How to Drive Traffic in Google Discover: The Ultimate Guide
The author’s views are entirely their own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
Introduction to Google Discover
Google Discover is a queryless search product launched by Google in 2018, meaning that Discover content appears automatically without the user entering a query. Google Discover shows logged-in Google users a curated, personalized list of articles and other content located under the Google search bar on Android mobile devices, within the Google app on Android or iOS, or beneath the search bar on google.com on the Chrome App on mobile.
Discover is currently technically only available for users on mobile devices, but Google appears to be testing a desktop version for some users, which if broadly rolled out, could be transformative for the SEO industry and could significantly impact the flow of organic traffic throughout Google.
Our SEO team at Amsive has specialized in helping many sites drive more traffic in Discover, both with ongoing consulting plus offering formal Discover audits. Below are some of the major tips and guidance we have learned in our years specializing in Google Discover.
How Discover is different than SEO
Google Discover is, by definition, a different product than Google Search, and as a result, it behaves in many different ways and requires different strategies than SEO. Content that drives significant SEO traffic may or may not do well in Discover and vice versa. In fact, it’s pretty common for articles to only appear in one product and not the other.
This is by design: Discover is meant to tap into the user’s unique interests, and the content that performs there might be more specific, esoteric, or focused on one particular niche compared to what might rank in the top results in Google Search.
The subject matter, search demand, images, headlines, and timely nature of the content can all impact whether an article drives traffic from SEO, Discover, or both.
Understand the value of Discover to your site
The first step in evaluating the role of Discover in your marketing strategy is to understand whether and to what extent Discover’s visibility and traffic are valuable for your site. For sites focused on driving traffic — particularly sites that make money off display ads and/or affiliate links — Discover can be a highly valuable source of traffic.
However, for other types of sites, it can be a bit of a mystery whether Discover traffic is valuable at all, especially given that there is no dedicated source or medium for Discover traffic in Google Analytics. This makes it hard to say whether Discover was responsible for a conversion or any other engagement-based KPIs outside of landing a user on your site (which you can gather from Google Search Console).
Google Discover occasionally shows high-converting pages, such as e-commerce product pages, for users who may be in-market for those products based on their specific interests or search history. In rare cases, sites might even see Discover traffic going to seemingly random pages on their sites, such as an “About Us” page or a contact page. This may happen if Google thinks the Google Discover user would find those pages particularly relevant or helpful.
However, as a general rule of thumb, Discover most often shows timely, trending content from publishers and news websites.
Understand the volatile nature of Google Discover
When venturing into the world of driving traffic in Google Discover, it is necessary to start with a few important disclaimers:
Google Discover is, by nature, extremely volatile and unpredictable
It is not uncommon for sites to see thousands or millions of clicks in one day and then 0 clicks the next day or week
Sites seeing consistent traffic from Discover can lose all of that traffic overnight, and the reasons are not always easily explainable (or explainable at all)
Google recently added some new language in its Get on Discover guidelines to explain to site owners some significant reasons for traffic volatility in Discover, including testing new content types, changing user interests, and impacts from Google algorithm updates.
While many site owners agree to understand the above concepts, more often than not, publishers are often shocked and devastated when Discover traffic comes crashing down, as it inevitably does for most sites at any given time.
This is why understanding and accepting this traffic volatility is necessary before relying on Discover traffic. In the words of the great News SEO, John Shehata, “Think of Discover traffic as bonus traffic.”
Knowing where to find Discover data
As stated above, the only dedicated report on traffic from Google Discover is contained in Google Search Console’s performance reports, with a dedicated tab for Discover on the left sidebar:
This report only appears if your site has received Discover clicks during the selected time period. If you do not see the Discover report, it’s because the Google Search Console property you are looking at has not received Discover traffic during that period.
