Google published an article aiming to debunk claims by SparkToro that only 35% of searches resulted in a click. Google contradicted those assertions with facts about the real-world context of searches today, stating that the findings about zero click searches are misleading.
An inconvenient truth that SparkToro might not have known about is that, rather than “steal” visits to websites, Google has yearly increased the number of visitors it sends to websites.
SparkToro claims that less clicks are going to websites. Google shared that they have increased the number of visitors to websites every year.
“We send billions of visits to websites every day, and the traffic we’ve sent to the open web has increased every year since Google Search was first created.
…we’ve seen that as we’ve introduced more of these features over the last two decades, the traffic we’re driving to the web has also grown — showing that this is helpful for both consumers and businesses.”
Mixed Reactions in Search Marketing Community
SparkToro’s claims that Google is sending less percentage of visitors to websites every year is seemingly incompatible with the fact that Google is sending more visitors to websites every year.
But the search marketing community was divided in its reaction to the “facts” presented by Google.
Search marketing expert Ammon Johns (@Ammon_Johns) commented on Facebook:
“Usually Google are a lot better than this at spinning BS. I’m disappointed.
Nothing in the piece in any way denies or counters the valid observation that despite overall search traffic increasing, including outward, Google have continually worked tirelessly on capturing and owning an ever larger share of it, and actively worked on multiple measures to have an ever increasing proportion of searches never leave Google or a Google owned property.
This ludicrously obvious article, in attempting to switch from proportional to absolute numbers as if we wouldn’t notice, is frankly patronizing, and offensively so.”
Another member of the search community said that it’s within the realm of possibility that zero clicks are up and that Google sends more visitors every year, but that it’s not valid to say that Google is “stealing” traffic.
Ok zero clicks. We can’t discuss the data and what it includes or doesn’t because we’ll never see the data. It can be true that 0-clicks are up AND clicks to websites are up. It’s not a valid conclusion that Google is “stealing” traffic – only that searcher behavior is changing
— Ryan Jones (@RyanJones) March 24, 2021
SparkToro Claims Are Misleading
Google called the SparkToro Zero Click claims misleading:
“To set the record straight, we wanted to provide important context about this misleading claim.”
Significant Problems with SparkToro “Research”
SparkToro made waves in 2019 with a research study claiming that less than 50% of searches resulted in a click and the idea was promoted from the search industry all the way to the halls of Congress where it was held up as evidence against Google.
But there were many problems with that 2019 report.
One of the many flaws was that the data contained Google App searches that are not tracked and therefore they could not know if the search result was clicked or not.
There are more flaws but I’ll set those aside for now because I want to highlight what a professional statistician said about those earlier claims because the flaws she pointed out in the 2019 report may carry over to the latest SparkToro research.
According to a professional statistician Jennifer Hood, the 2019 SparkToro research reached a flawed conclusion (Do We Have the Math to Truly Decode Google’s Algorithms?).
She pointed out that the 2019 SparkToro research suffered from Availability Bias.
Availability Bias is a cognitive bias that results in believing that something is representative of most things when in fact it is limited in scope.
A website about different biases offers this definition of availability bias:
“A distortion that arises from the use of information which is most readily available, rather than that which is necessarily most representative.”
This is what the professional statistician said about the 2019 SparkToro findings about the so-called Zero Click search results:
“Rand says he estimates that Jumpshot’s data contains ‘somewhere between 2-6% of the total number of mobile and desktop internet-browsing devices in the U.S., a.k.a., a statistically significant sample size…’ Rand would be right about statistical significance IF the Jumpshot data were a truly random and representative sampling of all Google searches.
From what I could find, [Jumpshot] harvested all their data from users who used Avast antivirus… This set of users and their data likely differs from all Google users.
This means that the sample Jumpshot provides isn’t random and likely not representative enough – a classic sampling error usually referred to as Availability Bias.”
This same bias may affect the current 2021 research in that it does not represent a true random sampling because it represents data from the SimilarWeb’s “proprietary panel of tens of millions of users who have installed” their apps (according to the SimilarWeb FAQ about the origins of their data).
Statistics Without Context are Problematic
Another issue that the statistician raised with the 2019 research that also plagues the 2021 research is a lack of context.
A problem she cited with the 2019 SparkToro zero click research is a lack of context.
“Statistics without context should always be taken with a grain of salt.
This is why there are analytics experts to raise questions and give context. What types of questions are people asking, and how have these maybe changed?”
She is making reference to the kinds of searches that lead to zero clicks and asks if there is a legitimate reason for not having a click.
