Your Next Biggest Competitor Is Google: What You Need to Know About Zero-Click Search

January 31, 2020

Kerrie Ashall

The search engine results page (SERP) stands firmly at the centre of organic traffic generation. If you have a top-notch SEO team behind you and you’re lucky enough to land a placement on the first page of Google, you will likely be reaping the results. However, the SERP is changing, and it’s changing fast.

We had the arrival of black ‘Ad’ labels on mobile and the ‘How-to’ structured data markup in May 2019, not to mention the featured snippet deduplication change earlier this month, improved knowledge panels, and suggested content for long-tail search queries. Add to the mix video carousels and related product recommendations, and you’ve got yourself a very saturated SERP offering minimal visibility and poor click-through rates (CTR) for deserving websites.

As a result, for the first time, zero-click search (searches that end on the SERP because the user successfully found the answer to their query) has exceeded the number of searches resulting in organic clicks, at 50.33% to 45.25%. It’s not the best news we’ve heard, but not the worst either – it just means us SEO’s will have to work that little bit harder, and who’s not up for a challenge?

Crowded SERPs and zero complacency

SEO’s and digital marketers need to be one step ahead when it comes to SERP updates. If you think optimising your Google My Business profile once, or drafting your meta descriptions and incorporating a key term or two will earn you that top spot, you are mistaken. The Google SERP is a merciless territory, and you need to either adapt your strategy to suit users’ needs or face falling into the abyss on page 2…3…10…67!

Google is going to do what Google does, and that’s moulding the SERPs to maximise user convenience. If that means whipping a couple of websites off the first page and onto the second then that is what they will do. However it is important to stay resilient and have faith in the ability of your website. If it hosts the right content, is optimised correctly and technically sound, you might be ok.

There is also some comfort in knowing that this tech giant can only go so far. Back in June 2017, the European Union handed Google a €2.42bn fine for manipulating the SERP to favour its own comparison shopping service. Lyric website, Genius, also instigated a lawsuit for $50 million, claiming that Google had violated antitrust law by copying song lyrics from its website through a clever watermarking scheme.

Evidence that the SERP ship will keep on sailing


Despite Google already dominating 90% of search engine market share, there has been increasing concern over the majority of product searches starting on Amazon, and unsurprisingly, Google is now working to follow suit. The search giant recently launched a new shopping platform that aims to be the go-to when finding items not available on Amazon. This comes after the revelation that only 22% of consumers are satisfied with their online shopping experience – a fact that Google has decided to improve in its own way.

Google lists similar products together with their prices encouraging the consumer to opt for the cheapest offer. When the user clicks on the product (through the shopping widget) they will be directed to the Google shopping platform. From here they can further click to view the product, see price comparisons and buy the product directly (all while being covered by a Google guarantee). There is no need to visit the retailer site at all.

Google’s BERT algorithm update

The long-term effects of the BERT update back in November are only just beginning to rear their heads. BERT was partly designed to target the results derived from long-tail searches and have since increased the number of featured snippets in 25 different languages. Featured snippets (FS) are special boxes where the format of a regular listing is reversed, showing descriptive content first. They usually hog the first part of the SERP and push organic results further down the page.

Furthermore, since Jan 2020, if you do succeed in obtaining a snippet, that URL will no longer be shown in the organic listings underneath. SEO’s have to choose between one or the other, depending on how much value each brings. This deduplication has resulted in severe drops in CTR for many sites across the board.

Growing Google SERP accessories

  • Ads – Up to four ads can be displayed at the top of the SERP and up to four at the bottom, leaving a lucky few organic results sandwiched between the two.
  • Rich Snippets – A rich snippet sits below the blue title on the SERP. It can include a picture, rating and extended description. They stand out from other results and usually generate a higher click through rate.
  • People also ask – This box is full of related queries to your original search and appears on the first page for pretty much all searches no matter the length of the query. When clicked it can answer your questions with no need to delve further to find the information’s original source. Written a short essay on how to boost your organic traffic? The likelihood is that the user will only read the most relevant paragraph regurgitated in the designated slot on Google and move on – that is, if your content is lucky enough to be featured in the first place.

The SERP epidemic is spreading to all corners of industry. Google job listings, flight price comparisons, hotel suggestions, Google thesaurus and dictionary not to mention the weather and Google reviews are all piled on the first page, distracting your target audience from executing your desired call to action.

What can you do to combat zero-click search?

Combating the zero-click epidemic is no easy feat. It takes a dedicated SEO team, a deep understanding of your niche, constant analysis of the changing SERP and the realisation that content must be produced for the user, not the search engine.

Get this right and you’re on the right track to effectively compete with Google and win back lost organic traffic. Contact us to talk about getting your metrics right first time around and help set your website on the right track for SEO success.




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