Welcome to episode 296 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Kingston Duffie from Slickstream about Google Web Stories.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with our Member Success Manager, Leslie Jeon, about developing consistent, standardized recipes for your food blog. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Have you heard of Google Web Stories? Are you creating them for your content right now? Do you know how they work?
Slickstream’s Kingston Duffie is here on the podcast to talk about how creators can utilize them today! He’ll chat about his top tips for creating engaging Web Stories and getting the most value out of the Web Stories you create for your blog, as well as the ins and outs of how these Web Stories work within search results.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How Slickstream works
- His approach for building businesses
- What he thinks about the future of the web
- The history of Stories on the web
- How to repurpose your social media Stories for Web Stories
- The elements of a successful Web Story
- Why creators publish Web Stories
- What Google Discover is and how it works
- How Google Web Story views translate to website traffic
- How UTM tags work
- 231: A Better Experience – Building Engagement, Not Just Traffic with Kingston Duffie
- Pinch of Yum
- Web Stories, not Web Teasers
- Google App on the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store
- How Web Stories Appear Across Google
- Google Search Console
- Web Stories plugin for WordPress
- Slickstream’s Engagement Suite
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].Learn more about joining the Food Blogger Pro community!
Transcript (click to expand):
Bjork Ostrom: Hey folks, Bjork here. Excited to share an episode this week with a repeat guest, somebody who was on back in December, of 2019 when the world was more normal. The great thing is Kingston Duffie from Slickstream has continued with his team to build an incredible product in Slickstream. If you want to hear more about Slickstream and what it is, and just the idea of building engagement and not just traffic, check out episode 231. That’s foodbloggerpro.com/231. If you want to jump to that episode, we call it A Better Experience – Building Engagement, Not Just Traffic.
Bjork Ostrom: In this episode, we’re actually going to drill down into a really specific thing that has been trending within the publisher space, not just food sites, but a lot of times you’ll see it on food blogs and recipe sites, but it’s stories. It’s actually an old medium in a new place, which is the web. We were really familiar with it in places like Instagram or Snapchat or Facebook, but it’s starting to decouple from just being connected to apps or social apps and you’re starting to see that show up around the web.
Bjork Ostrom: We’ve been experimenting that with Pinch of Yum, and we’ve seen a lot of other people experiment with it as well. We talk about how to do stories well, why it’s important, what the benefit is and some of the ways that it can translate into income for your site. It’s a great interview with Kingston Duffie from Slickstream. Excited to jump in. Kingston, welcome to the podcast.
Kingston Duffie: Hi, Bjork.
Bjork Ostrom: Good to have you here. Really excited to chat. We’re going to be talking about all things stories, but you were previously on the Food Blogger Pro podcast and were chatting about your story. Can you give the elevator pitch because you’ve been at this startup game for a really long time and you talk about that in-depth, it’s episode 231 at a time when the world was a very different place in 2019. So we’re to think back to that, but if people want to check that out, they can go to foodbloggerpro.com/231 to check out that episode, but your quick story, Kingston, your backstory and where you are right now with Slickstream.
Kingston Duffie: Sure. So Slickstream has been around for a few years now. We’re in Silicon Valley. I’m in Palo Alto, California and we’ve been focused on really the next generation of where the web is going in general. In fact, I come from a sequence of startups here in Silicon Valley. I’ve created a few of them, and this is one that I created a few years ago, and we tried a few different ideas until we landed on this question of what is going on with the next generation of content on the web.
Kingston Duffie: So we looked to see where we could help and what we realized was there’s a lot of people creating really good content out there, but in terms of the structure of a lot of websites, there’s a lot of things missing. So we’ve found what I think is a pretty good place for us at helping web publishers make their websites better by making their content more accessible to their visitors.
Kingston Duffie: So we’re all about this thing called content engagement, which is how do people coming to your website find the stuff that they didn’t realize you had, or if they’re looking for something very specific, making sure they find it well. So those kinds of things are what we really focus on and we’re what is called a SaaS, software as a service. So we’re something that sits up in the cloud and provides a service on top of your website.
Bjork Ostrom: Well, it’s been so fun. I’ve had the privilege of advising, just from a publisher perspective. So it’s saying like, here’s, in our specific niche, in our specific industry, some of the things that we were saying. So have a vested interest as an advisor, but also as a user of Slickstream in the success of the company. It’s been really fun for me to work with you because one of the things that I see that is so clear is being data driven and what’s been inspiring is seeing how willing you are to let an idea go if it’s not working. It seems like man, you spend time and energy creating something, but then you can let it go but what happens is then you get to this point where you have these things that are working really well.
Bjork Ostrom: We were just talking about that before, like the ad revenue impact, starting to get into analyzing that and being able to see here’s how that lifts things. We were talking about that on desktop and doing a lot of like AB testing. Can you talk about your thesis, this is me geeking out on it. When it comes to building a company, when it comes to a startup, what does that look like for you in these early stages, as you’re finding product market fit and having to make hard decisions, but also move quickly? What does that look like for you as an entrepreneur?
