What is Google Discover (and How Can You Capitalise On It)?

Discover is a brand new feed from Google! Whilst you can gain a TONNE of traffic from it, there's a lot more to really harnessing it's power...
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Have you heard of Google’s new feed called Discover yet? 

If so, then you’ve probably heard about some websites gaining tons of tasty free traffic from it, and want to get in on the action? Recently, on The Broke Backpacker, one single post accrued almost 25,000 views in a matter of days, and all of that was from Google Discover…

If you’ve never heard of Discover though, then it’s time to get to know it!

Discover is one of Google’s newest features: a panel that shows new content to users based upon their interests and history. 

Here’s the kicker though: this content is presented before the user actually asks a question or searches. In other words, it’s queryless.

So whilst Google Discover is a great way to diversify your traffic sources, it means something much more. It is a new development in Google’s master plan, a plan which could change the very way we use search and the internet. 

Over the course of this article, I’m going to share with you the details of what Discover is and how it works as well as share some ways to optimize for it. By the end, you will have a much clearer picture of what Discover means.

If you are an online entrepreneur, knowing about Discover isn’t just a short-term investment – it’s insurance for the future! Let’s get to it folks.

What is Google Discover?

Discover is an auto-generated list of posts that appears on several Google applications, most commonly its Search app. It is a departure from conventional search in that it does not serve content based upon queries – rather it serves content based upon interests. This is significant because Google is taking another step toward queryless search rather than waiting for some sort of user input i.e. ask a question.

Basically, Google is showing people content before they can even think about what they might want to search for. 

Guys, I cannot emphasise this enough, this shift from queried to queryless input could be seismic. We’re talking about the end of conventional search as we know it. The SERP itself would either disappear from disuse or, much more likely, radically change. Discover is already the first attempt at drawing people’s attention away from it.

time to freak out meme queryless search

It’s all a part of Google’s long term gameplan: to shift away from a reactive search engine, one that waits for the user, to a proactive one that knows the user already. This will of course require a fundamental change to the way the Google AI is programmed, which we’ll get into in a moment. 

Of particular note, volume would essentially be made totally redundant by Discover. When searches are queryless, no one is actually “searching,” so volume means nothing. This provides some unique opportunities for content creators.

I’ve seen firsthand how much traffic Discover can bring to my sites. At first, I wasn’t super stoked on Discover – it can honestly be pretty fucking annoying for Google to keep changing EVERYTHING, all the time… it’s tough to keep up! After a couple of weeks of seeing healthy traffic spikes (from Discover), I set aside my grievances, sat my ass down, and decided to figure out how the fuck it actually works and how to maximise the amount of traffic I can generate from Google Discover.

How does Google Discover work?

Because Discover involves much more complex processes, there are a lot more factors that go into it. It’s no longer the case that Google acts as a glorified library where you search for something the old school way; rather this new library tells you what you need instead

Google Discover can be broken down into three simplified parts:

  • The user and their interests
  • Google and its Knowledge Graph
  • The median i.e. the Discover feed itself

It all starts with the user and their habits. The user surfs the web as normal. Google watches, waiting, gathering data, slowly but surely figuring out what this persons interests are. Google then suggests content to users based upon the knowledge graph of interests Google has built. Content is suggested in in the form of a news-like feed.

That is Google Discover in a nutshell though it is a bit more complicated than that…

Let’s break it down further.

User interests

Rather than suggesting content after the user has submitted a query, Discover suggests content based upon user interests. Google assigns users interests based upon a host of factors including but not limited to:

  • Search history
  • Geolocation
  • Web & app activity

When someone interacts with Discover, Google delivers you content that it thinks you will like based upon the above factors. Basically, Google creates a profile for you, complete with interests it thinks you have, which it then uses to make suggestions. 

xibit yo dawg meme google discover and user interests

If you’d like to take a peek at what Google thinks you’re interested in, you can actually customize what you see on Discover. Feel free to add and remove things and see how Discover behaves afterwards! I’m sure Google appreciates the additional clarity :). 

Whilst there is no apparent list of interests available to the public (that I know of at least), we can safely assume that interests coincide with what Google calls “entities” (more on that next).

