Google Web Stories: Immersive content for your SEO strategy

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Google wants users to spend more time interacting with content across its platforms, not only typing queries into Google Search. As the web moves into a more passive browsing experience, the search giant has to keep up with the social platforms younger users spend most of their time on.

Web Stories are Google’s take on the social story post format that combines video, images and audio into new SEO opportunities. So let’s take a look at what Web Stories have to offer and determine whether they deserve a place in your search marketing strategy.

What are Google Web Stories?

Web Stores are Google’s answer to the story format first popularised by Snapchat and later adopted by the likes of Instagram and TikTok. Powered by AMP, Web Stories are immersive, full-screen experiences designed for mobile and touchscreens in vertical orientation.

Examples of Google Web Stories

 Here’s how Google describes Web Stories on the Google Search Central documentation page:

“Web Stories are a web-based version of the popular “Stories” format that blend video, audio, images, animation and text to create a dynamic consumption experience. This visual format lets you explore content at your own pace by tapping through it, or swiping from one piece of content to the next.”

Currently, Web Stories can appear across three Google surfaces:

  1. Google Discover
  2. Google Search
  3. Google Images

Google launched Web Stories in late 2020 and some features are still only available in the US while others (such as the Web Stories carousel in Discover) are only available in the US, Brazil and India.

Visually speaking, Web Stories look and feel very similar to the experience of interacting with Stories on Instagram. However, as Google explains, Web Stories are a “web-based version” of the popular social post format that offers up some unique characteristics for content creators and advertisers.

What makes Web Stories different?

Google is clearly hoping to emulate some of the engagement social platforms like Instagram and TikTok achieve through their respective stories formats but Web Stories aren’t an exact copy.

As a web-based solution, you can post your Web Stories on your website and create a page or gallery for visitors to view all of your stories in one place.

Examples of Google Web Stories

You can also add links to panels, pointing users to other pages or content, place CTAs in your stories and monetise them by showing ads via AdSense.

With placements across Google surfaces, Web Stories can introduce your brand to a wider audience. People who demonstrate an interest in the same topics covered in your stories are most likely to see them in the Discover app or relevant Google searches, even if they’re not specifically searching for brands.

For example, someone casually searching for “makeup tips” may see stories from cosmetics companies or retailers in Google Search. They could also see stories from these brands in the Discover app, based on their topical search interests.

By winning these impressions, you can introduce your brand to wider audiences and also turn them into real business opportunities by directing them to your website through links and CTAs in your Web Stories.

How to create Web Stories

Web Stories are primarily designed for video content and Google specifically describes them as a “video first” format in its best practices documentation. It strongly recommends using video as much as possible with images and text used as supplementary content.

“Video is more engaging than text or images. Use as much video as possible, and supplement with images and text.”

You don’t need to build a professional recording studio to produce Web Stories but you do need a certain amount of video recording and editing skills. More importantly, the best skillset you can have for creating engaging Web Stories is storytelling and creativity.

You can find the official documentation for creating Web Stories here.

Before you can create your first web story, you’ll need to choose which tools you’re going to use. Developers familiar with AMP can create their stories from scratch but Google also provides a variety of tools for those without the necessary developer skills.

You can find the full list of tools on this AMP development page, which includes a dedicated plugin for building Web Stories in WordPress. You’ll also find a WYSIWYG drag-and-drop editor tool that helps you create code-free Web Stories.

The WP editor for Google Web Stories

 Once you’ve selected your tools, take a look at Google’s best practices for creating Web Stories.

Storytelling best practices

As mentioned earlier, storytelling is the most important quality in creating Web Stories and here’s a summary of the best practices Google puts forward for this:

  • Video first: Use as much video as possible, and supplement with images and text.
  • Bring your perspective: Go beyond the facts. Share your opinions. Be the protagonist of your own story.
  • Make it relatable: Feature people your target audience can relate to and trust in your footage.
  • Narrative arc: Create suspense in your story from one page to another. Bring the user along in the journey by providing context and narrative. Deliver payoff for sticking with you to the end.

Above all, Google wants you to use as much video as possible to tell your stories while using images and text to supplement your footage.

Google also recommends using a narrative arch to capture attention and you’ll find some more advice on this in an article we published on The Drum: How to capture and keep user attention with high-performance YouTube ads.

As with story formats for other platforms, Google also says you should put yourself at the centre of the narrative. Make your stories personal and don’t be afraid to promote your opinions or make recommendations. This is a format where users are generally open to advice and guidance so take advantage of this in your messaging.

Design best practices

When it comes to the design of your Web Stories, Google has a long list of best practices to follow – so refer to the full documentation. We’re not going to list all of the best practices here but you can find all of the items listed as “critical” in the guidance material:

  • Reduce your character count: Avoid including multiple pages with walls of text. Consider reducing text to approximately 280 characters per page (the length of a tweet).
  • Don’t block text: Make sure text is not blocked by other content on the page. Avoid burned in text; by not using burned in text, you prevent text from being blocked when it gets resized to fit various device sizes.
  • Keep text within bounds: Ensure that all text in your Web Story is visible to the reader.
  • Use animations mindfully: Bring your stories to life with animations but avoid distracting or repetitive animations which can cause fatigue.

As you can see, the majority of these critical best practices relate to the use of text and Google wants you to keep things to a minimum. If you’re already creating stories for platforms like Instagram and TikTok, you should be used to design principles like these.

Text should only be used as a supplementary element in your stories, used to reinforce the key points or highlight key moments in your video. Take the time to edit your text and remove any unnecessary wording, simplify your language and use short words, abbreviations or expressions to say more with fewer characters.