Kingston Duffie: That reminds me of a meeting I had many years ago with one of the big venture capitalists who ended up being on one of my early boards of directors, a guy named Jeff Yang. Jeff really is a very insightful guy about the startup world, and I remember him saying to me … He was by this point on our board of directors and he said, “Well, what we’re really looking for is the fast moving water.”
Kingston Duffie: I thought about that a lot and realized that to some extent, there is forcing yourself to a place where you’re profitable or you’re growing fast, or there’s simply allowing yourself to float around in the river until you catch a current. I think that it is a combination of those two things, that you have to be willing to paddle around really hard, but if you’re not paying attention to where the current is, you’re not really going to catch the big opportunity.
Kingston Duffie: So the letting go is all about the fact that you’re sitting over in an eddy in a pool on the side of the river and you’re paddling like crazy, but you’re just not going anywhere. You have to be willing to just try a different direction, and then all of a sudden you find yourself I’m in the middle of a current. So in the case of Slickstream, we had tried a number of different things. Like one of the early things we tried was this idea that we would allow publishers to establish what we call the Guild, where they would work together and create this new idea of a joint subscription where instead of being ad based, maybe they make money by creating a publication that spans many different publishers.
Kingston Duffie: I love that idea. This idea that maybe you can make money through subscriptions where you, yourself are too small, but in a team of other bloggers, you could make money. We had to let it go because at the end of the day, that wasn’t the way the market was working. That wasn’t the way it was going at that time. That idea might come back again at someday, but that’s an example of where you just need to let it go and move on with the way things work today.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that you talked about as your focus is focusing on where the web is going and specifically around publishing and for us it’s blogs, but publishing can look like a lot of different things. Would you be able to speak to that? It’s like a really big question. Where do you think the web is going, or is that too big of a question?
Kingston Duffie: No, it’s the right question. For a number of years, especially after the iPhone came out it looked like the whole market was saying, “Oh, the future is apps. Everything’s going to be apps and the web is just going to be old fashioned websites for companies.” There really was this stream of consciousness, at least in Silicon Valley where if you’re doing web stuff, that’s old school. Everything’s apps. What we’ve really seen in the last few years is a recognition that apps really, really are successful for specific purposes, but in terms of where innovation is happening it has really come back to the web. I think that the big reason for that is it’s so accessible. Every device you have has a browser on it, and your experience on any different device is the same on the browser.
Kingston Duffie: Whereas you get to the app world and is there an app for it, and I still have to install the app and I don’t have that on this device. It means that apps are slowing down in terms of innovation and the web is continuing to move fast. So I think we’re going to chat about Web Stories today, and that’s one example of something that I think is coming on fast and heavy on the website, because everyone can innovate on a relatively level playing field. So I’m excited about the web because it’s a core set of technology and there’s no one company that completely dominates and that makes for a great position for companies like us that are small.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting to think about back to when apps first came out and I can imagine that time and it’s like, the thing was, I have an idea for an app. Or it’s like, have you seen this app or downloaded this app? That’s still true today, but I think it’s shifted more towards functional, like it’s Uber or it’s Instagram. It’s really a specific purpose as opposed to maybe something that’s catch all that you use for everything like the web, but then there’s also-
Kingston Duffie: That’s right, and I think a lot about apps are … I was just going to say that a lot about apps are something that you’re using multiple times per week. That’s a great example of where an app that has a very specific purpose is really great. It’s these infrequent used ones that are the problem.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, but there is such thing as a web app and that would be like an app that’s run on the internet. You use a browser and you log into it. That would be something that would be like Slickstream. So you said software as a service, would you say that’s synonymous with web apps? So it’s an application on the web software as a service. Do you see those things as the same thing?
Kingston Duffie: Yeah, I think when I hear the word web app, what lights up in my mind is this distinction between flat content and interactive content. Of course that’s a blurry line, but at one end of the spectrum, you have an old fashioned webpage that’s just some photos with some text around it. At the other end of the spectrum, you have a webpage that you’re really interacting with and it’s animated content. As you click things, it does different things. It’s really an app. So the nice thing about the web is it’s that same technology.
Kingston Duffie: It’s just, do you want it as just marked up content or do you really want it as something that’s interactive? So I think that we’re in the business in fact of intentionally bringing those two things together. So if you look at a food blog, for example, the focus of the food blog might be the recipe card and the photos that go with it, which is relatively static content. The recipe isn’t changing, but look at that recipe card.
Kingston Duffie: Now there’s a button on it that will change units from English to metric, or there is something that will dynamically calculate nutrition for you or quantities. Those are already interactive elements coming into the web, and we just take that a big step further so that when you think about dynamically populating content inside that page, search is a great example of that is I want an interactive experience. I don’t just want static search results. I want to see them change as I’m typing that kind of thing. So we’re really trying to bring the best of the web to the world that used to be old fashioned.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the thoughts that I love when I think about Slickstream is this … Like you said, most sites, most blogs, especially food and recipe sites, relatively static. Static, meaning you go to the page and then you see the text, you see the photos and maybe you see a video from YouTube, or if you have a video player, maybe that’s loaded in, and that’s the extent of the interaction, but what’s exciting to me is evolving that and starting to become, whether it’s more animated or to engage more. You can see that with Pinch of Yum, if you go to Pinch of Yum and an example would be search, like you said. So Slickstream has super powerful search. So we can go and I can search … I have it pulled up right now.
