Welcome to Position Zero Month! Join us for a series of episodes as we explore Google’s top spot and what you and your brand can do to get there.
Voices of Search arms SEOs with the latest news and insights they need to navigate the ever changing landscape of Search Engine Optimization and Content Marketing. From the heart of Silicon Valley, Searchmetrics’ CEO Jordan Koene delivers actionable insights into using data to navigate the topsy-turvy world now being created by Google, Apple and other search giants.
Ben: Welcome to position zero month on the Voices of Search Podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and starting today we’re going to dedicate a full month to discussing one of the hottest topics in the ever-changing world of search engine optimization, position zero.
Ben: Before we get started, I wanted to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence, and make data driven decisions. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, our service team is offering a complimentary content diagnostic, where they will advise you on how you can optimize your content, understand what topics you need to cover, and how to ensure that your writers produce effective posts. To schedule your free content diagnostic, go to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic.
Ben: Okay. To kick off position zero month, today we’re going to sit down with Jordan Koene, who is both a world-renowned SEO strategist and the CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc. Jordan, welcome back to the Voices of Search Podcast.
Jordan: Thanks, Ben. Looking forward to the topic and the whole month.
Ben: Yeah. To start off, let’s let everybody behind the curtain in our first month of producing this podcast, we’ve bounced around to a few different topics to get a sense of, if SEOs would listen to our podcast, and what content they’d like. After the first month of our production, how are you feeling about the Voices of Search Podcast?
Jordan: I actually am super optimistic about it, and very excited that we’re starting to get feedback. I encourage that. I want listeners to send in your questions, contact Ben or myself through Twitter, because the more we hear from you the better we can make the content and the podcasts help, and increase your knowledge and, hopefully, performance in search. To answer your question, it’s been great. I’m really impressed with the positive feedback that we’ve received, and I look forward to getting more.
Ben: A couple of the nice metrics that we’ve seen from the podcasts is that over 75 percent of the people that have listened to the show have become subscribers. The average person that listens to the podcast is consuming about 90 percent of each of our episodes, so I think internally, as Jordan said, we’re feeling really good about this show. We’re committed to producing it.
Ben: Now that we know that we’re going to be working on this project for a longer period of time, our plan is to get more into the weeds on some of the big important topics. The first one we’re going to discuss, as I mentioned, is position zero. So Jordan, let’s talk a little about position zero. First off, let’s start talking about what it is, and why it’s so important.
Jordan: Yeah, so position zero is … Well, first of all, it’s not a new concept, so I don’t think we’re going to be shocking anyone by bringing this as a core topic for an entire month. It’s a really critical one because at its core, position zero is a new way for Google to create priority within the search result page. It essentially is the position above all the results. In some cases, and in many cases, even above paid ads, so it’s even above the top ads. It is essentially a block of text, in some cases a paragraph, in some cases a list. In other cases, it’s a table that sits right above the search results.
Jordan: The most notable are the ones that most people recognize. Most are things like when you ask a question. How many cups are in a gallon? Google will instantly answer that question right at the top with a featured snippet. That is position zero and getting into that position is what we’re going to be talking about this month.
Ben: Okay, so to consolidate your answer down, position zero is the position that’s above everything else. It’s above being the number one ranking. It’s above the ads in some cases. You said it’s a featured snippet. Can you go into a little bit of detail, just to make sure that everybody is on the same page in terms of what that is?
Jordan: Yes. A featured snippet is a search result that appears at the top of the search result page. It’s designated differently than the traditional search result, right, what you would normally remember as the blue link, then the statement, then a short description. That’s the normal search result experience. In a featured snippet, what you’re getting is a direct answer to a user question or statement, and that answer is being viewed within that snippet, that experience at the top of the search results.
Ben: Generally, those are more visual placements, things like your maps, or answers to specific questions that can be bolded. Is that right?
Jordan: Yes, that is right. It is Google’s way … A featured snippet is the medium by which Google is able to directly address the user’s request.
Ben: Okay. So we’re going to dive into what exactly a featured snippet is, and the different formats of that in another episode. One of the things you mentioned to me in our production meeting was that in featured snippets, usually the placement that is put into position zero is already ranked, but it’s not necessarily ranked in the first spot. Talk to me a little bit about that.