If you are not receiving Discover traffic, this could be due to a number of reasons, such as:
Technical ineligibility (which will be covered in the next section)
Not producing the type of content that resonates in Discover
Violating Google’s specific content guidelines for News & Discover inclusion (also covered in the next section)
Being “filtered out” or losing significant Discover traffic due to sitewide quality issues, which can often take place during major Google core updates or other algorithm updates, such as the Helpful Content Update
Too much NSFW content: think of Discover as a more “family-friendly” product than Google’s search results, which contain the option to enable or disable SafeSearch filtering. Discover has no option to turn on SafeSearch, so NSFW is often treated as ineligible for Discover traffic. This was confirmed by Google in May of 2023.
Actionable tips for driving traffic from Google Discover
1. Ensure technical eligibility for Discover
The first and most important step for appearing in Google Discover is to ensure your website and your content are eligible. There is no formal way to submit a site to Google Discover; any content that is eligible to be indexed on Google Search is also eligible for Discover, as long as the following conditions are met:
a. Image requirements
Google recommends the following advice for images in Google Discover: “Include compelling, high-quality images in your content, especially large images that are more likely to generate visits from Discover. Large images need to be at least 1200 px wide and enabled by the max-image-preview:large setting or by using AMP. Avoid using a site logo as your image.”
For every page you want to appear in Discover, it is important to check for the 1200px minimum width requirement. Only one featured image on the article must meet this minimum requirement — it does not have to apply to all images on the page.
The max-image-preview:large setting is a meta tag that should be inserted into the <head> of every page you wish to include in Google Discover. If you use the WordPress plugin, Yoast, this tag will be inserted into your templates automatically.
The 1200+ px image can be pulled from a featured image on the page or an image referenced in an image OG meta tag or structured data.
This image goes a long way toward driving CTR in Google Discover, so be sure to pick something compelling for your audience.
To preview how an article might look in Google Discover, I recommend using this Chrome plugin built by the incredible Google Discover virtuoso, Valentin Pletzer.
b. Content requirements
The next step is to ensure your content and your website as a whole are eligible for Google Discover, which can be a bit murkier. Technically, any content that meets the image requirement can be eligible to appear in Discover, but it must also meet Google’s content guidelines for News and Discover. This essentially means not violating any of the News and Discover manual actions, which will be expanded upon in the next section of the article.
Beyond that, Discover aims to surface engaging, interesting, relevant content to its users, so generally speaking, content that is stale, outdated, or not engaging will likely not appear there. However, if a specific page is super relevant for a particular searcher, it can sometimes appear in Discover and drive bonus traffic to your site. This could be based on the user’s search history, Gmail history, location, or other data Google may have that indicates that they are “in the market” for this information.
For example, if a prospective university student has looked at applying to New York University, it may be possible for that user to see an NYU application page or a page about life on NYU’s campus in their Discover feed.
Furthermore, the user’s location and language settings can influence what appears in Discover. I once saw in my Discover feed the home page for a hotel I had just driven by on a trip to Costa Rica. Additionally, because I often use Google in two languages, sometimes my Discover content shows a mix of English and Spanish content.
c. Google Publisher Center
Another method of helping your site appear in Google Discover is to ensure you have submitted the site in Google’s Publisher Center. Use this platform to tell Google more about your publication, such as its primary content category, its target country, and primary website sections (your main categories and/or tags).
It is important to indicate the main sections of your website from which Google should be drawing new, updated content, such as your feeds or your primary category pages. Google accepts both web locations (URLs) as well as feeds for content sections.
You can also specify a video playlist, such as a YouTube channel.
Google even offers the option of adding a personalized feed — a feed of content selected by Google as relevant to that specific user within Google News, which Google labels “For You.”
Note: Google Publisher Center simply serves as a hint to Google about your publication and the content within it. After 2019, there is no formal inclusion or submission process for Google News or Discover.
d. The follow feature
Google has been expanding its usage and adoption of the Follow Feature, which has been available for a few years for Chrome users to follow certain publications on Google News and Discover. Following Google’s guidance for enabling the “Follow” feature for your publication can help drive more visibility to your content in Discover, assuming users follow your site.
