What to Expect from Google’s Top Stories Carousel Update

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By Boris Dzhingarov

The Top Stories displayed in the Google search results for AMP has proven popular. So much so that Google is now using its Top Stories Carousel Update to implement it for non-AMP regular article pages and posts.

As the number of additions above-the-fold and above the Top 10 search results continues at a pace, website managers and the business owners behind them worry what the latest change will mean for them. That’s a fair concern.

Here are our thoughts on what to expect with this latest update to the Google search engine results pages (SERPs).

Page Experience Update Changed Things

The much-anticipated Page Experience update rolled out around the middle of June 2021. Included in this update was a change for the inclusion requirements in the Top Stories feature.

While it was previously necessary to offer an AMP version of your website to potentially feature in the Top Stories, that’s changed. Users on a smartphone or tablet will now be able to see non-AMP pages featuring as a top story too.

The change is a curious one because the previous emphasis on AMP was due to page loading speeds. However, in many circumstances, only the largest brands have implemented it due to the time involved in doing so. Also, AMP heavily restricts what can be included on the page, including certain types of advertising, so it was seen as potentially cutting into revenues streams.

Many sites have avoided it in favor of other speed tweaks to their site aimed at faster mobile loading times. This did exclude them from showing up in the Top Stories, but that’s no longer true.

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Is This Good News for Publishers?

Site owners and publishers may love or hate this latest tweak to highlighting interesting content by Google in the SERPs and elsewhere.

AMP-ed Up Sites

For site owners that went to the trouble of getting their site AMP HTML compatible, having exclusive access to Top Stories with the potential to feature was a nice perk. Just like extra vacation time or additional data on your 5G package, who doesn’t like little extras or exclusive access?

However, like most things in life, it’s come to a halt. So, for site owners that previously enjoyed exclusivity amongst other AMP-ready sites, it feels like a bitter pill to swallow.

Non-AMP Sites

For site owners that saw other sites’ content showing up in Top Stories, the latest update is a welcome improvement for them.

Certainly, the chance to potentially see newer content appearing in the SERPs will offer additional opportunities to drive traffic to that article, and perhaps with visitors deciding to click-through to another article for longer on-site metrics too.

Of course, there’s no guarantee of the article showing up at all. It’s just possible now, whereas it was not before. For site owners previously excluded from that possibility, it’s better than nothing!

What Content Provides the Best Opportunity to Be Seen?

Topical news-related content is likely to continue to show up as an interesting story over older content.

Just like with other news originating from the Google platform, they heavily favor recency over long-form, original content published years ago. Therefore, large sites that can feed the news beast with tons of relevant stories targeting specific search terms will see continued success.

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With that said, content must be relevant to the topic. If it offers poorly created information that lacks substance and doesn’t provide useful facts, it’s unlikely to show up at all.

Do Page Experience and Core Web Vitals Scoring Matter?

If you think about it, Google was pushing its AMP HTML format originally but has decided to step back from that intention. That’s possible after many site owners have chosen to put time and money into improving their site performance for the Core Web Vitals update. When this happened, AMP becomes a little less relevant.

Google is going to prefer content on sites that loads faster. So, their Core Web Vitals provides as good a way as any to do so. However, that’s always backward-looking up to 28 days, whereas the content that’ll show up as a promoted story likely will be newer. So, the Page Experience scores will also come into play too. Likely, Google will need to consider scoring for the site as a whole because a published story yesterday is too new to have any scoring yet.

Get the Article Schema Markup Right

Google will be relying on schema markup for the article to quickly understand the basic information behind it. While they can scan the page and figure out most of it, it’s helpful when it’s in a standardized format. This is where schema markup comes in.

To have the best chance to feature, it’s beneficial if an article comes with structured data that follows the schema standard for articles or blog posts, respectively. This will include details like the author of the piece, who the publisher is, when it was published, and a summary of the article.

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Failing to include schema markup reduces the likelihood of a new article appearing as one of the Top Stories. Schema markup can be added manually, with the help of a schema generator, or using a WordPress plugin like Schema Pro or Schema and Structured Data for WP and AMP; these will add the markup automatically for your team.

Closing Thoughts

The latest change to Top Stories is mostly a positive one for website owners. While there’s the possibility that other sites will grab more of the clicks from the SERPs and the top 10 SERP results will continue to see continued erosion, that’s been true for years now.

The declining click-through rate has been obvious over the past decade as additional features were added to the SERPs. This has progressively taken the focus away from the search results and re-directed attention to Google properties and alternative content. At least with the latest change, more sites have a chance to show up and drive meaningful traffic to their sites rather than be excluded due to technological incompatibilities.