How Google Search Perpetuates Its Status as the Most Visited Site on the Web

It’s no secret that Google is the gateway to the web — after all, the company’s name has become synonymous with search. However, Google also consistently holds the crown for the most-visited web page on the internet.

In SimilarWeb’s list of the top ten most visited websites in the world, only two other search engines, Baidu and Yandex, appear. Based in China and Russia, respectively, these other search engines are built primarily to serve those markets, so their appearance on the global rankings leaderboard says a lot about their power in those markets.

Sitting at the very top of the website rankings, Google is the only search engine on the list with a truly global audience.

This position is consistent, too. According to any number of indexes, each with its own method for measuring traffic, Google always seems to take the top spot. How do they manage to do this, when the entire purpose of the site is to help users find other websites?

Of course, since Google sits just this side of a monopoly on the search market (over 91% globally and over 87% in the United States), it stands to reason that the site gets a whole lot of traffic. However, things get a little more complicated when you consider the increasing number of features on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) that are designed to answer questions without needing to visit a different site.

Featured snippets, local results, and related searches all give users ways to get their information directly on the Google results page, rather than needing to click through and explore various sites. Ultimately, while these features are certainly convenient for users, they have an increasing percentage of searches both starting and ending with Google — and the sites providing those answers don’t see any of the traffic.

What is a zero-click search?

The term “zero-click search” refers to a search query that is answered directly on the SERP, without the user needing to click through to any of the results. There may technically still be clicks — to dial a phone number, for example — but the user never actually leaves Google to visit another web domain.

Earlier in 2021, SparkToro analyzed data from SimilarWeb and found that a whopping 64.82% of all searches worldwide in 2020, both desktop and mobile, ended on the SERP without any click to an outside property. This number is even higher when you isolate only mobile devices — 77.22% of these were zero-click searches. And these percentages appear to be trending upward.

If true, this effectively means that an enormous amount of all web traffic is both starting and ending on Google.

For its part, Google claims that these stats are misleading and that the traffic it has sent to external sites “has increased every year since Google Search was first created.” It’s also been argued that the data used for these analyses can’t possibly be complete and doesn’t account for user intent. As such, many in the SEO community feel that it shouldn’t be taken at face value.

However, while Google may not intentionally be cannibalizing search results, it appears that a larger and larger amount of traffic is never making it past the site, which essentially means that sees a growing percentage of all pages served across the web. It’s an especially troubling trend when we consider how much effort people put into publishing content specifically so that it will rank on Google, thereby driving traffic.

Let’s explore why that is.

How SERP features have evolved over time

In its early days, the Google search results pages were pretty straightforward: you got a list of websites that matched your query. Over the years, the company has introduced several additional elements, like Featured Snippets, Knowledge Cards and Knowledge Panels, Image Packs, and Local Packs.

While features like these are designed to be helpful to searchers and get them the info they need faster, they also have the additional impact of reducing the need to click through to websites to get answers to certain queries. As a result, more traffic stays with Google.

Why is this bad? Well, for one, many sites rely on traffic for monetization. Web traffic is big business, and losing it to Google isn’t even losing it to the competition — it’s never making it to the competition either, since Google is essentially the starting line for a large portion of web traffic.

However, there’s another concern in play: Google’s purported plans to do away with advertising cookies and shift to a proprietary system for gathering data on user behavior. This system would theoretically be more private than cookies, although Google doesn’t have the best track record for privacy.

However, if Google owns it, and more and more traffic is stopping at Google — well, that’s an awful lot of information for one company to have exclusive access to, and it could further cement Google’s monopoly on data.

How to optimize for zero-click search

Despite all this, the reality for many companies is that SEO remains critical for online success. And SEO effectively means optimizing for Google. If Google favors zero-click results, how can you ensure that your site is the one providing them?

Google doesn’t really publish the specific criteria it uses to decide who gets the rich SERP results. However, there are a few things you can do to increase your odds of getting one.

To optimize for Featured Snippets, target a long-tail query and directly answer that query on the page. For best results, this answer should be in a discrete paragraph and specific to the query. Like this paragraph, for example.

For Local results, provide as much information as possible on your website, and make sure to fill out the Google My Business profile for your business. This helps inform the search engine where you’re located, what your hours are, and more, using their own data structures, making it easy to display that data on search results.

Beyond that, focus on general SEO best practices — higher-ranking pages may have better chances of getting rich results. Featured Snippets tend to be taken from the top search result, for example.

Zero-click search may be the future

For better or worse, Google currently acts as the gateway to much of the internet. Zero-click searches are likely to continue to increase this position. Optimize for them now in order to stay ahead of the curve, and beat your competitors to the punch.

Photo: David Gray | Bloomberg | Getty Images
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