Thriving in the New Era of Search: Adapting Your SEO for a Zero-Click World

The days of counting on a high organic click-through rate from search results are fading quickly. Over half of all Google searches now end without a click to a website, a trend that has been accelerating in recent years.

According to data from SparkToro, 64.1% of searches on Google in 2024 were "zero-click searches" — up from 50% in 2019. Nearly two thirds of all search queries now result in no website visit, as users increasingly find what they need directly on the results page.

"The rise of zero-click searches and the proliferation of SERP features means ranking #1 in the traditional 10 blue links is no longer the singular goal of SEO," says Dr. Pete Meyers, Marketing Scientist at Moz. "Searchers now often get their answer from the results page itself, reducing the overall volume of organic clicks up for grabs."

While the trend may seem concerning to digital marketers who have long relied on organic search traffic as a key performance indicator, the shift presents new opportunities as well. By adjusting your strategy for the modern SERP, you can still capture valuable visibility, brand awareness, and even conversions in a zero-click world.

What‘s Driving the Explosion of Zero-Click Searches?

Several key developments in how Google presents search results are behind the low-click trend:

  • The Rise of Featured Snippets: Placements at the top of the SERP that directly answer a searcher‘s question have seen massive growth. Over 20% of SERPs now include a featured snippet, according to Moz research.
  • More SERP Features: Visually engaging and data-rich features like knowledge panels, image and video results, and carousels for news, local results, and shopping push traditional organic listings further down the page.
  • Improved Instant Answers: For dictionary definitions, calculations, color conversions, sports scores, weather forecasts, nutrition facts, and more, Google now provides instant answers without the need for a click.
  • Voice Search and Virtual Assistants: The growth of voice-based searches on mobile and smart speakers means results are more likely to be read out loud, rather than clicked. ComScore estimates that over half of smartphone users engage with voice search.
  • Google‘s Own Properties: The search giant continues to expand tools and information within its own ecosystem, such as flights, hotel booking, job search, and local business profiles, that can fulfill a search without a website visit.

To visualize the crowded landscape of modern search results, here‘s a breakdown of the different SERP features appearing on a typical Google query today:

SERP Feature Prevalence
Organic Results 98.4%
Paid Ads 48.9%
Featured Snippet 22.3%
People Also Ask 42.2%
Image Pack 37.1%
Shopping Results 30.8%
Video Results 20.6%
Top Stories 12.4%
Tweet Box 7.4%

Source: Mozcast (January 2024)

As you can see, organic links are just one component of an increasingly diverse and dynamic SERP. Relying solely on the traditional "10 blue links" mindset will put you at a disadvantage in this new search landscape.

New SEO Strategies for a Low-Click Landscape

So how can you maintain a winning organic search presence when less than half of searches actually lead to your website? The key is shifting your focus to the real estate and opportunities available directly on the SERP.

"With the majority of searches now resulting in zero clicks, marketers need to think beyond just their website and ranking in the 10-blue-links," advises Izzi Smith, Senior SEO Manager at Ryte. "It‘s time to put more effort into optimizing for the SERP features that can satisfy the searcher‘s query right then and there."

Here are some of the tactics forward-thinking SEOs are using to thrive in the era of zero-click search:

Winning Featured Snippets for Your Brand

For informational and question-based queries, featured snippets have become the new #1 position in search results. Snippets enjoy prime real estate at the top of the SERP, and 54% of voice search results come from featured snippets, according to SEMrush.

To earn more featured snippets for your brand:

  • Research question-based keywords where snippets appear frequently
  • Create content that directly and concisely answers the question
  • Use header tags to clearly state the question and summarize the answer
  • Structure your content with paragraph, list, or table formatting
  • Provide the most credible, up-to-date information on the topic

Ranking in featured snippets boosts your brand‘s expertise, authority, and trust — even without a click. One case study by Ben Goodsell found that owning the featured snippet for a high-volume keyword increased their organic traffic value (not volume) by over 677%, as the brand name appears prominently in the snippet.

Optimizing for Increased Brand Awareness and Reach

Beyond just maximizing zero-click conversions, the new search landscape presents major opportunities to increase brand awareness and reach — even if users don‘t click through to your site.

"Think of every impression your brand makes in the search results as a mini-billboard," says Cyrus Shepard, SEO strategist and founder of Zyppy. "Even if there‘s no click, that visibility has tremendous value in building familiarity and affinity with your target audience over time."

