Touted as the largest change to Google’s homepage for the past two decades, Google’s new homepage feed has been rolled out to mobile users in the US, with a worldwide rollout imminent (we already have it in the UK). This is likely to then encompass Google’s homepage on desktops as well. The long and the short of it is that under the search bar Google have added a customisable feed to their app, providing quick access to your most favoured content.
What exactly does it do?
Do we see this taking off?
Is it another attempt by Google at social media?
How will this impact marketing, other websites and apps?
We have amalgamated all of the information available (and had a play on the feed ourselves) to give you a deep dive into Google’s new look:
Getting Set Up
Open the Google app on your android or iphone and you should be presented with your normal Google homepage, plus a call to action at the bottom of the page for Google’s new feed. Tap on the CTA and you will be taken through what for me was a two stage process, including an intro page of Google’s ‘dynamic feed, catered to you’ and a sync with your gmail account.
It’s as easy as that. Obviously there is slightly more work to be done if you want to tailor your feed completely but Google already have a worryingly large amount of information on you anyway so you will probably find that your feed already makes sense!
Customisable, Curated, Personalised
The feed is designed to display content that aligns to your interests, so that you don’t have to search for it. In Google’s post announcing the rollout, Shashi Thakur (VP, Engineering at Google) stated that the feature will:
“make it easier than ever to discover, explore and stay connected to what matters to you – even when you don’t have a query in mind”
Take it back a few months to December 2016 when Google posted about testing the feature in the US the same rhetoric was present, just from a slightly different tact:
“Making it easier to keep up with the things you need to know” and “a single tap will load your life’s interests and updates”.
Sounds awesome. And scary.
The point is that the feed is there to give you your daily dose of information based on your preferences. In addition to this, the more you use the feed the more Google learns about these preferences and the better the feed gets. Sound familiar? A certain nerd named M.Zuckerberg does a pretty similar thing.
It’s no surprise that they chose mobile as the first device regardless of the fact that internet traffic on mobile has overtaken desktop or of Google’s mobile first indexing. Mobiles are more personal to users than desktops. The public are used to being shown personalised content on their mobiles whether that be weather notifications, Facebook feeds or preferences on News apps.
We haven’t seen this yet in the devices in our office (London) but reports from the US are that, in addition to the scrolling feed, there are also four categories under the Google search bar which act as filters for the feed: Weather, Sports, Entertainment and Food & Drink. TechCrunch reported back in March (presumably during the testing phase) that Android users are also able to tap the arrow to the right of the categories, which takes them to a page with further category options. Presumably Google will allow users to customise the four main categories shown to them on the main page.
Image credit: Search Engine Watch
We think this is really smart by Google. Yes, Facebook do have tabs at the top of the news feed but most simply stick to the main feed. Google are somewhat merging the addictiveness of social media scrolling with the usability of categories on websites/apps usually preferred by the news industry. It allows the user to quickly navigate to the stories and content that are most important to them at that particular time.
Not everything is behavioural based. You can customise your feed manually and at least in the few days that we have been testing it, the app pushes this customisation pretty hard:
You also have to bear in mind that whilst Google is capturing as much data about you (presumably on the verges of legality), thankfully the Big G doesn’t know everything. For example, my feed initially displayed Football scores, or Soccer games for those in the United States. I actually have very little interest in Football or Victoria and David Beckham so Google has clearly displayed this content at the top of the feed due to popularity, trending news and location. They do push you to customise this though, so go ahead, tell Google all of your likes and dislikes and let them do the rest!
Is the new Google feed another attempt at social media?
Not really, but in as much as Amazon Spark isn’t what most people would term ‘social media’. It is somewhat telling that two of the biggest companies in the world are looking to provide an experience which isn’t directly related to peer to peer connections. As Clark Boyd commented for Search Engine Watch:
“Google hopes users will get hooked on a new mode of discovering information”
So do Amazon.
Sure, the new Google feed does use a social media esque scrollable news feed format. It also allows you to ‘follow’ sports teams, celebrities or public figures so there are similarities. The way that both Amazon and Google are utilising user and usage data to display content and allow users to explore could be seen as an extension of the ‘explore’ functionality offered by Instagram. However, personalisation of content is not exclusive to social media; one could easily argue that it is more like a personalised version of StumbleUpon, although social certainly brought personalised content to the forefront of everyday use.
