Why the Rise in Zero-Click Searches Matters – to You and Google

Why the Rise in Zero-Click Searches Matters – to You and Google

Google Search

Google has become so powerful that it’s the subject of anti-trust lawsuits at the federal and state levels. That’s probably one reason why Google is feeling a bit touchy about a recent SparkToro report that 65 percent of all Google searches don’t click through to a website. Instead, people are finding answers to what they need on Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) without needing to click anywhere else. Let’s take a closer look.

What Exactly Is a Zero-Click Search, and Why Does It Matter?

A zero-click search happens when someone searches for answers to a question – say, “Where is the closest car rental?” or “When is Earth Day 2021?” – and then finds the answer to their question on a SERP without clicking on a website for further information. For example, let’s say I find an answer to “Where is the closest car rental?” with the following local pack search result:

Google Local Pack

If I don’t bother clicking through to a website in the above local pack, and instead find what I need from the local pack itself, I have performed a zero-click search. And a SERP may display answers in many other ways, such as a featured snippet, image carousel, Google Ad, Google News, featured video, and more.

The term “zero click” was coined by SparkToro’s Rand Fishkin after SparkToro reported in 2019 that half of searches on Google do not result in a click on a website. Two years later, that number has climbed to 65 percent. Here’s what SparkToro said:

From January to December, 2020, 64.82% of searches on Google (desktop and mobile combined) ended in the search results without clicking to another web property. That number is likely undercounting some mobile and nearly all voice searches, and thus it’s probable that more than 2/3rds of all Google searches are what I’ve been calling “zero-click searches.”

This chart illustrates the findings:

SparkToro Zero Click chart

Industry watchers follow the zero-click phenomenon because it underscores the importance of complementing your website content with Google Ads, featured snippets, and many other types of search results that make your brand more visible on Google Search, Google Maps, and other elements of the Google universe.

Why Do Zero-Click Searches Matter to Google?

The rise of zero-click searches is a two-edged sword for Google. On the one hand, the SparkToro report shows why businesses need to choose Google as their home base for creating paid and organic content. More eyeballs on Google SERPs means a bigger audience for advertisers.

But the downside is that Google looks too powerful. This kind of attention does not serve Google well at a time when the company is fighting anti-trust lawsuits. In fact, Google has voiced opposition to the research. In a recent blog post, Google said,

This week, we saw some discussion about a claim that the majority of searches on Google end without someone clicking off to a website — or what some have called “zero-click” searches. As practitioners across the search industry have noted, this claim relies on flawed methodology that misunderstands how people use Search. In reality, Google Search sends billions of clicks to websites every day, and we’ve sent more traffic to the open web every year since Google was first created. And beyond just traffic, we also connect people with businesses in a wide variety of ways through Search, such as enabling a phone call to a business.

Google went on to knock the research SparkToro used. Among other things, Google said that SparkToro did not properly account for people navigating directly to apps or refining their queries after what appears initially to be a zero-click search.

In addition, as we have blogged, Google is trying to encourage businesses to adopt Google’s tools (under development) to maximize the value of their first-party data on their websites. If 65 percent of searches are not resulting in clicks on websites, the value of first-party data may get called into question.

What Should Brands Do?

It’s always been a good idea to balance the content you publish on your website with content across the digital world ranging from your Google My Business (GMB) listing to social media. That principle does not change in a zero-click world. We suggest:

  • Keep close tabs on your website data. Are you satisfied with visits, views, and click-through rates on your website? Are they staying at a level you want, going up, or going down? If your site is not performing where it should, first examine what needs to be fixed using tools such as website audits. You may need a tune-up, anyway.
  • Do build up your GMB listing. Why? Because according to Moz, your GMB listing is the biggest local search ranking signal (followed by reviews and proximity). If organic queries are increasingly going to your GMB and staying there, then make sure you’ve optimized your GMB content – including images, customer ratings/reviews, and location data – to be found.
  • Link your GMB account to your Google Ads account. Linking your GMB account to your Google Ads account makes it possible for your ads to appear with location extensions, which encourage customers to visit your storefront. Through location extensions, customers can see your ads with location information such as your address. And then they can get more information about your location by clicking on location extensions.
  • Make sure you’re capitalizing on Google ad products throughout the Google ecosystem. With Google keeping more searchers on Google and its properties, it behooves advertisers to capitalize on where that search activity is occurring.

