Chasing mobile search results

“Some outlets will even choose what stories to cover based on anticipated search demand, walking the increasingly fine line between service journalism and content farming.”

In 2016, we talked a lot about the rise of off-platform publishing, and what that would mean for the future of news. Facebook Instant Articles, announced in 2015, rolled out to more major sites this year, including platforms like Medium. And Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages, announced in February of this year, quickly came to account for a huge percentage of publishers’ pageviews. In 2017, the share of journalism that is consumed in Google AMP (instead of on publishers’ websites) could pass 30 percent — even as smaller publishers get on board and the easy search wins start to dry up.

helen-havlakGoogle AMP has some obvious advantages over traditional websites. For users, they load much faster than outdated mobile sites and eliminate the infuriating popup ads those sites often contain. Publishers benefit from the faster load times as well, since site speed impacts their SEO ranking. And publishing in the format puts the article in the AMP carousel at the top of mobile search results, giving it a powerful traffic boost.

The easy, AMP-driven search traffic has been particularly intoxicating because Facebook is no longer a firehose of referrals. Two years ago, Facebook made up 60 percent or even 80 percent of some publishers’ traffic. Then Facebook began emphasizing native video over article content, and in June, it updated its algorithm to prioritize family or friends over brands and publishers. Within months, Facebook-dependent publishers like Elite Daily became “essentially worthless.” A lot of sites, The Verge included, have made up for that lost Facebook traffic with increased search pageviews — and have seen AMP as a powerful weapon to boost our rankings.

The rise in mobile search traffic doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, even if Google’s algorithms shift. It’s prohibitively expensive to get someone to download an app — much less put it on their home screen — but most home screens still include a mobile search bar or browser. By optimizing news to deliver against search results, you can reach an enormous number of new readers. Some outlets will even choose what stories to cover based on anticipated search demand, walking the increasingly fine line between service journalism and content farming. As more publishers get on AMP and the SEO playing field equalizes, it will become harder to resist those temptations.

Google AMP presents other dangers, too. Publishers have less control over the appearance of their work on other platforms. Because all stories look basically the same in Google AMP, the platform can lend false credibility to hoaxes. As Kyle Chayka wrote recently on The Verge, “In a platform world, all publishers end up looking more similar than different. That makes separating the real from the fake even harder.” A Google-mediated news experience makes it harder to stand out, and harder to build a reputable brand.

In September, AMP passed 10 percent of The Verge’s total pageviews and 30 percent of our search pageviews. Next year, that number will keep growing, and we’ll face the same difficult questions as other publishers. When a user lands on an AMP page via mobile search, we have to develop new ways get them to stick around. Once they have what they came for, how do we send them to an important story that doesn’t fit a search niche? And how can we then convert them into a loyal reader?

Helen Havlak is engagement editor at The Verge.

Helen Havlak   Chasing mobile search results

Liz McMillen   The year of deep insights

Carrie Brown-Smith   We won’t do enough

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Truthiness in private spaces

Jim Friedlich   A banner year for venture philanthropy

Ashley C. Woods   Local journalism will fight a new fight

P. Kim Bui   The year journalism teaches again

Olivia Ma   The year collaboration beats competition

Peter Sterne   A dangerous anti-press mix

Rachel Sklar   Women are going to get loud

Nathalie Malinarich   Making it easy

Ståle Grut   The battle for high-quality VR

Tim Herrera   The safe space of service journalism

Corey Ford   The year of the rebelpreneur

Mira Lowe   News literacy, bias, and “Hamilton”

An Xiao Mina   2017 is for the attention innovators

Rubina Madan Fillion   Snapchat grows up

Reyhan Harmanci   Bear witness — but then what?

Adam Thomas   The coming collaboration across Europe

Laura E. Davis   Show your work

Asma Khalid   The year of the newsy podcast

Javaun Moradi   What can we own?

Vivian Schiller   Tested like never before

Ken Schwencke   Disaggregation and collection

Renée Kaplan   Pure reach has reached its limit

Cindy Royal   Preparing the digital educator-scholar hybrid

Christopher Meighan   Unlocking a deeper mobile experience

David Skok   What lies beyond paywalls

Juliette De Maeyer and Dominique Trudel   A rebirth of populist journalism

Elizabeth Jensen   Trust depends on the details

Kawandeep Virdee   Moving deeper than the machine of clicks

Jonathan Hunt   Measurement companies get with the times

Mario Garcia   Virtual reality on mobile leaps forward

Alexis Lloyd   Public trust for private realities

Dan Colarusso   Let’s make live video we can love

Priya Ganapati   Mobile websites are ready for reinvention

Tim Griggs   The year we stop taking sides

Erin Millar   The bottom falls out of Canadian media

Amy Webb   Journalism as a service

Ole Reißmann   Un-faking the news

Taylor Lorenz   “Selfie journalism” becomes a thing

Mathew Ingram   The Faustian Facebook dance continues

Ray Soto   VR moves from experiments to immersion

Mary Walter-Brown   Getting comfortable asking for money

Liz Danzico   The triumph of the small

Doris Truong   Connecting with diverse perspectives

Michael Kuntz   Trust is the new click

Almar Latour   Thanks, #fakenews

Francesco Marconi   The year of augmented writing

Emi Kolawole   From empathy to community

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Earn trust by working for (and with) readers

