What To Do: Zero-Click Searches

Half of all Google searches end without a click.

This factoid might sound troublesome for the search engine giant that earns most of its revenue selling clicks, but the reality is quite the opposite.

No-click searches (or zero-click) are by design, and they’re here to stay. It’s the newest iteration in how Google makes scouring the web for answers faster, easier and more user-friendly for searchers – and most users probably didn’t even notice it was happening.

In a recent episode of Digital. Done Right. we discussed no-click searches and talked about how whether businesses need to change their SEO strategy to compete for the zero-click space.

Here are the highlights from that conversation.

What is a No-Click Search?

If you haven’t noticed the rise in no-click searches, it’s only because they’re just that effective and just that efficient. The way it works is simple, Google has figured out a number of query types that can be quickly and easily answered right there at the top of the search results. So, when you ask one of these questions, you’ll often get your answer without having to visit a single website. Sometimes the answer is generated by a Google application. Other times content is pulled from another website and displayed in an easily digested format. And other times still, what gets displayed is an aggregate of information collected from multiple pages.

But the result is the same. The user gets their answer and not a single website sees a visitor.

It’s great for consumers – with a distinct set of pros and cons for online businesses.

Types of No-Click Searches

There six primary categories of no-click search:

  • Instant Answers – Quick answers provided by the search engine, usually displayed to the right
  • Knowledge Panel – Informational boxes that display information from the Knowledge Graph database (usually relates to people, places, things and organizations)
  • Calculators – Not just simple calculators but metric conversions, mortgage calculators, you name it
  • Definitions – What does this word mean? How do you say “Where’s the bathroom?” in German?
  • Maps – Self-explanatory, you ask Google where something is located and boom, there’s a map
  • Featured Snippets – This is when Google pulls the portion of content off a web page that answers the user’s question – snippets can be text, images or video

OK. Got it. But how does this affect my business and my web traffic?

Monetization of No-Click Searches

At some point it would only make sense that Google will try to monetize this zero-click space. At present, doing so comes with complications, primarily figuring out a value for each ad unit, or put more accurately, each unit of content.

Tracking and valuing clicks is easy. It’s even easier when advertisers bid the price automatically so that Google doesn’t have to – but how much is an eyeball worth? Especially an eyeball that may not even bother clicking on your link.

Why would they? They’ve already got the answer they’re looking for!

It’s not that simple, of course. Digital marketing never is.

The Real Value of Ranking for Zero-Click

On some level, having your snippet or video showcased as a no-click answer will give you a bit of brand awareness – but realistically, the benefits are more nuanced than that.

You know you need visitors to land on your page if you’re going to generate a transaction that drives revenue – or at the very least gather the data you need to retarget and aim for a transaction further down the line.

But what if being showcased as no-click content drives fewer organic clicks but more targeted ones?

That’s exactly what we might expect.

If a user was truly only looking for an answer and never had any intention of making a purchase, then the fact that they bounce off before you collect their data might be no big deal. In fact, it might wind up saving you money as you won’t bother paying to retarget a lead that isn’t a lead at all.

However, if a user gets the answer they’re looking for and still chooses to click through, this means they recognize you as an expert and they want to learn more. Which is exactly the ideal sort of visitor you’d love to find their way organically to your page.

As an added bonus, having your snippet featured can put your business above the big-name aggregator sites like Yelp. Big companies you typically can’t afford to out advertise and that even the biggest players usually fail to outrank.

What’s the Strategy?

Adding no-click results to the mix makes investing in SEO strategy more important than ever, particularly if we presume that Google will continue to expand on the no-click model, which would mean fewer and fewer organic clicks from search results moving forward.

It’s a slow process but one that’s worthwhile in the long run.

But the thing is, most of the strategies you should employ to improve you ranking for no-click is the same sort of stuff you should be doing for SEO already:

  • Content development, written in normal language but optimized for search engine performance
  • Optimize titles, headlines and meta descriptions
  • Rethink how content is organized on your page

And flesh out your FAQs!

Robust FAQs are ideal for no-click SEO because the content is already set up in the same question and answer format Google is looking to use for featured snippets.

More than anything, you’ve absolutely got to include no-click in the thought process that goes you’re your total SEO umbrella. You don’t need a separate strategy but an integrated one.

Go with the Grain

Making Google happy isn’t always as complicated as it seems. They typically reward the pages that go with the grain. If Google feels people are wanting no-click results, it only makes sense to provide content that’s congruent with this end goal.

Digital Transformation and Government Agencies

It’s no secret that the government tends to move slower than the private sector when it comes to hopping on current trends. This isn’t necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just the nature of the beast.

But with COVID-19 flipping our world upside down, a whole host of flaws have been exposed in our old system of cramming dozens of people to wait in line at the DMV or some other government office. And not all of these flaws are related to the virus. In fact, most aren’t.

Governments have had to move fast to digitize and get set up to provide more citizen services online due to the pandemic, but just like a freight train that can’t be stopped, this digital shift is likely to continue once government agencies truly recognize what digital can do for efficiency.