Finally, it’s always a good idea to watch how Google develops its tools for maximizing the value of paid and organic content. Don’t be surprised if Google doubles down on the importance of personalizing content with first-party data.

Contact True Interactive

At True Interactive, we know how to help businesses navigate the complex waters of online advertising, including advertising on Google. Contact us. Learn more about our work here.

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What Advertisers Should Do about the Rise of Voice Search

What Advertisers Should Do about the Rise of Voice Search

Search

We’re living in an era in which people are using their voices to do everything from shop to check the weather. Signs continue to indicate that the rise in voice is more than a passing trend. In fact, recent data shows that businesses need to pay closer attention to voice search and the impact it can have on advertising and organic content.

What Are the Latest Statistics about Voice?

  • According to a 2019 report from Microsoft, 72 percent of people use voice search through a personal digital assistant, and 75 percent of households will be outfitted with at least one smart speaker by 2020.
  • A 2018 BrightLocal study reveals that over a 12-month period, 58 percent of surveyed consumers used voice search to find local business information. In addition, Forbes notes that consumers want voice search to help them with myriad tasks, including:
    • Making reservations.
    • Gathering price data on services and products.
    • Confirming whether an item is available.
  • According to estimates from eMarketer, more than 74 million Americans — almost 27 percent of the U.S. population — will be using smart speakers in 2019, a 15 percent uptick from 2018.

What Should Businesses Do about Voice?

In short, it’s becoming a world in which businesses must be prepared to use voice for advertising. As Jelli CEO Mike Dougherty shared with Forbes, voice will “open up opportunities for marketers and brands to get creative and interact with customers in new ways . . . The goal of any marketer is to establish a genuine connection with customers. Voice is their chance to get one step closer.”

Jennifer Hungerbuhler, the EVP and managing director, local video and audio investment, at Dentsu Aegis Network, concurs. She also notes that voice search will not only be important in the marketing, advertising, and media worlds, it will continue to evolve.

How Should Businesses Prepare for Voice?

Part of staying relevant in a world of voice search means understanding voice, and creating content that optimizes how voice works. For instance, as we have discussed on our own blog, advertisers should evaluate voice search queries and pay attention to the conversational text that occurs.

Conversational text, which tends to be more complicated than simple Google searches, is a clear indicator of how people express themselves during voice search. It can be an excellent resource when companies want to write copy consistent with how people are using their voices to search. “Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” “Why,” and “How” are great words to focus on. Long-tail queries that include natural phrases such as “near me” or “can I get the number for” can also be useful/telling. These queries can help identify what consumers most want to know about a company’s products or services—and how they parse their request via voice.

As Hungerbuhler notes, “Advertisers will need to get better at understanding how consumers want to find them in voice, the language they will use to do so, and how they can get onto a shopping list.”

The bottom line? Search behaviors are different when consumers use voice. Because brands, increasingly, want voice assistants to find their site, savvy businesses will tweak their advertising and organic content accordingly.

What You Should Do Next

What are next steps in this brave new world?

  • Prepare now by rethinking your approach to content.
  • Don’t panic. Realize that even though people are using voice assistants, it doesn’t mean they are doing so in droves. According to research firm Stone Temple, voice assistants still rank behind other choices such as mobile browsers or search engine apps.
  • But do act. Voice search isn’t going away. Andy Franco, the founder of Facebook advertising agency Live Surge, explains, “Just like search has become second nature to people who used to use card catalogs, voice is likely to be well used by those who are multitasking and need hands-free tools.”

Contact True Interactive

Contact True Interactive. We can help you better understand voice search as you craft your strategy.

Photo by Sebastian Scholz (Nuki) on Unsplash

Google Ruffles Feathers with Suggested Search

Google Ruffles Feathers with Suggested Search

Search

One of Google’s many useful search features is the “users also searched for” suggestion that appears in your search results. When you make a query for, say, car insurance or car loans, Google suggests similar phrases or words that people are also using. It’s a great feature, right? But not everyone thinks so.

