Publishers have a new platform traffic darling: Google Discover, a feed of recommended content that appears on all of Google’s mobile homepages, and loads every time a mobile Chrome user opens up a new tab in their browser.
This past October, Google Discover drove more traffic to Vogue’s international editions than Google Search did, said Sarah Marshall, head of audience growth for Vogue International at Condé Nast. The change was most pronounced in India and Mexico, where Discover accounted for more than three-quarters of the traffic those titles got from Google properties. Discover also drove large chunks of traffic in other markets, including in France for Vogue Paris. The growth is not confined to foreign markets either. John Shehata, vp of audience development for Condé Nast, said that he’s seen up to 20% of his U.S. sites’ Google traffic come from Discover over the past few months.
Like most referral channels, the upside varies from publisher to publisher. A Vice spokesperson said that Vice was “excited” about Discover as a place to find more audience, calling it a “valuable” and “steady” referral source, while a source at a search-focused publisher, who asked not to be identified while discussing Google, said that while Google Discover was intriguing, that traffic from the channel came erratically.
“No one is counting on it yet,” that second source said.
A source at a fourth publisher said that the gains they’d seen from Google Discover were promising, but they were difficult to predict, partly because they’d been unable to detect different behavior among the visitors they were getting through Google Discover.
Those caveats aside, publishers said they saw a prospect for long-term stability in Discover, which they saw delivering relatively loyal audiences and monetization that, through AMP, could at least be somewhat steady from a monetization standpoint.
“We all know the risks with algorithms,” Marshall said, adding that it seemed as though Google was still experimenting with it. “But I think this is here to stay.”
Though there are no clear explanations for why Discover has been a bigger hit abroad than in the United States, Marshall and Shehata believe that the mobile device and browser markets play a role. In countries where Discover is starting to drive the strongest results, Android has staked out a dominant share of the mobile market. In India, for example, Android dominates the mobile phone market, with a 94% share, according to Statcounter data. In the U.S., by comparison, iOS accounts for a slim majority of the mobile ecosystem, and Chrome, Google’s browser, has a strong, but not dominant, share of the mobile browser market — 45%, according to Statcounter.
“It’s a UX thing,” said Hamlet Batista, the CEO of search compliance tool RankSense. “On iOS, search is a tangential thing. In Android, it’s a search-driven OS and experience.”
Teasing out which traffic comes from Google Discover, as opposed to another corner of Google — like Google News — is still difficult. Two months after launching Discover last year, Google changed where Discover’s referral traffic came from, moving it from discover.google.com to a few different areas, including the Google Quick Search Box and a separate domain, called Google APIs. Publishers with large Discover audiences are able to get certain insights about their Discover traffic using Google’s Search Console, such as information about which of their content performs well there and how often their content appears in Discover. But the insights are proprietary and are delivered in the form of a report, rather than raw data.
“It underscores the ways in which Google is acting more and more like an aggregator,” said Kelsey Arendt, a senior market analyst at Parse.ly.
But that traffic is worth teasing out. On average, 27% of a site’s visitors that come through those Google channels are return visitors, a higher percentage than any social channel, according to analysis conducted by Parse.ly.
Despite the unpredictable nature of the traffic, publishers appear to be most excited about Discover because of its ability to build familiarity and habit among readers. Early data compiled by publishers suggests that each user’s Discover feed is personalized based on content users have searched for or read in other Google products, such as Google News. Google Discover could potentially turn into something that builds habits and loyalty to a certain brand. Out in India, Vogue’s editorial team writes content optimized for both Google News and Google Discover.
“It’s nascent,” Marshall said.