Last month, for our Data-Driven Digital community webinar, we talked to Jes Scholz about how to Unleash the Power of Google Without Keywords. Many marketers hear the word Google and immediately their minds focus on optimising for Universal Search. The issue is, Google is no longer a list of 10 blue links plus some ads.
The search engine has become a fully-fledged ecosystem, which takes its users on a journey to content they never knew they wanted to search. This is achieved through experiences such as Google News, Google Discover, Google Lens and more. Learn why it’s critical to prominently establish your brand within the full Google ecosystem, where to focus your optimisation efforts for these new contact points and how to measure the impact on visibility, sessions and conversions.
Watch the recorded webinar below. TL;DR? View the slides and read the recap instead.
Skip to the section you want to read more about:
- Google is an Ecosystem
- How to Build a Dashboard in Google Data Studio
- Foundational Prerequisites for the Google Ecosystem
- Google Discover
- Google Images & Lens
- Google News
- Lightning Round
I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this. But throughout your entire relationship, Google has been lying to you. Feeding you false information about their whereabouts, prioritising others over you and worst of all they have been hiding organic sessions from you. And because of their deception, your SEO strategy is misguided.
You see by default, Google Analytics attributes the vast majority of sessions driven by Google product to “google organic”. This is often equated to mean from universal search. And so, the current paradigm of SEO is to wait for a keyword search to occur, and then compete for attention.
But Google is so much more than just universal search.
In the search sphere alone there is also Google Images, Videos, Maps, Shopping, Flights & Jobs.
Then they have content delivery products that don’t begin with a traditional text-based search query. Think of Google Discover, Lens, News, Assistant & Play just to name a few.
And they have a whole suite of products that assist them to drive personalisation for their users, things like Chrome, Gmail, Pixel phones and so much more.
Google is an Ecosystem
Google is not a search engine. It is an ecosystem that allows it to reach and influence people often before they search. Many of these ecosystem channels outside of traditional search can and should be optimised. But Google doesn’t expose all these traffic sources in Google Analytics by default.
On the contrary, they hide the impact of most session driving products behind google/organic, or split data across multiple referrers like with google news or show nondescript referrers.
And no matter how many times you ask John, their behaviour isn’t going to change. So we have to change our reporting.
How to Build a Dashboard in Google Data Studio
You can build a Google Data Studio dashboard that clearly reports KPIs for all your key Google Platforms. I’m going to quickly take you through how to create this.
To start, create a new view to not interfere with other channel reporting.
Then setup a filter to override the campaign source with a regex that processes the details of the referrer.
And then you will get source data like this, which you can map to the relevant Google product. This data isn’t perfect – for example, Discover traffic from iOS is completely missing as it tracks as direct with no identifiable source. But it is significantly more useful than the default Analytics reporting. Although a bit difficult to grasp in this format, so let’s clear it up with Google Data Studio.
First, pull in the Google Discover KPIs. The impressions and clicks come from GSC & the sessions from our custom view.
Then, pull in your GSC data for web, image and video as well as the search sessions also from the custom Google Analytics view. One thing to note is that these sessions are the combination of 5 Google products: Universal Search, Google Assistant, Images, Lens & Video.
Afterwards, add in Google News. Although one thing to note here is that the search console data is only for Google news tab. So the clicks will be lower than your sessions which includes the tab, app and site.
If relevant, add in business model specific products such as Google for Jobs, which is tracked under the organic source google_jobs_apply, or Google My Business & Google Merchant Center, which you can UTM tag to identify the sessions.
You can also go deeper with the metrics, adding funnel KPIs such as bounce rates, new user acquisition and conversions.
Now if you’re a publishing site, it will look more like this, reflecting the true channel makeup of google sessions and making it abundantly clear that if you’re still focussing on tactics such as keyword targeting and rank tracking, you’re missing out on over half the pie. But this doesn’t mean we should abandon all traditional SEO.
You need to know the true channel makeup of google organic for your site. Only then, can you understand the impact of your optimisation efforts.
Foundational Prerequisites for the Google Ecosystem
As there are 6 key drivers that will move the needle on most Google ecosystem products.
- First, you need a brand that displays expertise, authority and trust
- Through uniquely valuable content
- That is topic optimised both in its content strategy and its technical execution
- As well as pages that are mobile-friendly
- That can achieve a largest content paint in under 2.5 seconds
- With rich structured data rendered on the server-side.
These are the foundations that underpin visibility across almost every Google product. I don’t see them as optimisation tactics. I see them as prerequisites. And for this presentation, I’m going to take these as a given. And tell you some new things you don’t yet know.
I’m going to begin where most digital journeys begin, on the homepage. And that means, starting with Google Discover. Which now occupies the mobile homepage of Google on Android devices and is also featured in the Google App or when you swipe right on a Pixel phone, every time you open a new tab in Chrome, as well as within search results in a feature titled “interesting finds”.
Google Discover is a personalised feed that proactively matches content to a user based on their interests. Think of it like Google’s version of Instagram, a “friendless” feed with the ability to follow topics or just browse content you might like.
