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.

Photo by henry perks on Unsplash

How Google’s New Ground Rules for Search Term Reporting Affect Advertisers

How Google’s New Ground Rules for Search Term Reporting Affect Advertisers

Google

If it seems to you that Google is reporting fewer search terms in your keyword reports, you are not alone. As discussed in Search Engine Land, Google is revising search term reports “to only include terms that were searched by a significant number of users.” As a result, advertisers have access to fewer search terms when evaluating keyword performance. And lack of visibility is a problem.

Here’s how advertisers are affected: lack of visibility into keyword performance makes it more difficult for advertisers to optimize campaigns, especially when using manual bid strategies. That’s because advertisers lose valuable insights into how people are searching. Without that insight, advertisers struggle to add negative keywords to block irrelevant traffic and improve traffic relevancy — which ultimately can make controlling costs per conversion more difficult.

The new ground rules also lack transparency. Google has not explained what the criteria for a specific search term to be deemed as one being “searched by a significant number of users.”

Taking a Closer Look

The change means that advertisers and their agency partners cannot see all the search terms that match their keywords. As a result, it’s impossible for anyone planning keyword spending to have a complete view of how people search — which means keyword planning is less efficient and more costly.

We have seen the negative impact of this change in our own client work. Here are two examples:

  • On one of our campaigns, thanks to this update, we have lost visibility into search terms that account for 47 percent of month-to-date clicks. If this doesn’t sound significant, consider that in highly competitive verticals with relatively high cost per clicks, advertisers may lose visibility into search terms that drive 44 percent of month-to-date spend, just as it happened for our client.
  • In another campaign, we have lost visibility into search terms that account for 53 percent of month-to-date clicks. In other words, we cannot see search terms that drive 51 percent of month-to-date spend for our client.

When an advertiser cannot see which search terms correspond to its keyword spend, then the risk for inefficiency is unacceptably high. Unfortunately, advertisers end up paying for irrelevant search terms, which means paying for terms that are not converting. The visibility fog is not so damaging for advertisers whose cost-per-click spend is low, say, $1 CPC. But for an advertiser paying, say $50 per click, the resulting inefficiency is very high.

Why Is Google Limiting Keyword Visibility?

Why is Google doing this? Well, Google’s official stance is that it all comes down to user privacy. As Google told Search Engine Land:

In order to maintain our standards of privacy and strengthen our protections around user data, we have made changes to our Search Terms Report to only include terms that a significant number of users searched for. We’re continuing to invest in new and efficient ways to share insights that enable advertisers to make critical business decisions.

While Google’s primary purpose may be to protect privacy, this change may result in greater ad spend as budgets are increased in order to make lead goals – which means more revenue for Google. Having visibility into search terms means a more targeted spend for advertisers, and less money for Google. But when an advertiser lacks visibility, the advertiser may spend money needlessly on terms that are irrelevant to the product or service that is being advertised. An inefficient spend means more money for Google resulting from wasted dollars.

We reached out to Google to share our concerns. If you are seeing similar results, you may want to provide your feedback to Google as well.

Contact True Interactive

To succeed with online advertising, contact True Interactive. Read about some of our client work here.

What Is DuckDuckGo? Advertiser Q&A

What Is DuckDuckGo? Advertiser Q&A

Advertising Marketing

Part of the price of being popular is being a target. And as we enter 2020, Google is certainly a big target for privacy advocates, who are uncomfortable with the amount of personal data that the master of the search world collects. And when privacy advocates talk about Google, they mean more than Google.com – there’s also Google Maps, YouTube, and a host of other Google-owned properties to consider. Amid the ongoing discussion about Google’s size and reach, search engine DuckDuckGo has emerged as an alternative for privacy advocates. DuckDuckGo is cast as an underdog and defender of personal privacy, partly because of how the company positions itself (“privacy, simplified”) and partly because of DuckDuckGo’s operating model (DuckDuckGo does not store personal information, follow users around with ads, or track users).

What, exactly, is DuckDuckGo, and how big is it? Let’s tackle these and other questions we’ve been getting from clients.