Bjork Ostrom: I could search taco and it automatically pulls up the top results. It’s filtering as I’m doing it, much like you’d expect other search engines to kind of be giving you kind of real-time feedback. You can also see like, hey, I just want to see the category of tacos so I can click into that. Another example is you might go into a post and if somebody is doing this on Pinch of Yum, you can look at it and you can scroll up. Then when you scroll up, there’s this little thing called a filmstrip, which gives recommendations on similar recipes. So it’s this layering effect that happens and brings a little bit of life to your content. Also, you can favorite a recipe and store it.
Bjork Ostrom: So it’s all of these things that are giving life to content that otherwise would be pretty static which is really fun to see. One of the things that you talked about was this additional element of stories and the interesting thing, when you think back to apps, stories comes … It originated with apps. I think probably first it would be Snapchat and then Instagram essentially copied it, but can you talk about the history of stories and now how, and maybe why we’re starting to see that show up on the web and get pulled out of apps.
Kingston Duffie: So as you were saying, I think it was back in 2015, 2016 that Snapchat and then Instagram started this idea of so-called stories, and it went from there. The background for those guys were photos, but of course by 2016, videos were becoming a big thing too, in terms of social media sharing. I think what people realized is that, and I think the Snapchat guys really found something, which was this idea that an interesting photo is great or even an interesting video is great, but what I really want to do in a social media sense is know about you and you is your day.
Kingston Duffie: So the old Snapchat stuff, a story was simply the collection of the photos from some day last week, that was your story that day. That has evolved since then to this idea of a more intentional story in the sense of just like when you watch a Hollywood movie, it has an arc, it is a story. It has a beginning, a middle and an end, and it’s engaging because you’re interested in that story, what happened.
Kingston Duffie: So you can have the old-fashioned stories, which were the collection of photos from your day when one thing happened and then later in the day something else happened, but an intentional story is really something where you are thinking creatively about how to tell a story that has that arc. So today’s stories that are now coming to the web, I think are influenced by that idea of let’s make these things a more intentional thing, and the web now brings them to everybody.
Kingston Duffie: I think that the issue in social media was, they’re trapped inside your social media feed, and now we really want to see, look, I’ve got a website and all the people that are coming to my website, I’d like them to see those stories I create. So I think that the history of it as being a social media centric idea is … And of course stories are still very big in social media, but I think now what we’re seeing is whether it’s bloggers or even corporations, people are starting to see the compelling value of having these little story arcs that are told in images and videos on a very short format, as opposed to long form video.
Kingston Duffie: Something that is very consumable, and that has a very intentionality that I want to tell you a little story and it may take you 15 seconds, or it might take you a minute and a half, depending on how interested you are, but then it’s going to be over and we’re done with. So the web is a great vehicle for making that happen and we’re interested in being part of that.
Bjork Ostrom: One of my favorite things is to think about the outline or the short, short history of the web in relation to media. It’s like really early, it’s text and it’s links, and that’s what it is. Then it evolves to, hey, you can include these really light graphics maybe, and then eventually it’s photos and then you can get really grainy videos that just can barely stream. Eventually you can get to a point where bandwidth is available in enough places where you can pretty reliably stream video.
Bjork Ostrom: So then video becomes important. What’s interesting for me is stories feels like, not the first, but an early version of something that is very much so like media, that wasn’t brought into the web to replicate something else. So I think of a video and it’s like, we’re used to TVs, so it’s horizontal.
Bjork Ostrom: Then we had our computers, it’s horizontal, and then you have your phone. It’s not horizontal, and I remember for a while, I don’t know how long ago, but there’s this thing where it’s like, oh, you’d give your uncle a hard time because he takes a picture with his phone or a video and he holds it upright. He doesn’t turn it to do it horizontal. It’s like, “Well, you got to turn it horizontal to get the video.” It’s kind of the opposite now where like, everything is built in a way where you’re assuming that you’re watching it or consuming it on your phone and stories, being an example of that, and also the nature of tapping back and forth between it.
Bjork Ostrom: My question is like, what does that look like? How does that work? Because a video it’s like you play it and it just runs. Instagram stories, they build that into their app so that you can interact with it in a certain way. How do you go about doing that functionality of adding text and going back and forth and even embedding when you take it out of the app?
Kingston Duffie: So that’s the neat thing about the web is that it’s … The underlying, the core technology of the web has just been evolving quietly in the background for years. So there have been standards emerging to make all of this stuff work really seamlessly, just as you were saying. So for the case of I’m authoring, the web is an interactive place now. So as you were just talking earlier about a web app, well, that web app can be an authoring experience. It can be a way in which you can create new content.
Kingston Duffie: So one example of that, I think that is going to be familiar to some of the people listening is inside WordPress, if you’re using WordPress as your CMS, as your content management system, it itself is a web app. It’s an interactive place where you’re authoring content.
