How Will the New Position 0 Affect the SERP?

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A quick introduction to what SEO is

For those of you who are not familiar with what SEO is, it stands for Search Engine Optimization. It is an essential traffic acquisition strategy for digital marketers looking to expand their online businesses. The general idea is to acquire targeted web traffic from Google, Bing, Yahoo, Baidu or any other search engine. Many SEO techniques and skills are required in order to properly improve a website’s visibility in the organic results.

One of the most important assets an SEO expert can have is a deep understanding of how Google’s algorithm functions and how to adjust to its ever-evolving properties.

That is precisely one of these properties I want to explore with you today. I want to talk to you about the position 0 and how its recent changes may affect the way we optimize our content.

What is position 0 and why should I care?

The position zero is a featured snippet displayed at the top of the search engine ranking pages. It basically puts on a pedestal one of the organic results of the first Google result page.

Here is an example of what a position 0 can look like for an informative query such as “What are the best electric guitars for beginners”.

This position offers a clear answer to the user in a more extensive way than the classic display. It sometimes features one or several illustrative images along with other enriched content.

Google also displays a link, the page’s meta title, the URL, and either an extended meta description or a preview of the article. Videos can also be displayed there if big G deems it worthy.

The content positioned in the featured snippet is essential as it allows Google to dictate a vocal response for people using voice searches. Position 0 referencing is also a synonym of visibility, readability, and a strong signal that your content overflows with quality information.

There is currently no meta tag or any other HTML code that can improve the likelihood of your pages appearing in the featured snippets. Only the quality of the content combined with a good HTML structure (and of course, some off-page authority) allows you to eventually position yourself in these spots.

For the site that obtains it, this featured snippet display is added to its regular organic position on the first page, giving it double visibility and consequently increasing its CTR (click-through rate). At least, that is what was going on until mid-January of 2020.

Position 0 – What’s Up Doc?

Danny Sullivan, Google’s Search Communications Manager, said in a tweet that from now on, if a page gets the holy position 0 on any given query, Google will no longer display its “regular” organic position on the first page. The official reason behind this update is to “reduce results and help users locate relevant information more easily”. That essentially means that Google wants more diversity and more different sources showing in his result pages. Consequence: your standard organic position is now relegated to the top of the second page.

Therefore, if your page used to be on both the position 0 and position 2 on a Google search, it now holds the P0 and position 11.

How will this change impact the click-through rate?

While it is still too early to say for sure, the affected sites will obviously suffer from the lower visibility in the Google SERP, and get fewer clicks, especially for pages that cumulated the zero and first position.

A SearchEngine Land study from 2017 indeed shows the CTR decay for the first result when a position zero is present:

  • The first position of a SERP that does not have a P0 gets on average 26% of the clicks.
  • The P0 CTR is about 9% on average, while the first position gets down to 20%.

Conclusion: If you had both P0 and P1 of the SERP, you would on average get 29% of the clicks. With this new policy, you will only get 9% today. In other words, it is better for your CTR to lose your P0 if you would normally be in the top 5 of a SERP.

This seems rather counter-intuitive and puts digital marketers in a tough spot. From their perspective, there is no longer any incentive to earn what used to be the SEO holy grail.

What is interesting to me though, is how low the standard CTR for a P0 currently is. One can only assume that a result showing at the top of the organic results can only get a better click-through rate than the results below. My hypothesis is that users view the P0 as a paid result and are less trusting of its relevance. 

Quick reminder: The first sponsored link spot on any given Google query has a 4% CTR on average. This goes to show that people are able to differentiate what is a legitimately good result (SEO), and who “cheated” their way into the first spot. 

<meta name=”googlebot” content=”nosnippet”>

This will tell Google that you absolutely do not want your page to appear in any featured snippet, preventing it from “catching” the P0 by mistake.
Jonathan is a marketing specialist, passionate about sports, technology, and travel. He writes about soccer, tennis, basketball, and owns a blog that caters to all athletes aspiring to reach their full potential. Learn more @TheChampLair.com