When Snapchat pioneered the Story format, making it a core part of their app, few thought this narrative format would expand as it did. First it was Instagram, where it’s now used by 500 million people, then WhatsApp and Facebook, Medium, Skype, YouTube, and now even LinkedIn has included that format. In 2018, Google included stories as part of the AMP specification, which allowed publishers to use the web story format in their storytelling online. In May 2020, Google rebranded AMP Stories to Web Stories, in a bid to strengthen its position as the default story format for desktop and mobile web and possibly expand its usage beyond publishers.

What are Google Web Stories?

A story is a visual narrative format consisting of a sequence of images and videos with text and / or audio. You can split the content in a sequence which the audience will see in the order you specify. The next part will be shown to users automatically after a few seconds or when the user taps or clicks.

Web stories don’t disappear after 24h, as opposed to stories in Snapchat or Instagram, which allows publishers to apply this format for evergreen content as well.

The technology behind web stories by Google is AMP, which means it has all the benefits from AMP:

  • It can be embedded on any website
  • It will work on any browser, mobile or desktop
  • High loading speeds
  • Discoverable in Google

Features of Google Web Stories

Google Web Stories are a powerful online storytelling format with some unique features:

  1. All web stories are HTML pages with a unique URL. This means that they can be shared and embedded anywhere, as with any other web page with a permalink.
  2. In a Google web story you can include all sorts of visual content: images, sound, video or animations.
  3. A web story can be indexed by search engines and surfaced to answer a user’s query. Google mobile search engine presents them in a search snippet for Top Stories when searching for a news-related search query.
  4. Web stories can be made responsive, which means that they will adapt to the screen size of the user.
  5. You can add links and calls to action anywhere on a page. This helps to drive engaged users to continue their journey on your site.
  6. You can add a final page, called the bookend, in which you can add social sharing and related links.
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How do you make Google Web Stories

For larger publishers, or for those with the necessary resources and the technical expertise, crafting your stories from scratch with HTML, CSS and Javascript following the Google AMP standard will be the preferred path.

Coding your own web stories gives you flexibility, control over the end product, and easier integration with your existing CMS and codebase.

For small publishers who don’t have technical resources or expertise they can leverage but still want to implement this format on their site, there are a few drag-and-drop, no-code tools you can use to build Google Web Stories.

Great examples of Google Web Stories

The best way to experience the power and versatility of this format is to look at great examples from some established publishers:

Portrait mode examples

These stories were made to be experienced through a phone screen. They can be accessed by desktop, but most of the screen space available is not used.

How To Craft Powerful Storytelling With Google Web Stories

BBC News –  Hong Kong’s Post It protest. Some of the pages have video, with an image fallback for when it can’t be loaded or the bandwidth is not enough to download and play the video. The bookend directs the reader to more content related to the Hong Kong protests and the BBC News homepage.

How To Craft Powerful Storytelling With Google Web Stories

CNN World – Bastille Day: How it inspired centuries of civil disobedience. It has a complete byline with publication date, and each picture is credited to photographer and agency. It has much more text than the example from the BBC.

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Responsive examples

These stories were crafted as responsive, so they expand to fill the screen size available. Other elements, like the prompts to read more, may also change to instruct the audience to tap, instead of click.

How To Craft Powerful Storytelling With Google Web Stories

Washington Post – The historic SpaceX launch of NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. This is a very visual web story employing high-quality pictures and videos. Not all pages have text, and those who do have text use the previous image as background. The bookend includes production credits as well as related articles.

How To Craft Powerful Storytelling With Google Web Stories

The Telegraph – My Singapore story. This piece is a bit different as it’s native advertising for tourism in Singapore. The story has animation in text and images and short looping gifs instead of videos which makes it visually attractive and eye-catching. After the web story is finished the user can explore more sponsored related content on the Telegraph site.

How to monetize Google Web Stories

To insert ads in a Google Web Story, you need to configure an ad server which supports the inclusion of ads in a web story. As of 2020, the only public ad server you can use is Google Ad Manager (previously known as DoubleClick). You can also choose your own ad server to present ads in your Web Stories, which allow you to insert custom ads from your own advertising clients. Then an algorithm will decide when and how many ads to insert, depending on how many pages there are on the story.

Another option for monetizing Google Web Stories is to include affiliate links in the web story or publishing sponsored content.

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Tracking performance of Google Web Stories

You can include analytics code to track behavior and user engagement on each web story, gather audience insights like device or browser and even identify individual users.

Using this information you can analyze the performance of each web story and know at which page people stopped reading, when they interacted with the content, and how many consumed the whole content. You can also look at aggregated data to find patterns and find out whether your audience prefers longer or shorter stories, which kind of stories work best and which kind of visual assets are most effective in retaining your audience’s attention.

Google Web Stories are a bridge between social and web narratives

With Google Web Stories you can employ an engaging format that people are already used to in mobile and social media. Developing Web Stories for your site is easy for publishers of any size thanks to easy-to-use, no-code tools for authoring stories. And their benefits go beyond a nice user experience, as their loading speed and format make it a perfect candidate for a stellar SEO performance.

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