Does Zero-Click Search & Ranking for SERP Features Matter?
Jul 08, 2020
In short, yes! As search engines adapt their platforms to better meet their users’ needs, businesses need to adjust their SEO strategies to stay top of mind in organic search. Non-traditional SERP features can often result in a zero-click search, but that doesn’t mean there is zero opportunity. Let’s dive in to learn more about:
Why it’s important to rank for zero-click search and SERP features. (jump to section)
And finally, how to optimize for zero-click search and SERP features. (jump to section)
What are zero-click searches and SERP features?
You’ve likely noticed new elements, collectively referred to as SERP features, emerge among search engine results, such as featured snippets or related questions in a box titled “People also ask”. These SERP features are generated by search engines and aim to answer the original search intent without requiring the searcher to click through to a website. In other words, they can produce a zero-click search.
A study by SparkToro and Jumpshot found that about 50% of Google searches end without a click on a search engine result. This trend correlates with how Google presents answers to search queries in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Some common SERP features related to car dealers that can result in a zero-click search are:
Featured Snippets: a search engine result that appears below ads but above the top organic results on a SERP. It attempts to answer the question immediately by featuring content related to the search query.
Related Questions / People Also Ask (PAA): this is an interactive box that appears among results on a SERP. It’s a series of questions generated through Google’s machine learning that you can expand to see answers from around the web.
Google My Business / Bing Places Listings: this is essentially a profile of your business that shows up alongside search engine results when search engines deem it relevant to the query.
Local Pack Results / Maps Listings: “appear for people who search for businesses and places near their location”, according to Google.
Image Packs: horizontal row of images that link to a Google Images search. They appear throughout SERPs in organic positions.
Google provides these special SERP features to improve the search experience, making it easier and faster to get search queries answered. But with more searches ending in zero-clicks, that means search visits to websites are also going down. This type of change can be frustrating, but the good news is it applies to everyone equally. So it also means there are new opportunities for influencing car shopping behavior in search.
Why are SERP features and zero-click searches important to dealerships?
You might think, “if I don’t get website traffic from zero-click search, what’s the point?” Lack of clicks does not necessarily mean a lack of opportunity or lack of importance. On their own, these “non-traditional” SERP features provide value by bringing credibility to the brands that show up for them through increased exposure of relevant, helpful content.
Additionally, there are opportunities for shoppers to engage with these SERP features, so showing up for one of them doesn’t mean it will always result in a zero-click search.
Research shows that mobile search is on the rise, and a majority of that search is either paid search or zero-click search. This means it’s important, now more than ever, to optimize for these zero-click opportunities. If you don’t, you might not get any visibility at all, let alone clicks.
Optimizing for zero-click search also means your brand is more likely to dominate SERPs in a relevant search. For example, imagine you are ranking for the top ad position, a featured snippet and your Google My Business listing shows up. That means your brand is taking up at least 50% of the top SERP positions (if 4 paid ads show up, more if fewer ads show up). This creates maximum visibility and lots of ways to engage with your company, from clicking through to your website to calling your dealership.
Some more good news for car dealerships, SERP features that commonly generate for you and your competition likely drive more engagement than other industries. Take this example.
We’ve all searched for questions with answers that require no further explanation, i.e., how old is Morgan Freeman, how far away is the moon from Earth, etc. In those instances, our journey probably ended with the featured snippet.
But for car dealers, the queries that pop SERP features likely lead to additional questions or engagement. For example, “how much is a Ford F-150” will probably lead to further searches and engagement on a dealership’s website because the person is in car shopping mode, not random fact-check mode.
At their base, non-traditional SERP features result in a zero-click search that helps influence shoppers to move through the shopping funnel with your brand in mind. At their best, they can help you push your competition out of sight and can generate new engagement or conversion opportunities.
How can you optimize for non-traditional SERP features and zero-click search?
Some top ways to optimize for non-traditional SERP features and zero-click search opportunities include:
Create quality, informative content on your website
Over time, search engine algorithms have become more and more sophisticated through advanced machine learning. Experts have observed a consistent theme with each advancement—search engines are getting smarter and can better evaluate which websites will provide the best user experience. This means it gets increasingly important over time to create quality content that focuses on a good experience versus trying to “game the system” with outdated or black hat SEO tactics.
Ranking for SERP features is no different. Content that ranks on page one (1) of SERPs is more likely to rank for SERP features (source: Search Engine Journal). So the SEO tactics that you use to improve SERP rank in general also help boost your ranking opportunities for zero-click search and SERP features.
Create content around specific topics and answers to common questions
Creating quality content intended to provide a quality user experience is half the battle. Next, you want to focus on creating specific content that targets specific searches. This gives search engines more context, and it signals search engines that your pages are relevant to searches related to key shopping moments.