Beyond following an individual brand, Google has also been testing ways for users to follow and unfollow specific interests and entities in Google Discover. While this option appears to show more consistently on Android devices, I recently saw it in my Discover feed on iOS:
You can also individually unfollow particular interests or publications by expanding the three dots alongside each article in Discover:
The “Not interested in” option is a good place to look if you want to see the major entities and topics with which Google associates a given article.
2. Understand user affinities & entities
Google Discover content is highly associated with individual user affinities and entities. In other words, what is the user interested in, and which people, places, and things do they care about?
Below is a 2019 screenshot of my personal Discover “interests,” according to Google, which is often muddied by the fact that I work on various clients and check their websites all the time (which Google sees as interest in a brand or topic).
Google “knowing” my interests means I will see more content in Discover that pertains to those interests unless I specifically exclude them (using the above buttons). Google also highlights various entities, like “Google Search” or “Williamsburg,” meaning that my Discover feed will often draw from my interest in those entities.
Understanding that Google Discover is highly tied to entities and affinities can help your site drive more traffic from Discover. There are various ways to approach this, but the following general process is a good starting point:
a. Export your site’s top-performing Discover content over the past 16 months (Google Search Console, ideally using the API)
b. Analyze the top-performing entities or topics that drove traffic and visibility for your particular site in that timeframe. This can be done by looking at your URL structures, breadcrumbs, tags or using a Natural Language Processing tool (I prefer Diffbot) plus some data analysis and visualization.
Below is an example of a visualization we provided a Google Discover client to visualize which top-level categories drove the most Discover (and SEO) clicks for them:
c. Use a social listening tool, such as Sprout or Buzzsumo, to monitor trends and updates on the topics and entities that resonate with your audience, and write about those topics consistently (especially when they are trending).
For example, if your website focuses on Disney, this is a small snapshot of what Buzzsumo pulls for the articles trending across social in the last 24 hours that relate to Disney:
We also recommend setting up a Google persona that matches your target audience regarding its interests, follows, and search history. That way, you can log into this account to see what this theoretical user might see in their Discover feed, which serves as great competitive intel.
3. Manual actions
Like in Google Search, you can receive manual actions in Google Discover — it’s quite common. Google has a dedicated list of manual actions reserved specifically for Google Discover and News.
Google’s Webspam team sends manual actions if the content on your site violates their Discover guidelines, such as by containing medical advice that contradicts scientific consensus or harassing, violent, or terrorist content. It is important to read and understand each manual action in the list to ensure your content does not get flagged. A manual action can result in significant declines in Discover, sometimes beyond the affected URLs.
The most common manual action I’ve seen in our Google Discover consulting is “misleading content,” which generally takes place when a website’s titles contain information that is not included in the article, such as the release date of a show that has yet to announce its actual release date.
If your site receives a manual action, you must remove the offending content from your site or fix it before submitting a reconsideration request. Always check in Search Console’s Manual Actions report to ensure there are no outstanding or unaddressed penalties.
4. Avoiding inappropriate content
One of the most common issues we have encountered with sites not receiving consistent traffic in Discover is that the site’s subject matter is “forbidden” in Discover.
Google has been clear for a long time that adult and inappropriate content will be filtered by Discover. I asked Google for clarity on this earlier in the year, and they indicated that content filtered by SafeSearch will likely not appear in Discover. Google also recently shared a short video that provided site owners with some clues about how to manage content for SafeSearch.
What Google doesn’t share in this guidance is the specifics around what is considered adult or not or how the presence of some adult, inappropriate, or offensive content can affect the greater domain in Discover. This is something we’ve seen time and time again with our audits.
The main takeaway: if your website contains adult content — by which we mean content related to sex, violence, heated political issues, grotesque images, or other content that could be considered inappropriate for children, this could limit the entire domain’s ability to appear in Discover.
This is not just true for adult content, which will likely be filtered out by default. Having too much of this content across the domain (which we believe Google evaluates on the hostname level) can limit the entire site’s visibility in Discover.
Segment out NSFW content onto a separate website or subdomain whenever possible. Or, consider using a separate subdomain to drive Discover traffic if your main site is full of significant amounts of adult or inappropriate content.
