Google Web Stories has its own official plugin for WordPress now. But what are Web Stories? How do they work? And above all: is it worth using them for my site?
The anticipation is great, the promise even greater: Google Web Stories are now more easily accessible for internet users. Google wants to make its Web Stories available to a wider audience with a new plugin for WordPress.
In theory, all WordPress users can now create their own Web Stories without programming skills and reap the benefits the format promises: better reach, higher engagement rates, and more traffic. But what exactly are Google Web Stories?
Stories on the internet: a success story
Many people are already familiar with the story format from various social networks such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and WhatsApp. As short visual content, they attract more attention and higher engagement rates, especially among mobile users. Every day on Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, users share about 500 million stories.
The recipe for success is quite simple: stories offer information in an easily digestible format and users can intuitively consume them by swiping. For content creators and companies, they provide an interactive visual format to communicate with their followers. It therefore comes as no surprise that Google is now also expanding its Web Stories.
Google Web Stories: inspired by social media but with more benefits
Google describes the Web Story format as follows:
"A Web Story is a visual storytelling format in Google search results that takes the user to a full-screen view where they can view the elements in sequence. Web Stories can also appear in Google Images, Discover, and in the Google App."
A preview, or even the whole story, is presented directly in the search results, in a new bite-sized format.
Since this summer, Google Web Stories have been appearing in the form of slideshows with a short text on Google's mobile search on Google Chrome. If a user is interested, all they have to do is go to the preview and they will be taken directly to the story.
Web Stories offer a particularly immersive user experience and provide content creators with new ways to make their content interesting for users, thereby also improving the user experience.
Differences between Web Stories and social media stories: longevity and SEO effect
Google hasn't simply copied the story format from social media. Google Web Stories offer users not only an interactive visual format but also many other advantages that have a direct impact on SEO and, in turn, on traffic and conversion rates.
In contrast to the mostly short-lived social media stories, Google Web Stories remain in the search results and don't disappear after a certain period of time. Also, users don't need to use a specific app to view Web Stories. They appear organically in mobile search results on Google Chrome.
At a time when content creators are striving to get mobile users out of apps and back to their websites on browsers, Google Web Stories are highly valuable as they play directly in the browser.
The Google format enables a significantly greater reach than social media stories. You can reach far more users with a Google search than with, for example, an Instagram story. At the same time, you can also improve your visibility faster.
Another important difference to Instagram and other social media platforms: Google Web Stories is based on an open source approach from the AMP Project.
AMP Stories: open source allows universal access to the format
AMP is a slimmed-down programming format derived from HTML and is specially designed for mobile devices. Google introduced AMP in 2015. AMP websites load much faster on mobile devices, even with low bandwidth.
Logically, this also applies to AMP Stories, more specifically Google Web Stories. Users have easy access to information through this format. Google's Web Stories allow users to get a first impression of web content before they decide to take a closer look.
For websites, Google Web Stories are a novel way to better convey their content, improve their search engine visibility and thus increase traffic. It's possible to include an affiliate link in Google Web Stories so this format also opens up new revenue opportunities.
Positive feedback from first beta testers
Major US media companies such as CNN, the Washington Post, and even online magazines like Mashable and Wired were among the first beta users to work with Google Web Stories. They've shown what's possible with the format. The magazine Wired, for example, published a story entitled Space photos of the week recently.
In this Google Web Story, users are presented with a slideshow containing various photos of space with short text passages. This is an elegant and very user-friendly way to guide users through image galleries.
But longer formats with up to 30 elements are also possible. A Google Web Story from the San Francisco Chronicle, for example, tells the story of ballet company and its dancers. This Story combines short texts, pictures, archive photos, and videos. This is all very appealing visually. For users of mobile devices with small screens in particular, it's far more comfortable to take in longer content in this form, bit by bit, than in large blocks of text.
The possibilities for presenting content visually with Stories are endless. The feedback from beta users has so far been very positive. Greg Manifold, design director at the Washington Post reports:
"Web Stories allow us to showcase our quality journalism when there are several elements we want to bring together. Combining reporting, photography, video and moving graphics gives readers a more visual entry point when they're looking for our media coverage.
