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Why zero-click content should be in every marketer's toolkit

Last Updated 
Posted on
January 4, 2024
Janet Mesh
Content Marketing

It sounds backward. If you want your content to succeed, make sure people never click on it. After all, isn’t that the entire point of content marketing? To draw traffic—organic or sponsored—and bring potential customers into your sphere of influence?

Not always. Think about all the times you were in the search query seat, only to get annoyed when a website put up barriers between you and the quick answers you were after. Or picture yourself scrolling through social media, but having to click out on a link to get the information teased in the post. No one wants that. Your readers want a direct connection between what they’re thinking about and what information they can learn, with no complications in between.

Google’s goal is to give its search users what they want, quickly. The search engine prioritizes zero-click content, like videos with direct answers and product reviews, to meet that need.  Similarly, social media platforms want users to stay in-app, and users want that experience too. 

Right now, there is a rare opportunity for marketers. If you can create the best zero-click content, you stand a chance at getting your brand in front of thousands of new eyeballs. Here’s how zero-click content works—and why it deserves a place in your toolkit.

The new age of content

In 2020, there was a wave of change in the SEO industry. Zero-click Google searches rose to nearly two-thirds of all searches that year. 

What’s happening here? Search engines like Google are adapting to a new era of digital content. Someone entering a query for “affordable HD TV,” for example, may just want to see what a retailer like Amazon or Walmart has to offer on its category listings. They’re not looking for long blog posts that talk about HDTVs. They’re quicker to click “platform-native content,” or content that shows up within their search results without the additional click.

Or imagine a business owner looking for cloud-based CRM solutions. They come across an engaging LinkedIn post offering a list of “5 top CRM solutions” and click it because they want the information. Then they find the list is behind a link and a “sign up to our webinar” paywall. It’s too much work. If all else is equal, your B2B audience is more likely to stick with the information they can uncover with a single click.

You can see this in how Google provides search results. Depending on what you search for, Google will provide product listings, video results, featured snippets, and other search features beyond just the standard list of links. If Google has a better shortcut to the right product page or video review—whatever the customer’s looking for—customers are happy to check those out.

You might think this leaves no place for content marketing. If your content gets between a customer and their ecommerce goal, like an Amazon product page, you may be out of luck. But it’s not as cut and dry as all that. Consider:

  • Visibility: Some people think SEO is a popularity contest. But not always. SEO is a best-answer-wins contest. If you can create zero-click content that best answers your target audience’s favorite queries, you’ll have a leg up. According to SEMRush, more than one-quarter of desktop searches are zero-click searches. Rather than viewing this as an impediment for outdated SEO practices, think of it from the other side. It’s an opportunity to adapt and gain a 25% advantage—if you can build zero-click content that satisfies the search engines.
  • Brand recognition: Your brand generally has a better reputation if you provide useful answers rather than try to divert the rivers flowing through a user’s ideal customer journey. Can you be a thought leader? You can with the right strategy. As Search Engine Watch noted, zero-click marketing can be a branding tool. For example, if you get a listing in Google’s “People also ask…” feature, you can find a new home for your editorial content. The more you show up in these context-dependent answers, the more you’ll build a reputation as a brand that puts the customer first.
  • Competing with AI. AI and content marketing are sometimes at odds. Why click a blog post if an AI tool is going to give you all the answers? Ideally, because your content can beat what AI provides. To keep your content relevant in the age of AI, you need to provide quick, zero-friction answers to pertinent customer queries.

That covers the why. But we also need to address the how

Video is king

When searching online, words pass quickly through our eyes—so quickly we don’t always retain the information we’re receiving. According to some statistics, viewers will remember 95% of a message in video form, but only 10% in text. This makes video “king” in the zero-click marketing world. People want fast answers—and if they can see those answers in a video, all the better.

This is especially relevant for purchase decisions. According to Google, there have been over 50,000+ years of product review YouTube videos watched on mobile in some periods. That number may have only gone up. And this doesn’t just apply to product research. In B2B, over 50% of marketing decision-makers use video research before they decide to buy from another business.

Why is video king? Because when you’re searching for a video, it says a lot about where you are in the customer journey. If you’re searching for product reviews, you’re likely looking to run product comparisons. You might want to know if one VR headset, for example, is better than another. But if you’re looking up a specific VR headset on YouTube or TikTok and watching unboxing videos…chances are, you’re simply looking to preview the experience you’ve already decided on for yourself.

The brands who position their videos for zero-click content will have that same advantage. These video snippets can place your brand in front of a user’s eyes right before their buying decision. It’s prime real estate—and a chance to build your reputation.

Zero-click social content builds brand recognition and connection

For B2B companies, establishing a connection is about building trust. But the more barriers you put up in front of your content, the more friction you add before you can establish that trust. Asking for clicks or putting up lead generation barriers like webinar signup forms can send your audience away before they have a chance to learn from your expertise.

