It is one of the most innovative features of recent years, able to present to users queryless content based on their reading preferences and habits: Google Discover creates a custom feed based on interest, search history, location and activity in other apps, which conquers more and more clicks. From the point of view of publishers, however, there are some problems: this feed is completely customized and this makes it difficult to monitor the average ranking of a given article; also, for now there is no dedicated referral source in Google Analytics to see the traffic coming from this channel. Now, however, an American study offers us support, revealing some useful elements for the content optimization strategy for Google Discover.

A study on optimizations for Google Discover

This interesting report was conducted by Lily Ray, that published on Search Engine Journal the results of its work of our analysis of over 7,200 Urls to identify what tends to work best on Google Discover and provide suggestions to improve our optimization strategy.

At the moment, the SEO for Google Discover is one of the most challenging challenges for SEO professionals, both for the very nature of the feed (with highly personalized content) and because they are missing (still) the specific tools for analysing traffic and obtaining performance data. This feature, we recall, is native to Android devices and is currently available only on mobile devices or via Chrome or Google apps on iOS, even if it is a possible landing on desktop; In addition, Google’s core updates can affect the performance of Discover, which can clearly cause shock to the traffic received.

As for Analytics tools, Google Search Console has a dedicated performance report for Discover, which is activated only if the property receives traffic from this channel.

But even so, says the author, “the criteria for positioning and addressing traffic may seem elusive“, because the traffic presents itself as coming from a variety of organic sources, direct and referral, and also “SEO tool providers are still trying to figure out how to collect meaningful data and share insights from Discover due to the limitations of data collection”.

The usefulness of Discover for sites (and why SEOs must take into account in their strategy)

Also because of these difficulties, many SEO professionals underestimate Google Discover for their own sites and for those on which they work, thinking that they are not eligible because they do not qualify as “publishers” websites.

This is a misunderstanding that may perhaps result from the historical difficulties in getting site approval for eligibility in Google News (a separate product from Discover), especially before 2019, when this process required manual approval from Google.

In fact, reveals Ray, his team “works on dozens of customers and it is always surprising to see what types of sites and content are successful in Discover”, and above all it is really a crime to give up this opportunity, which in many cases “sends more organic traffic than normal organic results” and therefore, even just for this reason, should not be ignored in the visibility strategy.

The SEO strategy for Google Discover

And so, Google Discover offers another opportunity to earn organic traffic, “but it’s a different animal than normal SEO and should be treated accordingly”, said Lily Ray: our SEO strategy for Discover should be unique compared to the normal SEO strategy, and the following insights explain why.

In her study, the expert identified 10 key aspects in common among the sites that receive traffic in Discover, emerged from the analysis of 7,274 Urls from 23 different domains in 6 vertical categories (as per classification on Similarweb):

  1. Art and entertainment
  2. House and garden
  3. News and media
  4. Pets and animals
  5. Sport
  6. Vehicles

Analisi dei click su Discover per categoria di siti

As a methodology, the author then analyzed social media through Buzzsumo and connected metrics to cross-reference the performance of articles, to verify the presence of correlations between social media performance and Discover.

Does data contradict Google’s guidelines for Discover?

Lily Ray admits that she was surprised by something, so much so as to point it out with a disclaimer: the results of her study on concrete data “often directly contradicted the advice offered in the Google Discover guidelines“.

In particular, the official guidelines invite to avoid tactics such as the use of clickbait in titles or other “tactics that manipulate interest trying to solicit morbid curiosity, excitement or indignation”, but to the test of the facts “these are some of the tactics that seem to work best for our clients,” admits the expert, who in any case stresses how “This analysis was carried out using a relatively small subset of Urls and that violation of Google’s guidelines in any form always carries a substantial risk“.

10 attributes to rank well in Discover

After these premises, and in the light of the important disclaimer, Lily Ray arrives to reveal what are the 10 techniques that work to rank well in Google Discover according to what emerged from her report.

  1. Titles putting emphasis on emotions

Despite Google’s threats, it seems that the clickbait and thrilling titles carry the most clicks and the highest CTRs among the analyzed URL set.

Among the examples “of phrases used in the headlines of our customers on articles that have received more than 500,000 clicks from Discover in the last 16 months” there are exaggerations such as “this excruciating moment”, “astounds the world”, “violated 1 of the largest unwritten rules”, “following this simple advice on health”, “confirms the indiscretion”, “will happen and that’s why”.

While the content of these high-performance articles must offer what the user hoped to get from the title (a common problem with clickbait titles), it is therefore “You may wonder if using exaggerated titles is really a bad strategy to improve Discover’s performance after all”.

  1. Titles with a question (and answer in content)

Another tactic that might appear questionable for the SEO, but that seems to drive a strong percentage of clicks in Google Discover, is to pose the headlines in the form of a question, thus asking users to click on the article to get the answer.

Although these types of titles might not be accepted by Google’s SEO algorithms, their enticing nature seems to be in tune with many users in Google Discover, leading to high CTRs.