Semantic SEO

Since Discover is queryless, it does not (in theory) rely so much upon keywords, which are often the basis of queries. Rather, it draws from entities, and this changes the art of SEO for us substantially.

An entity is according to Google:

“A thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined and distinguishable.”

Here are some examples of entities: 

  • Bali
  • Canggu
  • Coworking space
  • Digital Nomads

Entities form the basis for Google Knowledge Graph, which is a network of entities and the relationships between them. In Google’s own words, the graph acts as a neural network, in that by connecting entities, context and meaning are created. 

Let’s take the entity “Canggu” and try to imagine how it might exist in the Knowledge Graph. First, we ask what is it related to or how is it connected to other entities?

Canggu could be considered…

  • A place
  • A place in Bali (which is a place itself)
  • Related to surf
  • Related to the concept of a beach 
  • Connected to places called Old Mans, Deus, and The Lawn (which are all bars)

These are just a few of potentially thousands of entities that Google might associate with Canggu. But from this limited selection, we can already discern that Canggu is a place in Bali that has a beach, surfing opportunities, and some bars. Sounds like a cool spot already right?

More importantly though, if we wanted to write an article about Canggu, it would be best if we included as many relevant entities as possible, much like keywords.

Knowledge graphs are usually the central focus of Semantic SEO, a fairly new mode of thinking. I won’t go much deeper into the subject here; all you need to do is recognize the shift from keywords to entities in this case. 

If you’d like to explore some possible entities, you can look by:

  • Using a tool like https://entityexplorer.com/
  • Using this very basic API I set up. You must add a query to the URL itself here. A valid entity will have structured data markup like this.
  • Google Trends compiles topics, which are very similar to entities. Poke around different trends to see which Google recognizes and follows.
  • Look at this row of suggestions when using Google Image Search. These are all known entities.

The Feed

As I mentioned before, Google Discover appears as a feed in several Google applications. It looks a lot like what you might find on a news site. (A lot of SEOs have pointed out that Discover has actually replaced Google News).

google discover feed screenshot
A sample feed of Discover. (Side note: if you haven’t watched Castlevania on Netflix yet, DO IT NOW.)

Though mostly geared towards mobile, specifically Google’s mobile Search app, this feed can also appear on new Chrome tabs.

If you were interested in taking a closer look at the mechanisms behind a suggested post, you can actually pull the System Logs. Just click on the three little vertically-aligned balls in the bottom right-hand corner of each post and click Send feedback followed by Systems logs. Here you will see lots of technical information regarding the post. 

There was a time where one could also see the post category but this has now been replaced by a simple numerical label.

Something I’d be curious to learn more about but have not had the chance to pursue is click-through rates of the feed. If we follow conventional wisdom, we’d believe that the lower a post is in the feed, the lower the click rate, and vice versa. In that case, we’d want to find a way to make the post appear as high in the feed as possible.

Alas, the problem is that currently there seems to be no way to actually influence where your post might appear on the feed. At the moment, it seems to be pretty random and Google has been pretty tight-lipped about optimizing for this and Discover in general. It’s also worth mentioning that most posts only appear on Discover for a day or two before being rotated out – if this doesn’t change, it’s going to be REALLY difficult to make it worth putting time into optimising for Discover (which, again, we don’t yet know HOW to do) when results may only stick a day or two.

Despite all of the theorizing above, the CTR from Discover for The Broke Backpacker, which we’re going to look at closer in a moment, remained a steady 6% over the last 6 months. 

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Case Study: The Broke Backpacker on Google Discover

So how prevalent is Google Discover anyway? How much traffic can one actually leverage from it?

For this part of the article, I will use my main site, The Broke Backpacker, as a case study. Following a stellar theme overhaul in which managed to increase speed by a whopping 718%, we suddenly started appearing on Google Discover. Traffic generated from Discover started out as a trickle and then quickly turned into a flood…

Here’s what we found.

From the beginning of December to the end of February, TBB received over 172,222 clicks from Google Discover, which accounted for about 22-23% of our total traffic. 

The first time The Broke Backpacker appeared on Google Discover was December 3rd, 2020, which also happens to be the EXACT date that the December Algo update was rolled out as well. I believe that given the site’s newfound speed, it was labeled as mobile-friendly and qualified in some way for appearing on Discover. 