Don’t sacrifice the quick gain (an additional click, or a download) for the long-term gains that come from establishing a solid B2B reputation. When your customers are other companies, a solid brand is worth its weight in gold. According to Harvard Business Review, “trusted companies outperform their peers by up to 400% in terms of total market value.”

We saw this first-hand at Aimtal with a B2B tech client who wanted to experiment with linkless posts on social media. On LinkedIn, we crafted a series of zero-click posts that focused on informing the audience rather than converting them. Engagement rates were one-third higher on average than posts with links. And the overall LinkedIn engagement rate increased by 16.4% quarter over quarter when zero-click content was implemented.

If you earn a reputation for high-quality social content—without getting in your own way—you can build that trust over time. The fewer barriers you create between your content and your audience, the more likely people are to read and share your content. And the more people see your content, the more they come to trust the name behind the content. 

Zero-click content is playing the long game: giving away high-quality information and content to build a reputation for being an expert in your market. You can’t become an expert if you frustrate people with high-friction content.

Algorithm updates you need to know about

Search engines and social media companies are ultimately advertisement platforms. They perform well when they reward their users with a good experience. These platforms need creators and content marketers like you, sure—that keeps their algorithms stuffed with possibilities. But they ultimately have to pick a winner.

Your job as a content marketer is to position yourself as the winner. And to accomplish that, you need to know what the algorithms are up to. Especially as it relates to zero-click content. And when you review the rules of these algorithms, you might be surprised to see how many of them prioritize native content.

According to SparkToro, Reddit, Pinterest, and Quora are the only social media platforms unique in not actively prioritizing native content. The other major players—Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram (exclusively so), and LinkedIn—aren’t necessarily looking to link to your site. They want to give customers fast answers. 

Understanding your audience’s attention span

We human beings were never wired for long periods of uninterrupted focus. But in the era of the Internet and smartphones, our average attention span has become even more razor-thin. According to Gloria Mark, Ph. D., on the Speaking of Psychology podcast, there’s been a marked decline in the digital age:

Back in 2004, we found the average attention span on any screen to be two and a half minutes on average. Throughout the years it became shorter. So around 2012 we found it to be 75 seconds. … And then in the last five, six years, we found it to average about 47 seconds, and others have replicated this result within a few seconds.

So while we don’t quite have the short attention spans of some aquatic fish—who sometimes can’t help but get distracted after a few seconds—it’s clear the numbers are dwindling.

Zero-click marketing means building content to include this new preference, not to distract people from it. If someone’s searching for a home-baked bread recipe, give them the ingredients and the steps right away. Don’t spend the length of a Russian novel explaining to them why they need to start home-baking more. They already know that: they just want the goods. If you can build content consistently delivering those goods, you’ll find yourself in lockstep with an increasingly hurried audience.

The current state of marketing attribution

Marketing attribution is the process of assigning value to the touchpoints in your customer’s journey. In tagging a specific leg of that journey with conversion attribution, you’re saying it was partly or wholly responsible for a sale. 

The temptation is to give 100% of the credit for a sale to one specific piece of your content. But experienced marketers know that things are rarely so cut and dry. There are some other attribution models you’ll want to keep in mind if you’re going to better understand what’s driving your conversions. Let’s explore the full range:

  • Single-touch attribution gives 100% of the credit to a single touch-point. First-touch, for example, would say that the first experience with your customer gets 100% of the eventual sale, even if there were other touchpoints. For instance, if a customer found you via a blog post and eventually signed up for a newsletter, where they bought your product, the post might still win 100% credit under single-touch attribution rules. Last-touch attribution uses the same logic but applies 100% credit to the most recent touchpoint before the purchase.
  • Multi-touch attribution models spread the credit more evenly across two or more touchpoints. Linear attribution spreads the credit out mathematically between all relevant customer touchpoints. If there were four touchpoints—like an ad, a blog, a review, and a newsletter conversion—then all four touchpoints earn 25% attribution. U-shaped attribution gives more credit to the first and last touchpoints, often with a 40-10-10-40 distribution.

You might see why this presents a problem for marketers in the age of zero-click content. Lots of zero-click content might introduce your brands to new customers, but it can be difficult to see which content ultimately drives engagement.

In an era where third-party cookies are being phased out and platforms prefer zero-click content, marketers who depend on standard attribution models may start to panic. But there’s an easy answer here, one that Rand Fishkin of Sparktoro is spearheading: take it back to the basics. We know that the classic marketing funnel still applies, even if you can’t track folks directly from the top of the funnel. Instead, focus on tracking brand lift—the age-old metric of out-of-home advertising. 

It’s time to update your strategic approaches to analytics and determine the value of impressions and follower growth for your brand. From there, you can imply a correlation between brand lift and long-term conversion. If the top of your funnel is strong, the bottom of your funnel will be, too. Make sure your customers are present and engaged, and you’ll see those measurable results in the conversion stage.