Jordan: Yeah, so this is one of the funny things, which is the actual content that’s being served here is one of the results on the page. It has probably, historically, been a top performer on this page. It’s not always number one. That’s the other interesting thing. Oftentimes, it can be placement 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 even. I’ve never seen anything on page 2, but we have seen even bottom of the page, bottom of the whole below the fold results that actually show up in the featured snippet. What Google is doing is they’re denoting a piece of content that is on your page, and giving it special treatment and saying, that piece of content, that list of steps on how to tie a tie, is exactly what consumers want when they ask the question, how to tie a tie?
Jordan: That’s what’s going on here. They’re plugging something out of your page, your content, making it very visible on this search result page. It’s similar to what we all experienced and saw many years ago when Google started utilizing the knowledge graphs and showcasing Wikipedia content more visibly on the search results.
Ben: So essentially using the how to tie a tie example, let’s say I had a page that wasn’t really a great page, but had a really good list about how to tie a tie. I ranked tenth on the page. Google might say your list is great, but your page stinks. We’re going to put you as the featured snippet and put you as the tenth ranking.
Jordan: Correct. Correct.
Ben: Okay. Let me ask you. This may be a little bit off topic, but featured snippets are like here’s the answer to your question. How is this different from used to be the, I’m feeling lucky button? Wasn’t that meant to be like, hey, you can just click this button and we’ll give you the answer?
Jordan: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I think that that was one of the intentions behind the, I’m feeling lucky button? It was also a product, at least a Google product in my opinion, that was very misunderstood. This is very different from that set of expectations, because in this particular instance, and this is one of the reasons why position zero is such a big topic, this is Google making a very clear decision on what you want versus your desire to do a search that may be looking for an answer. The intent is very different here. The intent of a position zero ranking or featured snippet is Google saying, I know the answer for you. Whether you like it or not, here is the answer. In a feeling lucky situation, it’s your choice. Do you want an answer for this or not?
Ben: Yeah, yeah. Essentially that feels like it was maybe an alpha or a beta of what is now position zero, but it’s been a long time since the feeling lucky button was relevant.
Ben: Let me ask you another question. Why is position zero so important?
Jordan: Well, there’s a lot of talk in not only the SEO industry, but really more broadly about the implications of position zero to the future of users and searchers. The most recognizable change is, how will this be used when it comes to voice search? Obviously, if you make a choice as Google to designate a piece of content within a search result page to be the most useful to answering a question or comment or request, you can then recite that back to users without having to have them read it, right? You can literally say, hey, by the way, these are the steps to tying a tie. Step 1, Step 2. The implications to voice search are very apparent here.
Jordan: I also think that we all are missing the mark here, so there’s a lot of talk about this. This nicely dovetails into what we just discussed around the I’m feeling lucky button. I still believe consumers want selection. I would find it very hard to believe that users of the web are going to go in and say, I really only want featured snippets and position zero content. I don’t believe that.
Jordan: We are starting to see some changes from Google around this. Many featured snippets now include a carousel of sub options. You might put in a cooking or recipe-like request, like how to cook oatmeal, or how to cook a steak? Oftentimes what you’ll get is a carousel that will give you refinements for that particular question, like how to cook a steak that’s frozen? You can click on the frozen button, and then it will give you the instructions for what to do with a frozen steak versus a steak that you just pulled out of the fridge. Or it will give you the cut of meat, right? Is it a rib eye, or is it a sirloin? That is really neat, because Google is also realizing within these featured snippets that consumers need selection, or consumers need a choice in this matter.
Ben: How does it impact performance when you get to a position zero spot?
Jordan: That’s another hot debate and topic, right? The interesting thing is if Google’s answering the question, what’s the point of me even going to the page? Over a lot of brands, it’s a lot of fun to get into position zero. A lot of really smart SEOs are manipulating and improving their content to become visible in position zero, and in featured snippets. The big question mark still stands: am I getting traffic from that?
Jordan: I think in some cases; the traffic question is very debatable. Overall, my opinion … This is again very opinionated, because there is some fact out there and there are some brands and some people who published content around this, but it’s very hard to say that the traffic that you get from a featured snippet is the same traffic that you used to get when you ranked in position 1, or you ranked in position 2. That, I think, is the great debate here, which is you’re not seeing a consumer who is coming in seeking information the same way they were before.
Ben: So I understand that being in position zero, you have more visibility, right? You’re higher up on the page, you have a larger placement. More people are going to consume your content just based upon the nature of the page. You’re at the top, you’re above everything else, you get more space. How are the click through rates affected? Do you have a sense of whether people, when you’re in position zero, will click through, or is this cannibalizing traffic? Does that change and depend on the type of query?