40% of all Discover clicks went to safety-related content. 33% of that safety traffic (14% of total Discover clicks) was on a piece about ‘Is Jamaica Safe’ piece alone: that’s 23,864 clicks in total, most of which occurred between January 14th and 17th.

chart showing breakdown of content discover traffic

The next most clicked series was Places to Visit (17%) followed by Other Accommodation + Airbnb (13%). Much of the three aforementioned series are monetized so all-in-all, pretty good places to be receiving clicks.

In terms of who was clicking on our Discover cards, no surprise that it was mostly Americans (69%). Indians were a bit more prevalent in Discover than in normal Search (10%). For a little extra context, Americans, British, and Australian users are usually the site’s top 3 demographics respectively.

Theories as to why the site performed as it did

As mentioned before, The Broke Backpacker gained a lot of ground following the theme overhaul to increase our site speed before the proceeding core update. Ultimately, I think that site speed is the single greatest reason why the site is so prevalent on Discover. To me, it just makes the most sense.

Is there anything that might be influencing the chances of a post appearing on Discover though? There has to be right? 

Let’s consider these other factors just to be sure:

  • Article word count
  • Presence of video
  • Recently published or refreshed content
  • Trend data

Word Count

The following scatter plot shows clicks vs word counts for posts that appeared on Discover, filtered to only plot posts that received at least 1500 clicks:

As you can see, there was a pretty even spread when it came to word count. Posts that fared well ranged from having 2000 words to 8000 words. This is a pretty wide spread given the average blog post length is around 3000-4000 words.

This means that word count is not necessarily an important factor. Posts can rank regardless of total amounts it seems.

chart plotting word count discover
*The “Is Jamaica Safe” mentioned earlier is excluded from this graph because it is an incredible outlier. Its word count is 3800 though.

Freshness

Many SEOs have commented that articles that appear on Google Discover only do so for around 3-4 days before dropping off completely. This was also the case for many of The Broke Backpacker’s posts.

Despite this trend, it seems that some posts actually acquired clicks for weeks rather than days though. These posts appeared for a few days, dropped off, and then reappeared again sometime in the future. 

Michal Pecánek over at AHREFs made an important distinction in his own article about Discover in regards to this trend:

This happens because Discover is a personalized feed and shows content that is new to you, not just new to the Web.

In this case, Google thought that the article would be considered “fresh” at two different points in time and perhaps for different bodies of readers.

This freshness degree brings up another interesting thought though: would Google prioritize brand new content or content that has just been overhauled over aged content? How does evergreen content compare to actually new content?

In regards to refreshing content, our Jamaica piece, which performed so well, was completely overhauled in November 2020. It then spiked remarkably in January 2021 on Discover. You’d think that was enough to prove something, but, as it stands, only 20% of the posts that received Discover clicks were refreshed in the last 18 months according to our internal record keeping.

Unfortunately, due to a clerical oversight on my own end, I was unable to test whether the newly published content performed differently either. This is because we haven’t done a good enough job recording specifically publishing dates (to be fair, there are almost 3000 posts on the site). We’re currently updating the sheet and I plan on coming back to this later.

Trend Data

Given the topical nature of Google Discover, it’s safe to assume that current world events and their influence on user behavior might influence what is served on Google Discover. 

For example, let’s say there is a sudden interest in Poland, for one reason or another, and everyone starts searching for it. Most likely, Google Discover will start serving content about Poland on Discover because a) it is taking their search history into account and b) Discover is meant to behave as some sort of newsreel.

So I went ahead and looked at trend data for the top ten most trafficked posts from The Broke Backpacker on Discover. Was there a correlation between clicks and trend behaviors? 

Though my analysis was not totally comprehensive (due to time-constraints), I believe that, yes, there is a correlation between trends and clicks. 

Looking at global search trends for important parent queries Jamaica travel and jamaica COVID, we can see that there is a connection. 

chart showing trend data google discover jamaica keywords
Both trendlines and total clicks followed the same pattern. 

Looking at the trendlines for keywords that we already rank for (I used KW Everywhere which is an amazing tool for online businesses), the topically significant keyword “can I travel to Jamaica right now” also peaked in January 2021. 