Examples are searches for a phone number or the lyrics to a song. These are contexts of searches and if these contexts are things that are changing because more people rely on mobile devices then the conclusion that Google is stealing clicks fails to hold up.
And that is one of many problems with both the 2019 and the 2021 research that Google called “misleading.”
SEO Community Questions Validity of SparkToro Zero Click Research
It’s not just Google that pulled the curtain aside on the research. Members of the search community stood up to question it as well.
Glenn Gabe questioned the research specifically because it lacked context, which is what the statistician found problematic about the previous research.
Also, I hope you believe this topic is nuanced & needs context. I think it’s impossible to look at a top-level # like that w/something as complex as Search & say definitively that X% of searches are zero-click. Again, tons of searches for quick info w/no intention of clicking.
— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) March 22, 2021
Rand Fishkin disagreed.
This topic is WAY too nuanced to not provide a breakdown. Hard to believe you don’t agree with that… Context is *essential*. Intent is huge. So I think we should agree to disagree. 🙂
— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) March 22, 2021
Google Calls SparkToro Report Misleading and Lacking in Context
One of the criticisms Google raised with the SparkToro report was a lack of context. The author (Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan) also raised the issue that people use search differently than in the past and that can result in search queries that require an instant answer but do not need a click.
Here is what Google published:
“…this claim relies on flawed methodology that misunderstands how people use Search.
In reality, Google Search sends billions of clicks to websites every day, and we’ve sent more traffic to the open web every year since Google was first created.
And beyond just traffic, we also connect people with businesses in a wide variety of ways through Search, such as enabling a phone call to a business.”
That last part is an important point. People use search to connect with businesses in ways that go beyond clicking to a website, like connecting through a phone call.
Phone related searches should arguably have been filtered out. But when questioned by Glenn Gabe about filtering out legitimate informational searches, Rand Fishkin doubled down on not filtering for context.
Strongly disagree with:
“it’s impossible to look at a top-level # like that w/something as complex as Search & say definitively that X% of searches are zero-click.”
In fact, I’d say the *only* way to definitely say what % of searches are zero-click is without any filtering.
— Rand Fishkin (@randfish) March 22, 2021
Google Offers Four Examples of Context
Google’s Danny Sullivan offered as examples four contexts for why a search would not result in a click.
- People reformulate their queries
- People look for quick facts
- People connect with a business directly
- People navigate directly to apps
Danny further explained how Google connects users with websites, products and businesses:
“Over the years, we’ve worked to constantly improve Google Search by designing and rolling out helpful features to help people quickly find what they’re looking for, including maps, videos, links to products and services you can buy directly, flight and hotel options, and local business information like hours of operation and delivery services.
In doing so, we’ve dramatically grown the opportunity for websites to reach people. In fact, our search results page, which used to show 10 blue links, now shows an average of 26 links to websites on a single search results page on mobile.”
Search Community Divided But Generally Agrees With Google
The response to Google’s rebuttal was fairly unanimous in agreeing with Google.
Ryan Jones tweeted:
What Danny blogged makes a lot of sense. People have evolved to use search in many ways that aren’t to go to a web page. And that’s not a bad thing.
— Ryan Jones (@RyanJones) March 24, 2021
Others cast doubt on the SparkToro methodology:
Imagine if a pollster would not disclose their methodology of gathering responses, how many responses they gathered, or what questions they asked.
Could it be right? Sure!
Do all polls have the potential to be wrong? Absolutely!
But there’s a reason we value certain polls.
— Ben Cook (@BenjaminCook) March 24, 2021
More Signal Less Noise
The Internet has been plagued by clickbait and the meme-ification of information. The SEO industry has fallen victim to those trends as well. Search result correlation studies with dubious results have been a feature of the SEO community for many years.
The search community is beginning to stand against that kind of misleading information.
How to Write For Google
Are you writing your SEO content based on the latest best practice tips?
I originally wrote this SEO copywriting checklist in 2012—my, how things have changed. Today, Google stresses quality content even more than before, conversational copy is critical, and there are revised SEO writing “rules.”
I’ve updated the list to reflect these changes and to provide additional information.
As a side note, I would argue that there’s no such thing as “writing for Google.” Yes, there are certain things you should do to make the Google gods happy. However, your most important goal should be writing clear, compelling, standout copy that tells a story.
I’m keeping the old headline in the hopes that I can convert some of the “write for Google” people to do things the right way.
Whether you’re an in-house SEO content writer, a DIY business owner, or a freelance SEO copywriter, this 27-point checklist will help you write engaging, Google-happy content—every time.
