Google BERT — the latest algorithm update from the search engine — has raised numerous questions for marketers. Marketing teams have been left wondering how the algorithm’s natural language processing (NLP) would affect their SEO ranking, and which content marketing strategies will still work in the future.

Along with SEO changes, however, Google BERT brings an additional top news carousel to the search results page. And with Hubspot revealing that 75% of users never scroll past the first page of results, this carousel could become critical for companies to get noticed and drive brand awareness. Marketers, therefore, need to consider what this news carousel means for their content strategies in 2020. That’s why we’ve asked SEO experts what the top news carousel is, and how brands can get their content included in it.

What Is the Top News Carousel?

“Google’s top stories carousel is an algorithmically curated collection of top news stories relevant to your search,” Greg Barkley, SEO & digital PR director at Effective Spend said. This content includes a thumbnail, headline and publication date, which is placed above the organic search results. “The top stories carousel,” he continued, “is Google’s way to quickly give users the most recent news about the topics they are researching.”

While not all keywords have a top stories carousel, topics that often have news coverage are candidates. “If there is no Top Stories Carousel to begin with,” suggested Alexander de Ridder, CTO and co-founder of INK, “your strategy should involve getting your entity covered in the news more frequently.” That’s because the carousel can always be added later if there’s enough news coverage for the topic. 

A Google search on the topic of artificial intelligence

How Brands Can Get Their Content In the Top Stories

The ability to get your content displayed in a visually appealing way above the normal search results is enticing for marketing teams. That’s why we’ve asked the experts their best tactics for getting your content selected. “There are no guarantees,” Barkley warns, “but there are a few things you can do to improve your odds.” 

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Use accelerated mobile pages

Accelerated mobile pages (AMPs) use Google’s web development framework to speed up websites for mobile devices. “Utilizing Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is an important factor,” explained Zaine Clark, SEO account manager at Seer Interactive, “and helps Google display content with faster load times to satisfy searchers.” Barkley agreed, “This is a requirement right from the Google Developers Guide.” To enable AMP, brands can create a second version of their web pages with simplified AMP HTML and AMP JS, then publish it to a CDN.

Learning Opportunities

Speed up your site

“If you don't want to use AMP,” de Ridder said, “focus on page speed.” That could mean using static site generator (SSG) and CDN, or simply moving away from legacy web technologies. “Just like any of their search results,” Barkley added, “Google wants to give their users content that is relevant from websites that work well.” That’s why improving site performance is crucial for the Google BERT update.

Publish news-like content

“Most sites earning placements in the ‘Top Stories’ carousel are news-like sites and not necessarily brands,” Clark said. A brand’s press releases and other news, however, could still be considered by the algorithm. “Google will only select content that’s designated as an article, live blog, or news video,” Barkley said, “and these designations are made via your structured data.” That’s why he says you want to correctly mark up your structured content so the algorithm recognizes it as news.

Submit content to Google News

“Submit your website for inclusion in Google News,” Clark suggested. This isn’t a requirement to get content in the top news carousel, but it’s a best-practice that doesn’t take much additional effort. “[Google] will include your non-Google News in the Carousel,” de Ridder explained, “only if Google can't find enough Google News sources for the topic.” Since Google BERT prefers Google News content, there’s usually no reason not to submit content to the platform.

Users Take the Front Seat

Google continues to release periodic updates like Panda and BERT that change SEO rankings, but the end-goal has always been to improve its understanding of user intent. “What this means for SEO is that content creators should focus on creating experiences for the user, not Google,” Barkley said. SEO tricks may have worked in the past, but each update means fewer of these will work so marketers need to place more focus on the user experience going forward.

“BERT is just one update in a larger trend” de Ridder agreed, “where Google tries to find only the best possible answer for each search.” Publishing relevant and engaging content with your audience in mind, therefore, is better than worrying about each new algorithm update.