It seems like once one platform adds a new feature, the others all rush to create a similar one, making them all that much more similar to each other. But after seeing an article discussing how one company boosted their traffic by over 500% using the new Google Web Story feature, I obviously had to check it out. So we went directly to the source, the author of the blog post – and the creator of the Web Story in question – Andrea Volpini.
In this episode, Andrea breaks down how Google’s Web Story feature is different than the other Stories you see from Instagram, Facebook, etc., and how you can put on your Director’s hat and create “trailers” for your other written content, such as blog posts.
Rich: My guest today is an internet entrepreneur and CEO of WordLift, with over 22 years of world-class experience in online strategies, digital media and SEO. I discovered him through a blog post entitled, How We Boosted our Traffic by 504.17% with an SEO-Friendly Web Story. And after reading it, I knew I had to get him on the podcast today. We’re going to be diving into Web Stories with Andrea Volpini. Andrea, welcome to the show.
Andrea: Hi, Rich. Thanks for inviting me. It’s exciting that we got connected because you read a blog post.
Rich: Yeah, it was great. I think it was featured in Moz as well, which is how it came to my attention, but I’m glad I discovered it.
Before we jump into Web Stories, I’m curious about your company, WordLift. I understand, from what I was looking at, that it automates part of SEO that’s all about structured data. Can you give us a little bit more information on that?
Andrea: Yeah. So WordLift is designed to understand the content that we write on WordPress or any other CMS, and then create a knowledge graph. And then using this knowledge graph, which is somehow similar to what Google creates, we are able to create a structured data markup and automate that part of the SEO.
Rich: For those of our listeners who don’t live in the SEO world, what is this graph that you speak of?
Andrea: So a graph, it’s a data structure. So it’s a way in which we can describe the world that we live in, to machines. So imagine that we [inaudible] each other through relationships. So that’s what a graph really is.
Rich: Okay. Awesome. I have to admit that before discovering your blog post, I was completely unaware of web stories. So in case there’s anyone out there who’s listening who’s equally unaware, could you give us the basics? What is a Web Story?
Andrea: Yeah. So a Web Story is an interactive reach format for the open web. It is meant to propose to the user a similar experience to what we see on social networks like Instagram, TikTok, and these visually rich social networks where the user basically uses the finger to move from one page to another. So this is like a Google version of that. And it’s part of the AMP specification. So it goes way beyond Google, but I mean it’s heavily promoted by Google.
Rich: So when I first saw web stories, I love social media, but I have to be honest, I hate stories. I hate Stories on Instagram, on TikToK, whatever the platform is. I’ve never enjoyed them, either consuming them or creating them. But Web Stories definitely seems different. What are some of the differences that you see between these Web Stories that we’re talking about in today’s episode, and something like the Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat Stories that are out there on social media?
Andrea: Right. So yeah, I have to make a disclaimer; I’m not on social media. I don’t have a Facebook account other than a fake account that I use for trying to understand what’s going on and the very basics. So I’m completely out of Stories in the social media form. And this is probably why I was so happy to experiment with Web Story.
So there is one key difference. A Web Story is an open web content that runs on your server. So it’s pretty much like a webpage, but it’s media rich. Where a story on Instagram runs on the Instagram servers and it’s embedded inside a closed application.
Rich: The other thing that I think is a big difference might be the idea is a lot of the stories that are out there are meant to be very temporary. In fact, originally when stories started, they disappeared after 24 hours. But I believe Web Stories can stick around as long as you want them to. They may have a surge of attention at the beginning, but they’re not necessarily meant to have a 24-hour life cycle. Correct?
Andrea: So this is partially correct. So it’s an open web content so it’s meant to be an evergreen, right? As you say, it’s not ephemeral. But at the same time, the wine, which these web stories are now being presented to the user is through Google Discover. So Google Discover is Google’s content recommendation engine. And the way in which Discover works, it’s somehow similar to a social network, which means that the distribution can be ephemeral. So you will see a burst of traffic, and then in 72 hours it will be mostly gone. But you will still be accessible through the universal search.
Rich: All right. I want to come back to Google Discover, but I’m wondering if you can kind of walk us through the Web Story that you created that got you so much traffic, and how you created it. And we’ll link to it if we can in the show notes, but just kind of walk us through what people see when they see your Web Story that got you all this traffic.
Andrea: Right. So first thing first, I started with a Web Story on an already existing article that was ranking for the query related to SEO trends in general. So I have these SEO trends blog posts that every year I spend time to update, and this also serve as a roadmap for a product. So it’s very crucial for me to work on this blog post. Not only is it a way to let people know what we do, but it’s also the way in which I set some of the goals for our products.
