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Preparing for a Future of Click-free Search Results

So, SEOers were looking at searches on desktop and mobile devices and clicks that led to business goals (or not). Tweak sites and repeat. That’s what we did.

Recently, Rand Fishkin, one of the best known SEO-ers out there, presented his analysis of data compiled by Jumpshot, an online tracking firm. He found a drastic increase in the number of mobile searches that do not result in a click. 

Basically, in two years’ time desktop search behavior remained fairly static. Mobile, on the other hand, changed dramatically with 61% of searches ending with no click. No click!

For what feels like forever, Google has been “the great referrer of traffic” to sites. In fact, their entire ad business is predicated on being just that. (Note the corollary increase in paid clicks for mobile and desktop searches. 

So, in a world of no click, what, um, are we all supposed to do? Here’s what a no-click search engine result page (SERP) looks like. Or, at least one that is likely to yield far fewer clicks.

On mobile:


On desktop:

The “answer” to my query is provided via a “rich snippet” featured in the answer panel. The knowledge panel to the right gives me a bunch more related at-a-glance information. I might scroll but based on my query, probably not. I might click, but why? I’m done. And in a voice world, I’ve seen no result page but I’ve been told the answer to my query. I may take the equivalent action to a click by saying “buy that book,”. Though data so far on voice commerce suggests that it has been slow to get out of the gates, the consensus is that it will likely be huge in short order.

So what does an SEOer do now? 

Here are a few thoughts.

  1. Optimize whatever you’ve got on offer – a book, an author, a site, a page -- to be in one of the new prime locations. Answer panels are driven by content that, naturally, answers a question. Knowledge panels are compiled by Google from disparate sources such as Wikipedia (make sure it’s accurate), official site and social presences, databases such as Goodreads, and off-page code that identifies things like people, places, things, and events (Schema, for example). A lot of SEO will remain the same – get the content right, aligning it with user intent. And get the tech right under the hood; fast, mobile- and voice-friendly, tagged correctly, etc.
  2. Be strategic about opportunities to rank on pages that will yield a click. Value-added, not just factual content is a good example here: content that requires one going to a page, not merely extracting a fact or viewing a summary. This is about content strategy and positioning.
  3. Focus on other search engines: transactional ones like Amazon or content-oriented ones like YouTube. Here, complete and optimized product metadata is essential. Amazon is unlikely to have click-less SERPs any time soon but Alexa searches on Amazon that lead to purchases will increase. Ranking #1 will be critical. Amazon’s search ranking criteria differs slightly from Google’s so understanding it well is critical. Metadata, price, availability, conversion rate. These are the things that need to optimized and monitored.
  4. Build for voice. Developing Alexa Skills that enable immediate access to certain types of content can provide first-mover advantage in the screenless search world.
  5. Guide user’s searches via other marketing channels. In ads, suggest they “ask Alexa to tell me more about Stephen King’s latest book.”
  6. Be willing to pay for prime placement when the ROI is there. This is no different than in the past but it may become increasingly important to understand when, where, and how to do so.
  7. Look at new KPIs. “Share of search results” will become an important one. This is the idea that appearing on page one in one of the prime areas is the first step toward success in a new search world. Then track those KPIs back against business goals to establish the correlation. We were lucky for a while in that we could rely very heavily on last click attribution and Google was the king of the last click (along with Facebook). It was Search > Google Result > Site > Action. No more. The user journey has gotten complex.
  8. Use the tools that help with measuring search in the new world. My guess is that the next 18 months will find a lot of SEO tools adapting to these new needs to help SEOers get their content, their metadata, and their sites tricked out for this world. I am eager to see what useful software they can build for us.