January 23

New Google Search Features Indicate a Rising Importance of Visual Content

Online marketing


While everyone was scrambling to salvage what they could from the disastrous financial results of 2020 with holiday campaigns, Google was working on a few surprises of its own. We already know that the search engine giant is preparing a new ranking algorithm for January 2021. But that is not all. For all intents and purposes, Google appears to start favouring visual content.

This conclusion comes from two key changes to the search engine interface. The first one came into effect in October 2020. Google launched its own Stories section on the mobile search interface for both Android and iOS.

What Are Google Stories?

With 800 million monthly users, mobile Google search is one of the most active online platforms. This prompted Alphabet (the umbrella company for all Google products) to add more interactive features to keep users engaged.

The success of the Stories visual content format on other platforms (Facebook, Instagram) was probably reason why Google decided to add this new category in its mobile search interface. Google Stories work just like the format you already know: short videos or photo carousel arranged in a row and allowing users to tap to advance to the new screen or to a different story. Publishers can also add links to their Stories directing users to their website.

The format itself existed since 2018, when Google launched its Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). This is an open source project which allows publishers to create mobile-optimised visual content. Now Google is starting to display curated AMP content, renamed Web Stories, in selected pilot regions.

Visual Content Is Taking Over Google

At the present, over 2000 publishers have their visual content featured in Google Stories. This feature is currently available for mobile users in the USA, Brazil and India. Top media companies such as Forbes, USA Today, Bustle and Lonely Planet are already sharing Web Stories.

And this not the only way in which Google is pushing towards more visual content at the top of its search results interface. Recently, the search engine started another pilot project, which focuses on aggregating video content from other platforms.

Introducing the Video Carousel on Google Search

The feature, documented by Tech Crunch and a few other specialized social media/search engine media companies, appears to show a carousel of short videos posted on Instagram and TikTok. They managed to reach a page displaying the video carousel after performing searches for a well known American football team.

This new move by Google is in line with its strategy for indexing visual content from various social media platforms. In 2015, Google and Twitter formed a partnership for indexing tweets and displaying them as search results.

Is Visual Content the Future of SEO and Local Search Ranking?

Let us now take a step back from these new additions to Google and look at the bigger picture. We have known for decades that a picture is worth 1,000 words. Later on, video started climbing the popularity ladder. Now there are many to hail video as king of content.

However, video has posed a few challenges for content creators for years. The first one is how to create video content without expensive equipment and special training. Powerful mobile phone cameras and intuitive video editing apps solved this problem.

The second issue is that visual content does not contain written words – the core element of online searches. The rise of voice search has partly solved the problem. Also, there are many text fields available for visual content published online:

  • File name
  • Image/video title
  • Image/video caption
  • ALT text.

Key Considerations Regarding the Role of Visual Content in Google Rankings

So, what do Google Stories and the video carousel test project mean for marketers and business owners? It is clear that Google wants to become just as attractive and interactive for users as social media platforms.

No longer satisfied to become a starting point for visits to other websites, Google wants to give users reasons to spend more time on its own platform. And visual content is the best bet in this respect.

What, then, should you do in order to prepare for a future where visual content may be the battleground for ranking? This is our opinions, supported by other SEO and social media specialists:

1. Embrace the Short Video Format

It’s time to learn to become a videographer for your business. Using free tools like Google AMP and various video editing apps, you can create high quality, educational, informative and entertaining short films.

The content topics are absolutely unlimited, from short interviews with your team to product unboxing and behind the scenes snippets from an event you are hosting.

2. Explore New Social Media Platforms

Despite (or maybe because of) the controversy in the United States regarding its ownership and warnings about data collection and usage, TikTok is becoming increasingly popular.

What started out as a platform where kids would post 10-second funny videos has grown into a community as diverse as that of all the other social media platforms. It has also become a gathering place for brands that want to attract younger consumer groups with marketing messages thought outside of the box.

3. Consider New Advertising Formats

In yet another open beta project, Google now allows publishers to sell Stories ads through the Display Network. Until now, ads could be sold only through the Google Ads Manager platforms.

As you know, the Display Network represents the partnership between Google and over 2 million websites which will display Google ads. According to Google, the Display Network sites reach more than 90% of the internet users worldwide.

4. Master Short and Keyword Rich Captions

As we explained above, you can still keyword optimise visual content through the text fields required for publishing on social media platforms or your own WordPress website. This requires a special copywriting skill: writing short and engaging texts, which attract the users’ attention and determine them to tap to watch.

It is not easy to craft such texts, especially in view of the fact that you also have to include your relevant keywords. However, it is something that you must learn and only practice makes perfect.


At the present, Google Stories are available in only 3 countries and the video carousel is in the test phase. However, we have no doubt that visual content will become increasingly important on Google.

It is clear that the search engine is on the brink of diversifying its search results to satisfy user intent. And users show a market preference for videos, which are self explanatory and break down the language barriers.

As always, our recommendation to our readers and clients is to become early adopters of all new changes that Google is planning. It is the only competitive edge small businesses have on a market dominated by big brands with huge marketing and advertising budgets. Visual content appears to be the future of Google ranking, so start creating it now!

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