Here’s why Google is ruffling some feathers with suggested search: businesses have begun to notice that Google has been dropping suggested searches amid advertising results. And those suggested searches can lead people to an advertiser’s competitor sites – potentially hijacking the ad. For instance, as depicted in Search Engine Land, if you search for car loans, Google may serve up ads for car loan offers, but then also tell you that people are also searching for car loan rates, new car loans, and other similar phrases:

The problem is that if you click on the eight suggested searches depicted in the above options, you may very well be taken to a site that competes with the advertisers such as Lending Tree and CarMax where the suggested searches appear – which is hardly good news for Lending Tree or CarMax.

Why Suggested Search Is Good for Advertisers

As Search Engine Land reported, advertisers are annoyed. But maybe they shouldn’t be. Here’s why:

  • If your ads are compelling with good creative and strong calls to action, you have nothing to worry about.
  • With the suggested searches, Google is providing ideas for you to test copy and to bid on keywords that might have escaped your notice.

By meeting the needs of users first, Google might actually be helping advertisers.

What do you think?

Why You Might Be Wasting Money on Bid Modifiers

Why You Might Be Wasting Money on Bid Modifiers

Search

With the holiday shopping season here, it’s time to re-examine how you’re using bid modifiers in your paid search campaigns. You might be wasting your budget by using too many modifiers.

Google continues to introduce more refined targeting features such as gender, income level, audience targeting, and look-alike audiences. Soon you’ll have in-market audiences. Having more targeting options for your campaigns is good. When businesses serve up more relevant ads, everyone wins: the consumer, the advertiser, and Google.

But here’s the problem: it’s too easy for advertisers to pile on the bid modifiers to their campaigns. Just because you can target by device, location, gender, age, and time of day (to cite just a few modifiers) it doesn’t mean you should.

Let’s say you are a brick-and-mortar retailer advertising a personal care product to women of a certain age. Your research shows that your target age range is likely to respond favorably. You launch your campaign and start achieving results. Then you decide that maybe, just maybe, you’ll earn more if you target a higher income bracket at a certain time of day. Then you discover that your company is opening a new store in Orlando, and so you modify your bid to target the location. Well, the more you refine your bid, the more your campaign is going to cost.

Here’s what happens when you pile on too many modifiers:

  • You can waste money. Your costs per click increase with each modifier. The next thing you know, you’re overspending because you’re trying to reach a highly targeted audience when advertising to a more broadly defined set of consumers might have achieved as good or better a result for less money.
  • You dilute your ability to measure performance. You might see improvement in a campaign. But with 10 different bid modifiers in place, how do you know which one is moving the needle?

This issue has persisted for years. In 2013, Erin Sagin of Business2Community warned about using too many modifiers as part of Google’s Enhanced Campaign feature:

In reality, this feature can result in vast overbidding. Here’s the catch—if a search fits the criteria for multiple bid modifiers, all adjustments are “stacked” on the base bid. For example, imagine that a keyword’s base bid is $1 and you’ve set your device modifier to increase bids by 100% on smartphone searches, your geographic modifier to increase bids by 50% for searchers located in Florida, and your time of day modifier to raise bids by 100% from 9 p.m.-11 p.m. If someone in Florida searches this keyword on their phone at 9 p.m., the bid will automatically be bumped to $6.

But advertisers continue to struggle with overbidding, one reason being that they just aren’t aware of the problem or they cannot resist the lure of experimenting with more targeted advertising as AdWords introduces new features.

To guard against the temptation of piling on with too many modifiers, True Interactive suggests:

  • Define your marketing strategy and stick to it. A sound strategy encourages a disciplined spend. Your keyword bids should reflect your agreed-upon product development and rollout campaign. Don’t create keyword bids on the fly. But if your marketing strategy changes, then re-examine your keyword strategy and modify accordingly.
  • Limit your bid modifiers. Apply only a few at a time. If you want to experiment with another modifier, consider dropping one. Limiting your modifiers helps you isolate which ones are performing the best.
  • Use negative modifiers instead of positive modifiers. Instead of adding on to your bid to reach an audience, add negative bids to audiences you don’t want to reach. It sounds so simple, but not enough advertisers use this tactic. Doing so makes for a more efficient spend.

