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What is Google Discover?
This week: Google Discover. The new-ish Google surface is more akin to a social platform than traditional search and offers huge – but unpredictable – waves of audience. Here’s what to know
Hello, and welcome back. Jessie here, fresh off an all-star panel of news SEO experts in my data and audience class last week. Despite the technical snafus (when is there not a technical snafu for a hybrid presentation?), I was so thrilled to have Shelby, Louisa Frahm and Lindsey Wiebe talk about technical SEO, international search and Google Trends.
This week: A look at Google Discover, the new Google on the block. Google Discover is the SEO form of this emoji: 🙃. If you are sometimes pleasantly surprised to see a spike in traffic from Google Discover (🙂), but unsure why you’re appearing there (🤔), this newsletter is for you.
We will explain what Discover is, how it's different from other Google platforms and if/how you can cater to that audience.
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Let’s get it.
In this issue:
What is Google Discover?
How to optimize for Discover
Uncertainty and Discover
What is Google Discover?
Google Discover, first introduced in 2018, is a feed of content that appears on Google’s iOS and Android apps and on Google.com exclusively on mobile. In a 2018 blog post, Google indicated the purpose of Discover (then called the feed) is to “surface relevant content to you, even when you're not searching.”
Google Discover is driven by AI that finds relevant content based on a reader’s search activity and preferences across its products. This content includes news and stories (including evergreen), video (including YouTube), some Google rich results and ads.
Unlike Google Search, Discover is queryless, meaning there is no ‘search’ functionality. In this way, Discover is similar to social feed.
Unlike Google News, the content isn’t entirely content from news publishers. (However, Newzdash suggests that there is a correlation between stories that perform well in Google News and in Discover.)
According to Google’s documentation content is selected based on:
A reader’s activity in their Google account (both web and app, including contact information and personal results);
Topics readers follow – including by clicking “show more” or “show less” buttons next to stories;
Location settings and history.
Note: Readers are able to turn off personalization, but that requires an extra change in the Settings.
Because of personalization, it’s best to think about Discover more like a social platform. According to Ahrefs, the algorithms that power Discover are able to decipher and reflect a reader’s level of expertise and how important the topic is to the individual.
What to know about Google Discover:
Google prefers newer content in Discover, but will show “helpful content from across the web, not just newly published content.” That means evergreen content might reappear depending on a reader's interest.
Discover offers huge traffic, but don't rely on Discover clicks. It might come in bigger waves, but is far less predictable than well-optimized stories in organic results or Google News.
Here’s what Google says: “Given the serendipitous nature of Discover, traffic from Discover is less predictable or dependable when compared to Search, and is considered supplemental to your Search traffic.”
Currently in beta, the Follow button allows readers to – as the name suggests – follow a website to get the latest updates from the site. Publishers in the United States can experiment with adding an additional link in the
<head>to help Google understand which feed a site wants people to follow for a given page.
If your search strategy is shaky, or there’s room to expand your reach in organic results, it would be wise to consider Discover a bonus until your other SEO efforts are solid.
THE HOW TO
What to know about Discover
SEO for Discover is an area awash in uncertainty. Discover is still quite new, and adds the element of personalization. Additionally, your only data around your Discover performance comes from Google Search Console. GSC provides impressions, clicks and the click-through rates for stories in Discover for the previous 16 months. Because of this, performing competitive analysis can also be a challenge.
Surfacing content in Discover:
Discover is akin to a social platform and is very personalized. Our existing workflow – looking at Google Trends or other search data for emerging topics and responding to that interest with content that matches reader intent – doesn’t work on Discover.
But there are things we can consider to increase the odds (but never guarantee) our publication’s stories will appear.
First, content must follow Google’s content policies and be indexed. As Shelby outlined last week, step one for appearing anywhere in Google is the search engine pulling your content into its index. However, Discover does not require additional, Discover-specific tags or structured data.
What your content needs to appear in Discover:
Content should have dates, bylines, author pages with relevant professional details and publication or publisher info to build trust with readers. Make sure contact information is available on an About Us page;
Your site should be mobile-friendly since Discover is mobile-only;
The page should load quickly. AMP is not required but is visible across Discover;
Don’t use clickbait in the title, meta description or images (the fields that make up the preview). Don’t manipulate any text or image field to mislead readers, but do write engaging, enticing headlines;
Use large, high-quality images and engaging videos (YouTube works well, specifically, since it is a Google product).
For audience editors, the main piece of advice is to focus on what we can control: creating great stories. To that end, focus on E-A-T content or buzzing topics (see below). You can experiment with mixing content types, too. Try different styles of stories like listicles, Q&A, trending topics, evergreen stories or hard news.
More on E-A-T and buzzing topics
E-A-T: In its documentation, Google says individual pages (i.e., stories) must demonstrate expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness to appear in Discover.
As we covered in our E-A-T newsletter, this is the type of content Google wants more of across all its platforms.
Expertise refers to the expertise of the creator of the content; Authoritativeness refers to authority and reputation of the overall site; Trustworthiness asks if the overall site is a trustworthy source.
E-A-T is important for queries where surfacing truthful information really matters (Your Money or Your Life: personal finances, health, etc) because failing to do so could have real life negative consequences.
Buzzing topics: In his NESS presentation, John Shehata discussed the importance of considering buzzing and popular content for Discover. He recommended using social buttons on your mobile site and app, as well as publishing sharable trending topics.
John also recommended thinking about audiences groups and their similar interests, instead of optimizing for individual stories.
Consider the topic areas you cover that Discover already shows to readers (or topics that see higher-than-average click-through rates) and experiment with running more stories (or updating and recirculating evergreen content) on those topics.
Discover is a less-known Google entity. Finding a strategy for long-term success might be challenging, but being able to surface content makes it well worth the effort.
The bottom line: In Google’s ever-evolving ecosystem, available surfaces and potential readers will change. Discover offers a big – but unpredictable – audience. Prioritize your efforts appropriately: having solid technical, evergreen and standard news SEO should supersede chasing a wave of Discover clicks (but when the time comes, consider the health of your mobile site, your E-A-T and buzzy social content).
THE JOBS LIST
These are roles across the globe we see that are audience positions in journalism. Want to include a position for promotion? Email us.
Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health is hiring an Associate Director, Audience Development (Boston, MA).
New Scientist is hiring a Deputy Audience Editor (London, UK).
The New York Times is hiring a News Assistant for the Audio Audience team (New York, NY).
Read more: Valentin Pletzer outlined how to do real-time tracking for Discover.
Barry Adams was a guest on the Own Thy Audience podcast. Tune in for his thoughts on how optimizing for Google News is different from organic search. (RSVP to Similar Web’s best practices seminar with Barry on April 5.)
SEO Roundtable: Why Google does not crawl and index every URL.