Jordan: Yes. This is another area where I think there’s a lot of misinformation. You will read a lot of articles, and a lot has been published around position zero garnering a higher degree of click through rate, a higher click through rate. Often, you’ll see some studies anywhere between 35 and 45 percent click through rate for position zero.
Jordan: But I think that the question here is poorly positioned, in my opinion. The question should not be about click through rate; the question should be about volume. That’s where we realize that there’s only so many eyeballs for these particular requests. There’s only so many people performing these searches on a monthly and on a weekly basis. Although yes, the click through rate may be much higher, and our data also proves that the click through rate is much higher for position zero rankings, the question that still isn’t very well answered is, how is the volume of this performing? Are we seeing a change in the volume of traffic in position zero? Are those users and consumers behaving the same way that they used to?
Ben: Yeah, it’s a different experience because people aren’t combing through search results to find your content to click, so maybe they’re just taking the first answer and they’re not necessarily as invested in what they’re looking for. I think to me, the reason why I ask the question … This is kind of like, who’s it helping and who’s it hurting? I would imagine that for people who are looking for a definition, they’re looking for education, an answer to a question. They’re going to Google, they’re typing in their query. They’re getting the answer. They’re not clicking through. But for people who are doing, let’s say research. They’re looking for a service or a product. Being in position zero, being above the fold and giving people a taste of the value that you can provide has to be a good thing. Am I thinking about this the wrong way? There’s got to be some winners and losers with this position zero, depending on what people are searching for.
Jordan: Yeah, there are winners and losers in this situation. I don’t think that this is an entirely bad situation for most brands. I think there’s two ways to look at this. Let’s talk a little bit about the loser scenario. Our data basically shows that the biggest loser in this situation is really Wikipedia. Wikipedia notably was often featured in many cases on these pages, sometimes in a knowledge graph type experience. Now what we’re seeing is Google either replacing that with a featured snippet, or … Again, this is a very isolated set of keywords, because most of these keywords … I think this is a topic we didn’t cover in the beginning, is, what categories or where is this most prevalent? There’s a very unique set of subjective keywords where Wikipedia does show up as a ranking for a featured snippet. In those scenarios, Wikipedia is the biggest loser.
Jordan: By and large, the majority of situations here are much more on the winner side of things. There are brands in particular, brands that are getting a lot more recognition in the featured snippet. In the categories where that is most notable, I’d say, is finance. We’re seeing a lot of winners when you do searches for, hey, what’s the best mortgage rate right now? We’re seeing a lot of that with the calculators and all these other tools that people have invested a lot of time and money to build on their site. Now Google is featuring that in the featured snippet.
Jordan: The second place where we’re starting to see big, big change, and with the recent Google update, . this has been very interesting to see how featured snippets play into this, is in the healthcare space. Traditionally where you may have wanted to visit the WebMD page for a particular disease or illness, you’re no longer going to visit that page because Google is right in the featured snippet, or in their own healthcare experience now that Google has, is answering that question.
Ben: Interesting. So you can now type in, I have a pimple on my left cheek and a headache. Google can be the one to tell you it’s cancer, not WebMD?
Jordan: Exactly. It’s always the same result.
Ben: Everything on WebMD leads to cancer. It’s just terrible. Sorry WebMD. I’m not sure if they’re a client or not.
Jordan: It is. It is often the worst case scenario, but now Google is telling you that instead of all these other content offerings.
Ben: So let me ask you, why is Google doing all of this?
Jordan: That’s the most important piece to this whole conversation because ultimately, Google has a customer. They have a customer that we often don’t think about, which is the searcher, the person, the individual, all of us, everybody. Everyone who is a listener here uses Google unless you’ve made a decision to convert to DuckDuckGo. Seriously, everyone is consuming and utilizing Google. The reason they’re doing this is because this is good for users.
Jordan: There’s a lot of other comments out there about why is Google doing this, and a lot of people like to say, oh, they’re doing it because of voice search. Oh, they’re doing it because of mobile, and there’s less real estate. Yeah, sure. All of our behaviors around search are changing because we’re doing it through other devices and other mediums, but the reason that Google is doing this is because of the consumer. Users are demanding this. They’re requiring it, and I also believe that Google will change and improve it and expand the utilization of position zero as consumers’ demands and wishes become more apparent, like the example of giving a refinement carousel when you have a featured snippet. That could give you a little more specific detail.