Kingston Duffie: Maybe you’re just writing your new posts for your website, but it’s also a place where you can author new content. Likewise, now in Slickstream, some of the new stuff we’re doing with stories, that’s a very interactive experience. It’s a place where you can also author these stories inside Slickstream and then put those on your website. So I do think we’ve gotten to a place now where you don’t have to think about what is an app anymore.
Kingston Duffie: You might be thinking, oh, I’m going to use my phone to record some video, but that doesn’t have to be recording it in the context of, let’s say Instagram. You could just be recording it straight onto your phone or recording it in fact, right inside a web app. So it’s pretty neat.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. So I think people will be familiar with stories. They’ve maybe use Snapchat, use Instagram stories. What you’re seeing with people using Slickstream, or even just Web Stories in general, are you seeing people essentially just like pull down their Instagram stories and then upload those to have them be stories online or are you seeing people create original stories that are meant to be for the web, maybe a little bit of both? What are you seeing?
Kingston Duffie: We’re in this early phase of stories on the web. So we’re seeing all of the above. The easiest thing for people to do starting out was if they were already creating Instagram stories is to simply repurpose that content onto the web. So suddenly Instagram might make your stories go away after 24 hours, but there’s no reason that has to be the case on the web. So that’s an easy way, which is go take the content you already have for Instagram, and just repurpose that onto the web and create a web story that is very much the same thing, except that now you just can show that as pages inside your website.
Kingston Duffie: I think we’re also seeing that there’s no reason to have to view it that way. In fact, I think it’s actually better to be thinking, what is the story I’m trying to tell in maybe in a web context and that might not even be the same kind of story, but I don’t need to go to Instagram to go capture that. I can just go capture that directly in the web if I want to do it that way. So it’s really up to everyone as to what they’re trying to accomplish.
Kingston Duffie: For some people, they’ve got a lot of Instagram content and they’d like to repurpose it. For others, Instagram isn’t a big part of it, and there’s no reason they have to start that way. They can just start directly on the web if they want.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s one of the things that I love about stories is I feel like the perceived barrier to entry is lower because there’s something that happens and this is the nuance of content creation in the web, but there’s something that happens that feels more informal in a good way when you’re recording a story and you can record it in little snippets. It doesn’t have to be a two-minute video that you edit, and I think it’s a great way for people to step into video creation is as they’re making a recipe, pick up your phone along the way, press record and just record the steps and talk over it.
Bjork Ostrom: You don’t need a bunch of equipment. You don’t need really good lighting. Most of the phones have really good cameras and you can upload that into multiple different places, but now the good thing is you can put that into a blog post, but my question is, what is the benefit of this? So obviously it’s good to have video. It creates engaging content. It helps to explain abstract ideas. Are people supposed to embed this in a blog post? Do you upload it and then Google just magically find it, and if they do, how are they treating it? What are they doing?
Kingston Duffie: Those are all good questions, but in fact, I was stimulated by your previous point I just want to come back to it for a second. A lot of people are used to long form video. We might use the word YouTube, these things that are two to five minutes long, high production values traditional video format. We’ve all watched them. A lot of your listeners I’m sure have created those things and we have a lot of preconceptions about them. I just want to come to this interesting point, which is the most natural thing in the world is to say, “Well, I know how to do that kind of stuff. I guess I’ll just make stories out of it.”
Kingston Duffie: What you were saying is really a critical point here, which is the human nature of people watching stories, and I can tell you now we’ve got thousands of stories that we’ve seen data on. That the stories that do the best are the stories that are the least formal in the sense that people are engaged by other people, and when we see a story that features for example, the publisher, him or herself, just talking about what they’re doing often with their face on screen, those tend to be much more engaging for viewers.
Kingston Duffie: I think that’s just about human dynamics, as opposed to a highly formalized, highly edited long form video. It just seems that social media has taught people, I’m interested in people. Now, they probably are also very interested in the recipe you’re creating, or maybe it’s even a story about your dog but they’re interested in the real world. So just as you said, I strongly encourage people to just get in there and start and not be uptight about creating a highly structured, beautiful formerly edited thing.
Bjork Ostrom: Go ahead, finish that thought.
Kingston Duffie: I was just going to say that from there, a lot of things just emerge, which is once you’ve agreed that you’re not trying to do a highly edited thing, you find that the stories just flow out then, and I was going to mention in particular that Lindsay, your wife is particularly good at these. If I were going to recommend anybody to look at some examples of some great stories, it would be hers.
Kingston Duffie: She really has a great presence in terms of being interesting to listen to her talk about what she’s, whatever the subject happens to be. I’ve seen a lot of other stories being created that look a lot more like, oh, I’m going to show a picture of step three and overlay some text explaining what the ingredients are. That might be useful. It might be functional, but it’s not very engaging by comparison. So I do encourage people to just be themselves and who cares whether your hair is perfect looking? People are interested in you.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. I was having a conversation with Andrew from NerdPress on, I think it was a live Q&A, and he was talking about Web Stories. He’s like, “Google actually used on one of their web creator series, Lindsay’s story, as an example.” So I was like, “Oh my gosh, that’s so awesome.” So we pulled it up and it was actually about this idea of a web story, not a web teaser. Can you talk a little bit about why people were creating these stories as teasers to content and maybe what your recommendation would be around an actual story all the way through versus just a teaser to get people to content?