A few ways to maximize brand impressions on the SERPs:

  • Image and Video SEO: Earn prominent placements in visually-engaging image and video carousels by optimizing your graphic and multimedia content. Use descriptive file names, alt text, structured data, and host videos on your own domain.
  • Content Snippets: Aim for informational snippets that showcase your brand‘s unique voice and expertise. Present tips, facts, and insights not found elsewhere. Structure your page to clearly answer the query.
  • Brand Knowledge Panels: Verify your brand information is accurate and complete across Google‘s Knowledge Graph sources, like Wikipedia, Wikidata and Google My Business. Use semantic markup to reinforce your authority as a topic.

A 2020 study by Yext found that, after 20+ impressions in branded search results, consumers were over 60% more likely to do business with that brand, compared to one with no SERP visibility. Make your brand omnipresent for relevant queries.

Enabling On-SERP Actions and Conversions

Depending on your industry and business model, you may also be able to drive valuable conversions and engagement without a user ever visiting your website.

"Think about what a conversion means in your world," says Britney Muller, Senior SEO Scientist at Moz. "For many local businesses, for example, a customer calling or driving to your store represents the end goal, not a visit to your website."

Some on-SERP conversion opportunities to activate:

  • Google My Business: Complete every field, add attractive photos, encourage reviews, provide Q&A, and post timely offers and updates. Searches can call, get directions, or message you right from the SERP.
  • Enhanced Listings: For restaurants, enable online ordering or reservations via third-party booking partners. For hotels, flights, events, and tickets, surface pricing and availability with relevant schemas.
  • Rich Results: For recipes, products, jobs, courses, and more, markup your content to showcase key details like ratings, pricing, and availability in eye-catching rich results right in the SERP.

One restaurant company found that by optimizing their Google My Business profiles across all locations and enabling online ordering, they increased on-SERP conversions by 32% and reduced their customer acquisition costs by 68%.

Tracking Non-Click SEO KPIs and ROI

As you expand your SEO strategy beyond driving clicks to your website, your methods for measuring, reporting, and attributing success need to evolve as well.

"SEOs need to get comfortable with additional KPIs outside of the traditional sessions, conversions and revenue numbers to reflect their full impact," advises JR Oakes, Senior Director of Technical SEO at Locomotive.

Some key non-click metrics to track include:

  • Impression and Ranking Share: What percent of relevant searches are you appearing in, and how often in the top positions? Use Google Search Console and keyword tracking tools.
  • Featured Snippet Ownership: How many featured snippets are you winning for target keywords, and which types? Monitor your snippet share of voice and which competitors own the rest.
  • On-SERP Engagement: Analyze metrics like phone calls, direction requests, online orders, and bookings originating from Google My Business, schemas, and other on-SERP conversion points.
  • Brand Lift and Survey Data: Measure the impact of search visibility on brand awareness, recall, sentiment, and customer loyalty through surveys and lift studies. Correlate to impression and ranking data.

By connecting the dots between your non-click SEO metrics and business KPIs like revenue, lead quality, and customer lifetime value, you can prove the value of your efforts beyond just website traffic.

The Future of Search Behavior and Rankings

The shift towards a low- and zero-click search landscape is likely to only accelerate in the years ahead. As Google continues to invest in providing instant answers, visual results, and interactive SERP features, user behavior will continue to evolve.

"We‘re on the cusp of a new era where the traditional search bar and rank-ordered list of links may no longer be the dominant metaphor," predicts Rand Fishkin, CEO and co-founder of SparkToro. "Younger users especially are gravitating towards more visual, vertical, and feed-based interfaces for discovery and finding answers."

To future-proof your organic search strategy for this next phase:

  • Monitor the latest developments in Google SERP features, layouts, and capabilities
  • Experiment with multimedia, interactive, and feed-friendly content formats
  • Invest in voice and conversational search optimization
  • Build your brand presence and authority within your industry‘s knowledge graph
  • Focus on holistic digital visibility and distribution across multiple platforms

"The ultimate goal of SEO remains the same: to connect your business with searchers at their moment of need," says Sarah Bird, CEO of Moz. "But today, that connection point is increasingly happening directly on the search results page, not your website. The faster you can adapt your mindset and tactics, the bigger advantage you‘ll have."

By embracing the new possibilities of on-SERP SEO, you can drive meaningful visibility, engagement, and growth for your brand – even in a world where less than half of searches result in a click. Because if you‘re not meeting your customers where they are, you can bet your competitors soon will be.