But up to now, there's been one big catch to integrating Google Web Stories: they are unfortunately rather complicated to program.
While this may not pose a problem for large publishing houses, it's certainly been an obstacle for the average content creator. This is exactly what the new Web Stories WordPress plugin from Google aims to change.
How Google Web Stories for WordPress work
For the first time, the plugin offers a tool kit to integrate Google Web Stories into WordPress. It has been around since the summer but was only available as a beta version at first. Google has announced the beta phase is now over and the plugin can be installed directly in WordPress.
Once installed, the plugin appears in the dashboard and offers WordPress users various templates to build their own Google Web Stories using an editor.
For its Web Stories, Google has a few guidelines for the content creator to adhere to:
- Completeness: The web story must be complete, tell the whole story, and not be too commercial in nature.
- Affiliate programs: If you use affiliate links in your stories, Google recommends using only one affiliate link per story.
- Length of the web story: Stories must be between a minimum of five and a maximum of 30 pages - you should aim for between 10 and 20.
- Title length: The title should be as short as possible; Google recommends fewer than 40 characters.
- Text: The text per site should also be short (less than 200 characters per page. Only one topic should be discussed on each page.
- Video: Videos should ideally be shorter than 15 seconds per page with a maximum of 60 seconds per page. Google also recommends adding subtitles where possible.
The templates in the plugin are of a high quality graphically and visually appealing. When you select a template, you can individualize it using the editor. Individual slides can be copied, edited, or deleted.
During editing, text or geometric shapes can be inserted. All elements can then be edited in more detail. The type, size or color of text can be customized, for example, as can the graphic elements.
You can also insert new slides. You will be given an empty slide that can then be filled with pictures, videos, or graphics from your own WordPress media library and edited. In order for the stories to appear in connection with a particular article in Google searches, however, you must link them together in WordPress. This is done in five steps:
- Create a post in WordPress.
- Build a corresponding Google Web Story using the plugin.
- Publish the Story via the Web Stories Dashboard in WordPress.
- In the Story preview, you can now display the Story link.
- This is then built into the desired WordPress post via a Gutenberg block element. The story block can, for example, be placed clearly visible between the title and teaser text. The Google Web Story link can then be embedded within the block.
Important: Google will only recognize the Story element for its search engine and show it to users as a slideshow if the story is embedded in the text.
If you're still not sure how to include a Web Story in a WordPress post, we recommend the following video tutorial:
Are Google Web Stories worthwhile?
As you can see, the WordPress plugin is not yet what you'd call user friendly either. Creating Web Stories takes a lot of time as you need to configure each element individually. You can't drag and drop items, e.g. snappy quotes or headlines from the WordPress text into the corresponding slideshow. There's also no way to copy them automatically.
Furthermore, there's no guarantee Google will display a specific Web Story in the search results. So far, Google hasn't been placing Web Stories as prominently as video content in search results. So are Web Stories still worth the effort?
As so often is the case, the answer is "it depends". If the source text only offers low-resolution photos instead of high-quality visual elements, the answer is more likely to be "no". This is because Google Web Stories lend themselves to high-quality visual content.
On the other hand, if visually appealing content is available, e.g. a complicated recipe or a travel report with high-quality photos, the situation is different. Here, a placement in the Google Web Stories can significantly increase traffic to your website. A younger target group may also feel more attracted by the visual presentation of the stories than an older target group. The former have been familiar with the concept of stories for years through social media.
A question of the medium - and target group
Another factor is the device the target group uses to access the content. Since Google Web Stories are only displayed on mobile devices, it's not worth the effort if target group access the website mainly via a desktop browser. This may change, however. Given the efforts Google has put into Web Stories and the success of the format on social media, it's entirely possible that Google will push its Web Stories even more intensively in the future.
If Web Stories end up enjoying nearly as much success as the story format does on social media already, it certainly won't be long before programmers offer new tools for editing and creating Web Stories. With its large plugin marketplace, WordPress offers huge opportunities here for both developers and website operators.
While Google Web Stories aren't suitable for every context, this format is a novel way to present content in a user-friendly manner. If in doubt, just give Web Stories a try and see if it's worth the effort for your own project.