Kingston Duffie: This is probably the biggest question that’s lurking out there right now. I should mention, by the way, this is very relevant that we’re actually hosting a Q&A session in a few weeks with Google. We’ve been working with Google and their stories team, and a lot of people have been asking us, “Well, which way should I make these things? What’s going to get me the most traction?” They’re often asking us questions that are about how Google will or won’t do things.
Kingston Duffie: So this is going to be great opportunity if people are interested, and I’ll just mention that if you’re interested in getting involved in that Q&A session, we’re going to have a sign up at www.slickstream.com/events and you can just go there and sign up, but it’s open to everybody. I think they’re going to be on that call so they can answer a lot of questions as well-
Bjork Ostrom: It’s rare that you are able to get that phone line into Google. So I’d encourage people to check that out. Again, just to reiterate so people, and we’ll include this in the show notes as well, slickstream.com/events, and you’ll have the signup info there.
Kingston Duffie: That’s it.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay, great.
Kingston Duffie: So coming back to your question and in fact, your previous question is also exactly on point, which is why am I doing these Web Stories? In my view, there are three reasons. One is, I’m going to create a web story because I’m hoping it’s going to drive more traffic to my website, and a lot of people want that because of course they make money from people visiting their website. So acquisition is one reason to do Web Stories, and the reason for that would be that Google, in search or in what is called their Discover feed might expose your web story.
Kingston Duffie: Let me come back to that in a minute, but acquisition is one reason, and the second reason is engagement, which is, I already have people on my website every day and I know I have these Web Stories and if I can use the Web Stories to keep them more interested in my content, to keep them longer on my site, that’s got to be a good one. The third reason is direct revenue itself, and this is probably what Google is pushing more than anything else, which is the idea that Web Stories themselves can have ads integrated inside the Web Stories. So they could be a way to generate new revenue that you haven’t had before because of ads inside the Web Stories themselves.
Kingston Duffie: So those are three different reasons to do a web story, but in answer to your question, and the question of teasers. So there’s a, what is the story and this could be … In fact, I often like to say a web story is a very much aligned with a children’s book. Have you ever thought about a children’s book? I’m sure you have a lot lately, Bjork.
Bjork Ostrom: Totally.
Kingston Duffie: A children’s book is a short thing. Often let’s call it, eight to 12 pages long. Each page just has a few words on it and a pretty picture. Boy, that sounds a lot like a web story, and it’s not a coincidence. This is a highly consumable thing that is meant to engage young children and it needs to be visual. It needs to have of an arc. The kid wants to hear a story about the dog or about the day at the beach.
Kingston Duffie: So the web story is the same thing. It’s meant to engage you and tell you a story. So on this question of teasers, so think of a teaser as a story whose main job is to get you to come back to a website. So if I see a web story up, for example, directly inside a Google product, like Google Search or Google Discover and I say, “Oh, that’s interesting. I’m going to go and look at the corresponding recipe.”
Kingston Duffie: Obviously they go to the recipe and now that publisher is going to make sense money from the advertising that’s being presented on the recipe. So this is the teaser concept where I don’t really want you to be finished when you watch the story. I want to bring you to somewhere else. The trouble with teasers are, a teaser is inherently an advertisement.
Kingston Duffie: You’re advertising someone to come to do something else, and the trouble with a teaser is it isn’t very satisfying in and of itself. We know that Superbowl ads, for example, can be extremely interesting. People will watch the Superbowl just to watch the ads, but these are highly produced ads. They put-
Bjork Ostrom: And a lot of times they are stories.
Kingston Duffie: They are stories because those advertisers know that getting their brand snuck into something that is very engaging can work, but hard to do that. So I’ll give you my opinion, which is if you create a story that is extremely engaging in its own right, front to back, you’re definitely going to have viewers who are more interested as opposed to a teaser, which would be, here’s three photos from me making a recipe and please come to see the full recipe.
Kingston Duffie: Let’s call that a teaser, as opposed to while I was making the recipe today, a funny thing happened and let me tell you how this recipe really works and isn’t it really interesting that if you overcook it, here’s what happens. That’s a story. The advantage of that story as opposed to the teaser is, you’re going to really engage people. They’re going to be interested in that story and you’re going to get people viewing it.
Kingston Duffie: What you may not get is the people who are saying, “Oh, I just need to see the rest of the details on this.” So they will definitely come to your website. It is my view right now, without much data to back it up, that this is like the Superbowl ads. That in some sense, to the extent that you’re showing these stories up in Google, it’s still going to work in your benefit, even if it’s not just a teaser, because you’re going to be building your brand, and some fraction of those people are going to say, “Wow, I really loved this little story that Lindsay told, and there’s a link back to our website. I’m going to get to know more about her. So I’m going to go anyway.”