  1. Rankings for COVID content in Discover, but not in Search

Another observation that emerges from this analysis is that some sites have been able to receive traffic from Google Discover from articles and topics in which they have never seen significant traffic from normal Search.

Google clearly states that EAT (expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness) is a crucial factor in determining which sites are classified in Discover, but “(it is pure speculation) there seems to be a discrepancy in the way EAT can be calculated between Discover and normal Research”.

This was particularly evident on the topic of COVID-19, where authority seemed to be one of the most important factors in the EES for positioning since the onset of the pandemic. However, this analysis reveals that many articles dealing with COVID-19 have received traffic from Discover, although the same article has received virtually no clicks from Google’s organic search.


Differenza tra click Discover vs Search

The chart above (coming from the article like all the other images on the page) shows the discrepancy in the clicks between Discover and Search among 188 URLs containing the words [covid] or [coronavirus] in the URL (hidden for client confidentiality reasons): it is clear that almost all these Urls have seen more traffic from Discover than from normal SEO.

  1. Freshness matters, but some evergreen topics support Discover’s performance

One of the most interesting aspects of Google Discover – which sets it apart from the most time-sensitive news platforms such as Top News, Google News and Web Stories – is that sometimes content from several years ago may emerge in the feed, even if they have not been updated or modified.

This offers a huge opportunity for sites that are not able to constantly publish new content, because old articles can still appear in Discover if they meet all other quality criteria.


Tabella con date pubblicazione contenuti e click

To prove this situation, the author has created this table that reports some of the most performing old articles, which have received over 100,000 clicks from Discover in the period from March 2020 to July 2021, even if written for more than 15 months; In many cases, these articles continue to receive traffic from Google Discover every day.

  1. Content that works well in Discover may not work well in Search search (and vice versa)

As already mentioned, Google Discover and Google Search use completely different classification criteria and this means that you have to study two different strategies to hold well in both features.

In recent years, with the rise in the SEO field of EAT (a topic that Lily Ray has already devoted interesting insights to in the past) “it has become more important than ever to ensure that content demonstrates the highest possible levels of quality“, trying to meet the criteria set by the search engine and summarized in the questions to build quality sites.

However, these guidelines seem to be measured slightly differently for content that works well in Google Discover: this may depend on the unique behaviors of Discover users, who want to read fun or carefree content in their feeds, and therefore not so focused on EAT. In many ways, therefore, “Discover behaves more like a social media platform than a search engine”.

  1. Consistency with the political beliefs or opinions of users

Another “obvious observation” of this analysis is that some of the most performing content in Google Discover tends to fuel the existing political or social beliefs of its readers.

An example of this is “articles that can promote indignation or worship towards the behaviour of political figures, celebrities or the royal family”.

  1. Content interesting users that were not searching for them

Discover is unique compared to SEO: “the SEO only works if and when the user is looking for that topic”, while on the contrary the content on Google Discover “often succeed even when the user did not realize that he was looking for it” just like it happens on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

For this reason, says Ray, the traditional methods of keyword research that work for SEO might not work for Google Discover, and would be more useful in order to improve Discover’s performance “to focus on topics that resonate effectively with the target audience of the site and that appeal to their emotions”.

For instancee, pet content “that tells true stories of animals cured of unknown diseases may not present much research volume or potential in Google Search, but we noticed that that kind of content has the best performance in Discover for some of our customers with pet sites”.

  1. Compelling topics: death, marriage, divorce

Topics that tend to generate emotion, controversy and/or empathy work very well in Google Discover: deaths, marriages, divorces, interpersonal dramas and gossip are just a few examples of topics that involve and interest the public.

In the analysis of data, the content loaded with emotions significantly exceeds all the others.

  1. Gossip about celebrities

Celebrity gossip as a category “receives the lion’s share in Discover traffic in our analysis”.

This is an interesting trend to consider, especially in light of the organic traffic and the decline in visibility that many of these types of sites have seen in recent years in Google Search, News and Top Stories, the author stresses.

  1. Lists (with numbers in the title)

The usefulness of lists as an SEO strategy tends to be a controversial topic in the international community: this type of content is often structured in a way that can lead to poor UX or excessive ads (how to present each item in the list series on a unique URL, where ads reload on each page).

And yet, even so the content with lists “behaves well in our research on Discover”: some of the articles that have seen a continuous Discover traffic in the last 16 months follow precisely this format, with titles that bring a number in the phrase (e.g., “15 reasons why…”, “10 things you should buy…” etc.).

Including Google Discover in the SEO strategy

The most important result of this analysis is to understand that Google Discover should be part of our overall SEO strategy.

The tactics needed to get good results in Google Discover could be completely different from those of our normal SEO content strategy, and the good performance in this feed will probably come from a content strategy that mimics the one used on other social platforms, rather than from an SEO strategy focused on keyword research and EAT criteria.

In conclusion, emphasizes Lily Ray, also emerges another curious aspect: the tactics that once worked well on Google but now are not so effective – clickbaiting, emotional involvement etc – “can still work well on Google Discover, despite the suggestions contained in Google’s official documentation”.