What Is DuckDuckGo?

Founded in 2008, DuckDuckGo is a search engine whose claim to fame is protecting user privacy. DuckDuckGo does not store IP addresses or log user information; and DuckDuckGo uses cookies only when required. The search engine also markets itself with a bit of cheek (according to its website, “At DuckDuckGo, we don’t think the Internet should feel so creepy and getting the privacy you deserve online should be as simple as closing the blinds”) and defiance (“Too many people believe that you simply can’t expect privacy on the Internet. We disagree and have made it our mission to set a new standard of trust online”).

Think of DuckDuckGo as an alternative search engine for those who want to maintain a brick wall of privacy between themselves and the digital world when they search.

How Big Is DuckDuckGo?

DuckDuckGo accommodates 1.5 billion searches a month with nearly 15 billion searches conducted in 2019. By contrast, in 2019, Google accommodated 2 trillion searches a day. Although DuckDuckGo is tiny by comparison, the search engine is growing. Those 15 billion searches represent a 60 percent increase over 2018 (9.2 billion) and nearly a tripling of 2017 searches (5.9 billion). Clearly, DuckDuckGo is catching on – with a small segment of the population, yes, but a growing on.

How Does DuckDuckGo Make Money?

DuckDuckGo makes money through advertising and affiliate marketing. Just because DuckDuckGo protects your privacy, it doesn’t mean DuckDuckGo offers ad-free search results. If a user searches for, say, “vinyl records near me,” DuckDuckGo returns advertisements based on the keyword search. But DuckDuckGo does not track or use a person’s data after the search is completed. In addition, DuckDuckGo earns affiliate marketing revenue from sites such as from Amazon and eBay. When users buy something on those sites after reaching them through DuckDuckGo, DuckDuckGo collects a commission. For more insight about advertising on DuckDuckGo, check out this link from the company.

Is DuckDuckGo Reliable?

Your mileage may vary. The search engine has been called out for lacking certain functionality available on Google and Bing, such as custom date ranges. And to be sure, Google provides an interconnected universe of properties (Google.com and Google Maps being a good example). But DuckDuckGo is building out its functionality. For instance, you can do location-based searches through an integration between DuckDuckGo and Apple Maps. The best way to test it is to try it.

Should I Advertise on DuckDuckGo?

Businesses with a limited budget should focus on the properties where they’ll get the most bang for the buck, and without question there are bigger alternative such as Google and Bing that provide much more ad visibility. One of DuckDuckGo’s challenges is that the site itself requires a bit of word of mouth for people to find. But that said, businesses might want to consider DuckDuckGo for discretionary ad spend targeting a smaller privacy-conscious segment of the population.  According to research from SimilarWeb, loyal users of DuckDuckGo love tech, and they use DuckDuckGo as an alternative because they’re concerned about having their privacy protected while they search online. If that’s the type of audience for you, consider DuckDuckGo.

Contact True Interactive

To make online advertising work for you, contact True Interactive. We’re an independent agency that optimizes branded interactions to drive traffic and increase sales.

Three Ways to Capitalize on Amazon Search

Three Ways to Capitalize on Amazon Search

Amazon

We already know that Amazon is the Number One website for people to do product searches: according to a 2018 Jumpshot report, from 2015 to 2018, Amazon overtook Google in this area, with Amazon growing to claim 54 percent of product searches while Google declined from 54 percent to 46 percent. Now we know something more. According to Marketplace Pulse, a majority of Amazon searches—78 percent, in fact—are nonbranded. Instead of pinpointing a specific company like lululemon, say, many customers are making broad searches such as “yoga pants for women” and seeing what comes up.

This data demonstrates the opportunity that exists — indeed, just how wide open the playing field on Amazon is for businesses that sell products there. People are searching with intent on Amazon: they want to buy something. But they haven’t yet decided on what to buy. And here’s where the savvy marketer can make inroads.