Kingston Duffie: So I’m a strong believer of tell great stories, and it will work out for you in the long run. I have just one other comment, which is to the extent that your stories are meant to be vehicles for engagement on your website, then of course they make the most sense being self-contained interesting stories because they’re all about engagement then in that case.
Bjork Ostrom: That makes sense. One of the things that I think is important to think about is like, what is the motivation of the platform that is creating these? For Google, the motivation is to have something that is as engaging as possible to keep them around and consuming it. You see that with YouTube where the way that you perform well on YouTube is to have content that people watch and that keeps them on YouTube. Even if for a while, kind of like short teaser type content within stories works where maybe you get more traffic from it or impressions, it feels like eventually Google’s going to be like, “That’s not what we actually want. We’re just not good enough now to realize when it is a teaser and when it’s not.”
Bjork Ostrom: My guess is that over time they would artificially or use the algorithm to make sure that the reach of those aren’t as high, as opposed to something that somebody watches all the way through. They’re really engaged with, and they would reward that. That’s a little bit of a guess, but you see that over and over with different platforms. One of the things I want to go back to, you talked about these three things, traffic, engagement and revenue.
Bjork Ostrom: I think the revenue piece makes a lot of sense, working backwards from that. At some point, you’ll be able to put ads in against these. You’ll be able to monetize them, maybe similar to YouTube. There’ll be a revenue share. I also wouldn’t be surprised if you could do like, inject your own ad network or whatever that might be. So still kind of early on that. Engagement, obviously it’s like, you want people to stick around, especially if you have it embedded in your site. It allows people to interact with media in a certain way.
Bjork Ostrom: The traffic piece, I think is one that’s interesting and there’s two different ways that I want to go with this. One is talking about the difference between Search and Discover, and if we could do that first, and then the second piece is something that’s maybe important for people to be aware of it. Depending on how they’re using Web Stories, you might see traffic that’s considered traffic to your site, but that’s actually Web Stories impressions, which I want to talk about just so people are aware of it. So let’s talk about that idea of Discover versus like a Search result right now. For those who aren’t familiar, can you talk about what Google Discover is?
Kingston Duffie: Yes. So a lot of people are most familiar with Google as a search engine, of course, which is go to google.com, type something in, or go into your browser and just type a search. Those are all Google Search results that you’re going to see. Google on its mobile devices, in its mobile app. So if you on your phone go and install Google, what you will get is the Google app and the Google app has … While you can just search in the Google app, its default mode is to show you a feed called the Discover feed.
Kingston Duffie: In the Discover feed, it’s showing you things that are like a social media feed, things that Google thinks you’re just going to be interested in based on your recent viewing and searching experience. So those might be news stories, or they may be articles from different publications or new webpages that have been published. As an option in the Discover feed, you have to actually go into the settings in most cases and turn it on, but if you do turn it on, there will be about one or two pages down in your feed, a horizontal carousel of stories.
Kingston Duffie: That carousel, I think currently shows seven or eight stories in a little carousel, and if you click on one of those, it actually right there shows you that story and you can step through that story. If you keep going, you’ll step into the next story and that will be video or images as story pages telling you that story. So that’s your Discover feed, and as I mentioned, you’ll have to go into settings to actually turn on to see the stories feed. If you want to see it inside your Discover feed.
Kingston Duffie: I should mention that Google has only turned this on for a subset of countries, which includes the US and a couple of others. So they’re still on a rollout plan for stories. It’s pretty new to them. So we’ll see that roll up worldwide quite soon, I think.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting to see where Google is … What they’re using as the playground and the beta tests or alpha tests or whatever you’d want to call it, where you see this happen where they experiment in certain areas and then maybe roll it out to reach more people or not. In this case, I would say, hey, they probably will and to your point, Google Discover being one of the main areas where that’s happening, but also you’re starting to see, I can’t think of any specific search terms right off the top of my head, but you’re starting to see stories pop up in actual search results as well. Do you know of any off the top of your head that trigger an actual story in search results?
Kingston Duffie: I just did this recently and I found a few and I’m forgetting as well. Maybe I’ll get back to you-
Bjork Ostrom: We’ll put some in the show notes-
Kingston Duffie: And you can post a couple at the bottom of the podcast.
Bjork Ostrom: Just to see what it looks like. It’s kind of interesting to see how they’re starting to include those in the same way that they would do video where you know that it’s a video when you click on it, but in this case it’s stories. So my question is how does that actually work from a traffic perspective? So we’ve talked about, it could show up in Discover, it could show up in search, but when somebody clicks on it, does that register as traffic to your site? At what point are you able to track the impressions around it? How does that translate at that point?
Kingston Duffie: So when Google created their implementation of this, they built it on top of, what they call their AMP platform. That’s an acronym standing for accelerated mobile pages. The idea of that was if you create your Web Stories according to their specified standard, then when they are showing you a web story inside a Google product, inside Google Search or inside the Discover feed, they will not be touching your website when they do it. They will have already pulled the data from your website once, and they’re feeding it out of the cache on their side when they show it to you in that way.
