Zero-Click Content: The Counterintuitive Way to Succeed in a Platform-Native World

Update: We hosted a SparkToro Office Hours webinar about Zero-Click content on August 23. Sign up free to watch the replay.

It could be a chicken or egg situation: Maybe the platforms have made us lazy, or we’ve trained their algorithms to reward platform-native content — as in, content that keeps people on the platforms’ sites instead of sending them to yours. Zero-Click Content.

No matter what you call it, one thing is certain: it’s harder than ever to get audiences to click that call-to-action.

A chart of the major web and social platforms, that shows which ones link to content — and which ones benefit from a zero-click approach.

In 2020, more than two-thirds of Google searches ended without a click. Why? Google is continually updating the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) so that users don’t even need to click on a result in order to satisfy their query. Converting ounces to cups? There’s a calculator directly on the SERP. Curious about Paul Rudd’s height? The snippet says he’s 5’10”. Want an overview of market research? Googling “what is market research” yields a knowledge graph with a definition, suggested market research firms, and relevant books — all without having to click through to a website.

Google SERP page and knowledge graph of “what is market research,” retrieved July 24, 2022.

It’s not just Google. It’s social media channels, too. Instagram still doesn’t allow you to place links in posts’ captions. Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, and Quora favor in-platform content like linkless posts, threads, images, and videos. TikTok and Snapchat are linkless. YouTube cuts off video descriptions that include links. And any LinkedIn creator can tell you Zero-Click content always performs better, and that links belong in the comments instead of the posts.

So… what are we supposed to do when the platforms reward Zero-Click behavior?

Make Zero-Click content.

Zero-Click content is content that offers valuable, standalone insights (or simply engaging material), with no need to click. Clicking might be additive, but it’s not required.

This is content that’s native to any platform — a Twitter thread, a LinkedIn post, a 60-second TikTok that immediately jumps into the “how to” demonstration. It’s easily consumed by anyone scrolling their feed, yet still provides value to the creator.

But how can we get value if we can’t get trackable visits? Just like our marketing forebears did: through hard-to-measure brand lift.

For marketers, writers or creators, it means optimizing impressions without the goal of earning that click. It’s taking a leap of faith. Giving the juiciest information upfront, earning engagement so the algorithm rewards your post, and building enough goodwill that your audience remembers you next time, seeks you out later, follows you on the platform, or even clicks on your profile to go find your call-to-action.

For the audience, Zero-Click content means less time wasted. You’re busy. You want the dopamine hit now, and then you’ll decide if it’s worthy of committing to reading a 2,000-word blog post, watching a 26-minute YouTube video, or listening to a 50-minute podcast. So if a creator is generous enough to give you the punchline or the three most salient takeaways, you know the long-form version of whatever it is they’re promoting is going to be worth it.

Goodbye, Clickbait. Hello, Zero-Click Content.

Of course, it wasn’t always this way.

Five years ago, a successful webinar promotion email might have said: “There are four major flaws with buyer personas. Think outside the box. Join our webinar where we’ll walk you through the proven tactics for developing buyer personas that actually move the needle on your business.”

But today? Pbfffftt.

Here at SparkToro, our most clicked-on webinar promotion email this year brought the punchline front and center:

The Marketing ‘Manda buyer persona joke, front and center.

My whole presentation — heck, even the blog post version — built up to that fake template as the punchline to hammer home the pointlessness of traditional buyer personas. And with 906 webinar registrants, the Zero-Click gamble was worth it.

Reverse-engineering my tactic, you could say I took a cue from the radio and streaming video worlds. Howard Stern has been doing this on his YouTube channel for years — giving away the juiciest clips of his celebrity interviews when we all know we need to buy a Sirius subscription to listen to the entire show. Twitch streamers like Ninja, Nickmercs, Pokimane, and many more all do this too. They stream for hours on Twitch, then share the best highlights on YouTube.

Does this mean you need to give away all the spoilers of your long-form content? No. But in a time when content saturation is higher than ever before, you need to be value-driven. You need to continually win over your audience’s attention. Even if they staunchly refuse to click.

But giving away the punchline isn’t the only way to create Zero-Click content. Here are three other frameworks:

Give one complete, compelling idea in 200 words, 2 minutes, or less.

I know you don’t want to hear this. You already spent 6 hours writing that killer blog post, and now I’m telling you to write a second, shorter version of that post. But we know it’s not enough to entice folks with a clever headline in hopes that they read further.

You need a defensible, short-form piece to use in your promotional channels. Think: 

  • A 150-word email
  • A 10-tweet Twitter thread
  • A 200-word LinkedIn post
  • A 2-minute YouTube video

Your short-form piece needs a thesis statement, and a beginning, middle and end. It features a standalone idea within your broader piece.