Amazon Is Growing as an Ad Platform

The data also underscores just how big Amazon has become as an advertising platform. As we recently blogged, Amazon continues to grow, and is biting into other companies’ share of the spoils. eMarketer’s report that Amazon is projected to capture 8.8 percent of U.S. digital ad spending in 2019 is telling. So was the GeekWire article from January 2019, which discussed record 2018 profits for Amazon, and gave props to advertising for contributing to that success. According to GeekWire, “Fueling its bottom line is Amazon’s growing advertising arm that generates revenue by charging companies to promote their products on Amazon properties.”

Three Ways to Capitalize on Amazon Searches

How can a business take advantage of these developments? That is, what sort of strategy should businesses embrace in order to capitalize on the possibilities Amazon affords?

1 Advertise on Amazon

First of all, make sure you advertise on Amazon and that you know how to do so. Familiarize yourself with the complete listing of Amazon Advertising offerings.

And check out our blog. We’ve published numerous posts to help businesses understand Amazon’s many advertising options, including:

  • Sponsored ads, the pay-per-click (PPC) advertising approach that takes a shopper directly to a product page or brand site within Amazon. Sponsored ads are available to sellers, venders, book venders, and Kindle Direct Publishing.
  • Video ads, which complement display ads by expanding beyond a single image to tell a compelling story. Video ads can be used to target a certain audience on Amazon as well as Amazon-owned and third-party sites (e.g., Twitch) and devices.
  • Display ads, which, like video ads, can be employed to reach people in a specific target audience.

Additionally, be aware that Amazon is constantly refining and improving its advertising offerings and creating new ones. Stay abreast of the changes.

2 Make Sure You Have Good Reviews on Amazon

Reviews carry a lot of weight and can help you. According to an oft-cited 2012 Nielsen release, 70 percent of respondents had some or complete confidence in online reviews of products, whether they knew the reviewer or not. Online reviews also tap into basic human psychology. In a description of Dr. Robert Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion, the Influence at Work website describes consensus as the phenomenon where “people will look to the actions and behaviors of others to determine their own . . . especially when they are uncertain.” Note that in the case of consensus, at least online, more is more. Five hundred positive reviews will impress consumers more than three will, no matter how glowing those three reviews happen to be. Ask customers to review you.

3 Be Aware That Advertising on Amazon Is Not a Slam-Dunk

Amazon has flooded its site with its own private label products. Understand Amazon’s generic product strategy — it’s huge —especially if you are a commodity brand such as a seller of batteries, vents, or paper towels. You’ll have to work hard.

There’s a lot of money to be made on Amazon. If you already have products there, know how to capitalize on Amazon’s tools to attract customers. If you don’t, think about making that happen.

Contact True Interactive

True Interactive knows how to build your business via advertising on Amazon in context of broader online advertising strategies. Want to learn more? True Interactive can help. Contact us.

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

Are Bid Tools Pulling Their Weight in Higher Education?

Are Bid Tools Pulling Their Weight in Higher Education?

Search

Advertisers in higher education spend a lot of money on paid search, and they want the best possible bid tools to drive leads and keep costs in check. But are advertisers in higher education getting their money’s worth with bid tools?

Branded keywords typically drive the most volume, and they’re usually pretty easy to manage. Put another way, staying in Position One in search results doesn’t take a lot of technology horsepower to accomplish. Now, if you are an advertiser in higher education, you typically buy a lot of degree-related keywords — both branded and non-branded, and both long- and short-tail. Naturally, you want to be able to set up some rules and let your bid tool do the work. Your bid tool is smarter than you — so you should turn it on and be amazed by the results, right?

Wrong.

Here’s the problem with bid management tools in the higher education space for a lot of advertisers: lack of volume (clicks and leads) on non-branded keywords, or even branded keywords combined with a degree type. Higher education isn’t retail, where the sheer volume and complexity of an account makes it a perfect fit for a bid management tool.

We find that up to 85 percent of your keywords don’t generate enough click volume in a week or in a month to justify adjusting your bids for non-branded keywords. Yes, you can set up click or lead thresholds and parameters to dictate when the bid management tool should adjust the bid. You can establish position rules as well. But the point is this: if the bid management tool doesn’t have enough click volume to make sound decisions, is it worth the monthly fee?