And so I had an already ranking article for SEO Trends in 2020, which I updated for SEO Trends 2021. And that’s the first important message you want to build a Web Story is where you already have a ranking article, because a Web Story in a way is a teaser of your existing content.
Rich: All right. That makes a lot of sense. So you already had something that was, as you said, ranking well. There’s obviously interest in it and you create this Web Story. So for those people who have never seen a Web Story or don’t know that they did, what does your Web Story look like, if you could talk us through it?
Andrea: Yeah. So it’s like a sequence of pages that the user scrolls using the finger. So again, web stories are format designed for mobile. So it’s a mobile-first interface for consuming content in a more interactive way. So a blog post probably, the one about the trends, it’s 1,000 words, maybe even more. It’s divided into chapters; each chapter represents the main trend. So a Web Story is a nice and easy way to let the user see what I have inside the article. And this is also part of the way in which the Web Story is structured. So it’s like an index, an outline of the article, which is made of steps. And each step will cover a specific section of the main article.
Rich: All right. And you know I’ve seen it, I’ve looked through it. And so basically, you’ve got this article, and this article could be on anything that whoever’s listening, just put it into your, you know, it could be about baking, it could be about child-rearing, whatever it is. You created a series of slides that could include photos, it could include videos. Could it include audio as well in these?
Andrea: Absolutely. Audio is a supported format as well as videos as well as animation. So it’s super interesting the way in which you can compose it, especially for someone like me that doesn’t use Instagram. So it’s all new. And specifically I use a WordPress, so I use this editor that Google has created for the WordPress user that has gotten a lot better in the last months.
Rich: Awesome. Okay. So we find a blog post on our website that perhaps already has some good search traffic. It’s well put together and it’s got sections built into it. Maybe it walks us through a recipe. Maybe it walks us through dealing with an unruly child. Maybe it walks us through building an email list.
And from there we decide to use this tool. As you mentioned, you’re using one in WordPress that Google created, so this is a plugin we can use. And you create this interactive slideshow that kind of highlights the most important things from each section. Correct?
Andrea: That’s correct. Also imagine that it condenses the section because it’s a teaser. So every section kind of has to be synthesized by animation or a block of text. But of course you don’t expect the user that reads the story to spend too much time in reading contents, so it has to be very efficient in the way in which you synthesize content.
Now we have this technology inside that allow us to summarize articles. So I use these a lot. I use it in order to kind of compress the article that I have, and I create the little snapshot of facts that I’m going to embed inside each slide.
Rich: So basically we’re creating, one way of looking at it, is a very engaging advertisement for the content we’ve already created, which then Google is going to show within this Google Discover area. And while I’m watching your story, with each slide that goes through, at any point I believe I can click on that slide and it will then take me to your article. Correct?
Andrea: Right. So every page inside this Web Story would reference with a jump link. So with a direct link to the section, the section that the slide is presenting. So this is super important because of course the user may be more interested in one aspect, and so we provide them with a chance to get deeper by jumping into the article. And then with another swipe, jumping back into the Web Story.
Rich: Awesome. So you mentioned you’ve created it. What’s the plugin that you use on WordPress that allows you to create these stories?
Andrea: So this is a plugin by Google itself, developed along with Automatic, the company behind WordPress. And I believe it’s called Web Stories.
Rich: Okay. Once we’ve created this in Web Stories, or whatever tool somebody might be using, what happens then? Does this get published on our own website? Because I know one of the concerns with AMP for some people is that Google seems to own that or it’s posted to Google. So where does this actually live when we’ve completed our story.?
Andrea: So the Web Story lives inside your website. But of course it’s built on AMP, which means that it will be delivered through Google CDMs. And of course there is embedding support for Google Analytics. But of course also to that extent, you might want to fine tune and make sure that you’re getting the proper data from the Web Stories. And it’s interesting because now the plugin also provides the events data, so you know how engaging your story is because you can track the events of the user that it’s moving back and forth. And so you kind of get an idea of when you got to right.
Now the fact that it goes on Discover is absolutely not granted. So what is granted is that this is an open web content, which is published in an AMP format. So it runs very fast over Google CDNs and can be found on mobile using Google search. This is granted. Okay. So you publish something, and it can be found when you look on Google using your mobile phone.
But I mean an additional amount of traffic, which is what happened in my case, can be brought to you by Google Discover, though, this is not granted.