Below is the Discover performance of a site that unknowingly ranked for many violent keywords and content, which we removed from the site on May 10. We were surprised to see the site start to generate Discover traffic immediately after the violent content was removed.
5. Getting the image right
Image eligibility is just one step of the process for driving Discover traffic. It’s also important to choose the right images.
In our Discover audits, we look at image thumbnails for the highest and lowest-performing Discover articles in terms of both clicks and CTR.
Below is an example of an image thumbnail on a Grazia article consistent with the type of featured image we have often seen drive significant success in Discover. In our analyses, we have seen that peoples’ faces (especially familiar people like athletes or celebrities) drive strong CTR, plus the 2 or 3-panel format, which fits in various relevant images or pictures from the article.
Custom images, like infographics or pictures with words or objects superimposed, can also drive strong performance.
Blurry or out-of-focus images can lead to poor CTRs, along with unengaging images that don’t resonate with users.
It is best to analyze your site’s own top-performing images in Discover to develop a strategy for which types of images work best for your particular site (or not). Take inventory of your top and lowest-performing articles plus their featured images to see if you can spot any patterns about which images work best to drive high CTRs.
6. Titles vs. headlines vs. OG titles
The headline displayed in the Google Discover article thumbnail, in combination with the featured image, are the two main ingredients for driving strong click-through rates in Discover. The headline is arguably the most crucial element.
Therefore, it’s crucial to understand how to write good headlines for driving performance in Discover specifically. Luckily, Google (usually) appears to use different page elements to display headlines in Google Discover than it does for SEO. It’s also important to remember that these fields impact more than Discover performance, so don’t choose headlines only meant for Google Discover engagement without thinking about how these headlines can affect other areas, like SEO performance, user experience, or brand perception.
Generally speaking, Google will choose either the <h1> (article headline) or the Open Graph (OG) title for the article thumbnail in Google Discover. However, it may also choose the <title> tag occasionally. Google may even use the article headline as specified in the structured data. At the end of the day, Google knows it has various headlines to choose from and will choose the version it thinks will perform best in Discover.
For the purpose of this article, we took 80 articles that were appearing in Google Discover and analyzed whether Google was pulling the displayed headline from the <h1>, OG: title, or <title>. (Note: in some cases, the same title was used for multiple elements).
According to this analysis, out of the 80 Discover articles, Google Discover showed the article OG title 75% of the time, the <h1> 67% of the time, and the <title> 28% of the time.
This gives publishers some creative freedom to write different headlines for SEO (which Google usually pulls from the <title> tag) than Discover.
Given that the OG: title field is used so often for Discover, you can try testing more “Discover-friendly” headlines in that field and following SEO best practices for the article’s <title> and <h1>. Some publishers also choose to write more engaging H1s (and less keyword-optimized, compared to <title>), which does well for them in Discover.
The New York Times is a site that does this well. Below is an example pulled from my recent presentation at the NESS 2023 conference. In this article, the New York Times included the main keyword, “Shichimi Togarashi,” in its <title>, which is displayed in search/SEO and matches how people search for that spice. However, the New York Times omitted the name of the spice for a more engaging headline (<h1>), which promotes curiosity and encourages Discover users to want to click to learn more.
This is an excellent approach to driving Discover and SEO traffic simultaneously from the same article.
One important caveat about this approach: read Google’s manual actions guidelines carefully, as using excessive headlines that omit information without actually offering that information prominently on the page can lead to manual actions and algorithmic devaluations in Discover.
When you do find the patterns of what works in your headlines, consider doubling down on those headline structures going forward.
7. Web stories & video
Web Stories provide a good way to get your foot in the door in Google Discover, especially if your site has never seen Discover traffic before. This is because Google still continues to push Web Stories in Google Discover and still seems to have limited inventory to choose from.
This is an example of a Web Story I recently saw on my own Discover feed because Google knows I’m interested in surrealism and the artist Man Ray (he’s my grandmother’s uncle, after all). This Web Story does a good job of encouraging users to click back to the main website (it contains an internal link on every page), plus it drives ad revenue by including one slide containing ads.
