Google's Alternative Feeds, Secondary SERPs & Current Tracking Challenges

Dec 8, 2023 - 7:41 am 5 by

Google's alternative feeds and secondary SERPs

Most site owners are familiar with Discover and Google's Search Generative Experience (SGE), but Google keeps adding more ways for content to surface across its ecosystem. And with the addition of alternative feeds and secondary SERPs, it’s becoming incredibly hard to track where your content is surfacing and how much traffic is coming from those surfaces. For site owners, I’m finding many don’t realize their content can surface in those other areas, or that alternative feeds and search engine result pages (SERPs) even exist.

Below, I’ll cover some of the more prominent alternative feeds and secondary SERPs that Google has in place now, including how you can track each one (or not).

Let’s go down the rabbit hole together.

"SGE while browsing":
Google launched SGE while browsing in August, a few months after SGE in the SERPs initially launched. It's like an SGE assistant while browsing articles across the web. Beyond providing AI key points from an article, “SGE while browsing” also provides an entire SERP of content, including video. Of course, we have no idea how many people are using the feature, but it could be driving some traffic now for you.

Tracking:
Good luck. I don’t believe Google Search Console (GSC) is providing any SGE tracking overall yet, and that includes “SGE while browsing”. Here is what it looks like while browsing content across the web.

Google Sge While Browsing A

Google Sge While Browsing B

Google Sge While Browsing C

Google Sge While Browsing D

Google Explore:
I’ve covered Explore heavily in the past on my blog, and yep, it’s still there in the mobile SERPs. When speaking with site owners, I find many don’t even know Explore is triggering and how often it’s showing up for important queries. As I’ve covered on Twitter, it’s also now appearing after just a scroll or two for some queries (so it’s extremely visible in those cases). That’s important, since Explore could displace your mobile rankings.

Tracking:
Explore is actually tracked now in GSC since it’s part of the core SERP. The problem is you have no idea when your content is ranking in Explore versus a traditional SERP. But, it’s just mobile so you can track the difference in rankings per query across desktop and mobile to possibly understand when you are ranking in Explore. Here is a gif of Explore in action.

Google Explore Feed

Rankings don’t reset when Explore appears so it’s a continuation of rankings (just in a different format). i.e. If Explore triggers on page three of the SERPs, and your content ranks in the top spot in Explore, then it would be ranking #31 (or whatever rank position begins at that point). It won’t be #1 just in Explore (because there is no tracking in GSC specifically for Explore).

“New for you” and topics from Discover:
I’ve been heavily covering the new “following topics” functionality in Search and Discover, and it’s been incredibly interesting to see how that has changed my Discover feed. Once you follow a topic, you can easily tap each topic in Discover to launch a fresh SERP. But, there’s an addition to the SERP, which is the New for you feature. That feature provides a carousel of content, which could be articles, Perspectives, social media content, and more. It pushes down the traditional SERP, which is important to understand. That means your number one ranking might be way down the viewport on mobile.

Tracking:
When “New for you” shows up in the SERPs, it’s tracked just like any other SERP feature in GSC, but you’ll have no idea if the ranking is part of the “New for you” feature or just the default SERP. I really wish Google would provide a filter in GSC for that feature since following topics will yield “New for you” for many queries. As of now, you might see some content jump to number one (the ranking of the “New for you” block), but you might rank lower when the “New for you” carousel doesn’t appear.

You could also compare mobile to desktop for specific queries, which might help you understand when you’re ranking within “New for you”. But overall, good luck making sense of this from a tracking perspective. Here is a screenshot of "New for you" in action.

Google's New For You SERP Feature

Discover’s new ‘split feeds’ (“Following” versus “More stories”):
With Google recently launching the ability to follow topics, which connects Search with Discover, there was a new addition to the bottom of your Discover feed.

First, at the bottom of your feed there are two buttons now that lead to a “Following” feed and a “More stories” feed. The “More stories” feed has always been there in Discover, but the “Following” feed is new. The “Following” feed provides more content based on topics you are specifically following, while the “More stories” feed provides more content from your standard Discover feed. You can think of both as secondary Discover feeds.

Also, Discover now provides a module in the middle of your feed presenting a number of topics to follow. You can also access your “Following” feed from that module.

Tracking:
Content in both the “Following” and “More stories” feeds are tracked just like the main Discover feed. So you can know when you content is surfaced in Discover, but you won’t know when it was in the “Following” feed, “More stories” feed, or just the standard feed. Welcome to Google Land. :)

Google's Split Feeds in Discover

Conversing with SGE:
When Google’ search generative experience triggers based on a query, you can continue to converse with SGE at the bottom of the answer. When you either tap a follow-up question, or enter a new question, Google provides another answer, which can include additional links or carousel of content within the new answer.