Furthermore, you know how expensive some of these cost per clicks are. If you advertise for an MBA program you know what I mean! What you don’t need is a bid tool moving you out of a Top Four position just because you didn’t get enough volume in a particular week.

So for higher education advertisers, bid tools may be ineffective because there isn’t enough volume in those keywords for bid tools to to use their algorithms to adjust bids. (The exception occurs with branded keywords and a handful of tried-and-true program/degree keywords.)

Is this the case for all .Edu advertisers? No. But my advice to higher education advertisers is to look carefully at what you’re spending on bid management tools and what you’re getting from them – especially when you get outside of top performers.

So what should you use to manage your keyword bidding? Search engines have come a long way with their (free) bidding capabilities, and my recommendation to several clients has been to start with the free bidding capabilities available from search engines such as Google and evaluate their performance after three months. We’ve used that approach and combined some scripts that we’ve created to eliminate not only cost, but also many of the headaches associated with plugging low-volume keywords into bid tools that need high volume to work well.

Meanwhile, feel free to contact me (mark@trueinteractive.com) to share your insights.

Lead image source: Dave Meier (https://stocksnap.io/author/480)

Adapting Your PPC Strategy for Voice Search

Adapting Your PPC Strategy for Voice Search

Search Uncategorized

The evolution of artificial intelligence is changing the way people search online. Consumers are constantly connected to devices whether mobile, desktop, or tablet. And people are increasingly using voice search because of the proliferation of personal assistants on these devices such as Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, or Amazon’s Alexa. When utilizing voice search capabilities, consumers are exercising a more natural and conversational language, thus altering their search behavior. Consequently, brands need to alter their own behavior, including their strategies for pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns. Since people do not type and speak in the same manner, digital marketers need to understand how their audience relies on voice search in order to be relevant in the era of voice search.

Unfortunately, Google and Bing do not provide a way to pull data regarding voice searches. Voice searches are translated into text and listed as regular search queries. At times you might see, “Siri, can you . . . ” or “OK Google” before a search term, but that’s not always the case. Brands need not wait for technology to advance in order to adapt their PPC campaigns for voice search. Here are a few strategies to consider:

Evaluate

First, evaluate your search queries and look for conversional text. “Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” “Why,” and “How” are great phrases to focus on. Also, pay attention to any long-tail queries that include a natural phrase such as “near me” or “can I get the number for . . . ” Use these queries to understand what consumers want to know about your products or services. You can then gather those learnings to strategize a personal user experience for voice searchers.

People using voice search might seek a different user experience than what you’re providing for text searches. For example, the consumer might be trying to find “a plumber near me” but being driven to a landing page with a list of products on it. Once you know what your audience is looking for, determine if your paid advertisements and landing pages satisfy those searches so that you can improve performance for your PPC campaigns.

Optimize and Customize

Artificial intelligence encourages searchers to use conversational language. When trying to find an Italian restaurant in Chicago, one using voice search might ask: “What is the best Italian restaurant in Chicago?” However, if that same user wanted to search on a keyboard, they might type: “Best Italian restaurants Chicago.” The variation in tone shows that voice searches are looking for an immediate answer while text searches indicates that the consumer is still in the research phase.

Since voice search users are on the go looking for a quick direct answer, it’s important to optimize your content and ad copy to align with all the questions related to your offerings. Customize ad copy and drive traffic to a high-quality content landing page to ensure a better user experience and quality score. It’s also important to incorporate human-like content in your search ads and landing pages to match the natural phrases being searched.

Listen and Learn

Since voice search is becoming more widely adopted, especially for millennials, we can predict that we will see more PPC advancements and features to come focused around artificial intelligence. Even though we cannot track data for voice search yet, take advantage of what we have access to now by creating tests and strategies. Once you understand how your audience is using voice search, you can begin to prepare your PPC campaigns for the growth of artificial intelligence.