In this article, we look at what a zero-click searches (SERPs) are, how this has impacted SEO, and what measures can be taken to increase the likelihood of your pages achieving featured snippets.

Zero-Click SERPs

A zero-click search describes when the search engine query is answered by a snippet of text at the top of the search engine results page (SERP).  This means that the searcher has no need to scroll down or click on any of the other search engine results for the query because it has been answered at the top without any clicks. Google introduced the feature to enable users to get instant answers to queries.

Position One Degraded

In terms of natural, organic search engine results, the introduction of a zero-click search (featured snippets) has been another step in the degradation of what would have been position one, following the introduction of pay-per-click ads, Google local listings, maps, and more.

Types of Snippets

Google doesn’t just provide short paragraph snippets for zero-click searches.  It can also answer a question by providing (for example) a bullet point list, an answer involving a conversion (dollars to pounds / kilometres to miles) where the conversion engine calculation has already been done, and more.  Zero-click search snippets can, therefore, be displayed in several formats including a paragraph, a list, a table, or even a video. The “people also ask” (PAA) boxes i.e., the section of questions with dropdown boxes just below the featured snippet also provides ranking opportunities for snippets.

Google Decides

Google’s algorithms/automated system decides which (featured) snippet, taken from its web search listings, and is displayed as a zero-click result at the top of the SERPs.

Fewer Clicks

Displaying an instant, definitive, featured snippet answer at the top of the search results page may be very good news for the page that the snippet comes from but is likely to result in significantly fewer clicks for the other pages returned as results for that key phrase. For example, Wikipedia was reported to have lost more than 20 percent of its traffic after the launch of zero-click searches and SparkToro research from 2019 showed that half of all searches are zero-click searches.

Takes Clicks From #One

Research by Ahrefs shows that the zero-click featured snippet also appears to take clicks from the #1 ranking result.

What Are The Implications For SEO

Having a definitive answer appear at the top of the search engine results means that searchers are less likely to scroll down and click on any other links.  This makes SEO more difficult, potentially less effective for most pages, and even more competitive.  This could also mean that businesses are more likely to opt for pay-per-click to at least feature prominently on the search page and perhaps be more inclined to make more use of Google’s other suite of tools (e.g. Google My Business).

Hrefs research (based on 112 million keywords) shows that 12.29 percent of search queries have featured snippets in their search results.

What To Do

Google’s featured snippets/zero-click search results come from pages that already rank in the top10 and are mostly triggered by long-tail keywords (i.e. more specific keywords and phrases). Google’s featured snippets are also governed by a set of policies which do not necessarily apply to normal web search listings.  These policies govern things like dangerous, harmful, or hateful content or content that contradicts consensus on public interest topics. With these points in mind, increasing the chances of getting a web page featured as a possible zero-click search result means:

– Use keyword research to target question-type searches, long-tail keywords and higher CTR opportunity keywords.

– Use high-quality information-rich content that is written to be informative for people and not just written for search engine appeal.

– Make sure that pages include relevant facts and stats as these may be given greater relevance by Google.

– Use heading tags and structure the content into concise paragraphs of the kind that could be returned as a featured snippet.

– Include an FAQ section to pick up on question keywords in snippets.

– Include plenty of relevant, high-quality images with relevant text in the alt tags.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The degradation of what used to be the number one position in the search engines has posed challenges to businesses and has created the need to employ multiple means to get noticed and get clicks. This means having to use SEO alongside PPC, social media, Google Tools and more which all adds up to time, effort, and costs.  For a business to get a zero-click search placing (a featured snippet), involves creating high-ranking pages anyway, and paying particular attention to publishing high-quality content that is based on research into real queries and questions, and incorporate stats and information that are of real value and interest.