Zero-click search has become a mythical figure in the world of digital marketing. Like Nessie or the Abominable Snowman, information on how to rank for featured snippets or the knowledge panel remains elusive. And whether or not zero-click search is a friend or foe to marketers is also shrouded in mystery.
So today, let’s go on an expedition to understand the realities of zero-click search better. No need to bring your torches and pitchforks, but your Google Analytics dashboard could come in handy.
Start with SEO
As with most things on the internet, understanding zero-click search and how to rank in position zero begins with basic SEO (read: keywords).
Google, much like Dr. Frankenstein, is a solid co-conspirator for the enigmatic creature it’s created. Google is notoriously tight-lipped about the factors that decide ranking, and no one outside The Googleplex really knows all the secrets to SEO.
But from what SEO experts can ascertain, the factors that affect regular SEO ranking also play a role in whether you’ll achieve position zero.
It all starts with keyword research. Understand how to identify your keywords and how to optimize them. Research your competitors’ keyword strategy, and look for gaps you can fill. While you might not be in a position to overtake the market leader, you can likely find a niche within your space where you can outrank even the bigger fish.
If you’re looking to land in the featured snippet spot specifically, include H2 tags and keep your content short. Analysis shows that a paragraph around 45 words represents the sweet spot for getting served up in the snippet.
Featured snippets are frequently answers to queries phrased as questions. If you structure your site’s content as the answer to a question—say, by creating a FAQ page—you’re more likely to be seen as featured snippet material.
Making the Most of the Snippet
But some marketers have an even more essential question: Do you even want to be the snippet? If being featured is detracting from clicks to your site, isn’t it detrimental to rank in position zero?
The folklore around CTR offers conflicting evidence. Several case studies have demonstrated a considerable jump up in CTR for those ranking in the featured snippet. Conversely, others have reported that more than half of all searches now result in zero clicks.
Without comprehensive data, it’s hard to say definitively what the effects on CTR genuinely are. But one thing is undeniably true: It’s always best to be at the top of SERPs. If snippets are the way to end up there, but you’re concerned about the possibility of driving down CTR, there are ways to make the most of your position at the top of the heap.
First: Optimize your meta title to include your brand name. Instead of “The Title of the Webpage,” make your meta title “The Title of the Webpage | Your Brand Name.” That way, even if people don’t click through, your brand’s name is prominently featured in the snippet.
Including branding in photos is another smart way to work your name into snippets. Many recipe snippets include an image. If yours is a liquor brand that wants to rank for the snippet “How to make a French 75,” place an image alongside your recipe. Position the drink in the foreground and your gin bottle behind it.
Finally, think outside the paragraph snippet box. While most featured snippets are in paragraph form, lists are another popular form of snippets. And if you rank for a list that’s longer than can fit in the snippet, people will have to click through to your site if they want to read the full list (see this example from Healthline, where searchers have to click through to view all the top fitness apps for 2020).
Outsmarting the Snippet
Still wary of the snippet altogether? That’s understandable. Ahrefs released research that shows with almost 100% certainty that only pages already ranking in the top 10 results on Google will be tapped to occupy the featured snippet spot.
So what’s a brand to do if it’s going up against industry giants that dominate SERPs? If you can’t beat ‘em, forget about ‘em.
Sometimes the best way to outsmart the snippet is to work outside the Google search box. One way to do that is to build brand authority with your existing audience.
If you sell athletic-wear and you’re not Nike or Adidas, there’s no way you’re going to outrank them. But suppose you stay top of mind with your audience through other means, like social media and email communications. In that case, you create a world where they go directly to your site when they’re looking for a pair of new running shoes, rather than Googling and inevitably finding a big brand to solve their problem.
Alternatively, you can create your own universe outside of Google. Many smaller brands have built cult-like followings in online communities. Create a fan page on Facebook or a Slack channel for enthusiasts of your brand. They’ll come straight to the community whenever they have questions about your area of expertise, rather than looking to Google and snippets.
Much like those creatures of legend, featured snippets and zero-click search may never be fully understood. But when you know enough about SEO and your own brand’s unique value proposition, you don’t have to live in fear of zero-click search. You can leverage Google SERPs when it serves you and find more promising alternatives when it doesn’t.