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New Study: Zero-Click Searches Are Actually Not That Common

In our last blog post, we mentioned how featured snippets were contributing to the drastic rise of so-called “zero-click searches,” where someone would enter a search query and then not click on any of the results. This can happen more when the information they’re looking for is presented at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) in the featured snippet.

We noted how zero-click searches had accounted for over 50 percent of all search queries as early as 2019 and that the trend had not slowed down.

It sure seemed like that was the case, as a study from over a year ago put the number at 65 percent.

Just a few days ago, though, Semrush revisited the zero-click phenomenon. According to their numbers, zero-click searches actually only happened around 25 percent of the time.

We dug into the discrepancy and found, to our complete lack of surprise, that it centers on the nuance that lies within a “zero-click search.”

Old Studies: Lots of Searches Don’t Lead to a Click on Another Web Property

In 2019 and 2021, Rand Fishkin, a leading search engine optimization (SEO) pro, combed through reams of data to see what people did after conducting a search query through Google.

In 2019, he found that a little over 50 percent of queries did not lead to a click.

In 2021, he found that the percentage had increased to 64.82 percent.

While other SEO pros thought that the numbers were a bit high, the data nevertheless seemed to confirm industry suspicions that Google’s attempts to provide information in the SERP was draining web traffic from the sites that actually provided that information.

However, as lawyers everywhere know, the devil is in the details.

According to Fishkin, a “zero-click search” was one that did not lead to a click to another web property. A search that led to a click was one where the user went from the SERP to another domain, whether that domain was linked in the organic or paid listings or another SERP feature like the local box, a featured snippet, or the knowledge graph.

Zero-click searches, therefore, included instances where the user was confronted with the SERP and:

  • Closed the browser after either giving up their search for information or finding what they wanted from the SERP
  • Refined their search query and conducted another
  • Switched from a general web search to an image search
  • Clicked on a domain in the results that was owned or operated by Google

Unfortunately, and in spite of repeated urging from other SEO leaders, Fishkin did not break down his zero-click data to show the percentages of these outcomes. This led to valid criticisms that his reported percentage of zero-click searches was too high because it included queries where there never was an intent to click on a site, like people searching for the weather forecast or the score of a baseball game, which they know will be displayed prominently on the SERP.

Now Study Breaks Down the Zero-Click Numbers

A new study by SemRush released on October 25 included that extra data. While Fishkin categorized outcomes as either organic clicks, paid clicks, or “non-clicks,” SemRush used five categories:

  1. Organic clicks
  2. Paid clicks
  3. “Google” clicks, or clicks that left the SERP but stayed on Google without changing the query
  4. Google keyword changes, where the user refined the query to conduct another one that is more likely to get the information they want
  5. All other outcomes, which supposedly would only include “true” zero-clicks

The results:

The good news is that this is not entirely out of line with Fishkin’s data: Organic and paid clicks are right about where Fishkin said they would be. This creates an aura of reliability.

The better news is that we can now see deeper into the zero-click world. Half of the queries that we had thought were ending at the SERP are actually getting refined or are just moving around within Google’s many domains.

Google user not clicking on the results page

What Does This Mean for Your Law Firm?

In the past, we have stated that law firms marketing themselves online should not pull their hair out about zero-click searches and the web traffic they could be taking from your firm’s site. A lot of the zero-click queries are going to be looking for information that is easy to display on the SERP and for which there is one true answer. Legal information, on the other hand, is nothing if not nuanced.

However, there are numerous, fairly simple and straightforward legal queries that can be answered succinctly on the SERP. Think “difference between a misdemeanor and a felony” and “legal BAC limit.”

Search queries like these, however, can still be targeted with carefully constructed webpages that target the featured snippet. If successful, your firm would be providing the answer that satisfies the user.

An even better outcome, though, would be to target the snippet with a passage that both provides the information and introduces some nuance that pushes the reader into clicking through to your site to learn more.

As an example, for the query “legal BAC limit,” a good outcome would be for your firm to have the webpage chosen for the featured snippet that tells readers that it is 0.08 percent. The better outcome, though, would be for your featured snippet passage to tell readers that it is 0.08 percent, but also that there are exceptions for holders of commercial drivers’ licenses (CDLs) and minors under 21, that you can get a DUI for a “low blow” in some states, and that it’s 0.05 percent in Utah.