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10 min read

An SEO’s Guide To No-Click Searches: The Challenges And Opportunities Of The Modern Search Landscape

This article was updated on: 25.06.2024

If there’s one phrase that seems to strike fear into the hearts of SEOs, it’s the term ‘no-click searches’. In every SEO agency, every SEO conference hall, every SEO forum, the rise of the ‘zero click search’ is being spoken about as if it’s organic armageddon. But why are people worried, and should they be?

To answer these questions, we need to first understand what we mean by no-click searches. A no-click search occurs when a user completes their search without clicking onto a website URL because their intent has been satisfied in the search engine results page (SERP).

Their intent is usually satisfied by a SERP feature, which can be a variety of things:

  • Featured snippets – short excerpts of text or data tables relevant to the search query.
  • People Also Ask (PAA) boxes – lists of questions related to the search query.
  • Knowledge panels – large boxes with information about an entity relevant to the search, including individuals, organisations and concepts.
  • Local packs – a box listing local businesses relevant to the search query.

These SERP features have dramatically changed the way we look for answers online. Here’s some nostalgia for you…

Remember this? 10 blue links. Underlined. Simple. And SEO was simple too. Do your keyword research, pop your keywords in your headings and throw in a few meta-keywords for good measure and you were pretty much guaranteed a top ranking. Even when we thought we were savvier – “only use your keywords in 2% of your text for optimal keyword density” – we really knew nothing of the changes to come. Nor did we know how those changes would affect our role.

My colleague Pete once described the SERPs for one of my client’s core terms water softener as ‘hench’…

We’ve gone from 10 simple blue links to so many SERP features it’s difficult to see where the standard results even fit in any more. Moreover, it’s totally valid that SEOs see a search results page like this and worry. Between the ads, the PAAs, the shopping feed and the maps, how can we attract a click? (Of course, we do attract clicks. That’s why we’ve still got our client, and why our campaign for them was recently shortlisted for an award. I’ll come back to this later.)

The idea of ‘no click searches’ is that they’re the result of Google’s ever-expanding suite of SERP features. True to its mission of organising the world’s information and making it universally accessible, Google is giving more and more information to users within the search results themselves – with voice search certainly playing a role in making this happen.

Renowned SEO expert Rand Fishkin over at Sparktoro published revealing new data recently, noting that the instances of ‘no click’ or ‘zero click’ searches are growing:

Over half (56%) of all searches on mobile are now zero click. The figure for desktop searches is lower (35%), but if we consider that the majority of searches now occur on mobile (with some figures estimating it to be on average around 60% of all searches), then it’s a trend that we simply cannot ignore.

Why is Google so intent on providing information in the SERPs? In our opinion, there are two reasons:

  1. Google wants to create a better user experience by providing more information directly in the SERP. Google understands that people are busy and creating a more streamlined search experience is beneficial for the hundreds of millions of people who use its service
  2. Google benefits from keeping users in the SERP because it encourages clicks on ads; the vast majority of Google’s revenue is driven by its advertisement platform (around 70.9%).

For these two reasons, Google is showing no signs of slowing down its efforts to creating an on-SERP search experience. The reason SEOs are worried is because the more SERP features are introduced, the harder it is to drive users to their site through traditional SEO strategies that focus on the ten blue links.

And rightly so. Strategies that focus solely on ranking in the traditional organic listings are destined to lose. But this doesn’t mean good SEOs should be worried; it simply means that we have to adapt to changing user behaviour, like any other marketing channel in the history of marketing. Our goal has always been to deliver measurable results and proven ROI – the only thing that has changed is the strategy. Here is how we do it:

Understand user intent

Thanks to fantastic tools like STAT alongside free to use tools like Google Search Console, we have access to more data than ever before. By using this data, we can start to better understand our own search audience’s behaviour.

Using the water softener client as an example, we have taken our strategy right back to basics by categorising our keywords according to intent. For anyone needing a refresher, here’s what I mean:

  • Transactional searches are those where the searcher intends to make a purchase, such as ‘buy red shoes’.
  • Information searches are those where the searcher intends to learn more but not necessarily to buy (yet), such as ‘how to wear red shoes’.
  • Navigational searches are those where the searcher intends solely to find something or navigate directly to a brand, such as ‘shoe shop’.

Many of these categorisation decisions are straightforward, derived from language use and therefore easily identified. Others require more investigation, such as using user data to see how users respond to different content, and audience research to ask them directly how they search and what they intend to find. There’s a lot of data/research out there about user intent – check out this guide from the chaps over at STAT for a pretty comprehensive overview.

Set your brand intent

Knowing the intent of your users and categorising your keyword targets accordingly, you can then set your own brand/business intent.

