SEO News You Can Use: Pick Your Contender – Google and SparkToro in a Zero-Click-Search War

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Zero-click searches – the results appearing at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs), negating the need for a click-through – have long intrigued the SEO community. Virtually impossible to measure, these searches bring value to web pages, but their results cannot be tracked or analyzed. And, with Google’s slew of new SERP features keeping users on results pages without requiring them to click through, zero-click searches feel like an impossible gray area and a major gap in SEO.

Of course, that doesn’t stop SEOs from trying to understand them. New research into zero-click searches comes from Rand Fishkin, founder of SparkToro. If this feels like déjà vu, it’s because Fishkin ran a similar study in 2019 that went viral, using data from Jumpshot, the now-defunct clickstream data company. For this latest research, released as a follow-up to the 2019 study, Fishkin used data from SimilarWeb (already, this poses a problem). 

The SimilarWeb data, gathered from 5.1 trillion global Google searches on both mobile and desktop, found that nearly 65 percent of all Google searches ended without a click, up from 50 percent in 2019. The Jumpshot data, on the other hand, had been collected from 1 billion searches from desktop and Android devices – meaning these results should be taken with an even bigger grain of salt.

In the study, Fishkin all but states outright that Google is “stealing” traffic, sending fewer visitors to websites every year to assert its monopoly power and control over the search sphere. Well, someone disagrees, and that someone is Google. 

Releasing an article, written by Danny Sullivan, on Wednesday, Google contradicted SparkToro’s research with a few facts of its own, claiming that the traffic sent to the open web has increased year-over-year since Google Search was launched. Google also raises another valid point: Search connects users with businesses in many different ways that go beyond clicking through to a website, such as enabling a phone call. 

Sullivan includes three additional examples of context that were omitted from Fishkin’s report:

    People reformulate their search queries. People search for quick facts. People navigate directly to apps.

While Google as a business is far from innocent, the consensus in the SEO community is that, well, Google has a point. Research without context simply doesn’t paint the full picture, and by ignoring several valid limitations, the results are questionable at best. Having said that, many search engine marketers are siding with SparkToro. What’s your stance on the matter?

More SEO News You Can Use

Googlebot Doesn’t Click on Buttons – But There Is a Solution: In a recent Search Central JavaScript SEO office-hours hangout with Martin Splitt, site owners were warned that the use of buttons – for example, a “Load More” button revealing additional content – is not optimal. Googlebot is not able to click on buttons, and if it’s not clicking on them, it means it’s not crawling or indexing the content hidden behind them, either. Luckily, Splitt provides a straightforward alternative solution: consider using static links (for example, a link pointing to “Page 2”) instead of buttons or, even better, be sure each page in a series of pages displays only its own content. In other words, if a web page has 15 items and a link must be clicked to get to the next 15, that second page should display only the new 15 items and not the previous batch too. It’s simple, makes sense and it’s Google-approved!

Google’s Advancements in Natural Language Processing Could Make Keyword Clusters the Answer: Keywords are a die-hard SEO tactic, and it’s not a technique that ever really changes. But, with Google leaning into natural language processing and introducing new models like BERT and SMITH, the search engine is becoming more and more human in its understanding of language. Yes, Google’s getting smarter, so maybe it’s time for our approach to keyword research to change, too. This is the argument Manick Bhan makes in a Search Engine Journal (SEJ) article about keyword clusters – a way of grouping keywords to represent and target searchers who have broad queries but similar purchase intent. This strategy focuses on targeting primary keywords and several long-tail variants to leave no Search stone left unturned. Bhan makes a pretty convincing case for keyword clusters, so check out the article yourself and decide if your content strategy could use a revamp. 

Here’s What Data From Trillions (Trillions!) of Site Visits Reveals About Desktop Searches: Where thousands of billions of data sets are involved, research results deserve attention. Digital consultancy firm Perficient researched traffic stats of as many site visits in the U.S. and around the world, breaking them down by industry and year using the Google Analytics Benchmarking feature. Some of the most interesting findings published in Perficient’s blog include the notable increase in desktop searches in 2020 (likely driven by the pandemic forcing people to spend more time at home) and the fact that desktop browsing sessions averaged one more page per visit than mobile searches. Also, the data showed that people spend at least twice as much time browsing on desktop than they do on mobile. One thing’s for sure: we may be pushing mobile-first, but desktop is far from dead. Vive le desktop!

Here Are Some Handy Technical SEO Tips for eCommerce Sites, Straight From Google: When advice comes from Google, it’s best to sit up and pay attention. Last week, video SEO got the Google breakdown; this week, it’s eCommerce’s turn. In a Search Central Lightning Talks video hosted by Alan Kent, a Developer Advocate at Google, Kent shares technical SEO best practices for getting your product information displayed on Search, whether on Google Maps, Images or Shopping. Google is unable to get this information on its own, so it’s up to the eCommerce site owner to supply it. Product information can be provided to Google using structured data, product feeds and content API. And SEO always matters, so make sure your product images and descriptions are irresistible to potential customers.

Yes, We’re Still Talking About Hyphens in Search Queries: Sorry to all SEOs who have been doing this for decades – some discussions, I’m sure you know, will never die. A Twitter user asked Google’s John Mueller about Google’s current approach to hyphenated words. Does Google ignore hyphens in words? The answer is still no. Mueller responded that Google does not ignore hyphens in words, echoing his comments from 2017 that hyphens in search queries can actually change results. But can two variations of the same word, one hyphenated and one not, be treated the same? Can one rank for the other? The answer here is yes. Google learns to look at different words in different ways, so some hyphenated and non-hyphenated words could mean exactly the same thing to Google while the meaning for others could change. For the record, Mueller recommended a video for more insight on synonyms in Search, and it’s worth checking out. 

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