In recent weeks, the Google search engine, one of the most impactful technological tools in the world, has been described as a kind of cage that you can enter but which is difficult to get out of. The analogy comes from a study by the analyst Rand Fishkin, a great connoisseur of the search system, who states that two-thirds of the queries made in the search engine are zero click , that is, they do not cause the user to click on a link that takes him to an external web page. Google assures that the methodology for this conclusion is not correct, but the result of the study has raised the discussion about the results of the use of the platform of the Silicon Valley giant.
Fishkin published similar research in August 2019 from click analytics company Jumpshot that pointed to a different result. So, Google searches that did not end with a click on an external link were just over half, 50.33%.
Now, the same type of data gathered this time by SimilarWeb provides a different analysis. This study indicates that during all of 2020 Google searches that ended without a click to another web page were 64.82% in the total of computer and mobile results.
Queries that do not click on the phone are more than three-quarters
The author himself pointed out that the results from one year to the next are not comparable because the first one referred only to the United States and those that he presents now are from all over the world. The scope of the term zero click accepted among specialists is not completely accurate either, because there are clicks that go, for example, to a phone number of a restaurant that is in the table of Google maps and generate a call. It is clear that in such a case, a user action does occur.
The SimilarWeb data comes from the analysis of 5.1 trillion Google searches carried out from January to December 2020. That set of searches occurred in a panel of more than 100 million desktop and mobile devices on which the company collects data for analytics. Of all searches, 33.59% resulted in clickable results. Only 1.59% of clicks went to paid results. 64.82% did not generate a click to another web page.
The study also reveals that searches that end with a click to the outside are much higher on computers (and large tablets), with 50.75% of clicks in organic results and 2.78% to paid links. The panorama on mobile phones, where more searches are made, accentuates the zero click trend, with 77.22%, which shows that Google has achieved that in more than three-quarters of searches with the phone, the result already includes the information that the user was looking for.
Users reformulate their proposals and find many solutions in the answers
These results must be understood in a context where Google dominates the global search engine market.
Its share is close to 91%. Its practical absence from China makes it lower its participation, but in a good part of countries it is above 90%, with some 7,000 million daily consultations. A recent GroupM study published by The Wall Street Journal indicates that Google controls more than 95% of search advertising in the United States and more than 50% of screen ads.
Google disagrees with the view of zero click and, without presenting alternative numerical results, he has offered his own explanation for the study results, which he considers “misleading”. First, it points out that, on many occasions, users reformulate their queries, discovering that they cannot find what they are looking for in the first attempts. His example is that if someone is looking for a shoe they can try it several times until they click on an outside link. In that case, for the company it is a qualified visitor with a good chance of being satisfied by the website they click on.
Privacy and the end of ‘cookies’
Google has announced that in 2022 its Chrome browser will prevent, for the sake of privacy, that web pages use third-party cookies. The change may mean a turnaround in online advertising, as it prevents advertisers from tracking a user’s activity on the Internet to offer targeted advertising. In browsers like Apple’s Safari and Firefox, that block already exists, but Chrome, like other Google products, dominates the world market.
The search giant has also ensured that it will not replace cookies with alternative identifiers that can track people’s activity on the internet. It seems like a won battle for privacy, as Google argues, although many doubts remain.
Google’s new technology is called FLoC, which stands for Federated Cohort Learning. It is a proposed standard for browsers that, according to Google, will allow “interest-based advertising on the web” without the advertisers being able to identify a specific user. Each individual will be included – decided by an algorithm – in a large group of users.
With FLoC, the Internet browsing history of each user is in principle hidden, but the browser will consult it to assign each person to a “cohort”. Some analysts believe that Google is not trying to create a privacy wall to block ad targeting, but rather a privacy enclosure within its own browser. Is tracking in a group not chosen by the user more respectful of privacy than individual tracking? There are already agencies like the one in the United Kingdom that are investigating these new formulas.
Second, and that is a very plausible explanation for what happens, users search for something quickly and find the necessary information directly in the search results, such as the weather forecast, a sports result or a currency conversion. Another factor mentioned by Google is that in the results you can find ways to connect with businesses that are not necessarily clicks, such as knowing the hours of a store to visit it in person, or a phone number, which generates a call, but not one click.
It has 91% of the search engine market and, in the US, 95% of ads in results
The last element to consider in the universe zero click
are the apps. There are results that directly open an application that is installed on the mobile, without connecting in the browser to a web page. Google argues that in recent years it has greatly improved its browser to offer more and more services and that its results page, which used to show 10 blue links per page on mobile, now shows an average of 26 links to websites.
The data provided by Rashkin shows that searches are on the rise and that they have overcome the fall that seemed to be registered at the end of 2019. The analyst also points out that the share of paid searches is growing on both mobile and desktop devices.
Despite the high results of zero clicks In 2020, clicks actually grew last year and this seems to have been influenced by the fact that telecommuting around the world was triggered by the pandemic, thus increasing the use of computers with larger screens. In the future this may change, but for now all roads lead to Google.