SEO best practices

The web-based architecture of Google’s Web Stories opens up new SEO opportunities – not only in terms of visibility but also driving valuable traffic to your website. Once again, Google has dozens of SEO best practices listed in its documentation for Web Stories and you’ll find the ones listed as critical below:

  • Provide high-quality content: Like any web page, providing high-quality content that is useful and interesting to your readers is the most important thing you can do.
  • Story: Include a complete narrative and follow the storytelling best practices to keep your readers engaged.
  • Keep the title short: Keep titles shorter than 90 characters. We recommend using a descriptive title that is shorter than 70 characters.
  • Make sure Google Search can find your story: Don’t include a noindex attribute in your story; this attribute blocks Google from indexing the page and prevents it from appearing on Google.
  • Make the story self-canonical: All Web Stories must be canonical. Make sure that each Web Story has a link rel=”canonical” to itself.
  • Attach metadata: Make sure that your Web Stories follow the AMP story metadata guidelines. Include markup that you would normally include on a web page: title, meta description, etc.

In addition to the critical best practices above, Google also recommends including structured data in your Web Stories and the usual guidance you would expect for video content. For example, you should include alt-text for any images used and add subtitles/captions (not burned in) to make your stories more accessible.

Technical best practices

Here’s a quick look at the technical best practices listed as critical in Google’s documentation page:

  • Make the story valid: Web Stories must be valid AMP pages. To avoid invalid AMP issues, test your Story using the AMP Validator tool and fix any detected errors.
  • Don’t include text in the poster image: Avoid using images that contain burned-in text, as this could obstruct the title of your story when users preview your story in Search results. If users are unable to clearly read the title, they may be less likely to continue reading.
  • Include the right poster image size and aspect ratio: Make sure that the image linked to your <amp-story> poster-portrait-src attribute is at least 640x853px and use an aspect ratio of 3:4.
  • Include the right aspect ratio for the logo: Make sure that the logo image linked to your <amp-story> publisher-logo-src attribute is at least 96×96 px and aspect ratio of 1:1.

In addition to these, Google recommends including og:image in your meta tags to help make your stories more discoverable.

Once you’ve created your first Web Story, you’ll want to make sure it’s valid AMP and verify the metadata. When your Web Story is live, you can use the URL inspection tool to check it’s indexed correctly and tracking in Google Analytics to measure their performance.

Some more tips from Google for creating Web Stories

Back in June 2021, Google published some findings based on its early tests of Web Stories in the wild. By this point, Google counted more than 20 million live Web Stories with 100,000 new stories being added every day, little more than six months after the new format was first introduced.

In the same article, Google offered up five key lessons it had learned from the first round of analysis that publishers can take notes from:

  1. Lifestyle content with aspirational imagery, informative how-to info, and relevant product-partnership opportunities, fits the Story format well and has the highest engagement of any vertical.
  2. With a wide range of visually appealing topics, the Arts and Entertainment and Food and Drink verticals gain the most online impressions.
  3. Viewers are hungry for new Arts and Entertainment, Celebrity, and Sports and Gaming content. With new TV, movie, and game releases rolling out all the time, these verticals offer opportunities for growth.
  4. There is no “perfect” page length for high-quality Stories, but we’ve noticed that users tend to click or tap through an average of 11-15 pages.
  5. On Google Discover, users watch an average of 1.7 Stories for every Story opened, but this can vary significantly across demographics.

If you want to see what some of the best Web Stories look like, you can visit the gallery section on the Google for Creators’ Web Stories page. You can select the industry that matches yours the best to find inspiration and see what kind of content you’re competing with.

Do Web Stories deserve a place in your SEO strategy?

Web Stories are clearly more suitable for certain business types than others and Google’s early insights even specify some industry segments that are particularly suitable for the story format (arts, entertainment, food and drinks, etc.).

Also, given the video-centric nature of this content format, video production and editing will be a barrier to some but the social origins of Web Stories mean users are already used to seeing amateur and enthusiast-level productions.

If you’re already creating story posts for social platforms like Instagram and TikTok, then you shouldn’t have any problems with converting the same content into Web Stories.

Likewise, if you’ve toyed with the idea of creating stories on other platforms but felt the returns from a single platform might not justify the investment, Web Stories could make the content format more worthwhile, especially if organic search is a bigger priority for you than social.

Finally, keep in mind that this is currently the most engaging content format across the major social platforms – so much so that Instagram recently tweaked its algorithm to prioritise video Reels, its latest take on the story format.

This is the direction the web is heading, which means more brands are going to have to make the jump into producing short video posts on a regular basis. The introduction of Web Stories means this format is no longer limited to social media. With Google’s take on the stories, you can increase search visibility across its surfaces and generate organic SEO traffic with a content format that’s easy to adapt for the major social platforms. And, unlike the social media equivalents, the web-based format means there’s no time limit on Web Stories so you can host them on your site and optimise them for search to gain long-term visibility.

If you want to integrate Web Stories into your search marketing strategy, you can speak to our SEO team by calling 023 9283 0281 or filling out the contact form here.

Gemma Scarth profile picture
Gemma Scarth

Gemma joined Vertical Leap in March 2020 as an SEO Specialist after having worked in marketing for 7 years for both in-house and agency side, where she was involved with everything from social media management, through to content development and email marketing campaigns. As a member of the ESEO team, Gemma helps to deliver strategic SEO campaigns across a range of brands on a local, national and international level. Gemma is well travelled after exploring the world for almost two years and living down under for 12 months. She’s passionate about snowboarding, fitness and supports her local football team, Southampton FC! When she’s not at work doing SEO, you can often find her on her paddle board floating somewhere on the River Hamble or indulging in a snack or two.

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