A similar pattern can be seen when we look at trendlines for Mexico, Mexico travel, Mexico COVID. Compare these kws to clicks that the most trafficked Mexican content received (‘Is Puerta Vallarta Safe’, ‘Is Mexico Safe’, and ‘Is Cancun Safe’) and we get the following:

chart showing trend of mexico keywords google discover

In conclusion, though my analysis on this subject is somewhat limited, I still believe that content which is seen as topically relevant to its readers is more likely to appear on Google Discover. This quote from Google says the same: 

“Having content that’s timely for current interests, tells a story well, or provides unique insights (has a better chance of appearing).” 

How can you optimize for Discover?

We’ve covered so far what Google Discover is and how it can be a powerful new form of traffic acquisition. But how exactly does one optimize for Google Discover?

Though there is still a lot that we don’t know about Google Discover, there are a few ways to increase your chances of appearing on it.

But before we talk about optimizing for Google Optimize, I want to pose a slightly different question first: should you abandon conventional search in lieu of Discover?

NO.

Most SEOs, including myself, recommend NOT focusing completely on optimizing for Discover. Because it is extremely fickle and no one really knows how it works on a fundamental level. Even Google has said the same:

“Given the serendipitous nature of Discover, traffic from Discover is less predictable or dependable when compared to Search, and should be considered supplemental to your Search traffic.”  

Ultimately, the SERPs are still the primary battlegrounds for SEOs and we should continue to focus on them. Odds are, if we keep doing what we’re doing, our content is going to continue appearing in both Search and Discover. We must continue to focus on optimizing for the SERPs but be sure to incorporate some new Semantic SEO techniques as future insurance. 

With that being said, let’s talk about what you can do to potentially increase your chances of appealing on Discover:

1. Score a Knowledge Panel

A Knowledge Panel is a rich snippet that appears for certain search queries. If for a given query a Knowledge Panel exists, then that same query is often considered an “entity” by Google. 

If you’re serious about Discover and Semantic SEO for that matter, you should definitely be asking yourself “how can I score a Knowledge Panel?” Doing so will help solidify yourself or your site in the Knowledge Graph, and will in turn increase the chances of appearing in Discover (remember: entities are more likely to appear in Google).

knowledge panel example
Why, hello there you sexy Knowledge Panel there you 😉

There are a couple of way to get a Knowledge Panel:

  1. Markup your site with organization or person schema.
  2. Create (and get approved) a Wikipedia page.
  3. Add wikidata.
  4. Increase mentions of yourself or the site on the web until Google makes a Knowledge Panel for you.

Aside from point number one, most of the things mentioned above are easier said than done. Creating a page on Wikipedia can be extremely difficult, wikidata is often deleted if there isn’t a Wikipedia page for the same entities, and making yourself or your site notable enough for Google to make a Knowledge Card for you might take years. 

Doing these things is worth the effort though, especially as search transitions to queryless.

If you’re keen to take a stab at the Knowledge Graph and Semantic SEO, I suggest checking out InLinks.com for tons of great information on how to get it done…

2. Create consistent, trustworthy content

Google has been harping on about their EAT standards these days. For those unaware or just starting their first website, EAT is an acronym that stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. According to them, making your own content up to EAT standards will help it perform better. 

Google’s EAT standards apply just as much to Discover as standard search. By making quality content that is timely – i.e. topical and relevant – and helps provide readers with valuable information on subjects that interest them, you will be fulfilling the purpose of Discover.  

If, on the other hand, content creators insist on using clickbaity tactics and embellish the content in ways that are misleading, they could miss the mark. Spam is the mortal enemy of Google and they’re doing everything in their power to stop it. 

3. Be mobile-friendly 

If there’s one thing that the earlier case study should’ve shown it’s that being mobile-friendly matters. In my opinion, it is the number one reason why my site performed so well on Discover in recent months. 

Discover is mainly a mobile feature and so we must be sure to optimize for mobile. That means:

  1. Making your site as fast as you possibly can.
  2. Keeping Google’s Core Web Vitals in mind. 
  3. Consider short form rather than longform content.
  4. Use a responsive website design.
  5. Limit third-party scripts. 
  6. Implement AMP.
  7. Reconsider pop-ups.
  8. Add some structured data markup (schema).