Kingston Duffie: So the only way in which you know whether they have been displaying your story is that it will show up in your Google web console. They have a specific tab in the Google Search console that is called Discover, and if you click on that Discover tab, it will show you how often your stories have had an impression, meaning how much they’ve shown up in a feed and what they call it clicks, the number of times that they have showed that story to someone.
Bjork Ostrom: A click is not a click to your website, necessarily. A click as somebody’s clicking on the story to watch it.
Kingston Duffie: That’s exactly right. So that means they’re seeing it inside the Google product.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep. It’s interesting, I’m pulling this up for Pinch of Yum and you can see it’s kind of like old days of Facebook where it’s like, whoa, a big spike here. Monday, December 21st is big for us. Pinch of Yum had 9,000 clicks and 900,000 impressions. So that means people saw a Pinch of Yum web story, a story in Discover probably, 90,000, times clicked on it essentially 10% of the time or it was 900,000 times and clicked on it less than that. That would be 1% of the time.
Bjork Ostrom: But you see this information in search console and what’s interesting for me is like, then it kind of drops off in February and like midway through February, we don’t have any clicks and that might have to do with like us not uploading them as frequently, or maybe just stuff not getting surfaced or Google just experimenting in different ways. So how does that click in view of the site translate to an actual impression on the website?
Kingston Duffie: So in a web story, the story is self-contained meaning I see the page, I click to the next page, I go all the way through the story. Just like you’re old Instagram stories, there are ways to get out of the story to somewhere else. In fact, in a web story, they make that much nicer because you can just make clickable things anywhere you want inside the story and those can link directly back to wherever you want.
Kingston Duffie: In your case, they would link back usually to a corresponding page at Pinch of Yum. Sure. So those clicks are clicks from someone being on a Google page or inside a Google app back to opening a webpage on Pinch of Yum. Unfortunately, and I’ve raised this with the Google folks, they’re not very good at telling you how often people are explicitly clicking through from the story to your page.
Kingston Duffie: You have to infer that from looking in your own Google analytics for your website, that they have arrived on your website and even then, they’re not very good about giving you refers to tell you this one came from the Discover feed. So it is right now, still not a great system for giving you the analytics to do that. When we are hosting these stories, we have added a UTM tracking code into the URLs that link back to your own webpages so that you can actually see, this is coming because they’re clicking on one of those links in one of my stories, but even that’s kind of imperfect today and we’re still working on better ways to do that.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. So for those who aren’t familiar, UTM basically is a way to communicate to Google where something is coming from. So you’re saying if somebody creates a link in Slickstream in a web story, you’re automatically adding a UTM. So when they open up … Email services do this as well. When they open up Google analytics, they can go and they can look and they see, does it say like Slickstream or Slickstream stories or what is the UTM category?
Kingston Duffie: Yeah, it’s a Slickstream web story, I think it is.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay, great. So then they can see, hey, great. I published 10 Web Stories and I know in Google Search console that I got 100,000 clicks. Maybe it was a really active month for you in Web Stories and you had some that went viral on the Web Stories, but then you’ll be able to go into Google analytics and say of those 100,000 clicks on the Web Stories, maybe 5,000 of those actually clicked over to go to my site.
Bjork Ostrom: So you can start to see the different steps along the way and you can also see to your earlier point, it might be less about thinking, how do I just get people to my site and more about thinking, how do I make my brand as prevalent as possible on all the different platforms? One of which would be Google in the form of stories.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about something that came up, that’s a little bit of a bummer for the accuracy of analytics. For anybody who is, at least last time that I knew, using the Google Web Stories plugin. So you can do this in Slickstream. Slickstream will host the videos, but you can also do it using the Google Web Stories plugin and edit and publish in the same way. Two things with that.
Bjork Ostrom: Number one, you are then hosting them on your own site, so much like you would an image, but in this instance, it’s a video, which is like very bandwidth heavy. So just a little tacking on a yellow flag to that, but two, there’s also some implications, as far as I understand around the impact of your actual Google analytics stats, if you are hosting those on your own site. Is that right?
Kingston Duffie: That’s correct. So inside every webpage on your site today, or on most sites today, is a Google analytics tracking code. That means that every time someone loads that page, an event fires off to Google analytics, and that’s how all that data comes about. When you look at your own Google analytics dashboard, it turns out that for Web Stories, a web story is a webpage. It has its own URL and in fact, it has a tracking code on it as well.
Kingston Duffie: So in the Google web story plugin, there’s a setting where you fill in your Google analytics tracking code, and they will use that as they create the webpage, which is that story for you. The trouble is if you use the same tracking code that you normally do for the rest of your website, that means that every time anyone sees a web story, it looks to your Google analytics like that is another hit on your website, and it is in some sense, strictly true.
Kingston Duffie: Someone has loaded one of your Web Stories, which is like loading a webpage, but I think for a lot of publishers, that will be very confusing because by their nature of the Web Stories themselves don’t have ads on them. So if you are looking at your RPMs for advertising, for example, you’re going to see a lot of potential webpage hits, but you won’t see any advertising that goes with those because there’s no ads on the Web Stories themselves.