A good rule of thumb is to put yourself in the shoes of the consumer when trying to think of topics to cover. It’s best to get at least a rough outline of a customer journey mapped out for your dealership so that you can focus on relevant content. A sample customer journey is below.
Mid-funnel car shopping research: vehicle comparison shopping
Low-funnel car shopping research: vetting your dealership, your pricing and comparing you to the competition in your area
Low-funnel car shopping: narrowing down the final vehicle selection, likely the customer is in direct contact with you at this point (by phone, email, chat or in-person)
Vehicle service and maintenance
Notice we left out some of the high and mid-funnel car shopping steps. You can create topics around those stages if you’d like, but if your OEM and/or Tier II organization is already covering them, it’s not as high-priority for you as a Tier III dealer.
From there, you’ll want to put yourself in the shoes of the consumer again. Brainstorm some searches you think a shopper would conduct at each stage of the journey, and analyze what types of results come up. Are there any gaps that you can fill with unique content? Is any of the content showing up something you should also be covering on your website?
Do some research to see what your competition is doing. Are you uniquely positioning yourself from the dealer next door? What makes you special and a better fit for shoppers? Are you missing any key content elements that your competition is covering?
Also, if you have an SEO partner, they’ll likely have recommendations as well. Here are some content topic ideas to get you started:
Make/model/trim details, features, pricing and offers
How-to / Processes for buying a car (what to bring, what to expect, how the lease process works, how the finance process works, etc.)
Vehicle comparisons to similar makes and models
Walk around videos
Test drive videos
Service DIY basics videos (how to change wiper blades, how to change bulbs in headlights, etc.) – this builds credibility for your dealership as a trustworthy source and shows you aren’t just in it to nickel-and-dime your customers
Service tips (how often to get an oil change, what a car owner can do vs. what should you leave to a dealer, what are your top-rated services / unique selling propositions for service – price, speed, quality, etc.)
Vehicle photos with descriptive file names and alt text (search engines can’t tell the context of an image without these basic, descriptive details)
Model your website content after content that currently ranks for non-traditional SERP features
Throughout your research, you’ll likely come across existing SERP features naturally. Take screenshots, notes and engage with the SERP features that show up so you can get ideas and inspiration.
Please note: be careful when searching for things that may be tied to ad campaigns you currently have running, especially if you live within your ad targeting area. A few searches that pop your ads are probably fine, but doing lots of searches can impact your ads’ quality score. Also remember, Google will charge for clicks even if you, the business owner, click the ad.
You may find that you already have a lot of the content that’s ranking for SERP features on your website. If that’s the case, the tactics you use to structure new content will also apply to your existing content.
Here are some tips on how to structure content for winning SERP features:
Design content to quickly and directly answer a specific search question or that provides context for long-tail queries
Include keywords in your page titles and headings (H1, H2, H3…), and list the question(s) you are answering on the page
Get keyword and topic inspiration from any PAA results that pop for a search or related searches that appear at the end of the SERP – build that content into your page
Start your page with the question and answer / topic and explanation
Expand on your optimized content by supplying additional relevant details, videos and images that support or provide more context for your high-level topic
Use ordered (1, 2, 3…) and unordered (bullet points) lists in your content (i.e. steps for “how to jump start a car” or 5 maintenance tips for car owners, etc.)
Be sure your content actually lives on your page if you are using 3rd party tools. For example, are your transactional offers coded into your page or iframed in? At Dealer Teamwork, your offers are visible to search engines on your dynamic landing pages.
Conduct keyword analysis and optimize your website from the insights
Conducting keyword analysis can feel like a “chicken or the egg” scenario. Do you create content first and then see which keywords start ranking? Or do you do extensive research first, before making content, so that you can pick keywords that provide great opportunity?
Even if you are just getting started with a formal SEO strategy, you likely already have a website. If your website has been around for at least 6 months, the easy answer is to do a little of both at the same time.
It’s possible that you naturally have some keywords that your pages rank well for in organic listings and for SERP features. In those cases, you need to find out which ones, and decide if further optimizations are needed on your site.
On the other hand, if you’ve never had a formal SEO strategy or haven’t maintained it in a while, you will likely miss some keyword opportunities. Even the best SEO strategies can have gaps in their keyword approach. That’s why SEO management is a constant, long-term effort.
First, let’s look at conducting keyword analysis for terms you currently rank well for. Using SEO tools like Google Search Console, SEM Rush, SpyFu, etc. will be important for this analysis. Use these tools to:
Identify which keywords you currently rank for
Identify your top keywords that land you on page 1 of SERPs
Identify SERP features and associated terms that you rank for
From there, you can use some of the other optimization tips we’ve shared in this article to decide if further optimizations are needed. Here are some questions you might ask yourself:
Am I using keyword(s) in page headings?