Items to review before you start your SEO writing project
– Do you have enough information about your target reader?
Your copy will pack a powerful one-two punch if your content is laser-focused on your target reader. Ask your client or supervisor for a customer/reader persona document outlining your target readers’ specific characteristics. If the client doesn’t have a customer persona document, be prepared to spend an hour or more asking detailed questions.
Here’s more information on customer personas.
– Writing a sales page? Did you interview the client?
It’s essential to interview new clients and to learn more about their company, USP, and competition. Don’t forget to ask about industry buzzwords that should appear in the content.
Not sure what questions to ask to get the copywriting ball rolling? Here’s a list of 56 questions you can start with today.
– Writing a blog post? Get topic ideas from smart sources
When you’re blogging, it’s tempting to write about whatever strikes your fancy. The challenge is, what interests you may not interest your readers. If you want to make sure you’re writing must-read content, sites like Quora, LinkedIn, Google Trends, and BuzzSumo can help spark some ideas.
– Did you use Google for competitive intelligence ideas?
Check out the sites positioning in the top-10 and look for common characteristics. How long are competing articles? Do the articles link out to authoritative sources? Are there videos or infographics? Do the articles include quotes from industry experts? Your job is to write an essay that’s better than what’s already appearing in the top-10 — so let the competition be your guide.
– Did you conduct keyphrase research?
Yes, keyphrase research (and content optimization) is still a crucial SEO step. If you don’t give Google some keyphrase “cues,” your page probably won’t position the way you want.
Use a keyphrase research tool and find possible keyphrases for your page or post. As a hint: if you are tightly focusing on a topic, long-tail keyphrases are your best bet. Here’s more information about why long-tail keyphrases are so important.
If you are researching B2B keyphrases, know that the “traditional” keyphrase research steps may not apply. Here’s more information about what to do if B2B keyphrase research doesn’t work.
– What is your per-page keyphrase focus?
Writers are no longer forced to include the exact-match keyphrase over and over again. (Hurray!) Today, we can focus on a keyphrase theme that matches the search intent and weave in multiple related keyphrases.
– Did you expand your keyphrase research to include synonyms and close variants?
Don’t be afraid to include keyphrase synonyms and close variants on your page. Doing so opens up your positioning opportunities, makes your copy better, and is much easier to write!
Are you wondering if you should include your keyphrases as you write the copy — or edit them in later? It’s up to you! Here are the pros and cons of both processes.
— Do your keyphrases match the search intent?
Remember that Google is “the decider” when it comes to search intent. If you’re writing a sales page — and your desired keyphrase pulls up informational blog posts in Google – your sales page probably won’t position.
— Writing a blog post? Does your Title/headline work for SEO, social, and your readers?
Yes, you want your headline to be compelling, but you also want it to be keyphrase rich. Always include your main page keyphrase (or a close variant) in your Title and work in other keyphrases if they “fit.”
– Did you include keyphrase-rich subheadlines?
Subheadlines are an excellent way to visually break up your text, making it easy for readers to quick-scan your benefits and information. Additionally, just like with the H1 headline, adding a keyphrase to your subheadlines can (slightly) help reinforce keyphrase relevancy.
As a hint, sometimes, you can write a question-oriented subheadline and slip the keyphrase in more easily. Here’s more information about why answering questions is a powerful SEO content play.
– Is your Title “clickable” and compelling?
Remember, the search engine results page is your first opportunity for conversion. Focusing too much on what you think Google “wants” may take away your Title’s conversion power.
Consider how you can create an enticing Title that “gets the click” over the other search result listings. You have about 59 characters (with spaces) to work with, so writing tight is essential.
– Does the meta description fit the intent of the page?
Yes, writers should create a meta description for every page. Why? Because they tell the reader what the landing page is about and help increase SERP conversions. Try experimenting with different calls-to-actions at the end, such as “learn more” or “apply now.” You never know what will entice your readers to click!
– Is your content written in a conversational style?
With voice search gaining prominence, copy that’s written in a conversational style is even more critical.
Read your copy out loud and hear how it sounds. Does it flow? Or does it sound too formal? If you’re writing for a regulated industry, such as finance, legal, or healthcare, you may not be able to push the conversational envelope too much. Otherwise, write like you talk.
Here’s how to explain why conversational content is so important.
–Is your copy laser-focused on your audience?
A big mistake some writers make is creating copy that appeals to “everyone” rather than their specific target reader. Writing sales and blog pages that are laser-focused on your audience will boost your conversions and keep readers checking out your copy longer. Here’s how one company does it.
