A large part of success in digital search marketing is keeping up with the trends and search engine requirements. There are tons of brands and businesses out there competing for the top spot in the SERPs, which is why optimizing your website for all the different potential Google traffic sources — i.e., Google News, Google Discover, and Google Top Stories — is one of the best ways to maintain the competitive advantage.

Of course, optimizing for Google features tends to be more complex compared to your average SEO efforts. This is because Google likes to use a variety of different search engine result page (SERP) features to display the most valuable and newsworthy content. Therefore, each feature has its own set of ranking guidelines and reporting capabilities.

In this article, we’re going to talk about the differences among the Google features as well as how to optimize for them to get more web traffic, and a list of what you need to avoid/focus on to get featured. 

Read on to learn more. 

What Are the Different Google Features and How Do I Optimize For Them? 

Optimizing for Google features is easier when you understand how your site performs against each feature’s guidelines. 

Let’s dive in:

Google News

Google News is essentially a news aggregator. It’s available on both mobile and web browsers, and it works by sifting through websites to pull up which are most newsworthy per each user search. 

Publishers used to have to manually submit their sites for approval to get a news feature. Now, all you have to do is produce high-quality content that also complies with the Google News content policies.

Technically speaking, as long as you follow these content policies, it’s possible for any type of content to appear in Google News. However, the primary thing you’ll want to avoid is content that is violent, dangerous, hateful, or deceptive. 

Moreover, when it comes to optimizing your content for Google News, it’s best practice to demonstrate E-A-T: Expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. In addition to E-A-T, Google also looks for content that is both unique and displays diverse viewpoints, which puts a greater emphasis on authority and the overall content quality. 

So, if your goal is to rank for a Google News feature, you’ll want to put out comprehensive content that’s accurate in its reporting of current events and demonstrates subject matter expertise with a fresh standpoint on the subject in question. 

Quick publishing is also a key element in getting a news feature to garner more web traffic. However, this is arguably the hardest feature to compete for.

Google Discover

Google Discover was launched in 2018 as part of the Google Chrome mobile app release. A user opens the Chrome app to search, and just below the search bar, Google will automatically populate with content they believe the user will like. 

Google Discover likes to recommend personalized content to users based on their search history across all Google web products. This means it gathers specific data such as location history, topics that users follow, location settings, and so on. This also makes getting a feature on Google Discover different from getting organic traffic, which is excellent for businesses since it essentially retargets an audience using their own interests.

More good news: Virtually any type of content is eligible to appear in the Google Discover feature without having to use sitemaps or specifically structured data. In terms of optimization, however, Google does require you to use at least one high-quality image that’s considered ‘compelling’ and is at least 1,200 pixels wide. AMP implementation is also known to improve Discover performance. 

The other guidelines for optimization include focusing on content that is ‘timely’ regarding users’ current interests. The content must also tell a story well or provide unique insights to a hot topic. Additionally, it’s important to avoid clickbait at all costs and ensure that you’re including clear dates, bylines, and information about the authors of the content or the publication or network behind the content.

In a nutshell, Google Discover content tends to consist of articles that are able to evoke strong emotions from readers while also being highly entertaining.

Google Top Stories

Google’s Top Stories feature is a goldmine for organic web traffic, especially for news publishers. It also works for both mobile and desktop Google applications. 

Google Top Stories is a carousel of current trending news stories — and we’re talking about anything and everything that’s considered trending. It’s not uncommon to see seasonal evergreen search queries return several options in the Top Stories placement. Up until October of last year, only AMP articles were eligible for the Google Top Stories feature on mobile devices, but that is no longer the case. 

Google Top Stories is arguably the most confusing feature to rank for as it doesn’t have a dedicated reporting panel in the Google Search Console or Google Analytics. Therefore, the best way to optimize for Google Top Stories is to use major keywords in your headlines and ensure that the name of the subject you’re targeting — the person’s name, location, or general thing — is also clearly stated.

Another key ranking factor is to keep your articles brand safe. Avoid using profanity, clickbaity, and anything that would be considered inappropriate for an article headline. Make sure the author’s name, and the publish date appear at the top of the post.

In a sense, it’s best to also stick with the Google News feature policies to rank for the Top Stories feature. Stick with E-A-T in addition to the optimization rules, and make sure you’re putting out content that’s eye-catching, engaging, and insightful. 

What You Need to Avoid

At Freestar, our publishers often receive organic search traffic from Google, but struggle to in Google News, Google Discover or Top Stories? Or we get asked “why did I receive that traffic but don’t any longer?”  More often than not, it’s because publishers aren’t following Google’s guidelines. 

To be eligible for Google News/Discover/Top Stories, publishers must avoid:

  • Publishing false information
  • Vulgar language & profanity
  • Promoting hate speech or violence
  • Publishing sexually explicit content
  • Including non-News URLs in your News XML Sitemap
  • Purely re-publishing the same information that’s already public, attempt to add a POV or new facts
  • Having more ads on the page than content, find the balance between monetization and UX
  • Concealing sponsored content or affiliate content as pure editorial content – disclose it to the user

What You Should Focus On

Appearing in these placements can be harder than normal organic search placements. We like to tell our publishers while avoiding the list mentioned above, they should really be focusing on:

  • Set up your Publisher Center. If you haven’t already, check out the Publisher Center FAQ.
  • Create a Google News XML sitemap and submit to Google Search Console.
  • Clean up old content if it violates these policies, as Google looks at content site-wide.
  • Improve E-A-T – it’s essential that your publication shows expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness and your content brings exceptional value to the reader.
  • Increase your transparency, like including post dates, bylines, author profiles, journalist’s bio, credentials, and area of expertise.

Key Takeaways

When you put out content that’s compelling and unique, more people will want to click on your headlines and stories to visit your site. Of course, if you’re putting out news that’s similar to everyone else’s you’ll just end up getting buried in the SERPs. 

So, to rank for one or all of Google’s features to get more web traffic, the best thing you can do is focus on how to make your content better and different compared to others. It also wouldn’t hurt to throw in a Google News Sitemap to your blog or website.