Are Google Stories the Next SEO Trend? Here’s what my experiments say…


First Snapchat, then Instagram, and now Google. The Internet’s obsession with the fifteen-second fascination is never-ending — the reason why as a marketer, I couldn’t keep my hands off Google Web Stories.

By now, Social Media users astutely understand how to create flashy stories with dancing text and bite-sized video clips.

In marketing terms, Stories are no joke. Instagram has 500 million users uploading stories every day, and 50% of users have reportedly “swiped-up to shop”. Snapchat’s iconic AR filters engage 180 million users daily.

Google clearly couldn’t stay far behind. YouTube Shorts is a great first attempt that is generating 3.5 billion views daily, reports a Business Insider article. But Google’s search traffic is measurably a mammoth in comparison, what about that? Google Stories seek to capitalize on the same. And if that is true, it might be a great SEO opportunity.

Let me share some insights that I found while developing, publishing, and getting my first Google Web Story for ProofHub visible in the Google App’s Discover tab.

How are Google Stories different from Snapchat and Instagram?

On the face, Google Web stories are pretty much the same as Instagram stories. You can add text, graphics, videos and roll them up in a tap-tap array of up to 30 slides.

But there are some major differences still.

Web Stories Act like Web Pages

Google’s approach with Web Stories is somewhat akin to blog pages.

The idea is to present information pieces such as news bits and How-to listicles into a readily consumable format. Therefore, you might predominantly see Web stories from the likes of Forbes, Lonely Planet, and Hollywood Life.

Obviously, a 30-slide long story can’t pack as much information as a 1000 word article. But it does have the added engagement factor. If you’re publishing “5 Wayfarers to Keep Cool This Summer”, a Web Story might get more traction than a blog page on the same thing.

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One sweet marketing fact about web stories is that you can insert metadata to have them indexed correctly. This isn’t possible with any of the other platforms that serve stories.

Web stories support meta title and meta description tags. You can also add the following structured data, Open Graph Tags, and Twitter Card data.

You can get an idea from the metadata I used in the story that I had published.

You Own and Distribute Web Stories

Just like your website’s pages, your web stories are entirely owned by you. The stories are hosted on your website servers and you can distribute them the way you like.

Thanks to Google’s thoughtfulness here, when you open a web story on a mobile device, it automatically scales to fit the screen. The mobile and tablet experience is pretty App-like.

Therefore, you can gain extra marketing mileage by sharing them on your blog pages, articles, web pages, and not just social media.

They Don’t Really Disappear

Snapchat completely erases your stories (unless saved), whereas Instagram sends expired stories to Archive after 24 hours.

Google Web stories never expire.

Any user can scroll through them at any time, no matter when they were published.

At the same time, your story may or may not make it to the Discover tab on the Google App. It’s similar to having your keyword rank on the first page of Google SERPs. It may secure a top spot today and lose it tomorrow. (More on this shortly)

Each Slide is Readily Linkable

I can feel you getting excited about this. You can readily include links and CTA’s to drive traffic the way you want, without restrictions.

The below screenshot from makestories.io (one of the many tools you can use to make web stories) verifies the fact.

Screenshot from makestories.io

You can not only make your stories informational but also drive traffic towards your money pages. Something each marketer will fancy.

The AMP documentation also offers link inserting using HTML elements as shown below.

How do Google Stories reach people?

There are four ways you can make stories reach people and drive engagement.

  • Via the Discover Tab on the Google mobile app
  • In Google Image Search Results
  • In Google search results
  • Via your own marketing channels — website, blog, etc.

The search results carrying Google stories are limited to the United States, India, and Brazil for now.

The most effective channel continues to be the Google Discover Tab. It serves content based on the user’s search behavior. If your targeting is right, there are chances that your web story will find its way to your audience.

What are the chances that your Google Story would make it to the Discover Tab?

This is the point where the line separating Web Stories from web pages begins to broaden.

Web Stories are not readily picked up by the Discover Tab.

Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller, has warranted,

“In particular it could happen that it [a web story] takes a little bit longer for it to start showing up in Discover. It can also happen that it’s never shown in Discover.”

Yep, you read that right. Your story may never end up in Discover. But is it the end of the world?

Yes and No.

Yes, if you’ve planned on capitalizing traffic only from the Discover tab. In that case, you’ll be only riding your luck. It could so happen that the time spent in making stories goes in vain.

No, if you plan on repurposing the web story for engagement and the Discover tab is just one of the channels you plan on using. Then, even if your story is not caught by Google, you can continue using it.

So, what makes a web story worth showing up in the Discover tab?

Google Stories make it to the Discover tab based on the algorithm that picks up stories, and how well the story has been optimized. For now we know very little about the algorithm but it mostly works on the user’s search behavior.

It’s different when we optimize a webpage for Search Engine discoverability. Therein we have some idea what to do, but web stories don’t have a checklist just yet.