Bottom line: be disciplined and strategic about your bid modifiers. Remember the adage: just because you can doesn’t mean you should. For more insight into digital advertising, contact True Interactive. We’re here to help.

How to Put Google to Work for You

How to Put Google to Work for You

Search

Too often, businesses treat the Google algorithm as a necessary evil (“What do I need to do to deal with the latest algorithm change?”). But you can put the Google algorithm to work for you if you’re willing to exercise some creativity. A recent True Interactive client experience is a case in point.

The Backstory

Optimum provides cable service to millions of subscribers in the northeast United States. In the New York tri-state area, the company offers digital cable television, high-speed Internet, voice services and Optimum WiFi.

Not long ago, Optimum wanted to improve the effectiveness of its paid search. Through merger/acquisition, the company had become part of a larger family of brands along with cable provider Suddenlink, a True Interactive client that provides service throughout the south and west U.S.

The company noticed that True Interactive was getting better results from paid search for Suddenlink than Optimum was getting from its own agency. So Optimum decided to do an A/B test: both True Interactive and Optimum’s legacy agency were challenged to test paid search campaigns over a three-month period.

Optimum assigned half the zip codes in one market to True Interactive. Our charge was to build from the ground up a paid search campaign including keyword management, creation of ad copy, and all other elements of paid search. The competing agency was given a market of similar size.

True Interactive was at a disadvantage because we needed to start a campaign from scratch whereas the legacy agency simply needed to continue performing in an already-established market.

How We Put the Google Algorithm to Work

We knew that Optimum was the dominant cable company in the area, especially in Google’s eyes. Optimum was competing against several smaller third-party firms and dish providers that do not capture as much attention from Google in the cable provider category — because unlike Optimum, they are not cable specialists.

Here’s where thinking out of the box came into play. It was tempting to play catchup by trying to bid for the top search position – and, to be sure, conventional wisdom often results in such a tactic. But we needed to think differently to show the client we understand the nuances of paid search.

We understood that Optimum dominates its the category in the New York area. We knew that Optimum’s market ownership made the company name more relevant than any other player in the eyes of Google. So, in fact, we avoided overbidding in Google search results. There simply was no need to outbid other companies when the Google algorithm was already rewarding Optimum with high-quality scores and higher positions in search results. In other words, we knew how to put the Google algorithm to work in our favor.

Rather than waste money overbidding, we actually lowered our bid for keywords and focused on driving qualified traffic to the Optimum website with effective ad copy and bidding smartly. Meanwhile, Optimum’s legacy agency pursued a strategy of bidding to achieve the highest possible position in search results. The strategy resulted in the agency paying more per click than True Interactive to attract customers.

Results

Within 60 days, True Interactive had attracted 40 percent more customers for 60 percent less money. Optimum halted the three-month test and awarded True Interactive its business.

The secret to our success was putting the Google algorithm to work for our client. We knew Google was going to favor Optimum in search results for non-branded words such as “cable provider” because the name held such strong authority with Google relative to the dish and aggregators in the area. We captured more clicks at a much lower CPC by simply allowing the algorithm to work in our favor.

Because True Interactive ran a cost-effective campaign focused on reducing CPC’s while retaining strong positions, rather than a “top position at all cost” strategy, we won the business.

Now, what if Optimum had been competing in an undifferentiated market saturated with other cable providers? Well, our approach would not have been so successful. We knew our approach would work because in the eyes of Google, there were few choices in our client’s market.

The lesson here is to understand your clients, their competitive market, and how the Google algorithm works. How have you put Google to work for you?

Amazon Takes a Bite Out of Search

Amazon Takes a Bite Out of Search

Search

If you haven’t incorporated Amazon into your search strategy, it’s time to reconsider your strategy. Over the last three years, Amazon has surpassed search engines as the place to start shopping online for products. According to a PowerReviews survey from 2016, 38 percent of people start their product searches on Amazon versus 35 percent who start on Google. A more recent survey from financial services firm Raymond James states a larger variance, with 52 percent starting at Amazon and only 26 percent starting on a search engine. No wonder Eric Schmidt of Google famously called out Amazon as its biggest search competitor in 2014.