Am I answering the search query with descriptive details in a concise fashion?
Is there other supporting content like additional keyword rich copy, images or videos I can add to the page? (tip: use keywords naturally, don’t stuff a bunch on a page in an effort to “trick” search engines)
Are there similar terms that I could be ranking for by expanding on the content on this page?
What are the websites that rank above me doing to rank highly that I’m missing?
What types of pages are ranking well and which ones aren’t? Are there opportunities to improve the ones that aren’t ranking well or should they be eliminated?
Am I diluting my SEO performance with multiple pages that serve the same purpose? Can I consolidate?
In terms of finding new keywords, you’ll want to leverage tools to help in this analysis as well. You can use keyword trend tools, such as Google Trends or WordStream’s Free Keyword Tool, to see how terms have been performing over time. You can also use some of the other tools we previously mentioned to search for opportunities around specific topics, to compare your website’s performance to your competition, to see how much competition there is for certain terms, and more.
When you’re just starting out, you may want to identify opportunities for low to medium competition keywords that have substantial and/or rising search volume. If your site doesn’t have a lot of domain authority, it will be harder to compete for high competition keywords starting out.
Optimize your Google My Business listing and other online directory listings
Optimizing local SEO elements, like Google My Business and other online directory listings, is one of the fastest and most effective ways to drive ROI from SEO. You can learn more about our unique approach to local SEO strategy here, but we also have an extensive library of resources on the subject.
In fact, we compiled our research and strategies for dealers into an Ebook, Dealer Teamwork’s ULTIMATE Guide to Google My Business.
Not only do Google reviews help bring credibility to your business, but they impact SEO ranking as well. Google reviews are very influential on your local SEO performance. Your reviews show up on your Google My Business listing, but they also impact how you show up for local pack results.
For example, let’s say a shopper in your area was looking for “best BMW dealer”. If you have a review or reviews with that keyword phrase in it, it signals Google that your dealership is relevant to that query. This helps you rank for that type of SERP feature.
You cannot control what people do and don’t say about you in a Google review, but you can encourage more of your customers to fill out a review on your business. The more reviews you have, the more keywords you are tying to your business to help Google understand your dealership.
Having reviews also signals Google that your business is credible. Engagement from third parties with your business (i.e. customers reviewing you) essentially proves to Google that your business exists. Customers also like to see reviews, which can lead to more engagement with your business. More engagement signals more relevance and credibility, which should pay off with better organic ranking.
As a final note, be sure to respond to as many reviews as possible. This also builds credibility with shoppers and Google. Don’t ignore negative reviews because you fear backlash. Responding calmly and with a helpful attitude goes a long way. Plus, in Google’s own words, this tactic helps improve your local ranking.
BONUS TIP: Advertisers with high seller ratings can have ratings appear as an ad extension on Google Ads. This can help improve your ad performance. Also, you can signal Google to list your rating with your organic results by adding schema to relevant landing pages.
Audit the overall SEO health of your website and fix problems
Coming up with and implementing an effective SEO strategy is challenging without an action plan. Starting with an audit of your website and current SEO performance is a great way to get off on the right foot. This can be done on your own or through a partner. Here at Dealer Teamwork we offer complimentary website audits. These audits are tailored to the automotive industry and car dealerships to help you identify opportunities and repair what’s broken.
If you want to conduct a preliminary audit on your own, here are some tips to get you started:
Audit your website so you can eliminate or repair items that violate current SEO best practices. For example, many car dealer websites have far too many menu items in their navigation. Do you need multiple pages for the same specials, such as duplicate pages from multiple vendors that feature general new car specials? If each page represents the same purpose, probably not. If there are pages for different makes, models or body style, then they likely serve distinct purposes.
Identify short and long-term content opportunities so you can put a realistic content creation plan in place. If you are scheduling work a week at a time, make progress on longer-term activities each day, and pepper in a few short-term items throughout the week.
Consider partnering with an SEO provider. Small to mid-sized dealerships may find the work overwhelming on their own, and larger dealer groups may find the task too cumbersome across multiple stores. You can learn more about our approach to SEO management here.
Put your plans into action! When creating content for your website, consider where your dealership fits in the car ownership life cycle. You are there from research to purchase to service, so create content that helps customers at each stage of their journey.
We also recently published a playbook with more tips, strategy recommendations and actionable checklists on ways dealers can find success amid the current market changes. It covers topics like local SEO for dealerships.
Zero-click search and ranking for SERP features are just drops in the SEO bucket, but don’t let that discourage you! Coming up with a plan that is broken into manageable tasks will help, and if that’s not enough, there are always great partners who can help you.
If you are already looking for a partner, you can sign up for a live demonstration of our services to learn more about our automotive SEO and digital solutions.