Remember when SEO was dead?

No, not that time. The time before. Nope, think further back. OK, you’re right, that was another time… Hey, how many times has SEO been “dead” now?

I jest, but the number of times articles have come out suggesting that search engine optimisation is over is huge. 94,700, to be exact:

seo is dead

Sometimes it’s people suggesting our discipline is pointless. Others, it’s people arguing for the persistence of SEO. In some cases, the phrase ‘SEO is dead’ seems solely to be used as clickbait. You only need to look at the top search results to see how mixed opinions are:

seo is dead opinions

I’ve been working in SEO for nearly a decade now. I keep coming into work. I keep finding a job waiting for me. Let the evidence show that, in spite of changing SERP trends and features, search continues to be a integral part of modern consumer behaviour. And for that reason, if nothing else, it won’t die. Not any time soon, anyway.

Understanding ‘no click searches’

Most people, by this point, recognise that SEO isn’t dead/dying. But savvy marketers definitely appreciate the changing SERP landscape. Here’s some nostalgia for you…

old google

Thanks to Reddit for the image:

Remember this? 10 blue links. Underlined. Simple. And SEO was simple too. Pop your keywords in your headings and throw in a few meta-keywords for good measure and you were pretty much guaranteed a top ranking. Even when we thought we were savvier – “only use your keywords in 2% of your text for optimal keyword density” – we really knew nothing of the changes to come. Nor did we know how those changes would affect our role.

My colleague Pete once described the SERPs for one of my client’s core terms water softener as ‘hench’…


google features

We’ve gone from 10 simple blue links to so many SERP features it’s difficult to see where the standard results even fit in any more. Moreover, it’s totally valid that SEOs see a search results page like this and worry. Between the ads, the PAAs, the shopping feed and the maps, how can we attract a click? (Of course, we do attract clicks. That’s why we’ve still got our client, and why our campaign for them was recently shortlisted for an award. I’ll come back to this later.)

The idea of ‘no click searches’ is that they’re the result of Google’s ever-expanding suite of SERP features. True to its mission of organising the world’s information and making it universally accessible, Google is giving more and more information to users within the search results themselves – with voice search certainly playing a role in making this happen.

Rand Fishkin over at Sparktoro wrote about this recently, noting that the instances of ‘no click’ or ‘zero click’ searches are growing:

no click searches

Thanks to Rand and Jumpspot for the image:

Yes, the number of searches resulting in no clicks is growing, as we can see from the data. The rate of growth is faster on mobile, where no click searches are far more likely.

Responding to no click searches

The reality is that no click searches are going to continue to grow, as long as Google uses its SERPs features. And that shouldn’t be considered a bad thing. Easier access to information is what Google is based on and as long as users are getting what they need, that has to be a good thing.

With that said, marketing still needs to be measurable and provide a proven ROI. We still need to achieve results.

Remember the water softener client? They’re not afraid of no click searches because we’ve got a solid strategy to both use and protect against them. Here are my tips for success in a no-click world:

Understand user intent

Thanks to fantastic tools like STAT alongside free to use tools like Google Search Console, we have access to more data than ever before. By using this data, we can start to better understand our own search audience’s behaviour.

Using the water softener client as an example, we have taken our strategy right back to basics by categorising our keywords according to intent. For anyone needing a refresher, here’s what I mean:

  • Transactional searches are those where the searcher intends to make a purchase, such as ‘buy red shoes’.
  • Information searches are those where the searcher intends to learn more but not necessarily to buy (yet), such as ‘how to wear red shoes’.
  • Navigational searches are those where the searcher intends solely to find something or navigate directly to a brand, such as ‘shoe shop’.

Many of these categorisation decisions are straightforward, derived from language use and therefore easily identified. Others require more investigation, such as using user data to see how users respond to different content, and audience research to ask them directly how they search and what they intend to find. There’s a lot of data/research out there about user intent – check out this guide from the chaps over at STAT for a pretty comprehensive overview.

Set your brand intent

Knowing the intent of your users and categorising your keyword targets accordingly, you can then set your own brand/business intent.

That means recognising that a search with informational intent won’t necessarily lead to a conversion today, but equally appreciating that, especially when it comes to more thought-out purchases, being the brand of choice can really help you in the future (aside from anything else, personalised search will prefer the brands a user has viewed before).

It also means noting that there’s more money to be made right now in the transactional queries, and prioritising accordingly.

For my client, that has practically manifested itself as a keyword target list that incorporates:

  • Core transactional queries – these being the terms that we know drive conversions
  • Informational queries – these being about educating the audience, sitting quite close to the conversion terms
  • Audience development queries – these being where we broaden the audience by tapping into search terms that feed the top of the funnel, but are least likely to result in quick conversions

Strategic prioritisation of search queries

Our strategies can now be set around a much deeper understanding of the intent behind the search queries for which we wish to appear. Armed with this information, we can focus our efforts according to what will help us/our client achieve our goals and prioritise our time to those activities which will generate the greatest improvement or revenue.

Take that a step further, and we can also append revenue data to particular keywords. If we know that our core transactional queries result in a conversion 1 in 10 times, and that the average sale price is £100, then each visitor for that query is worth £10. If we know that the conversion rate is more like 1 in 100, those visits are only worth £1.

But we also recognise that growth in those core transactional queries is likely to be much more difficult, given the competitive nature of transactional queries. So our strategy also facilitates a focus on top of the funnel terms, where the route to conversion is trackable but usually longer.

Practically speaking, this approach (very broadly) means our activity is split as follows:

  • For core transactional terms, we’ll focus on marginal gains, continuously using CRO techniques to maintain position 1 rankings and monitoring SERP features to gain maximum visibility, measured in terms of ranking positions, traffic growth through improved CTRs and conversion rates.
  • For informational and development terms, we’ll focus more broad-brush, investing in the creation of content and building of links to generate credibility and awareness, which is measured tangibly in the form of ranking improvement, traffic growth and visibility even where clicks are not achieved (because we know an information query where we hold the ‘featured snippet’ position may not result in a click simply because the information has been provided already but that it is contributing to building awareness of our brand).

Why no click searches don’t mark the death of SEO

No click searches don’t mark the death of SEO. In fact, I argue that their increasing prevalence serves only to push SEOs to be more strategic and holistic in their approach. The lines between traditional marketing and ‘digital marketing’ are blurring and it’s more important than ever that digital marketing approaches account for the full funnel, and not just immediate conversions.

If we appreciate the role that no click searches play for a user, we needn’t worry about them, but make them a part of our strategy. As we move toward the mass use of voice assistants and the internet of things, it’s less and less likely that we’ll be battling for a position in the top 10, and far more likely that we’ll need to be the brand of choice for our target audience to even stand a chance of visibility when it comes to conversion time. We need to be more focused around top of the funnel growth and audience expansion – with SERP features providing a platform for that. It’s not, in my opinion, that we need to be concerned about Google keeping traffic, more than we need to adapt our own KPIs to recognise that user behaviour is changing.

Invest wisely in broader approaches – namely the production of useful content across all parts of the funnel – and you can expect to reap the rewards of your efforts now and in the future.

What do you think of no click searches? How do you respond? Let me know in the comments.

Laura Hampton

Head of Marketing & PR

Head of Marketing at @impressiontalk specialising in user-centred SEO, PR, content marketing and digital strategy. In my spare time, I jump out of planes.

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