Ben: So I understand that Google is thinking about their customer, about the searcher. We live in a more on demand society, but this is not just purely altruistic. Talk to me about how Google is monetizing this. There has to be some sort of financial impact. Do they have a plan for making money off of position zero?
Jordan: I would certainly hope so. There’s a good chance here that in the near future they will likely monetize this. I think that they’re still trying to figure out how does this really work for consumers? I know that it’s not always about being altruistic, and that Google is some nice and fluffy company that cares about everybody in the world. I know that there’s a lot of negative sentiment right now about Google, especially with what’s out in the news and the media regarding privacy.
Jordan: The fact of the matter is that if I was in Google’s shoes right now, I’d continue to test. I’d continue to learn, and I’d continue to make the experience a richer one. It started off as a blob of text. That’s a great place to start, but there’s a lot more to this before you really know what consumers want, what consumer wishes are, and then an advertising model will come in. That’s always been Google’s style, right? Google’s style and approach has always been one of, let’s give this for free to the consumer, and then later on let’s monetize once we know how consumers and customers are benefiting from it.
Ben: Yeah, I think of the parallel being Google shopping, where there was Google shopping at the time, which was free. Everyone was trying to do optimization to rank their products in Google shopping. Then it turned into product listing ads, which has a paid component. I’d imagine that eventually there will be a paid advertising component to position zero, just like there is with shopping?
Jordan: Yup. The interesting thing about featured snippets, and I think this goes back to the consumer conversation and some of the discussion around performance, and is this truly working the way you want it to in terms of performance? Oddly enough, and this is a little-known fact that many people don’t know, is that there are certain ways to optimize your content to become visible in a featured snippet. There are ways to customize the experience on a page, to attempt to get into a featured snippet. But there’s only one way, and it’s a very clear way, to tell Google you do not want to be in a featured snippet. It’s kind of funny that there’s a multitude of ways that you can try to recreate and reposition your content to become present, but there’s only one way, there’s a clear tag that you can actually put on your page that says, Google. Don’t put this in the snippet. It’s kind of interesting because Google gives you an opt out, is kind of what I’m saying, when it comes to featured snippets.
Ben: Yeah. It actually leads me into what my last question for you today is, turning the page on the rest of the month. We’re going to be talking about position zero in our next four episodes. Let’s talk about the future of position zero month. What are some of the topics you want to see us cover to help SEOs understand what position zero is, how to get into position zero, and how to evaluate it?
Jordan: First and foremost, getting the basics, right? Understanding the mechanics of how it works, what to do. That’s going to be actually a member of the Searchmetrics team is going to join us and share more about exactly how that happens. Give that real foundation to all our listeners.
Jordan: Secondly, I’d love for us to help our audience learn about the content strategy behind this, and how content plays such a critical role for featured snippets. And, get behind the content aspect of a featured snippet, and what you’re providing users through that featured snippet. There’s a clear correlation there between the benefit and the ability to answer that question for users.
Jordan: Last, we want to be able to give folks a clear line of sight as to how to measure featured snippets. What to be measuring, how to be looking at this data within Searchmetrics as well as your own internal analytics. That will be one of the most important pieces, because understanding featured snippets requires you to actually look at the data, and make sure that you’re still winning through this process.
Ben: Okay. Well, you heard it here first. We’ve got a plan for the rest of the month. We’re going to be talking about position zero. We’re going to talk about rich and featured snippets with a member of the Searchmetrics team. We have some influencer guests that are going to come in and talk to us about content strategy. We’re going to do a little piece on voice search as well, and then Jordan and I are going to circle up back at the end of the month and talk about evaluation recaps, some of the things that we’ve learned from position zero month.
Ben: That wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search Podcast. Thank you for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, the CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc. We’d love to continue this conversation with you over the internet, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find links to his bio in our show notes, or you can shoot him an SEO-related tweet @jtkoene. If you have general marketing questions or if you want to talk about the podcasts, you can find my contact information in our show notes, or you can tweet me @benjshap. If you’re interested in learning more about how to use Searchmetrics data to boost your organic traffic, your online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com for a free tour of our platform.
Ben: Don’t forget that our services team is offering a free diagnostic if you’re interested in having us walk through your content, do a little evaluation. Go to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic. There’s also a link in our show notes to get in touch with us for the diagnostic as well.
Ben: If you liked this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content and marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back with you with the rest of the position zero month starting next week. Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed the podcast and are feeling generous, we’d be honored if you’d leave us a review in the Apple iTunes store. Okay, that’s it for today, but until next time remember, the answers are always in the data.