Plus, you don’t receive special “Google points” for writing long content. Even short copy can position if it fully answers the searcher’s query. Your readers don’t want to wade through 1,500 words to find something that can be explained in 300 words.
Items to review after you’ve written the page
– Did you use too many keyphrases?
Remember, there is no such thing as keyword density. If your content sounds keyphrase-heavy and stilted, reduce the keyphrase usage and focus more on your readers’ experience. Your page doesn’t receive bonus points for exact-matching your keyphrase multiple times. If your page sounds keyphrase stuffed when you read it out loud, dial back your keyphrase usage.
– Did you edit your content?
Resist the urge to upload your content as soon as you write it. Put it away and come back to it after a few hours (or even the next day.) Discover why editing your Web writing is so very important. Also, don’t think that adding typos will help your page position. They won’t.
– Is the content interesting to read?
Yes, it’s OK if your copy has a little personality. Here’s more information about working with your page’s tone and feel and how to avoid the “yawn response.” Plus, know that even FAQ pages can help with conversions — and yes, even position.
– Are your sentences and paragraphs easy to read?
Vary your sentence structure so you have a combination of longer and shorter sentences. If you find your sentences creeping over 30 or so words, edit them down and make them punchier. Your writing will have more impact if you do.
Plus, long paragraphs without much white space are hard to read off a computer monitor – and even harder to read on a smartphone. Split up your long paragraphs into shorter ones. Please.
– Are you forcing your reader onto a “dead end” page?
“Dead-end” pages (pages that don’t link out to related pages) can stop your readers dead in their tracks and hurt your conversion goals.
Want to avoid this? Read more about “dead-end” Web pages.
– Does the content provide the reader with valuable information?
Google warns against sites with “thin,” low-quality content that’s poorly written. In fact, according to Google, spelling errors are a bigger boo-boo than broken HTML. Make sure your final draft is typo-free, written well, and thoroughly answers the searcher’s query.
Want to know what Google considers quality content — directly from Google? Here are Google’s Quality Raters guidelines for more information.
– Did you use bullet points where appropriate?
If you find yourself writing a list-like sentence, use bullet points instead. Your readers will thank you, and the items will be much easier to read.
Plus, you can write your bullet points in a way that makes your benefit statements pop, front and center. Here’s how Nike does it.
– Is the primary CTA (call-to-action) clear–and is it easy to take action?
What action do you want your readers to take? Do you want them to contact you? Buy something? Sign up for your newsletter? Make sure you’re telling your reader what you want them to do, and make taking action easy. If you force people to answer multiple questions just to fill out a “contact us” form, you run the risk of people bailing out.
Here’s a list of seven CTA techniques that work.
– Do you have a secondary CTA (such as a newsletter signup or downloading a white paper?)
Do you want readers to sign up for your newsletter or learn about related products? Don’t bury your “sign up for our newsletter” button in the footer text. Instead, test different CTA locations (for instance, try including a newsletter signup link at the bottom of every blog post) and see where you get the most conversions.
– Does the page include too many choices?
It’s important to keep your reader focused on your primary and secondary CTAs. If your page lists too many choices (for example, a large, scrolling page of products), consider eliminating all “unnecessary” options that don’t support your primary call-to-action. Too many choices may force your readers into not taking any action at all.
– Did you include benefit statements?
People make purchase decisions based on what’s in it for them (yes, even your B2B buyers.) Highly specific benefit statements will help your page convert like crazy. Don’t forget to include a benefit statement in your Title (whenever possible) like “free shipping” or “sale.” Seeing this on the search results page will catch your readers’ eyes, tempting them to click the link and check out your site.
– Do you have vertical-specific testimonials?
It’s incredible how many great sales pages are testimonial-free. Testimonials are a must for any site, as they offer third-party proof that your product or service is superior. Plus, your testimonials can help you write better, more benefit-driven sales pages and fantastic comparison-review pages.
Here’s a way to make your testimonials more powerful.
And finally — the most important question:
– Does your content stand out and genuinely deserve a top position?
SEO writing is more than shoving keyphrases into the content. If you want to be rewarded by Google (and your readers), your content must stand out — not be a carbon copy of the current top-10 results. Take a hard look at your content and compare it against what’s currently positioning. Have you fully answered the searcher’s query? Did you weave in other value-added resources, such as expert quotes, links to external and internal resources (such as FAQ pages), videos, and graphics?
If so, congratulations! You’ve done your job.
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