to be the micro- and macro-conversions, we’ll find that organic traffic and form fills, while still important, hold less power than significant actions from a Google My Business Listing.  A new focus on search visibility metrics—like presence in SERP features or ranking position, as well as predictive metrics like domain and page authority—become the new benchmark we aim for. Having a fully optimized and regularly maintained Google My Business listing is one way to do this, as your GMB listing has never been more important than it is today, and our team is eager to put our energy into ensuring our clients have the most up-to-date Google My Business listing possible. 

Game Over? Not Quite.

Retro arcade game screen. Insert coin, press start!

You may have heard people throwing around the phrase, “Data is the new oil.” This is true to an extent, and any data you can mine through content marketing and paid advertising is incredibly valuable, but you won’t get as much of the data you’re used to if you don’t get the clicks. While the unspoken contract from Google promised us traffic and credit, search has changed in ways people never imagined, and now we need to reevaluate that promise like we do our strategies. Because, if we aren’t going to get the traffic, we may as well do everything we can to get the credit.

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