It is backed by the Topic Layer, which is engineered to deeply understand a topic space and how interests can develop over time as familiarity and expertise grow. And it has been added on top of the existing Knowledge Graph—which understands connections between people, places, things and facts about them.
There are no keywords at play here. All the content chosen by Discover is based on entities – whether that is a brand, product, location, person, event or other thing. So optimisation involves establishing entities (this can be your brand, your products, your CEO) so that they can either be connected to a user’s topics of interest or become a topic of interest themselves.
5 Ways to be Regularly Featured in Google Discover
There are no special tags or other technical requirements beyond being indexed by Google to be eligible to appear in Discover. So chances are, this is already contributing a notable number of sessions for your site. But there is a difference between being included every now and then, and being regularly featured. To get significant coverage, there are 5 key actions.
1. Claim Your Google My Business Profile
Firstly, you can enhance your entity understanding by creating or claiming your GMB profile. This will allow you to show up with a dedicated listing in Google Maps and potentially with a Business Profile in Google Search. But the point here is to give as much high-quality information to Google’s entity understanding as possible, so be sure to take the time to properly optimise your profile.
2. Verify Your Knowledge Panel
Secondly, if you have a knowledge panel when you search for your brand name, be sure to verify your entry and then strategically curate the information. By filling in all the pertinent information.
3. Post to Your Search Result Page with Tags
Use the “posts on google” feature, which allows you to publish messages that show in the SERPs when people search for your entity. And what you can do is tag these posts with a topic. And now your posts are also eligible to show in the SERPs when users type the topical keyword as well as in Discover when users have expressed an interest in the topic.
4. Create a Strong Enough Entity for a Follow Button
And when you have created a strong enough entity, Google may choose to show in the Google Maps App or for a search in the Google App a follow button. When this follow button is clicked, the entity shows up under your interests that power personalisation across multiple Google Products, including Discover & Maps. Just like they do on social media, users can specifically follow your brand or product on Google properties. But sadly, also similar to social media, this doesn’t guarantee your content will show to those users, it simply increases the likelihood.
5. Use Discover Ads to Break into Your Audiences Echo Chamber
So we have the Google equivalent of verified social media profiles, posts and follow buttons. But what if you’ve tried to establish all these organic tactics but find it difficult to get a foothold. There is always a back door with pay to play. I mean, you don’t really think Google would forget the pushy monetisation part? You see, in addition to manual inputs, the Discover algorithm personalises content based on “rich user intent signals” – including their search history, browser history & app activity. Discovery Ads can be targeted to run in Google Discover to audiences you want to reach. And through the ad engagement, you can influence that users “rich signals”. This then allows your future organic content to break into their echo chamber.
Google Images & Lens
But I know you’re here to listen to a talk on SEO, not CPC, so let’s switch the conversation to another organic channel – visual search.
Gary commented in 2019 that image search was way too ignored for what’s it’s capable of doing and that Google was going to throw more engineers at it. And that is exactly what they have done. Google images has been revived from the tired wasteland of repetitive stock images to an engaging, visual content hub.
Image SERPs is now equipped with filters, related search terms, badges, captions and other attributes to help you decide if the page behind the image has what you want.
When you click on an image, you’re welcomed with an enticing snippet and a prominent visit button encouraging you to click through to the host page. These upgrades have made Google Images a driver of sessions in its own right. But it’s not the reason why visual search is gaining prominence.
Search Elements Within an Existing Image
This platform allows you to use an image as your search query. You can do this in two ways. Firstly, you can select specific elements of any online image to trigger related results. This allows searchers to dive into images, making lifestyle catalogues, snaps of celebrities, travel pics and so much more dynamic and actionable.
Search Using Real-World Inputs
You can also point Lens at something of interest in the real world to get related content online. It means your storefronts, your magazines, your products – whether that is food, fashion or a point of interest on a tour – searchable. Everything physical is a potential search query. Camera phones aren’t only for sunsets and selfies anymore. They are increasingly used for point to search.
Image Search to Content Discovery
Make no mistake, this is powerful functionality. And it’s allowing Google to make a play to turn image search into a content discovery platform. People using Google Images today are often not there to find images, but rather for help to do something – exhibiting similar behaviour to that on Pinterest.
Akin to what we saw with Discover, Google is pushing adoption by integrating Lens into its other popular products, including the Google Images tab, Google Photos, Google Assistant and it has its own standalone App. Plus, for Pixel phone users, Lens is right there in the camera application.
Ways to Execute a Picture Perfect Strategy
Knowing how significant this channel can be – the question becomes how do you execute a picture-perfect image optimisation strategy?
There are of course the basics of image optimisation which have been around since the dawn of SEO. These are important, so if you don’t know them, take the time to read through the Google documentation. Let’s spend our time to go beyond the basics.
Enable Google to Display Large Images
Let’s talk about the importance of enabling large images by setting the max-image-preview robots meta tag or by using AMP. With this opt-in Google can display large image snippets in all forms of search results. Without it, you’ll often be downgraded to a thumbnail image. Which obviously gives you less visibility and lower CTR.