I was surprised the first time I heard this information about search behavior on Amazon because Googling things has become second nature to me as a search marketing professional. Then I thought of my experiences as a new mom with an Amazon Prime account, and the numbers started to make more sense. Every time my son suddenly grows, or we’re almost out of some baby toiletries, or I don’t feel like making that third (or fourth) trip to the store, I go directly to Amazon. I can’t remember the last time I started shopping for a product on Google first.

Why are more people heading directly to Amazon? As it turns out, the main reasons most people start their searches on Amazon are:

  • The large variety of products.
  • Free shipping.
  • Better deals.
  • The number of product reviews available.

Another factor to consider is how many people who have an Amazon Prime account. According to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, 60 percent of Amazon customers are Prime members, and Prime members make up about 80 million people from the United States. Why would a person paying for a Prime account look somewhere other than Amazon first when online shopping?

So what does this information mean for companies that rely on paid search and SEO as the main drivers of online sales? Shoppers who start their search on Amazon may very well stay on Amazon if they find what they want when they want it.  For those shoppers, it does not matter how greatly organized and efficient a brand’s AdWords account is or how high the organic results are. People who start a search on Amazon and stay on Amazon will never see the ads and are very unlikely to purchase products from these companies. Brands that rely on e-commerce should continue to advertise on search engines. But it is also important for advertisers to take a serious look at their marketing strategy to see if incorporating Amazon into the mix makes sense.

Need help in figuring out if adding Amazon to your plan is the right strategy for you? True Interactive can help. Contact us for more information.

How Well Do You Know Your Negative Keywords?

How Well Do You Know Your Negative Keywords?

Search

Google has made great strides developing tools that help advertisers find their target market. Using some of those tools is important. But make sure you don’t forget some of the fundamental best practices to ensure campaign success. A good example is the use of negative keywords in your paid search campaigns – a tried-and-true tactic that can improve your ability to target your paid media considerably.

To refresh you: Google defines a negative keyword as a type of keyword that prevents certain words or phrases from triggering your ad. When you identify negative keywords in your campaign, you lessen the likelihood that your ad will appear for irrelevant searches. When I audit paid search campaigns, one of the most common mistakes I find is the failure to add a robust list of negative keywords.

Finding Ideas for Negative Keywords

Reviewing search query reports will almost always result in negative keyword ideas. In the higher education space, I often see searches around student log-in information, campus living options, and school sports teams. All those searches are fodder for negative keywords. In the retail space, I often see searches including “How to,” “How do I,” or “Can I use.” In many cases, these types of searches result in ad clicks, but not conversions. So such searches are potential sources for negative keywords to add to your campaign.

Some searches are easy to identify as irrelevant. But other negative keywords may not be as obvious to discern.  If you are questioning whether you should add a new negative keyword, I recommend reviewing 12 months of AdWords data if available. Using a Search Term Report, you can filter for searches containing the search term or phrase in question. If you are tracking conversions, you can see how many times those types of searches resulted in conversions, how much spend was accrued, and the cost/per conversion

That data should make it easier to decide to add a negative keyword to block specific searches from triggering your ads. While you are reviewing the Search Term Report and looking for potential negative keywords, take some time to review the search queries for new keyword ideas as well.

Uncovering New Terms

Of course, it’s important to form your negative keyword strategy in context of a general keyword strategy. The Search Term Report is a great tool for doing so. I like using the Search Term Report to do complementary analyses for keywords and negative keywords. I might use the report to find general keywords as follows: often, I uncover new terms that searchers are using to find my product. For example, they might use my modified keyword along with some other descriptive words that might be good keyword additions to my campaign. For example:

  • I might have “+product +x” as my keyword, but I see a repeated pattern of people searching for “lowest cost product x,” “best product x,” “product x for women,” etc.
  • Or, perhaps your product is being used for a purpose not previously known. For example, “Using product x in a garage,” “product x for boats.”

It may be beneficial to add some additional keywords based on your search query results and test performance.

Finally, with the increased popularity of voice searches, you will most likely be seeing longer search queries in your reports, which could offer you valuable insight into ways to better tailor your current set of keywords.  By eliminating spend on irrelevant traffic with a robust negative keyword list, you should see an improvement in paid search performance. And that’s how you turn a negative into a positive!

Image source: Wilfred Iven, https://stocksnap.io/author/775