January 14, 2020

How to Optimize for Google Discover and See Big Wins

Google Discover is a hidden gem that's helping publishers see massive traffic surges shortly after they hit 'Publish' on their latest content.

If you're an iOS user, you might not have seen Google Discover in the wild.

It's a feature available on Android that provides a continuous feed of stories Google deems relevant to that person.

It's a swipe away from the home screen and is used to get quick updates or find articles they know they'll be interested in.

Google Discover for content publishers

I know what you're thinking... Is it worth the effort of optimizing for Discover or not?

Simply put, yes.

It can give you a massive traffic surge.

For context, here's a screenshot from a relatively new site that got a post featured in Discover:

Traffic to Google Discover

We didn't send this post to our email list, and it wasn't shared by an influencer.

The post didn't even have a single backlink yet.

Yet, we had a constant surge of people arriving at it.

The site was starting to get some modest traffic after we'd been publishing for a few weeks, but the moment a new article got picked up by Google Discover, we saw a significant spike in traffic.

In this article we'll walk you through our learning and tactics about how we get content featured in Google Discover. We've included screenshots from Search Console and Google Analytics, but have blurred out most data points for the for client privacy reasons.

Without further ado, let's jump right in.

How Can You Optimize for Google Discover?

Your content needs to Follow Google News guidelines

1. Have a Regular Publishing Schedule

Firstly, you won't get published in Google Discover if you publish a single, high-quality post. You should be regularly publishing fantastic content that your audience cares about.

Google Discover chooses content based on audience interests, rather than keywords directly (although we can assume Google does take keyword selection into account).

"Google ranks Discover content algorithmically based on content quality and the strength of the match between page content and user interests."

If you're regularly publishing content around a similar core theme, you'll be attracting a similar audience. If your audience continues to engage with your content and spend an above-average Time on Page, you'll have a stronger chance of being picked for Discover.

In theory, this signals that the page content is a good match for the user interests, which is exactly what Google is looking for when choosing what to show users in Discover.

2. Use High-Quality Images

The second main factor is using high-quality images. Google Discover displays content in rich cards that contain a featured image (or video), and you won't get selected for it without that featured image or video.

You don't need to overthink this.

If you have in-house illustrators or designers, they can create the perfect image for you, but we've seen content get picked for Discover with featured images taken from high-quality stock photo sites like Unsplash and Pexels.

The key is to ensure it's of high quality, safe-for-work, and at least 1,200 px wide.

3. Get Traffic To Your Article Early

From now on, we're referring to anecdotal evidence based on our first-hand experiences.

Apart from creating content that matches your audience's interests, and using a high-quality featured image, there are no other official ranking factors for Google Discover.

What we've noticed is that articles that get traffic early in their life are more likely to get featured in Discover. The caveat is that it has to be relevant traffic, i.e., the audience has to enjoy your content, and spend time on your page.

If you're publishing an article, and not doing any promotion for a few days, then you're less likely to get featured.

You need to start your content promotion work as soon as your article is live. Proving that your audience wants to engage with your article as soon as it's published is going to be a positive signal and help you get picked up by Discover.

Don't shoot for vanity numbers. Promote your content in places where your actually audience hangs out.

Places like Reddit, Hacker News, or niche Facebook groups can work well, as they're made up of real people who are there to discover new content relevant to their interests. Keep in mind that people can see through thinly veiled self-promotion, so your content needs to be high quality, not overly self-promotional, and match their interests.

How Do You Know If Your Content is In Google Discover?

If your content is displayed in Discover, you'll see a new section in Search Console.

Google Discover tab in Search Consoln

You'll see a new graph that only shows data from Google Discover.

If you can't see the Discover tab in your Search Console, don't worry.

Once your first article gets picked for Discover, you'll be able to see the tab going forward.

SEO vs. Google Discover

1. Initial Click-Through Rates and Impressions

Based on our experiences, if your content gets featured in Google Discover you'll see an above-average Click-Through Rate and a large number of impressions to it in a short time period.

Unlike with SEO, it won't take time for your content to climb to Page 1. It'll be displayed within a user's content feed as early as Google sees fit (usually within a few days of publishing - if it's not featured within a few days, it's unlikely ever to be).

See high click through rates with Google Discover

We've seen average CTRs of ~6% to ~10% depending on how often Google is promoting our client content to people in their Discover feed.

Regular SEO is the opposite of it. In the short term, you'll see little organic activity (hence the need to actively promote new content if you want quick wins), but in the long term, your content will steadily rise and compound, leading to a large number of impresssions and clicks.

Google Discover CTR
Impressions for a site growing over time (excluding Google Discover)

2. Longevity

When creating content, we want an asset that will rank well for a long time and to grow its impression share over time (one of the strengths of evergreen content).

When you publish a blog post that's optimized for its target keywords, you can expect it to steadily rise in the rankings over time, and get seen by more and more people.

Google Discover vs. SEO
Impressions for a single keyword optimized blog post

Discover is the opposite of this. You'll see a big initial spike in impressions and traffic, but over time that will get smaller and smaller.

Your content can get re-featured by Discover, but we haven't yet found a proven formula for this.

Getting re-featured on Google Discover

Tracking Visits from Google Discover

Despite the tab in Search Console, it's hard to find much data on site visits that originate from Google Discover.

There's no dedicated naming convention for it inside Google Analytics, and because Google choose which content gets featured, you won't be able to configure any custom UTM codes or similar to help you track it.

In sites we manage, we've seen traffic originating from Discover showing up as from two main sources:

  1. Direct traffic
  2. googleapis.com

GoogleApis.com Referral Traffic can be Google Discover

There's no more data available than this, currently.

So, if you're seeing referral traffic from googleapis.com, it's likely that your content is showing up in the Discover feed. An easy way to confirm this will be to check within Search Console a day or two afterwards (or as soon as the data becomes available).

Wrapping Up

Google Discover is still somewhat of a mystery. As long as your content is eligible for Google News, you might get chosen for it.

Depending on your niche, your publishing frequency, and content quality, the likelihood of being featured varies. If you're not getting featured, it's worth reviewing the Google News content policies to ensure you adhere to them.

Need great content? Get in touch with Contentbulb.

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