When conversing with SGE, the user is getting a more specific answer based on digging deeper after SGE’s initial response. And, if they end up visiting your site from the follow-up question, then they theoretically should be a more targeted visitor (since they are going deeper with SGE on a specific topic).

Note, this is also where I saw a new ad format in SGE show up in November. It was clearly a test since it only triggered for a short period of time. It contained a carousel of articles and was labeled “You may also like”. It’s important since we know Google has explained they want to test more ad types in SGE, including sponsored parts of an answer. This was the first new ad type I have seen in SGE. Stay tuned on that front.

Tracking:
There is no tracking for SGE yet. So the links in the main SGE answer are not being tracked in GSC, and follow-up questions can’t be tracked either. Google has their work cut out for them with how to best track this feature. First, you have multiple types of links to third-party content (carousels and then links within answers). And then you have a potential click through rate problem for Google (and the optics might not look good for them). For example, if Google provides the CTR of answers in SGE, then that could reveal how much traffic is being siphoned from third-party sites. It should be interesting to see how SGE tracking shows up in Search Console. Again, stay tuned.

Google's SGE Converse Mode

Conversing with Google's SGE

“Things to know” SERP feature:
With the addition of following topics in Search and Discover (covered earlier), I’ve noticed the “Things to know” SERP feature showing up more and more. It’s usually right underneath the “New for you” carousel (also covered earlier). And this feature has its own layers of complexity.

First, the typical “Things to know” feature contains several subtopics that yield a featured snippet-like result that typically links to one third-party site. But I’ve also seen a more complex version of the feature, which is like “Inception for featured snippets”. That’s when multiple featured snippets are embedded within a single “Things to know” subtopic. It’s wild. When triggering the subtopic accordion, you can see multiple featured snippets with highlighting to give users more perspective about a topic. And if you want your head to hurt, check the tracking section next (if you dare).

Tracking:
First, this is being tracked in GSC now, but like I said when I shared about this on Twitter, good luck tracking the complexity of the feature... First, you have the “Things to know” SERP feature, which contains multiple subtopics. But then some versions contain multiple featured snippets within each subtopic. So following traditional GSC tracking for Search, all of the links will take on the rank of the parent SERP feature, which is “Things to know”.

And even if there are multiple featured snippets within one subtopic, they will also take on the parent SERP feature rank. As an example, if “Things to know” ranks #3 in the SERPs and has four accordion tabs, and if the fourth accordion tab contains four featured snippets, each would still take on rank #3. That’s because they would take on the rank of the “Things to know” SERP feature. So, it’s not exactly super-granular tracking… but at least it is being tracked now in GSC.

Google's Things To Know SERP Feature

Featured Snippts Layered in Google's Things To Know SERP Feature

More layered featured snippets in Google's Things To Know SERP Feature

Chrome following feed (new tab in Chrome for mobile)
When you trigger a new tab in Chrome for Android or iOS, you are presented with two options for the feed that shows up. You can view your Discover feed or you can view your “Following” feed, which contains content from sites you have specifically followed via Chrome’s follow feature (story here). Articles are organized by publisher and you can even see additional content that Google thinks you might be interested in (even from publishers you aren’t specifically following). It’s like a more targeted Discover feed. The follow button in Chrome is available in English in the US, New Zealand, South Africa, UK, Canada, and Australia for Android, and just English in the US for iOS.

Tracking:
I don’t believe this is being tracked in Search console, since it’s not Search or Discover. Regarding how many people use the feature, it’s hard to say, but users can access the “Following” feed from Chrome when triggered a new tab. Therefore, I’m sure some traffic is coming from the articles listed there. It would be great to see some type of tracking in GSC for this, but traffic levels might be so low that Google hasn’t prioritized tracking for the feature. Again, stay tuned.

Chrome's Following Feed

More content in Chrome's Following Feed

Summary: Do you really know where all of your Google traffic comes from?
Well, there you have it… a number of alternative Google feeds and secondary SERPs that are tough to track in Search Console. I’m eager to see tracking show up for some of these features, although Google has their work cut out for them with how to best present the data. And although there are a few of those feeds or SERPs being tracked in GSC now, it’s still challenging to surface that traffic specifically. I’ll be sure to share new findings over time. Stay tuned.

 

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