Google offers many resources for quickly and easily building Web Stories, such as this page on Google for Creators. While Web Stories are not always super profitable for sites (they don’t support many ads, and not all users click through to the website), they can drive a lot of traffic in Discover. We recommend them for more visually engaging stories or for brands who want more upper-funnel visibility.
We also see that Google is heavily rewarding video content in Google Discover. Uploading videos directly onto YouTube is the best way to get included in Discover, plus YouTube Short Videos, which frequently appear in Discover, as well.
8. Article lifespan
Pay attention to how long your articles rank in Discover. For many articles, the lifespan is only a few days.
By understanding the average shelf life of your articles, you can make some editorial decisions such as:
- Are there new details or information we can add to the story to significantly update the content and, therefore, add a new modified date?
- Pro tip: be careful trying to change the date of publication or modification without making significant changes to the content, as this can lead to an “Artificial Refreshening” manual action
Should we write another related story, given that the first one did well, but traffic has subsided? (Make sure the articles link to one another)
- How should we manage content that performed well in Discover but no longer drives traffic in Discover or SEO?
Pro tip: if you create tons of content that does well in Discover but then forget about it later, this can create site quality issues over time. Consider Google’s ranking systems, such as the Helpful Content System, which can demote sites for having too much thin, unhelpful content.
Can we revive articles that did well one month ago, one year ago, etc., to drive more traffic from Discover?
9. Impact of Google updates
Google has been clear for years that core updates and other ranking systems like the Helpful Content System can impact Discover performance.
They made this even more evident with a recent addition to their “Get on Discover” page:
“Because Discover is an extension of Search, updates can sometimes produce traffic changes. If you notice changes to your website’s performance after an update, the following pages may be useful to consider:
These algorithm updates have caused nightmares for many sites, which have seen Discover traffic fall to 0.
It is important to remember that Google uses various sitewide quality evaluations for inclusion in places like Google Discover, so feeling negative impacts from Google’s updates and ranking systems serves as a good clue that you should do the necessary cleanup work to put your site in better standing.
10. Understand article syndication
If your website syndicates content onto partner sites like MSN, Yahoo, or AOL, this can present some risks with Discover visibility.
For years, Google has seemingly struggled with selecting the canonical version of syndicated articles, meaning that Google might show the syndicated version of an article on a partner website in Google Discover and/or Google News, even when the partner site contains a canonical pointing to the original source.
For example, this Yahoo News article, which appears in Google Discover, actually contains a canonical tag pointing to the Huffington Post article (where the article originally appears).
But Google “chose” Yahoo as the canonical version of the article in this case, so Yahoo will likely receive most, if not all, of the Discover traffic for this article. In some cases, both the partner site and the original site can receive Discover traffic, but our research has shown that the partner generally wins the majority of Discover traffic share in these cases.
Google has recently advised that partner websites should noindex syndicated articles, which will ensure Google indexes and ranks the original source. However, many publishers know that partner websites will likely not agree to these terms, given that the noindex is a lose/lose for both the original site and the partner site (the original site often still gets a percentage of revenue from pageviews to the partner version of the article). With a noindex tag, any other signals that might benefit both sites, such as backlinks and social media shares pointing to the partner article, are largely lost.
There isn’t one single clear recommendation for how to manage this conundrum, but any site using article syndication should understand these implications because it’s possible that the site is unknowingly losing out on potential Discover traffic due to syndication.
These are some, but certainly not all, of the most significant issues and opportunities we see for websites to achieve success in Google Discover, but the work does not stop here. Discover, like search, is constantly evolving, and Google continues to test new formats and new sites all the time.
If your Discover traffic is volatile, stay the course. Continue addressing sitewide quality issues and cleaning up any content that could be preventing your site from achieving consistent success in Discover. Look at your own data carefully (or bring in an expert team like ours to help!) to figure out what works for your specific website.
Just because something works for one site in Discover does not mean it will work for everyone. This is why using a data-driven approach to understanding what works and doesn’t work is the best way to drive success with Discover.