By Josh Leigh

Have you ever turned to a quick Google search to validate an opinion or prove a point? Increasingly, when we use Google and other search engines, we click no further than the results page we land on when we submit our search term. A quick glance at the list of website links and synopses that Google displays is enough to validate or disprove our opinion, and we frequently stop there, without clicking any of the links to find out more or check the accuracy of the information.

Such search activity, where a user chooses to click no further than the search engine results page (SERP), is known as a zero-click search – and it’s a phenomenon that’s on the rise. Research undertaken by SimilarWeb found zero-click searches accounted for nearly 65% of search activity in 2020, drastically higher than 2019’s figure of 50%. This data is hotly debated by SEO professionals, legal experts and Google itself, with the debate centred on SEO data and and its analysis – but numerous reports show a rising trend in zero-click searches.

The effect of zero-click searches on your brand

While zero-click searches are handy for internet users seeking information quickly, they are not such good news for companies and individuals trying to reach users via their own websites and intended narratives. This shift in the way people are consuming online results has implications for businesses, governments, individuals and financial organisations when it comes to interactions with their brand online.

While zero-click searches can affect any area of your business, depending on what users are searching for, at Digitalis we are seeing particular growth in digital vulnerabilities relating to online content about ESG. When people undertake online research on a brand or individual, they are often looking for evidence of strong ESG practices and activity as part of this due diligence. On conducting an online search for information about that brand’s ESG activity, inaccurate or misleading third-party content is frequently displayed more prominently on search engine results pages than the official website and intended narrative of the brand or individual concerned. And when people accept misleading content as the truth, and don’t go on to click further than the SRP, this can lead to reputational damage, low valuations and crises.

Are zero-click searches bad for your online profile?

If managed appropriately, damage to your reputation from zero-click searches can be minimised or avoided. But careful management is key – if left unattended, the spread and effects of misleading or incorrect information can quickly gain momentum. Google’s algorithm requires information to fulfil its core purpose of providing relevant results to search queries. Leaving others to provide this information endangers your online profile, and can have serious repercussions – particularly with zero-click searches, where the detail of a website isn’t being examined, and your reputation hinges on a title alone. 

If your search profile is left unchecked, your reputation is in the hands of the media and your competitors. Should your name be brought into question or become associated with an issue, negative headlines on search can further amplify adverse opinions of you and your brand.

What can you do to make zero-click searches work better for you?

To protect against negative perceptions brought about by zero-click searches, building resilience into your search profile is vital – particularly if you or your business are in the public eye. Be aware of what the world of search says about you when people search for words and phrases that could be associated with you and your brand.

Tools such as online narrative management (ONM) can help you manage the risks of zero-click search results, enabling you to craft an online story and communicate your key messages on relevant search results pages. An effective ONM programme will delve deeper than the obvious search terms (those directly related to your goods and services) to help you with specific goals, such as promoting your ESG credentials or addressing historical issues to build resilience for anyone researching you online.

Selecting the best search terms to defend is not always easy, and ONM can help you identify which search terms are most important for you to target, based on identified strengths and weaknesses, the surrounding threats, and your own objectives. As a result, you can ensure your voice is heard and those searching online see your intended narrative instead of being distracted by inaccurate, malicious or historical content.

If your ESG credentials were examined through the lens of Google, what would your profile say about you?