How to build a zero-click content strategy

With the above in mind, creating a zero-click content strategy might seem insurmountable. But there are ways to optimize your content for this new world of zero-click content without losing sight of what makes your brand engaging. 

Build relevant, helpful video content

If video is king, you’ll need a video presence in the era of zero-click content. Don’t just think about using YouTube or YouTube search algorithms; remember that Google owns YouTube. Its algorithm may pull from your videos if you can create relevant content designed not just for YouTube’s audience, but Google’s queries as well. Here are some ways to pull that off:

  • Create sections in YouTube videos that directly answer Google queries. YouTube allows you to tag specific points and segments of your videos along with keyword labels. You can do this within YouTube’s descriptions, designating the segment’s starting time and listing it with your tag. In your SEO research, identify popular queries in your niche that might make for ideal video snippets. Then drop those snippets into your latest YouTube content.
  • Title your YouTube videos based on frequent themes and topics. For most YouTubers, titles are just another way to attract audience engagement. A curiosity-invoking title will drive clicks, which drives performance on YouTube’s algorithm. But you can sometimes ignore this, once again shifting your video focus to incoming search engine queries.
  • Build bottom-of-funnel videos for late customer touchpoints. Remember that customers sometimes look for zero-click content because they’re already looking to buy a product. Maybe they just want to see an unboxing video or get a sense of how a product looks in space. If you can create video content for this audience, you’ll likely attract attention from Google snippets.
  • Break down your high-level insights into shorter content. YouTube Shorts is a valuable tool that users are still underutilizing. If you can break down your information into quick and digestible content, Google (and your audience) will prefer that approach.

Optimize for “featured snippets”

Speaking of snippets: you can build a new content strategy that aims at specific featured snippets. There are a few steps here:

  • Conduct keyword research and try out a few of those keywords for yourself. Observe what happens in Google when you type those snippets in. What’s already ranking in those keywords? What questions show up in the “people also ask” section? 
  • Build content to satisfy these snippets. Rather than building lengthy stories that postpone the answers your queries are searching for, give the goods away. If your H2 tag asks a Google-relevant question, provide the answer in the first few sentences.
  • Use “mind mapping” to come up with similar questions in your content. Think of similar questions you can answer when you brainstorm this content. Create a mind map of any issues customers may have, then make sure your content includes answers to those key questions, too. Think of these as the “long-tail keywords” of the snippets world. The more you can include, the wider your zero-click content net will stretch.

Invest in your organic social media channels

Zero-click content clearly removes the friction between your audience and the information you publish. But this glosses over an important fact: to reach that audience, you have to invest in the content worthy of publishing to your organic social media channels. You have to give something worth reading, even if reading doesn’t cost your audience a single click.

That investment isn’t easy—or even cheap. It requires time and resources to publish content worth reading. Can you expect a return on that investment? Many B2B marketers will tell you yes. According to Insider Intelligence, social media was the most effective B2B channel to drive revenue in 2023. 60% of respondents said social media was working for them—far more than the second-best option, content marketing (49%).

This means investing both energy and resources into your social media channels. Are you a company worth following on LinkedIn, X, or YouTube? Do you provide answers to zero-click style questions, and do you do so without any hint of self-promotion? If so, organic social media traffic can help you build a reputation online.

Measure your brand lift to identify the strategies that work

Let’s be honest: publishing zero-click content requires playing the long game. You’re looking to cast a wide net on search engines without necessarily getting direct clicks back to your online presence. Ideally, you’ll build a reputation as a brand with great resources and answers to pertinent questions, eventually steering customers back your way.

But how do you know if it’s working? There are a few methods:

  • Surveys: You can simply ask your customers where they first find you. This is particularly important if you use marketing attribution emphasizing your customers’ first touchpoint with your brand. Use post-purchase surveys and ask customers to identify where they first found you.
  • Brand sentiment analysis: True, your zero-click content isn’t wholly responsible for your brand sentiment online. But if you can run an analysis to track brand mentions with social media and online reviews, you can look for areas you can improve. 
  • Website analytics: Analyze your website traffic, especially parsing out direct and sponsored search visits. You may be able to identify whether your zero-click content is engaging enough to drive people back to your website with similar queries. It won’t always happen, but if it does, it’s a good indicator that your customer-first content is having an effect.

Zero-clicks, but long-term results

Zero click content should be short, informative, and to the point. And here’s the kicker: it’s not really for your brand. Not in the short term. The best short-term results belong to the people asking the queries online—because they’ll use your zero-click content as a shortcut to the answers they want.

But if you build a steady zero click content plan, consistently creating engagement posts designed to land your brand in front of more eyeballs, you stand a better chance at achieving brand lift in the long-term. 

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