Publish a Mix of Image Types
Secondly, publish a mix of image types. Having a close up of your product with nothing but white space around it will make it easy for Google to recognise and rank it – but these types of images are for people who are low in the funnel. As Google is positioning visual search also as a discovery tool, having in-use images, as well as photos with related items, can often increase your brand’s visibility as they appeal to people higher in the funnel.
Add Image Tags to Existing XML Sitemap
And you’ll want to get those images indexed fast. Add image tags to the URLs in your existing XML sitemap – remember Google will judge the images in the context of the host page, so it’s best to submit them as a unit. Dedicated image sitemaps are nothing but an outdated relic. You can also use this as an opportunity to provide the geo_location tag, which should come from exif data.
Keep Exif Data for Location & Freshness
This data is often stripped out during file compression, but this a missed optimization opportunity. Date & geodata can provide a competitive edge in industries such as travel, restaurants or journalism where location and timeliness are important.
Use Optimally Sized Images
And finally, provide the optimally sized images. This sounds simple enough. Many sites take whatever they have available within their database and send that happily off to Google.
But Google is often very specific about minimum requirements, which are different from the recommended requirements, which are the real requirements if you want to have a fighting chance of getting any visibility. But those requirements are all different for different Google products.
After combing through way too many pages of Google technical documentation, these are the three safe sizes that will get your coverage within the vast majority of Google ecosystem products.
Google News is an aggregator that presents a customizable flow of somewhat newsworthy articles. I say somewhat because what Google defines as news is nowadays rather lax. No longer does the publisher have to be a dedicated news site, you can get in with your blog as long as the content is not overly self-promotional. And you may have already gotten in without even knowing it as Google automatically considers any indexed content published on the web as fair game for inclusion in Google News.
And just like Discover, just like Lens, Google News is prolifically accessible. It’s got its own app, site and tab in search along with coveted placements in universal search, YouTube and Google Assistant. There’s also a correlation between content featured in News and Discover. Likely because by optimizing for News, Google has another quality data point with which to understand your entity and how it relates to users interests.
3 Ways to Become Google Newsworthy
So with all that potential visibility on the line, let’s talk about how you can appeal to the Google News algorithm.
Consider Index Speed
What’s unique about it is that works off a short-term index of only 48 hours and heavily biases fresh content. So indexing speed is paramount to success. A Google News sitemap is the bare minimum. If you see that your content is not being crawled, use Websub to notify Google of new articles. Else you will be yesterday’s news.
Topically Optimise Your Publication in Publisher Center
But to have a real chance in Google News, you must create a publication in Publisher Center. Similar to Discover, News displays content by pulling on the topic layer. With sections feeds, which are only available through Publisher Center, you can display your expertise in specific topics or location.
Encourage Your Audience to Follow or Subscribe
Having Publisher Center is also a requirement for your audience to be able to follow your publication, or even better, subscribe to it, which increases the chance your content will be featured in the users ‘for you’ tab as well as in search.
But my favourite thing about Publisher Center is that publications become eligible to be featured in the Newsstand tab of the app and you can ask to be included in the featured content section. All you have to do is write to Google to nominate yourself for the promotional placements. If only all SEO was as easy as knowing an email address.
This is only 3 products among many in the Google ecosystem. I don’t have time to cover them all. But I will do a 1 tip lightning round for a few more.
Create a Welcome Offer
Use the Google My Business posts feature to create ‘welcome offers’ for anyone who follows your business in Google Maps. This not only connects your entity to the user on a strategic level but also on a very practical level add all your future posts to their “for you” tab within maps.
Integrate with Google Merchant Center
For eCommerce sites, integrate with Google Merchant Center to appear in the unpaid product listing slots in Google Images, Google Lens, Google Maps, Google Shopping Tab & Universal Search.
Use the Indexing API
And for those looking to get job applicants, use the indexing API to keep your job listings up to date to the minute.
The Google Ecosystem
And there is, even more, you can do with Google Assistant, Google Flights, Google Play, all things Video – I could go on – but I’d run out of time so let me wrap it up.
Knowing we have to have a strong foundation, there are three optimisations tactics that really move the needle across the whole ecosystem.
1. Enable Distribution of Large Creative Assets
First, give Google permission to fully leverage your creative assets by giving opt-in permissions for image and video as well as using ecosystem friendly sizes.
This one action optimises every channel in the Google ecosystem.
2. Establish Your Entity Within the Topic Layer
Secondly, establish your entity by claiming your Google My Business, verifying your Knowledge Graph and creating a publication in Google Publisher Center. That way, you’re more likely to be connected to your audience’s topics of interest or become one yourself, giving you additional visibility.
3. Campaign to Your Audience to Follow You on Google
Thirdly, tenaciously campaign to your audience to engage with you on the various Google platforms – the same as you do for social media – this can be by clicking the follow button, subscribing or creating a collection.
Because Google products are systematic, interaction in one often pulls the lever in many more.
If you only take one thing away from this talk today. Make it this. Google is so much more than a search engine. So let’s redefine SEO. It’s not search engine optimisation. It’s search ecosystem optimisation.