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At their annual Google Marketing Live event on May 14th, Google unveiled a handful of new ad units that will be hitting the mainstream in the upcoming year.
Two in particular — Discovery Ads and Gallery Ads — were met with overwhelmingly negative backlash amongst the greater SEO community. Let’s take a closer look at what these ad units are and just why they seem to be upsetting SEOs everywhere to such an extent.
What Exactly are Discovery Ads?
To understand Discovery Ads and the subsequent backlash, one first needs to understand what the Discovery Feed is.
Around October 2018, Google began rolling out its Discovery Feed en masse. The Discovery Feed is essentially a social-media-like news feed that replaced the beautiful, crisp blank space that once existed beneath the search bar on the Google.com homepage. It replaced the blank space with news stories, articles, and various different modules related to one’s recent searches.
The Discovery Feed represented a fairly monumental addition to what was previously a rather minimalist web page — a minimalist web page with no ads, mind you. As soon as the Discovery Feed was rolled out, prophetic minds within the marketing world knew it would inevitably follow the same path as other digital platforms with major visibility, i.e. it would be used to sell stuff.
That brings us now to Google’s Discovery Ads announcement, which confirmed that the Discovery Feed will indeed feature ads in 2019. The ads will be akin to Instagram ads in that they’ll live somewhat natively amongst the articles and modules already in the Discovery Feed. They’ll be intent-based, which means your recent organic searches, map searches, video views, and even app downloads will be used to serve you hyper-relevant advertising.
Google stated that Discovery Ads are already reaching some 800 million users around the world, and a universal rollout is planned for sometime later in 2019.
Why are SEOs Upset About Discovery Ads?
Organic results do appear in the Discovery Feed, and the impact of the Discovery Feed on the performance of your pages can be measured a la the “Discover” tab under “Performance” in Google Search Console. That being said, it’s mostly content publishers (blogs, news sites) that reap the benefits of the Discovery Feed. Likewise, it’s mostly content publishers who may be negatively impacted by the appearance of Discovery Ads.
As with the many SERP Features present in organic search, Discovery Ads will no doubt hog up prime real estate within the Discovery Feed. That could mean lower “Discover” CTRs across the board. There’s also the possibility that Discovery Ads will completely replace non-ads for some Discovery modules (e.g. instead of being served an article from your favorite streetwear blog for the “Sneakers” Discovery module, you may be served an ad from Nike or Adidas). This, of course, remains to be seen once the ads roll out in totality.
What Can SEOs Do about Discovery Ads?
The answer to the above will likely change once Discovery Ads are fully rolled out. But, like any good SEO, you probably want to take preventative measures to lessen any potential impact and maximize your chances for visibility in the Discovery Feed. This involves following some standard best practices for SEO as well as some recommended best practices for getting pulled into the Discovery Feed:
- Create content with engagement and user relationships in mind. The Discovery Feed pulls in modules and content based on what the user has interacted with recently. This means that if you want your content to be served in your users’ Discovery Feeds, you’ll need to focus on fostering user engagement with the content not just organically, but via other channels, like social.
- As with regular SEO, quality content is king. Focus, as always, on writing robust content that is authoritative and readable and meets the needs of users. High-quality, high-authority content stands a better chance of getting pulled into the Discovery Feed.
- Images and video are your best friends. This will be particularly important for combating Discovery Ads. The Discovery Feed, like social media feeds, features an abundance of eye-catching images and videos. If you want to be featured in the Discovery Feed (and if you want to take up a good chunk of real estate to compete with the Discovery Ads), then your content will need to feature high-quality images and/or videos.
Again, we still don’t know exactly how Discovery Ads will impact organic performance in the Discovery Feed. All we can do for the time being is build the best content we can while continuing to foster user relationships with that content.
What Are Gallery Ads?
What are Gallery Ads? If you asked that to the passionate SEOs in the comment section of this article, you’d get a couple different answers: the death of SEO, the evils of capitalism incarnate, the golden opportunity for Duck Duck Go, et cetera, et cetera. Let’s get a bit more of an unbiased answer.
Gallery Ads are “visually compelling” ads that will be displayed at the top of Google SERPs sometime in the next year. These ads will feature a scrollable series of four to eight images — and potentially videos, at some point — with around 70 characters of available ad copy per image.
As of now, Gallery Ads will be a mobile-only feature, but Google plans to eventually extend them to desktop SERPs as well.
Why Are SEOs Upset about Gallery Ads?
In recent years, Google has seemingly been adamant about pushing traditional organic listings as far down in the SERPs as possible.
This is especially true on mobile, where Featured Snippets, Knowledge Cards, Local Packs, the monolithic Google Calculator, and other SERP features have taken over the majority of above-the-fold real estate. As Google strives to answer users’ questions in the most convenient way possible, regular organic listings — even those in positions #2-3 — have suffered, particularly in terms of organic clicks and CTR.
The SEO community is particularly up in arms about Gallery Ads because they represent yet another method by which Google can push down organic listings in mobile (and eventually desktop) SERPs. Not only that, but Gallery Ads, unlike other SERP features, are not pulling their information from organic listings. While SEOs may frown upon the many SERP features, there’s at least a chance that their content will be displayed in the feature — a major win for performance. With Gallery Ads, there is no such possibility. They push down organic listings in SERPS and present no upside in terms of organic performance or visibility.
What (If Anything) Can SEOs Do about Gallery Ads?
With the arrival of Gallery Ads, I believe optimizing for placement in SERP features may become even more important than it already is. SEOs should also be sure to plan ahead and monitor any sites/keywords that may be particularly vulnerable to the SERP takeover of Gallery Ads:
- Keep a close eye on your eCommerce clients. They’re the most likely to be impacted by Gallery Ads. Likewise, any pages on your site targeting transactional queries will in all likelihood face the brunt of Gallery Ads once they’re rolled out. Keep an eye on these pages, and keep an eye on your highest-priority transactional queries to see which trigger Gallery Ads.
- Factor SERP features and estimated CTR into your keyword research. With the abundance of current SERP features, and with the eventual abundance of Gallery Ads, it will be paramount to highlight and potentially optimize around keywords that return few-to-no SERP features and thus have a relatively high average CTRs.
- This can be done by manually searching for and investigating keywords you find in your research. For faster research, you can also use tools like Moz or AHREFS, which can give you CTR estimates for keywords.
- Make an effort to optimize for the various SERP features. When positions #1-3 are being pushed further and further down in the SERPs, organic-inclusive SERP features — like Featured Snippets and Local Packs — become the new “position #1.” When possible, you should strive to get your content displayed in these SERP features.
- For Featured Snippets, be sure to pre-format your content for any potential Featured Snippet variants (bullets, tables, numbered lists). As always, ensure your content is adequately meeting the intent behind your targeted keywords. Robust, exhaustive, properly formatted content has the highest likelihood to be pulled into Featured Snippets.
- Local Packs require not only solid local SEO, but also solid strategy from multiple other channels. Filling out Google My Business profiles, generating solid reviews, and staying engaged with your customer base on social media are all paramount to being pulled into any Local Packs for your targeted, location-based keywords.
Discovery Ads and Gallery Ads are sure to shake up the organic search environment once they’re fully rolled out. SEOs are certainly justified in their concern, if not always in their anger.
What can SEOs do to combat both? For the time being, they need to stay vigilant. They also need to follow best practices in order to proactively optimize for the Discovery Feed and for certain organic-inclusive SERP features.
We won’t truly know how Discovery Ads and Gallery Ads affect organic performance until they’re upon us, but in the meantime, we can be proactive, and we can prepare for the inevitable.