Katie Zhu   The year of minority media

Jon Slade   Trusted news, at a premium

Gabriel Snyder   The aberration of 20th-century journalism

Dan Gillmor   Fix the demand side of news too

Pablo Boczkowski   Fake news and the future of journalism

Alice Antheaume   A new test for French media

Amy O'Leary   Not just covering communities, reaching them

Umbreen Bhatti   A sense of journalists’ humanity

Emily Goligoski   Incorporating audience feedback at scale

Mary Meehan   Feeling blue in a red state

Moreno Cruz Osório   The year of transparency in Brazilian journalism

Libby Bawcombe   Kids board the podcast train

Mark Armstrong   Time to pay up

Michael Oreskes   Reversing the erosion of democracy

Coleen O'Lear   Back to basics

Lam Thuy Vo   The primary source in the age of mechanical multiplication

Maria Bustillos   “It’s true — I saw it on Facebook”

Samantha Barry   Messaging apps go mainstream

Kathleen Kingsbury   Print as a premium offering

Guy Raz   Inspiration and hope will matter more than ever

Andrew Ramsammy   Rise of the rebel journalist

Matt Waite   The people running the media are the problem

M. Scott Havens   Quality advertising to pair with quality content

Robert Hernandez   History will exclude you, again

Dannagal G. Young   The return of the gatekeepers

Rebekah Monson   Journalism is community-as-a-service

Sarah Marshall   Focusing on the why of the click

Megan H. Chan   Cultural reporting goes mainstream

Andrea Silenzi   Podcasts dive into breaking news analysis

Steve Henn   The next revolution is voice

David Weigel   A test for online speech

Richard J. Tofel   The country doesn’t trust us — but they do believe us

Julia Beizer   Building a coherent core identity

Carla Zanoni   Prioritizing emotional health

Trushar Barot   API or die

Margarita Noriega   From pinning tweets to tweeting pins

Amie Ferris-Rotman   Вслед за Россией

Molly de Aguiar   Philanthropists galvanize around news

Annemarie Dooling   UGC as a path out of the bubble

Sam Ford   The year we talk about our awful metrics

Joanne Lipman   The year of the drone, really

Swati Sharma   Failing diversity is failing journalism

Ariane Bernard   Better data about your users

Erin Pettigrew   A year of reflection in tech

Nicholas Quah   Podcasting’s coming class war

Rachel Schallom   Stop flying over the flyover states

Zizi Papacharissi   Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

Burt Herman   Local news gets interesting

Sara M. Watson   There is no neutral interface

Ryan McCarthy   Platforms grow up or grow more toxic

Bill Keller   A healthy skepticism about data

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting stratifies into hard layers

Keren Goldshlager   Defining a focus, and then saying no

Geetika Rudra   Journalism is community

Anita Zielina   The sales funnel reaches (and changes) the newsroom

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   News after advertising may look like news before advertising

Caitlin Thompson   High touch, high value

Dhiya Kuriakose   The year of digital detoxing

Errin Haines Whack   Chaos or community?

Tressie McMillan Cottom   A path through the media’s coming legitimacy crisis

Melody Kramer   Radically rethinking design

Claire Wardle   Verification takes center stage

S.P. Sullivan   Baking transparency into our routines

Scott Dodd   Nonprofits team up for impact

Sarah Wolozin   Virtual reality on the open web

Andy Rossback   The year of the user

Juan Luis Sánchez   Your predictions are our present

Laura Walker   Authentic voices, not fake news

Jeremy Barr   A terrible year for Tiers B through D

Lee Glendinning   A call for great editing

Aja Bogdanoff   Comments start pulling their weight

Cory Haik   Navigating power in Trump’s America

Tracie Powell   Building reader relationships

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-checking bot

Sue Schardt   Objectivity, fairness, balance, and love

Nushin Rashidian   A rise in high-price, high-value subscriptions

Mike Ragsdale   A smarter information diet

Felix Salmon   Headlines matter

Millie Tran   International expansion without colonial overtones

Tanya Cordrey   The resurgence of reach

Jonathan Stray   A boom in responsible conservative media

Sydette Harry   Facing journalism’s history

Mandy Velez   The audience is the source and the story

David Chavern   Fake news gets solved

Andrew Losowsky   Building our own communities

Hillary Frey   Forests need to burn to regrow

Matt Karolian   AI improves publishing

Andrew Haeg   The year of listening

Alberto Cairo   Communicating uncertainty to our readers