A study of Google users’ habits has shown that the search engine’s Snippets and Knowledge Panel are a popular point of reference, especially among younger users.
However, a significant number of those who use these so-called ‘position zero’ results are not clicking any links on Google’s index page, leading to questions of how much publishers are benefiting from having their content featured in Snippets and the Knowledge Panel.
A consumer survey conducted by Path Interactive quizzed users from around the world, with most of them (72%) being from the US, on their Googling habits, searching for patterns among age groups.
A major part of the study was looking at people’s attitude to Google Snippets, which are the results pulled up at the top of the page for queries like ‘how to boil an egg’, that can be read on the results page without clicking through to the site. Also looked at was Google’s Knowledge Panel, which appears on the right of a desktop screen or the top of a mobile screen for searches on people, businesses, events and more or less anything else with a Wikipedia page.
Results show that reliance on the Snippet generally decreases with age. In the 13-18 age group, 60% of users say their query is answered by the Snippet. However, only 20% actually click through to the site the snippet comes from, with 40% simply reading the Snippet and considering their question answered.
For those aged 18-21, the figure of people who read but don’t click Snippets drops to just over 20%, but it rises again for the 21-30 age group and then remains at around the 20% mark for the ranges 30-40, 40-50 and 50-60. In the 70+ group, however, around three quarters of users look beyond the Snippet, saying they may scan it but continue to look at the results.
When it came to the Knowledge Panel, almost all users (92.1%) say they use it, with only 5.8% saying they distrust and ignore it, and 2.1% not knowing how to answer the question. More than half (55.3%) say they look at the panel but usually continue to look at the results, but 36.8% say they get what they need from the Knowledge Panel and end their search without clicking any links.
Does this make ‘position zero’ a bad one?
Google is, in theory, choosing the best possible results for its Snippets and Knowledge Panel, but if large numbers of people are reading text Google has extracted from third-party sites without clicking through to them, isn’t this punishing sites with good content by denying them traffic?
This is a common complaint, and Search Engine Land writes that the findings “provide some ammunition to critics” of Google’s ‘position zero’ practices, but also notes that the study highlights the varied and discerning behaviour of search engine users.
Encouragingly for those whose SEO practices are focused on gaining organic rankings, a huge 72% of users said they preferred Google’s organic results to ads, and almost half (47%) said they never or rarely click ads. Perhaps the breakdown of age groups shows that it’s important for sites to analyse the demographics of their target audience and develop a campaign based around their search engine habits.