Rich: All right. So we hit publish, it gets out there. Now Google Discover, for those of you who are not super familiar with it, is I believe only on mobile and for iOS users. You don’t see it as often, but when you go to your Google homepage and you’re logged in as yourself, Google Discover is, I believe – correct me if I’m wrong, Andrea – below the search box and it basically just feeds you stories based on what Google knows about you. Correct?
Andrea: This is correct. I mean Google Discover also works on desktop. If happen to have Chrome, when you open it a list of the latest articles, this is also part of the Google Discover. So it’s a recommendation engine, and in a way, Google Discover is Google’s best attempt to create a social media-like experience.
Rich: Absolutely. And so when I happened to be looking at mine, and it’s got a combination of web-related stuff as like digital marketing, as well as comic books, and then some stuff about my home state of Maine, and that’s all based on previous searches and other activity that Google has been tracking over time. So that’s how you can get it out there.
As you’ve been developing these and maybe working with some other people who are developing them, are there any tactics that you’ve discovered that helped increase the chances of getting it into Google Discover, which is basically like a non-search, search engine.
Andrea: Yeah, exactly. So it’s also known as a query less search. So in the context of Web Stories in Discover, my greatest finding is that you want to build a story where you already have established an authority. So I say you want to start with something that already ranks. Because if I build a new article and a web story, it might not be as simple as building a web story on something that already is providing, value to users in its own native article format or AM Particle format.
So we want to start with something that ranks, that’s the first thing. Then we want to add at least five or six interactive slides, because you don’t want to have something too short because then Google will not consider it as interesting and appealing enough for users. Google will track, of course, the behavior of the user on the stories in order to see if it’s engaging enough, and then propose it to the audience.
I noticed that if you promote your content through social media with Facebook, and therefore you help the user find your content also through advertising, then Google will be more likely to pull these up into someone else’s feed. Biggest because Google can see that it’s driving some level of engagement – whether they’re paid or not paid – and then it will reward you for that.
Images are super important. Videos and animation are super important. You want to be media rich and then you want to be authentic as much as possible.
Rich: You mentioned that getting some engagement on social media can be beneficial as well. So once I’ve published my Web Story, does it come with a link that I can use or is there an embed code? What are some of the best practices so that I can take that content and repurpose it for multiple different ways?
Andrea: Right. So there is a link there that is the canonical of the Web Story. And so you can share this link and you can link your articles with the web stories. Of course, the main articles that you are using as a reference, it’s going to contain a link presumably, but you can also place a link anywhere else. You can link one Web Story with other Web Stories, which is also what I’m trying to do now. So once you get into the flow, it’s like YouTube end of the video type of a carousel of a related video. So from one story you can drive the users to the next Web Story.
There is a page in WordPress where the plugin gathers and brings together all the Web Stories that you have created on that side. And of course, yes you can embed them, but I would not recommend you do so because you might create confusion to the crawler. Because I mean, what is going to be the canonical at that point if you embed it into a page? So yeah, I would not suggest embedding it.
There is a site map that you can create for Web Stories only that also allows Google to index the content. And then of course, yes, it’s a format that you can use for an advertisement elsewhere.
Rich: So when I looked at my own Google Discover as I prepared for today’s interview, I mentioned I saw a combination of digital marketing, comic books, state of Maine, and some recent news stories. But none of them when I clicked through was nearly as interesting or as engaging as the Web Story you created. They just seem to be web pages. So is that just by chance? Like, sometimes when we go to our Google Discover it might be a web page, and other times it’s going to be these Web Stories?
Andrea: Right. So back in October, Google announced that it was going to promote the Web Stories format also on Google Discover in the United States, Brazil, and India. So following that announcement, I thought it was going to be an interesting trend to follow. And that’s when I decided to kind of invest again in Web Stories. I’ve been using Web Stories all throughout last year with some of our clients and we had a discreet success, but it wasn’t as astonishing as what I saw right after when I created my first story.
But remember that Discover traffic is primarily built on AMP articles as a format and you might get a BDS into it. So if you have YouTube videos, then they might be featured inside Discovery. And now you have Web Stories as an additional format. But of course it’s a diversified set of content. It’s more the type of content and how it matches with the user interest that makes a trigger.
Rich: Okay. Where do you see web stories going in the future? You’ve been spending more time there than most people, and I’m kind of curious to see where you think things might end up.
