Google’s new feed and its impact on search.

Posted July 28, 2017 in by

In a post titled Feed Your Need to Know, Google recently announced a new feed experience in their app (and coming soon to mobile and desktop). When I came across this announcement in my Twitter feed, well, see for yourself.

Mind blown.

Granted, the tenor of my response to this news may be partially due to my being a search engine fan. But, this IS big news—and not just for SEO geeks and search marketers. Any change to Google’s app or home page will impact the way the search giant’s 247 million annual unique visitors access information. And that has a trickle-down effect.

Why might Google be making this change?

The short answer: Users.

I think this quote from the official announcement, sums it up well:

“The more you use Google, the better your feed will be,” said Shashi Thakur, VP of Engineering.

Did you catch that? “The more you use Google….” Google dominates the search space. Heck, they invented it; organizing information is their mission and core competency. Which may be why their attempt at social (Google+) didn’t fare so well. But, the platform needs to stretch into that space if they want to get more of your time. The logical step is the news feed.

Google news feed preview Google’s feed experience in action (image source: Google)

 

A few years ago, the king of social, Facebook, realized that they needed to stretch into search, so they launched graph search. Facebook has also continued to seep into other platforms’ spaces – live streaming video, messaging, payments, photos, gaming, etc.

Whether you realize it or not, there is a battle going on—a battle to be the internet. You read that right.

It’s a battle royale between the two most visited sites on the internet: Google and Facebook. And, each platform’s parent company has their fingers in every kind of technology imaginable (artificial intelligence, virtual reality, etc.) to ensure they’re triumphant.

In recent years, Facebook has made it clear that they want to own every action you take on the internet. They have one major hurdle: 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine (Forrester). Now, this stat says “search engine,” but I think we all know what the real verb for search is (hint: google it). And, guess what? Google already knows everything you do online thanks to its ownership of search, email, calendar, maps, YouTube, Chrome and the Android operating system.

So, why not leverage that knowledge to serve you a tailored feed of news and information? It’s all about offering up a great user experience (and, let’s be honest, collecting ad revenue. We’ll get into that later.).

What this means for business.

The short answer: Audience reach.

If your business relies on search as a marketing channel (as most do), you’re probably wondering how this will affect your current strategy and if there are new opportunities. Before we make any predictions, let’s think about what’s happening today on the search results page.

Today, if you search for “best tacos,” you’ll receive a local pack that lists taco restaurants near your location. A search for “taco tshirt” gets you a shopping carousel above the usual search results. A search for “Nacho Libre” gets you a movie Knowledge Graph with details about the film. All of these elements will be the same in Google app’s feed—based on the user’s search history and location.

There could be new opportunities for businesses though. Say you’re a taco restaurant. If a person follows a topic related to your business (say Mexican cuisine), it could make it easier for them to discover your content (if you have quality, relevant content).

So, does your content and SEO strategy need to change? I don’t think so. Even with Google’s new feed, the goal for content marketing and SEO remains unchanged: Create quality content that helps your audience accomplish their goals.

What this means for content creators.

The short answer: Audience reach.

With the new feed, users can follow topics and Google will suggest topics for them to follow. This could make it easier for users to find your content. It also has the potential to drive lots of (unexpected but welcome) traffic to sites, as Rand Fishkin mentioned in a Tweet responding to this announcement.

Trending topics will also play a bigger role, as the feed, according to Google, aims to “have multiple viewpoints from a variety of sources, as well as other related information and articles.” That presents a big opportunity for content publishers—and a possible shift in strategy. Content creators everywhere are probably adding pros-and-cons articles and competing opinion pieces to their content calendars at this very moment.

What this means for search marketers.

The short answer: New placements.

While there was no mention of ads in the announcement about changes to the Google news feed, chances are they are coming. And, chances are that this is one of the main drivers behind the change.

Digital advertising is big business. Globally, brands spent $493 billion on advertising in 2016 (both traditional and digital). The growth is in digital channels, for obvious reasons. Advertisers have continued to increase spend on search marketing and social media, with Facebook and Google together controlling 54 percent of the global digital advertising market.

Facebook is the winner when it comes to mobile ad revenue, currently taking 23 percent of global mobile ad revenue. This is a greater percentage than the platform takes of the overall digital ad revenue (20%), meaning it doesn’t make as much money on desktop. This is because the social platform is built for mobile, and they mix ads in with your friends’ status updates—which is attractive to marketers.

Google wants a share of that ad revenue pie, although according to estimates by eMarketer, Google is on course to earn nearly 41 percent of the $83 billion digital advertising market in the United States this year. They recognize there’s room to grow their share of the market.

The new feed in the Google app represents an opportunity to follow the lead of social platforms and squeeze ads in between articles about the latest news and trending topics. This type of “native” placement is appealing to marketers because it offers a less abrasive user experience. Plus, your ad appears to users at the very moment they’re thinking about your product or a related topic.

Currently, videos show up in the Google feed, but they don’t play in the feed. Clicking on any video takes you out of app. However, I’m sure this will be addressed in the near future as video ads present a huge revenue opportunity. I even wonder if the 6-second bumper ads released recently were designed specifically for this new feed.

What it means for web design and development.

The short answer: Cards.

Mobile devices (and now the IoT) have changed our online behavior. comScore recently reported that mobile “now accounts for 69 percent of digital media time spent.” We love our devices and how easy it is to pull out our phone and find the nearest craft brewery or taco place. Hitwise reports that nearly 60 percent of searches happen on mobile devices.

Google knows this is a mobile world better than anyone, which is why they’re moving to a mobile-first index. This is also why they’ve shifted to a mobile-first UI design by using cards. Cards are easy to identify in the new Google feed. Each story or link appears in a box—that’s a card.

Cards-in-Google-News-Feed
Google app cards

 

The best definition of cards that I’ve seen came from Dr. Pete at Moz: “Cards are much more than just a design philosophy. … With cards, we have to start thinking of each individual information unit as a stand-alone result.”

Cards offer a great amount of flexibility for web designers and developers, as cards can easily move around and be scaled to fit any device (phone, TV, tablet, refrigerator, watch, etc.) Many popular websites already leverage this type of UI/UX (often called contained-based design): Pinterest, Twitter, Zillow, etc.

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information. Information is what makes the card design work. This UI leverages a type of information called structured data, which is basically data provided in the code of a website that tells Google more information about what appears on the page. Yeah, it’s information about information. You’ve already been benefiting from structured data, whether you realize it or not. It’s how Google displays movie times and information about your favorite actor on the results page.

Chances are we’ll continue to see more and more card-based design across the web as it offers the greatest flexibility in a future filled with more and more devices. Cards are made for the internet of things. And, Google’s shift to a container-based design ensures they’ll be on every device users are. If container-based design is where the folks at Google (and other popular websites) are placing their bets, businesses should take note.

 

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