Optimize your site for mobile and you may actually see rankings increase on desktop as well since Google loves you so much, you sexy, mobile-friendly son-of-gun you.

4. Try publishing more exciting, topical content 

Whilst it might be odd to imagine abandoning search volume when making content, Discover is an opportunity to try something new. 

Recently, I’ve been publishing more inspiration based content, lessons from my time on the road, forays into cryptocurrency etc etc. The problem is: talking about something new or novel (or something vague – such as lessons I personally have learnt this year, which is basically impossible to tie to a keyword) often means there is little in the way of search volume. 

But Discover is one way that content can be seen without having to rely on the SERPs. 

Think about it: content could be as short or as long as you want it to be and could be about anything, so long as there was some sort of structure and included the necessary entities. So long as you do this, you can really talk about anything you want. This gives you more opportunities to create personalized content that resonates more with your readers rather than a faceless group hidden behind a search volume metric.

5. Consider Web Stories

Web Stories are like Google’s version of Instagram Stories. These were brought to my attention a couple of months back by a fellow blogger and since then I’ve ran a few as experiments (check them out here).

google story example
A sample slide from a Story I made about travel backpacks.

Up until February 1st, the three experiments that I published accrued 213 clicks in total. Not a lot of traffic to be sure but here’s the important bit: these stories are appearing in Discover as well. So Google Web Stories is another way of occupying real estate on the feed.

I’ve heard of bloggers accruing tens of thousands of clicks via Google Web Stories. I admittedly didn’t spend enough time on these but they could be very powerful when done correctly.

Crucially, there are a lot of opportunities to scale Web Stories. If you set up a few solid templates, build a good SOP, and assign a VA to this, they can probably make a story in 15-30 minutes. The more stories you create, the higher the chances you have of appearing on Discover.

6. Keep updating content

The jury’s out on whether brand-spanking new or overhauled content is more likely to appear on Google Discover. Regardless, I still think it’s worth refreshing old content, if not for the sake of appearing on Discover then the sake of the regular SERPs. Google likes to see newly updated content and where that content appears doesn’t really matter (so long as it is leading to clicks).

So get in there, run some tests with a premium SERP analysis tool, and give your content a fresh lick of paint! Google AND your readers will thank you for it.

7. Be aware of entities 

Entities and Semantic SEO are only going to become more and more important as time goes on. It would pay to know a thing or two about them and keep them in mind when creating content. By knowing which entities your site should qualify for, how they connect to one another, and build upon its own Knowledge Layer, you’ll be fortifying your SEO.

That doesn’t mean we should abandon keywords altogether either. In fact, they and entities are intertwined in many ways. If you’re conducting keyword research the right way – by creating topical groupings, clustering, and defining parent-child keyword relationships for use in post structure – then you’re already doing a lot in terms of Semantic SEO.

entities are the new keywords semantic seo

8. Use as much media as possible

Discover is very media-forward. In fact, it’s one of the few things that Google has said actually influences whether a post will appear in Discover or not. 

Try making images at least 1200px wide and enable the max-image-preview:large setting. While you’re at it, ask yourself whether an image is actually good or not. Do you think you could sell someone the article just by showing them a single image? This is an important question because a lot of readers might click through based upon the image displayed rather than the description or title. 

Wrapping Up

Over the course of this article, we’ve covered what Discover is, how it works, what it is possible of, and how you can optimize your site for it. Crucially, we’ve seen that Discover favors the mobile-friendly sites the most, which is a good reason for you to look into potentially redoing your website. 

Discover has massive potential and it seems that Google is putting a lot of stock into it. I’ve personally seen huge amounts of traffic from Discover, so much that it is impossible to ignore. I’m taking steps to optimize my own site for it whilst still focusing on conventional search.

But Google Discover should be looked at as more than just a new form of traffic – it is also a vision of the future of search. It is perhaps the initial tremors of a much larger seismic shift in SEO and the continuing trend toward “queryless search.” And in the online world, he who adapts to new trends, survives. 

It’s the beginning of a brave new world! Whether that means a utopian paradise for you or a brutalist dystopia depends on how you evolve alongside Google and the ever-changing landscape, good luck my friends!

Until next time!

Looking for More Content to Conquer the SERPS?

Then try some more of my best posts:
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