Andrea: So my assumption here is the following. Query less search is becoming an uninteresting part of Google’s traffic. Now Google sells advertisements, so the type of advertisement that Google sells is based on the search experience. Okay. And we know that works super well because someone that makes a search has a specific aptitude that tends to be very efficient when we’re selling a service, or we’re selling a product, or we’re looking for a piece of information.
Now Google lacks, used to lack, a specific source of traffic, which is somehow similar to what Twitter and Facebook are selling. Which is this social media type of traffic, where you have a stream of content that’s coming out of your babel of friends and interests and has a completely different scope. Because I mean nowadays people invest in social media to create an engagement to build up a community. It’s typically less effective in converting for selling products than traditional search, but it does have its own value in amplifying the message.
So Google Discover, in my vision, it’s Google social network and it’s this new way of delivering a rich media experience that is similar to what the social networks are providing. So I see Web Stories as a potential interesting part of the content mix that Google needs in order to provide its own services.
Rich: You’ve done a few of these now. How long does it usually take you to develop a Web Story after you’ve written your blog posts? Because of course, many people listening are going to be either solopreneurs or they’re working in a small company. There’s only so many hours of the day. So what should they expect once they get to understand the tools? How much time should they expect to put into putting together an engaging Web Story.
Andrea: So you need to have five or seven slides we say, right? And every slide, I mean, imagine if you’re not familiar with Instagram, like me, then you would probably compare it to Photoshop. Because you have layers and you have to kind of stack images and text, and then you start adding animation.
I had a lot of fun, I have to be honest. Like most of the stuff that I do, I do it because I love to experiment with new things and I want to see and learn the technology, I want to see if our technology is going to fit in somehow. And I’m not a very fast writer, I’m not native English so it probably takes longer for me. I would dedicate probably a couple of hours from a good article. Once you’ve got enough experience with the tool, probably in a couple of hours, you can make a good Web Story. Maybe three hours, if you want to kind of also cover the accessibility part because you want to add information about the images and details about particular media.
I’ve done one recently using a drone. So I did a lot of videos of background. But then having say, so what are we doing right now? Because I mean, we want to see how much we can scale these, and this is probably the important part. So one of the publishers we’re working with, we’re trying to automate the creation of Web Stories from existing articles, because all of a sudden then you realize that, okay, I need to have like five to seven slides, and if I have a specific content model that already kind of depicts an object and I need to create a teaser and I have enough media in the CMS, then I can combine these with a nice mix, and then maybe I can automate the creation.
So that’s probably what you want to do if you have a lot of content and you want to use it on scale. Otherwise, if you want to do it like me, two, three hours, have fun, and I hope you get lucky.
Rich: I’m definitely looking forward to breaking into these. You briefly mentioned a little bit about analytics. I’m just wondering what kind of tracking comes naturally, if you recommend using UTM codes to know when people jump off, or what some of the best practices are, so we can really find out what our level of engagement is and if there is ROI for this?
Andrea: So, it’s a page again. So you will see it as a referral from other pages as well. So you can see the way in which the user is moving across the Web Story and your main website.
You can monetize it freely, which means that of course you can use it for selling a product or generating leads. And I actually put a link to my Calendly, and I got it filled up with a lot of people that wanted to talk to me. But the value was really surprising. And then in terms of conversion, I then had to switch it to the form on the website because there was a lot of interaction coming in.
And you have the events. So the events track when the user moves progress with the stories, or starts the stories, or gets back to the story. These stories have auto play. You can set an auto play. So you can decide that after X second, that the slide will move. And this takes a little bit of time for you to adjust it, to see, okay, maybe it takes eight seconds, maybe it takes 10 seconds. You don’t want to make it boring. Right? You want to make it interactive. It’s a trailer, so think as a movie trailer. Be a movie director that has to create a trailer for your best content. That’s the web story.
Rich: That’s awesome, and a great way of looking at it. Andrea, this has been fantastic. If people want to learn more about WordLift, if they want to learn more about you, where can we send them?
Andrea: Yep. So @CyberAndy on Twitter is my nickname, and you can follow me there. And then wordlift.io is our website, and then we have a blog and then you can learn more about our products and how we use artificial intelligence for creating traffic.
Rich: Fantastic. And we will have links to all those things, including to the blog post that first introduced me to Andrea, as well as some other content on their sites. So be sure to check out the show notes. Andrea, it was absolutely fabulous talking to you today. Thank you so much for your time.
Andrea: Thanks to you
Andrea Volpini, and his team at WordLift, create cutting-edge SEO technology for their clients, that delve into knowledge graphs and AI. Check out his Web Story that drove all the traffic and inspired his blog post that got him on this podcast!
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.