Rest depends upon the story’s content and development. Google does offer a set of metadata and content guidelines to create indexing-friendly web stories.

Key Points for Optimizing Your Web Story for Maximum Discoverability

Content

  • Video is more preferable than images alone.
  • Use no more than 280 characters of text on a single story page.
  • Keep animations minimal.

Indexing

  • Keep the title less than 70 characters
  • Don’t include a noindex attribute in your story
  • Include web story links in your sitemap
  • Use title and description meta tags
  • Use AMP Structured Data

Standardization

  • Run your story through the AMP Validation Tool to reduce errors.
  • Don’t forget the og: image tag

You can always read the full developer documentation to take your web story game higher.

Why Google Stories are worth a shot!

In my experiments with web stories, so far I have had some positive signs. It’s understandable that web stories are a relatively new feature, hence, there won’t be any breakthroughs just yet.

Google has a dedicated section for measuring Web Story performance in the Google Search Central, formerly known as Google Webmasters. The “Performance on Discover” section shows the stories that actually made it to the Discover tab.

The blip in the graph shows the timeline when the stories started appearing in the Discover tab. While the performance is decent for now, it indicates the potential each web story has.

The Positives

CTR Performance

I was getting an average CTR of 1.2% which is obviously lower than the CTR received on blog articles (up to 2%). This is because web stories are available in select regions and haven’t been fully rolled out yet to all devices equally.

But even 1.2% is pretty impressive. It depicts that the visual nature of the story prompts the user to click. Remember that a Web Story is connected to your root domain, which means that if the story gets a good CTR, it certainly affects your domain’s SEO credibility. (More data is needed to verify this statement)

Lower Bounce Rate

A great side-benefit that came out of web stories is that when I started embedding them in article pages, the bounce rate became lower.

I introduced a web story into the article page — 10 Proven Ways To Stay Focused At Work and since this edit was made, the bounce rated started falling, while the visitor count remained the same.

You can see the web story just after the article’s introductory paragraphs.

The average bounce rate which was soaring high in the initial months after publishing started declining. You can notice a more than significant improvement in the image above. Notice that user traffic hasn’t fallen in comparison.

More Engaging Than a Lengthy Article

User feedback on stories and articles pages containing stories testifies that stories are more engaging. While stories can’t be information-heavy, they are definitely attention-grabbing.

You can experiment with this in your own way to find out what kind of content works for stories. There will always be the conflict of generating enough value for the users versus engaging them to click on CTA’s. Once a balance has been struck between the both, stories can become a key marketing resource.

Better engagement results in longer Average Session Duration, which is another SEO green signal.

Considerations

Marketing Effort

Creating Web Stories isn’t as simple as publishing articles. The designer needs to have an effective mind-meld with the content strategist to achieve the desired level of storytelling.

This is resource-intensive and if you’re working with too many people, getting your story out can get difficult. The text limit of 280 characters further intensifies the need to be crisp in how you present content.

Therefore, if you are going to invest time in web stories, you need to manage your resources well. At ProofHub, we have design proofing built-in in our team collaboration software which saved us time. Not to forget the effort savings that an organized task management system can bring to the table.

Shorten your creative design timelines with online proofing. See how.

Chances of Success are Dicey

The most critical consideration is that the chances of making it to the Discover section are dicey. After publishing several stories at a stretch, if you don’t get desired results, it can get frustrating.

In my experience, only one story of the many that I had published showed any signs of success. While I was just experimenting, it wasn’t so much of a deal. But if you’re planning to use stories regularly, you’ll have to be ready to take the risk.

Having said that, independent creators are not shy from using Web Stories. Last year, Google’s Web Creators blog featured Neha Mathur of Whisk Affair for her Diwali Web Story.

Final Thoughts on Google Stories

Comparing the pros and cons, although web stories are still at a nascent stage, they have a lot of potentials. The SEO benefits are proven, and besides that, you can drive engagement in many other ways. Millennials and Gen-Z who are adept at watching stories on Social Media apps will naturally (or at least are expected to) gravitate to Web Stories.

Therefore, I feel that as marketers, we can begin testing web stories to explore their true potential. Google is already offering no-code tools and a WordPress plugin to create your own stories.

If you’ve had a similar experience with web stories, do share your thoughts. Also, what kind of content do you think should make it to web stories?

Thank you for reading this, before you go

Clap: if you enjoyed reading this article, so others can find it
Comment: if you have a question/suggestion you’d like to ask
Follow: Vartika Kashyap to read all the articles

About Author:

Vartika Kashyap is the Marketing Manager at ProofHub and has been one of the LinkedIn Top Voices. Her articles are inspired by office situations and work-related events. She likes to write about productivity, team building, work culture, leadership, entrepreneurship among others, and contributing to a better workplace is what makes her click. Follow her on Linkedin.

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Are Google Stories the Next SEO Trend? Here’s what my experiments say… was originally published in ProofHub Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Are Google Stories the Next SEO Trend? Here’s what my experiments say…

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