The new Google feed is an example of how businesses can capitalise on user data to offer a broader content experience and keep users coming back for more. They have recognised that people want to explore, to be given content before searching for it. The Google feed may not be offering dog videos or silly memes just yet, but the theory remains the same. People want to be guided through their exploration. As such, whilst it isn’t a new social media network it does incorporate a lot of the more popular features that have made social media a staple in our day to day lives.
Will Google’s feed kill SEO? Is SEO Finally Dead?
Hmmm. Let’s pause for a second……no, SEO is not dead. In fact it is just as important as it has been.
Google’s feed allows users to explore commonly sought after information such as weather and news. It does offer food & drink recommendations so this industry could be affected, but this simply means that your SEO needs to be even better!
People will still be using the search engine to proactively search for things whether that be information, opening times of a cinema or to buy items. This is SEO’s true domain and capitalising on the searcher displaying their intent is part and parcel of how to gain real impact from SEO. So no, SEO for organic search is not going anywhere soon.
SEO for the feed does throw up some interesting questions and we will have to wait and see how/if Google Adwords will integrate into the feed. Potentially sponsored content? That would simply be speculation. What we can confidently say is that:
- Mobile content and Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) will continue to rise in importance.
- News websites are going to need to focus on their SEO and also their CTR from search.
- We don’t know enough about the feed yet and whether it works on a similar algorithm to organic search.
Should the feed be a success, we may even find that organic search queries increase as people spend longer and longer on the platform!
The Wider Impact
It is still very early days but we have had a quick brainstorm in regards to the potential impact of Google’s feed becoming super popular. The result? The highest impact will be on news websites, blogs and aggregator sites/apps.
Let’s take news websites as an example: BBC, The Guardian, Daily Mail, CNN, Fox News.
Suddenly people will be able to get a variety of news and opinions via one platform, Google becomes the best aggregator of news globally, all personalised to your preferences.
There is the weighing up of how strong these preference settings will be vs Google’s fact checking carousel and whether this contributes to or cures the issue of ‘echo chambers’, but we’ll leave that to LBC to discuss.
The point is that if Google becomes people’s first port of call for news, this is going to have a significant impact on the news sites themselves. Instead of going to The Guardian for their morning update those users might start using Google’s feed instead. Extrapolate this further and retention of users will be crucial for news sites, i.e reducing the amount of users pressing the back button to return to the Google feed after reading an article.
Pocket under threat?
Last year we thought that the app Pocket would be acquired but now this looks even less likely. Aggregator apps (especially those focused on personalised content) could be under serious threat here. Google has the power. They can index faster, provide a wider range of subjects, they have more R&D budget for continual improvement and critical mass of potential users.
We believe that should the Google feed be a success that news and content aggregator sites will find that their lives suddenly become a lot harder.
Opportunity for Content Marketing
It is not all doom and gloom. There is always opportunity, even for the news sites. They will have the potential to gain new users via the feed and therefore grow their user base.
One of the biggest opportunities will be for content marketers. They are already capitalising on the world’s largest aggregator of information in the world: Google’s search engine. The personalised nature of the feed will offer different opportunities to the search engine. For example, B2B content marketers can focus on client retention by providing more contemporary updates and longer form content which will be displayed to industry peers via the feed (if their preference settings are correct).
The user intent displayed by a search query can sometimes be ambiguous. The opportunity for content marketers in relation to Google’s feed is that the more they use the feed, the better Google gets at understanding their interests. In turn, if your content is displaying in someone’s feed there is a high chance that they will be interested in it, therefore increasing CTR. I wonder what Google will call their feed as a referrer in Google Analytics and whether they will separate it from organic search?
We’ll have to wait and see…
You might now be thinking that this was an awfully long article with a lot of hypothetical situations in it, and you would be right. It was a conscious decision though. Google may have failed with Google Plus, Google Authorship and many other ventures, but when they get it right they tend to get it right BIG.
Hopefully the information and scenarios above give you a better understanding of the new feed, what it does and the potential impact on not only the marketing world but also in the way that we consume information.