When you do a Google search, sometimes the answer you need pops up right there on the search engine results page (SERP) without you having to click a link to get to it.
As the person doing the search, that’s great! It’s convenient and saves you time.
As someone who runs a website, it’s less great. Google is the main way new visitors will find your website, but only if your pages show up in the results for relevant search terms.
And if one of your web pages does show up, but Google pulls out the most important information the searcher is looking for and puts it right on the SERP, what reason do they have to click through?
Website owners have long known the importance of paying close attention to Google updates. You probably see the flurries of articles on it everytime Google announces a big update to the algorithm. But changes in SERP layout are arguably just as important.
The days of a typical SERP being a couple of ads followed by a list of 10 links are behind us. Now, organic search results frequently show up alongside (or below) a variety of types of rich results.
10 Takeaways from New SERP Research
In late 2019, Perficient released new research analyzing how those rich SERP features affect the behavior of people doing the searches. Here are the main takeaways to consider when shaping your SEO strategy.
1. Over a third of searches on desktop result in no click.
Snagging that top spot is a challenging goal, but 33.45% of the time, even that’s not good enough to earn you a click. With Google increasingly putting information directly on the SERP, a decent portion of the people searching find what they need without clicking on any of the links in either the paid or organic results.
2. That number increases to over half on mobile devices.
33% is a significant enough number, but when the researchers looked at the same data on mobile searches, the numbers were even more notable. 54.58% of all searches on mobile devices end on the SERP without a click.
Mobile searches made up 37% of all the searches analyzed in the study, so these numbers amount to a significant portion of all searches total.
3. Paid search only claims about 5% of all clicks.
For both desktop and mobile devices, paid search ads garner less than 5% of all clicks. On desktop, ads get 4.61% of clicks. On mobile, that drops to 4.52% of clicks.
That doesn’t mean doing paid advertising on Google isn’t worth it—you only pay for the clicks you do get, and they tend to be relevant ones—but it’s worth knowing the limitations of relying too much on paid advertising alone. Even with the number of no-click searches, organic results are still clearly important.
4. Branded queries see a very high click-through rate (CTR).
Someone searching directly for your brand is very likely to click through, whereas people searching non-branded keywords are much more likely to be in the no-click category.
So over 70% of people searching for “hostgator” will click on the organic results. But for those searching something like “web hosting,” only 38% do so.
5. Featured snippets cause a slight increase in CTR.
You might think that the appearance of any rich results on the SERP would reduce the chances of someone clicking an organic result.
But SERPs that include featured snippets, even though they give a brief answer to the query on the SERP itself, actually see a slight increase in clicks over those that don’t. The difference is minimal, but since it goes contrary to what you might expect, it’s notable.
6. People Also Ask boxes cause a slight decrease in clicks.
Many searches include a section of related questions searchers can click on under the title People Also Ask.
The researchers found that SERPs that include a People Also Ask section see about a 10% decrease in CTR for organic results. SERPs without this feature see around a 45% CTR, while those with it drop to around 35%.
Presumably some of the clicks that would go to organic results are going to the questions in the box instead—where a click produces an answer right there on the page.
7. Knowledge graph results have a bigger impact on CTR (though not huge).
The knowledge graph information is usually displayed in a box on the right side of the screen and collects a variety of useful facts about the term the person searched.
For non-branded searches, SERPs that include knowledge graph information see about a 10% reduction in clicks.
8. An image carousel increases organic CTR.
In contrast, when there’s an image carousel—a collection of images across the screen, usually displayed above the results—the click-through rate increases by over 12%.
9. Related searches cause a noticeable decrease in clicks.
SERPs that include a Related Searches section of links see a fairly dramatic decrease in clicks—an over 20% difference.
The researchers guess this might have less to do with the links in the section driving away clicks, and more to do with Google deciding to display this section for searches that already have a low CTR.
10. Video carousels also lower clicks.
Unlike image carousels, video carousels cause a decrease in clicks of a little under 10%.
The types of keywords Google displays video carousels for are very likely those the search engine knows people prefer video results for, so it makes a certain amount of sense for the videos featured to drive clicks away from the organic results.
How to Use These Findings to Inform Your SEO Strategy in 2020
Now that you know the research, what does it mean for you? To get more out of your SEO strategy in 2020, the data suggests doing a few key things.
1. Make sure you win for branded keywords.
Since branded keywords get the biggest share of clicks when people search them, you want to make absolutely sure that anytime a potential visitor comes looking for you, your website is the first one they see.
The good news is, this is generally easy. As long as your website doesn’t share a name with a common keyword, Google usually puts the brand that’s being searched for at the top of the SERP.
Check now to make sure that you claim the top spot for branded search terms. If not, make that a top priority in your SEO strategy, and consider bidding for your brand name in paid search so you show up at the top of the page during the time it takes to win that top organic spot.
2. Always do SERP research to learn what features are on the page.
It pays to know what the SERP for your term looks like. Your approach to ranking for a SERP that has a featured snippet will be different than one that has a video carousel, which will be different than one that has a knowledge graph, etc. You’ll do a better job of getting the results you want if you know what you’re aiming for.
Any time you work on creating content or building a webpage with the intent to target a specific keyword for it, one of the first steps to always take is doing a Google search for the term to see what comes up.
3. Prioritize your keyword strategy based on the SERP features.
Now that you know which types of SERPs are most likely to earn you clicks from searchers, you can prioritize your SEO strategy accordingly. So targeting SERPs that include image carousels and featured snippets are probably more worth your time than those that include People Also Ask boxes and knowledge graphs.
That doesn’t mean ruling the keywords that produce those features out entirely. In many cases, they’ll still be well worth including in your strategy.
But knowing how likely the search is to produce clicks if you win the top spot is valuable information to have when deciding which keywords are most important to put more resources toward targeting.
4. Incorporate snippet optimization into your strategy.
While there’s a lot of overlap in the best strategies for claiming the top spot in search results and for winning the featured snippet, there are some specific best practices that are worth employing for the latter.
Anytime your SERP research reveals that a keyword produces a featured snippet in the search results, make sure the content you create is optimized to win that snippet.
A big part of that is formatting your content based on the type of snippet it is. So for an answer box, you’ll want to ask the question in your content and provide a brief version of the answer immediately following it. For a list snippet, make sure your content is in a list format.
And as you would with any keyword you research, check the current winning content to see how it looks—that will tell you something about what Google likes as a response to that term.
5. Always include images in your content.
Image carousels increase clicks, and Google has to pull those images from somewhere. If you want to increase the odds of your website being included in an image carousel, you need to have images on your website.
Readers also like images, so this is a good tip on multiple counts. Find relevant images to add to your webpages, and be sure to optimize them for search by customizing the image name and alt tag to match your target keywords.
SEO Still Matters in 2020
Even if a number of keywords now see fewer clicks because of SERP features, that in no way decreases the importance of SEO for website owners. Many of your visitors are still going to turn to Google when they’re looking for what you offer. If you want them to find your website, you still have to play the SEO game.
But understanding the relative value of different keywords based on what the SERPs look like will help you spend your time more effectively.
This research helps with that. Pay attention to the features on the SERP for every keyword you target, and take the typical CTR for each one into account when crafting your SEO strategy. You’ll get better results for the time and resources you put into it.
Need help crafting a winning SEO strategy for 2020? Contact the SEO experts at HostGator.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.