Kingston Duffie: So one really easy option for that is to simply not populate the Google analytics tracking code in the Google Web Stories plugin, if you want to avoid that confusion or another option is to go into Google analytics and to set up a filter so that it’s explicitly putting those page views for your Web Stories into a different category or leaving them out entirely.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s one of the things that I think most folks wouldn’t think about, but that’s nice with Google analytics is they have the different, the hierarchy of your plans. You have an account and then you have a property and app, and then you have a view within each one of those, but if you create a new property, you could have that just Web Stories and then you’ll get a new, unique Google analytics ID that you could drop in there. So then you can get all that data and it won’t mess with the property stats for your actual site.
Bjork Ostrom: So for those who are using the Google Web Stories plugin, two things that would be important to point out with that. Number one is the fact that you’re hosting it on your own website and in your own hosting and still to be determined, especially if you have something go viral, what that looks like in terms of bandwidth usage. I’m not familiar with that, but something to be aware of. Then two, that Google analytics code there.
Bjork Ostrom: For Slickstream, it’s different. You’re hosting all of that on your own and in turn, paying for all of the associated costs that go with hosting the video and serving the video. So for people who use Slickstream, they don’t need to worry about any of the Google analytics stuff. Is that right?
Kingston Duffie: Yeah. So this is a part that warrants just a minute or two. Slickstream, for the services we provide to our customers today, we have this product, which is called our engagement suite, and we have enhanced that product to do search and content discovery, like our film strips that show recommended content and so forth. All those features are just part of our standard product and we’ve enhanced those now, so that if your site has Web Stories, we can do a nice job of highlighting those Web Stories inside your website. This is a part of which Google is extremely excited about because they really would like to see the web adopt Web Stories in a big way, and they think that having Web Stories deeply integrated into websites is really valuable. So that’s why they’ve partnered with us.
Kingston Duffie: So we’re helping in terms of wherever those Web Stories are hosted, if they’re your Web Stories, we’re making it really easy for you to highlight them inside your own site. So for example, we have a widget you can place on your homepage, which is a beautiful carousel of all of your stories and we can add a widget that gives you a new page on your website, which is a place to look through all of the stories you have.
Kingston Duffie: We have widgets for embedding your stories inside your posts, if you’d like to have the associated story. So we do all of that as part of our standard product and those could be stories that you created using Google’s plugin, or they could be stories created with some other third-party because since stories are standard, anybody can create and host these stories.
Kingston Duffie: Then there’s a separate thing. We created a thing called Slickstream Stories because we were hearing from a lot of our customers, just what you said, Bjork, which is, “Hey, I like these stories, but I’m scared to death of hosting them and all that video content on my own domain. That if my server is already under powered and it’s now going to have to serve up all this video, that’s a big problem for me.”
Kingston Duffie: Also, we’ve heard a lot of complaints that people find the Google web story plugin as an authoring tool. It’s beautiful, but it’s extremely complicated. So we created Slickstream Stories, which is a separate product and it’s a place where you can go and it’s very similar, it’s in the web, but it’s very similar to how Instagram Stories are created. Much simpler, and it’s very lightweight and we do all the hosting of the content itself out of our own servers.
Kingston Duffie: So you’d never have to worry about that. So this product is still in beta, although we’ve now got I think 100 different customers that are using that product now, and we’re hosting their stories for them. Those stories that we’re hosting can be used just alongside mix and match with stories that you create using Google’s plugin as well. So there are those two pieces of it and we’re trying to help on both sides.
Bjork Ostrom: Great. That’s awesome. The authoring experience being such an important thing, because if it’s a clunky difficult experience, you’re going to be less likely to do it. So if you are interested in doing it, my encouragement would be to find the path of least resistance and know that you guys do a great job with that. I could jam on this stuff forever Kingston, but I suppose at some point we need to put a ball on it.
Bjork Ostrom: A good next step for folks, I think who are interested would either be to check out Slickstream if you haven’t yet, or to check out that event that you’re doing with Google. Can you just plug that one more time and also let folks know if they do want to check out Slickstream and learn a little bit more where they can go.
Kingston Duffie: Yeah. So start at www.slickstream.com and that’s our main homepage and you’ll learn a little bit about our main products. If you are interested in this upcoming event related specifically to Web Stories that we’re doing in concert with Google, go to the /events page and you can sign up there to make sure you’re a candidate.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Kingston, as always really great to chat. Thanks for coming on the podcast.
Kingston Duffie: Really enjoyed it, Bjork. Talk to you soon.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s a wrap for this episode. Kingston, thank you so much for coming on and it’s been great to see Slickstream building through the years and also for us to benefit from that as a creator publisher. Really appreciate all the work that you and your team are doing on Slickstream. If you want to check out any of the show notes at any time, go to foodbloggerpro.com/podcast. We have all of the podcasts there.
Bjork Ostrom: You can easily search through all of the old archives and see all the additional resources that we wrap around each one of these audio files. So be sure to check those out, if you want to dig a little bit deeper and we appreciate you and tuning in every week, we wouldn’t be able to do this podcast without you. That’s a wrap. Make it a great week. Thanks.