The Rise Of Zero-Click Searches And How To Optimise For Them

Estimated Reading Time 13 minutes

What are zero-click searches?

A zero-click search is a search which does not result in a user clicking on any of the results displayed in the SERPs. This is usually due to the fact that the user’s query has been answered within the search results page, and therefore does not require them to click through to a website to find out more information.

In June 2019, SparkToro reported that “for the first time, a majority of all browser-based searches on Google.com resulted in zero-clicks” with just over 50% of all searches not resulting in a click.

Let’s face it – with the rate that Google changes the visual aesthetic of their results page, it’s likely that this figure may increase if it hasn’t already.

Putting the User Experience First

Google and other search engines alike are very much focused on prioritising and fulfilling the user’s needs. From website ranking factors to the layout of SERPs regularly changing, the user experience will always come first.

We’ve all heard the stats on website load times; if a site takes longer than 3 seconds to load then the user is more than likely going to bounce because it makes for a poor experience. With the answers being given directly in the search results page, the whole website load time debate is negated and therefore improves the overall user experience.

Finding the Answer

With the luxury of having some extra time on my hands, and like many others who have been housebound during the lockdown, I was keen to get some DIY done around my home. This resulted in me trying my luck at electrics and learning how to change a light switch and plug socket. Of course, I turned to Google (other search engines are available) to find my answer.
Note – I have no experience in electrical work and maybe don’t recommend trying this at home!

“How to change a light switch”

how to change a light switch serps

The first search result that comes up is a featured snippet that is pulling in a how-to video from YouTube. In this example, it’s even suggesting the section of the video I should watch and when I click play, it starts playing from the suggested start time. The video pops up within the SERPs, so whilst I have technically ‘clicked’, I’m not leaving the Google interface. I watched the video and successfully changed my light switch (no electric shocks!), so I got what I was looking for directly from the SERPs, and didn’t need to click elsewhere.

“Leonardo DiCaprio films”

I often find myself watching a film or series and asking – “what else has that person been in?” Leonardo DiCaprio has been in so many films, I certainly couldn’t name them all. In this example, Google is showing all of Leo’s films (ordered by ‘most popular’) so I can easily scroll through and remind myself of all his amazing acting work.

leonardo dicaprio films serps

Just like the light switch example, I’ve found exactly what I was searching for without the need to click on any result.

Other examples that might lead to no-click searches include:

  • Data focused (e.g. currency conversions, time zones)
  • Definitions (e.g. what is, how to)
  • Research/informational (e.g. films, celebrities)

Sometimes the need for a search engine results page is entirely negated with the answer being given within the search bar.

Does this mean that a search has not even been completed? In the below example, there’s no need for me to press enter. I’m one satisfied customer as I’ve got what I came for with very little effort on my behalf.

“How old is the queen”

how old is the queen serps

“Who is married to Justin…”

In this example, I hadn’t finished typing my sentence before the search bar showed me who is married to Justin Bieber. I may not have been looking for Justin Bieber, however, it’s likely that this is a popular search and therefore Google is assuming that this is what I’m also looking for.

who is married to justin bieber serps

In amidst the current global pandemic of Coronavirus, the results page looks entirely different from any other, and there’s a whole host of information available including news, resources, maps of reported cases, health and travel information plus so much more.

coronavirus google serps

Whilst this is of course very topical worldwide, it reiterates the fact that Google will change the SERPs to aid the user experience in any way possible. It’s worth noting too that Bing has done the same, although visually it’s slightly different.

coronavirus bing serps

How can you adjust your SEO strategy for zero-click searches?

In the examples above and for many other no-click searches, it generally comes down to the SERPs displaying featured snippets. It’s no surprise that these are also sometimes known as ‘answer boxes’, providing answers to a users query without the need to scroll or click through to a website. Hence the rise in zero-click searches.

There are numerous types of featured snippets, but the core three are:

  • Paragraphs
  • Lists
  • Tables

Searches with words including ‘recipes’, ‘best’, ‘make’ and ‘definition’ are most likely to trigger featured snippets, whilst the most common of the three formats is the paragraph format.

How to optimise your website for featured snippets

If your website is already ranking in the top 10 positions for a search query, there’s a high chance you could appear in position #0, the featured snippet position. In fact, it’s likely that it’s easier for you to ‘win’ the featured snippet spot than it is to work your way to position 1. Unfortunately, as with any rankings on Google, there is not an ‘exact science’ however there are ways that you can influence the rankings.

Do your keyword research

Before you get stuck in with writing your content, it’s imperative that you do your keyword research first. That goes for any piece of content you’re writing – whether you’re aiming to optimise for featured snippets or not.

Write great content

It goes without saying that you should always be writing great content for your website. Rather than writing content for the sake of writing content, you should be writing with the user in mind. What will they get out of it? Do they get the answer that they are looking for? While long-form content is of course preferred, it’s worth noting that the featured snippet boxes will tend to display around 50 words – so make sure you’re providing an answer within this and bear it in mind when you are writing. By answering any questions that the user might have, you’re giving yourself a higher chance of appearing in the featured snippets spot for long-tail search queries.

Align your content with the featured snippet format

Based on the types of featured snippets outlined above, write your content to correlate with those styles. Think about using numbered bullets, or break up content using headers such as h1 and h2 where relevant.

Structured Data

It’s previously been thought that using structured data can help your website to appear for featured snippets, however it’s not clear. In a previous Webmaster Hangout with John Mueller, he was asked whether there was a particular type of schema that may help with featured snippets, and he simply answered that he couldn’t think of any. So we are none the wiser.

What is clear, however, is that the structure of your content (such as your headings and bullet point) will likely help the search engines to understand the importance of parts of the page which may, in turn, have an influence on your organic rankings.

Trial and Error

There’s no clear cut way to ensure your website appears for featured snippets, but you can optimise and influence your current website rankings. It comes down to experimenting, test different ways of optimising your content and review the impact. Be mindful that just like positions 1-10, featured snippet rankings too can fluctuate.

For more information on featured snippets or other SEO-related queries, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn or contact the team.

Sophie Burrows
As a Senior Digital Strategist, Sophie's role is focused around working with clients to achieve their business objectives, through a mixture of digital marketing channels. Having worked closely with clients in a variety of disciplines over the last five years, Sophie has gained an invaluable insight into what makes for a successful campaign. Applying a strategic process along with deep analytics insight has made Sophie an in-demand digital strategist.