Offering up standalone insights is essentially the content distribution strategy of Ross Simmonds and his team at Foundation Inc. They write teardowns on their blog about how successful companies are using content to grow their businesses. Then they summarize these teardowns on social media (like Ross’s thread about Calm) and in their email newsletter. They might even promote a given teardown multiple times in their newsletter, pulling out a key insight or adding timely context.

Ross Simmonds’ and Foundation Inc’s genius in action.

For other effective examples on social media: Look to Twitter writers like Maven co-founder Wes Kao, who often writes threads about career management, creator Nathan Baugh who tweets about storytelling and has a newsletter that dives deeper into each topic, and LinkedIn creators like John Bonini, Director of Marketing at Databox:

John Bonini’s pithy LinkedIn post that shows, “Link below” in the comments.

Even Apple offers shorter standalone clips on YouTube. It’s only in the recent few years that they’ve been publishing highlight videos of their Apple Events. You used to need to tune into the multi-hour live feed, or at least, follow folks like John Gruber and Lauren Goode who live tweet the event. 

Summarize the heart of your idea in bullet points.

One way to look at this is sharing an outline of your longer content — be it a blog post, video, podcast episode, or webinar.

Earlier this year, I scribbled some notes on various counterintuitive marketing strategies. I kept a running list and eventually had enough that I thought would make for an interesting Twitter thread. As that thread gained traction, I knew there was important context missing from most of the examples I cited. So I fleshed them out into a longer blog post.

Amanda’s high-engagement Twitter thread which has all the content without the need for readers to click.

When teasing your long-form content in bullet points, you’ll need to strike the balance between injecting surprising factoids and withholding just enough information in the longer piece to make your content defensible.

Now a meta example: In one email newsletter, Brendan Hufford of SEO for the Rest of Us, gave his 4-part framework for approaching SEO strategy. Not only did he break down the entire framework in an email that didn’t even link out to a blog post, he included a screenshot of the bulleted list before breaking down each concept:

Brendan Hufford’s SEO framework published on the SEO For The Rest Of Us newsletter

Each of the four concepts link out to deep-dives, but Brendan provided enough context and information for each one that the reader didn’t need to leave their inbox to learn more. Clicking was additive, not required.

Or maybe there isn’t one big idea that you’re getting people to click on. You can still create bite-sized, standalone content that conveys the heart of your value proposition. Look to savvy ecommerce brands for ideas, like Force of Nature. The online meat brand sends an email newsletter featuring a recipe, their latest podcast, and cooking tips. Don’t want a burger recipe or a podcast episode? Then don’t click. But you can still benefit from reading their in-email cooking tips which feature a fresh mix of familiar and novel advice:

Force of Nature’s grilling tips which don’t require readers to leave their inboxes.

Cooking thawed meat and using a meat thermometer aren’t surprising, yet these signal that Force of Nature knows what they’re talking about. But cleaning your hot grill grates with a halved onion? Huh. Well, that’s a pro tip and not something most home cooks know about.

Tap into emotion and lead with the rant that sparked your bigger idea.

Rand has a bone to pick with marketing attribution, so he wrote about it… a few times — proving you can use Zero-Click content to gauge what’s worth making click-worthy content about.

Productivity coach Khe Hy so deeply hates emails-disguised-as-tasks that he wrote an essay about it, along with a pretty damn good email newsletter to promote it:

Khe Hy’s email newsletter in snippets, which ultimately lead to an irresistible CTA.

And it’s not just rants or raves that can lead to blog posts. This works well to promote any type of long-form content. Creator and indie maker Steph Smith tweets her strong points of view that regularly go viral. When the content takes off, she adds on another tweet to promote her podcast episode in which she expounds on the idea.

Steph Smith’s tweet and podcast promo.

If you lead with the rant, you’re shining a light on the pain points that your audience feels too. They won’t need to click on your post to feel seen or understood. But they’ll want to click on it because they’ll want to see how you solve their problem.

Zero-Click content is uncomfortable but it’s worth it.

Freely giving away value with no hope of tracking the ROI goes against everything we were taught as marketers. But have a little faith. Dare to be even more generous with your work than you already are. Give your audience your best and succinct information to help save them time and energy. Believe that the progress you can’t measure — people you’ve helped, perspectives you’ve changed, becoming top of mind — is being made.

That’s the funny, counterintuitive nature of Zero-Click content. When you create content so valuable that it doesn’t need to be consumed off-platform, it becomes even more likely that your audience will like you, remember you, and trust you enough to eventually smash that CTA.

Update: We hosted a SparkToro Office Hours webinar about Zero-Click content on August 23. Sign up free to watch the replay.