The digital age of governance is coming. Here’s a synopsis of a recent Digital Done Right episode where we discussed this very topic.

Welcome to 1995

Until now, we’ve all been more than willing to put up with an abysmal user experience when it comes to dealing with government services online. Yeah, their websites are awful. Their user interface is awful. The design is awful. Even major federal government portals can make you feel like you’re looking at a GeoCities page from 1995.

But it’s still better than spending half a day at City Hall so we grin and bear it. Take what we can get.

This is all about to change.

People are starting to demand better digital services from their government at all levels – but more than the squeaky wheel getting the grease, governments are beginning to see that it’s a win-win situation.

The Center for Digital Government

A ton of hurdles exist for implementing digital infrastructure in government, from good old-fashioned bureaucracy to a legitimate lack of skilled tech employees to do the work to the inherent complexity related to certain transactions. As a simple example, it’s far simpler to sell a t-shirt online than it is to, say, transfer the title for your boat. The IRS has been pretty good about working with digital signatures for a while now but most other agencies are lagging far behind.

Enter the Center for Digital Government.

Similar to the WHO but for digital initiatives, the Center for Digital Government is a central body that helps government agencies expedite the digital transformation. It’s a national research and advisory institute that just looks at information technology and policy best practices for digital governance. 

It’s great resource for government agencies at every level – but only if municipalities take advantage of the services offered.

But even if rollout is slow, the fact that this organization exists means we’re moving in the right direction and that more agencies are understanding that a digital transformation can lead to a boon in efficiency. It won’t happen overnight but it’s now much easier to lay out a roadmap to get there.

A Shift in Mentality

Coinciding with the move to go digital period, we’re also seeing agencies think more like consumer brands and less like the government. This means topics like analytics, machine learning and customer experience are starting to come up. Government entities are getting involved in digital marketing and long-term digital strategy, too. They’re also starting to hire digital talent away from the private sector, which will have a compelling effect not only on future job creation but on the types of tools the government will have the resources to create.

And as this all rolls out, the door naturally opens up for digital agencies to step in and help.

A New Business Model

The prospect of adding government agencies as a new vertical is huge for the digital marketing industry, but it’s one that comes with a distinct set of challenges that will need to be overcome to make the relationship work.

  • Due to transparency requirements and the scrutiny that comes with spending taxpayer dollars, the RFP process will become much more black and white. 
  • Bids will follow more specific guidelines with the work much more narrowly defined. Well-sold but generic proposals won’t make it through strict government contractor onboarding protocols.
  • Agencies’ cost structures will need to be redefined, shifting to outcome-based billing instead of setting a fixed price for management fees based as a service.
  • Projects will work with harder deadlines, as the expenditure of tax dollars creates different expectations compared to the private sector.
  • Funding for initiatives will be more complex than they are in the private sector. Businesses can easily advocate for digital investment by analyzing the potential increased revenue, whereas government agencies will need to show benefits to the taxpayers to drive change.

Some agencies will thrive in this new environment and others won’t, but the prospect of working with a client that isn’t allowed to drag their feet and go around and around with revisions should lead to a lot of work getting accomplished. And from the agency’s perspective, they’ll get paid for revisions and extra work that they often have to eat when working with a corporate client. With government, there’s an expectation that adding features means adding cost.

It’s not about digital agencies making all the money, though. It’s about delivering value to the municipality.

Benefits to Government

It’s plain to see how a digital transformation in governance benefits citizens. Think about the beauty of renewing your driver’s license using your smartphone! But the advantages for government agencies are equally attractive.

  • More consumers will be timely with paying car registrations, submitting tax payments, filing for permits, etc.
  • Municipalities will enjoy better cash flow and improved forecasting capabilities
  • Leveraging technology can lead to huge cost savings, for example a chatbot or live chat replacing a call center of employees answering the telephone
  • Faster, more accurate collection of customer information

Data Issues

The government going full digital isn’t all sunshine and roses. As digital platforms collect data and the government seeks to utilize this data, obvious data privacy issues come to light. Imagine if the federal government was accused of data manipulation in the same way Facebook and Google are. This is a wrinkle that will definitely need to be ironed out if you’re going to get the citizenry on board.

More on the Topic

Listen to the entire Digital Done Right Podcast to hear my thoughts on how the digital transformation in government might affect jobs over the decades to come, along with ideas for how automation could lead to opportunities for retraining and retooling. We also discuss Mesa, AZ, the winner of the Government Experience Innovation Award and dive deeper into the strides they’re taking towards digital governance and the infrastructure they’ve installed in their quest to be a Smart City.

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As the coronavirus pandemic continues to flip industries sideways or completely upside-down, it’s hard to predict which changes will stick and which ones we’ll shed with our facemasks when the coast is clear.

Will people be able to continue working from home? Will Zoom meetings become the norm in lieu of business travel? Will virtual home tours be a driving force in the home building industry? 

While the first two remain to be seen, the answer to the last question is a resounding yes.

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