That means recognising that a search with informational intent won’t necessarily lead to a conversion today, but equally appreciating that, especially when it comes to more thought-out purchases, being the brand of choice can really help you in the future (aside from anything else, personalised search will prefer the brands a user has viewed before).

It also means noting that there’s more money to be made right now in the transactional queries, and prioritising accordingly.

For my client, that has practically manifested itself as a keyword target list that incorporates:

  • Core transactional queries – these being the terms that we know drive conversions
  • Informational queries – these being about educating the audience, sitting quite close to the conversion terms
  • Audience development queries – these being where we broaden the audience by tapping into search terms that feed the top of the funnel, but are least likely to result in quick conversions

Strategic prioritisation of search queries

Our strategies can now be set around a much deeper understanding of the intent behind the search queries for which we wish to appear. Armed with this information, we can focus our efforts according to what will help us/our client achieve our goals and prioritise our time to those activities which will generate the greatest improvement or revenue.

Take that a step further, and we can also append revenue data to particular keywords. If we know that our core transactional queries result in a conversion 1 in 10 times, and that the average sale price is £100, then each visitor for that query is worth £10. If we know that the conversion rate is more like 1 in 100, those visits are only worth £1.

But we also recognise that growth in those core transactional queries is likely to be much more difficult, given the competitive nature of transactional queries. So our strategy also facilitates a focus on top of the funnel terms, where the route to conversion is trackable but usually longer.

Practically speaking, this approach (very broadly) means our activity is split as follows:

  • For core transactional terms, we’ll focus on marginal gains, continuously using CRO techniques to maintain position 1 rankings and monitoring SERP features to gain maximum visibility, measured in terms of ranking positions, traffic growth through improved CTRs and conversion rates.
  • For informational and development terms, we’ll focus more broad-brush, investing in the creation of content and building of links to generate credibility and awareness, which is measured tangibly in the form of ranking improvement, traffic growth and visibility even where clicks are not achieved (because we know an information query where we hold the ‘featured snippet’ position may not result in a click simply because the information has been provided already but that it is contributing to building awareness of our brand).

Integrated strategies must be at the forefront of our SEO work in today’s zero-click world. With limited time to spend on targeting our core transactional terms and our informational terms, we need to prioritise. Our colleagues in paid search can help us here.

Paid query data can reveal interesting insights to guide our organic strategies. Keywords with high clicks or impressions but low conversion stats through PPC can be prioritised for SEO, allowing budgets to be better spent across the two channels.

Likewise, competitive keywords with little change of organic rankings in the short-to-medium term should be targeted with PPC campaigns, freeing up more resource to focus on keywords that will organic traffic.

Improve attribution

The role that SEO will play in the conversion funnel will change. Transactional keywords will become more competitive than ever, meaning that organic will be more often attributed at the top of the conversion funnel rather than as a last click conversion.

Recent events have made this fact more relevant than ever, as user behaviour has changed due to COVID-19. Users are spending more time online but are also often taking more time to make their purchasing decision. Using multi-channel funnel reports can help better communicate the full impact of SEO.

Build branded traffic outside of search by working with Digital PR and Paid Social

With SERPs set to be increasingly dominated by SERP features and Google owned platforms, branded traffic is going to become more important than ever. SEOs and Digital PRs should work together to build links to priority pages through coverage in industry press and national publications. 

Content that has good engagement metrics on the website, and ranks well in organic search, can serve as content for outreach. It can also be promoted on social media through paid social campaigns to extend the reach and lifetime of a campaign. You can then measure the impact on brand awareness through search queries in Google Search Console.

Why no click searches don’t mark the death of SEO

No click searches don’t mark the death of SEO. In fact, I argue that their increasing prevalence serves only to push SEOs to be more strategic and holistic in their approach. The lines between traditional marketing and ‘digital marketing’ are blurring and it’s more important than ever that digital marketing approaches account for the full funnel, and not just immediate conversions.

If we appreciate the role that no click searches play for a user, we needn’t worry about them, but make them a part of our strategy. As we move toward the mass use of voice assistants and the internet of things, it’s less and less likely that we’ll be battling for a position in the top 10, and far more likely that we’ll need to be the brand of choice for our target audience to even stand a chance of visibility when it comes to conversion time. We need to be more focused around top of the funnel growth and audience expansion – with SERP features providing a platform for that. It’s not, in my opinion, that we need to be concerned about Google keeping traffic, more than we need to adapt our own KPIs to recognise that user behaviour is changing.

Invest wisely in broader approaches – namely the production of useful content across all parts of the funnel – and you can expect to reap the rewards of your efforts now and in the future.

What do you think of no click searches? How do you respond? Let us know in the comments.