What do Zero-click Searches Really Mean?

Mindswipe Zero-click searches
Rand Fishkin published a study concluding that zero-click searches rose to nearly 65% last year. That is, 65% of searches did not result in a click through to a website. What do zero-click searches really mean?

There are layers upon layers of FUD surrounding this kind of statistic, plus some genuine concerns.

The three main arguments here seem to be:

  • Is that 65% stat accurate? What's the methodology? What's the basis? What's the measurement? You'd have to go through Rand Fishkin's figures to get an understanding of that.
  • Is that 65% stat relevant? What constitutes a zero-click search? Four attempts to get the right search term before you dive into a page of results would actually be an 80% zero-click search with no harm done. You needed five attempts to get the candidate results you wanted. Only one is a 'final answer' type search worth the user's attention, the preceding four were trials.
  • The controversy comes in the genuine zero-click searches where the user finds the answer right in the Google results page - meta description, feature snippet, accordion questions, etc. Does this mean websites are missing out on traffic?

Who is the Customer?

Remember that Google's business model is not to send anyone traffic, it's to answer the question you put into the Google search box. If Google can put the answer right there in the SERPs, job done, go no further. Other websites are not the customer. The person making the search isn't even the customer. The customer is Google's advertisers. It's an advertising business with a search engine attached.

This questions the ethics of business model that Google serves up other people's valuable content for free? That's a fundamental question about revenue and copyright.

If the answer Google puts in the results is lifted from a commercial site or one supported by sponsorship or advertising, does that deprive the IP holder of traffic-based revenue?

This is the view of Google as a giant tech-parasite leaching everyone else's content whilst making money off its own advertising business. It also goes to the heart of the recent debate over Google and Facebook vs the mainstream press.

If zero-click-through's mean zero traffic for content providers, how to they continue to pay to produce content? So argued News International in the Australian courts. Was that a legitimate case of content protection or a shake down by one giant corporation with lawyers and government lobbyists against another?

Murdoch's News International may not seem like the most deserving case for a revenue-split, but what about the two-men-and-a-dog operation at the Shoestring News and Advertiser in Alice Springs?

Let's not forget that websites make content available for indexing by the search engines in the hope of getting traffic. There is no obligation by the search engines to put any of this in the results. There's no fundamental right for the search engines to send traffic to anyone. The fact that everyone expects it is embedded in the way the Internet is perceived to work. It was never thus.

Don't want the search engines to put your content in their results for free? Set the robots.txt file to no-index. Gone. Along with any organic traffic. It's a bind.

Google responded to the Rand Fishkin report to say that Google Search actually sends more traffic to the open web every year. That may also be true, but what kind of traffic is it? Is it traffic to websites that need the clicks and eyeballs in order to pay the bills and keep the lights on? Or is it traffic that goes to YouTube (another Google property) for free cat videos? 'More' just means quantity, not quality.

Simply saying zero-click searches rose to nearly 65% last year actually says nothing at all. RC