Understanding Google’s In-Depth Articles in Search

Google’s search results page (or SERP, as we call it) has become increasingly more complex over the years. From the rise of localization and personalized search to Google’s own injection of results via Knowledge Graph and answer boxes, you’d be hard pressed to generate the same results twice with the multitude of factors in play. One of the less touted, but nonetheless valuable, features of the modern-day Google SERP is the “in-depth articles”.

Introduced in August 2013, the in-depth articles are a subset of results that highlight long-form content for topics (usually generic in nature) that a user might be trying to research. Traditionally these have appeared in packs of three and towards the bottom of a SERP. According to a Google Webmaster blog on the feature, “users often turn to Google to answer a quick question, but research suggests that up to 10% of users’ daily information needs involve learning about a broad topic.”

In the context of today’s Google SERP, here’s how you might see in-depth articles appear on a search for “barack obama” (and if you have a hard time distinguishing them, you’re not alone. More on that later):

In-depth articles for Barack Obama

For a user, this is a great opportunity to delve into some meatier content beyond just a quick answer. But if you’re a publisher or webmaster, you’re probably more concerned with joining their ranks and showing up for some potentially valuable fat head keywords.

How to Appear Within In-Depth Articles

No doubt the prospect of surfacing your strongest content within a special set of search results is alluring. Google offers specific guidance that will help them understand your content as clearly as possible and increase your odds of appearing in the pack. Here’s a hit list of optimization factors:

  1. Schema.org Article markup. Google has increasingly relied on structured data as a means of extracting valuable information from websites. In the case of in-depth articles, they’re looking for the following attributes via Schema.org Article markup: headline, alternativeHeadline, image, description, datePublished and articleBody. While Google is not currently displaying images in the in-depth articles pack, it’s actually a required element per their documentation for article rich snippets (thanks to Aaron Bradley for the observation). Best to include it to ensure you’re meeting their guidelines.
  2. Pagination and canonicalization. In short, use the “rel=next” and “rel=prev” properties if your content is paginated to consolidate indexing properties of the full set of paginated URLs. Moreover, if you have a “view-all” version of your content that you want to see indexed, be sure the canonical URL on each page points to it. What you don’t want is for pages 2 and 3 of a three-part series to specify page 1 as the canonical, as you risk pages 2-3 not getting indexed at all.
  3. Logos. Like images, logos were once featured in the in-depth articles pack but have since visibly fallen to the wayside. However, best practices here are to either link your Google+ Page to your website and set your logo as the default image, or specify a logo using organization markup.
  4. Restricted Content & First Click Free. This is going to be more applicable to publishers that run on a subscription model or require users to register before viewing their content. Since this can inhibit Googlebot’s ability to properly crawl and index your content, Google asks you give a “free pass” of sorts to users, allowing them to access the article – and only that article – when they click from Google or Google News. The concept, called First Click Free, is well-documented should you need to implement it.

Google Authorship mark-up was also once a best practice here, but was removed once the feature itself was retired.

Of course, this doesn’t replace the importance of optimizing your content for search in the traditional sense. And while major news sources seem to receive top billing, publishers with great content that abide by best practices still stand to rank within in-depth articles.

A Look at the New In-Depth Articles

Like all things Google, a search feature is never truly set in stone and can go through various phases and appearances. In-depth articles are no stranger to this concept, and early last month they received a visual overhaul whereby the section title and article images were dropped from the pack.

Here is a before-and-after comparison on a search for “kim kardashian”:


In-depth articles for Kim Kardashian (Before)


In-depth articles for Kim Kardashian (After)

Save for the faint grey lines above and below, in-depth articles are now near indistinguishable from standard organic results on the page. This isn’t the first, and likely won’t be the last makeover of its kind for in-depth articles, but it’s certainly the most inconspicuous we’ve seen them. It will be interesting to see how this impacts their click-through rate over time and if Google chooses to reinstate some distinguishing factors.

Have you found in-depth articles to be valuable, either as a publisher or a user? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet us @Clickseed.

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3 thoughts on “Understanding Google’s In-Depth Articles in Search”

  1. Nice piece; a quick note on what you say here:

    “While Google is not currently displaying images in the in-depth articles pack, I wouldn’t suggest removing the markup if you already have it in place.”

    What Google at one time called in-depth articles have, as you’ve noted, been supplanted by this unnamed article “pack”, and also augmented by a new category of article rich snippets, described here:

    As per those specifications, the schema.org/Article property “image” (along with “datePublished” and “headline”) is not only supported, but required.

    All of this to say I’d recommend following the markup recommendations for article rich snippets as the successor to the probably-deprecated in-depth article specifications. They’re substantively identical, but by respecting the Article properties required by article rich snippets you’re making yourself eligible for them, even if you’re targeting in-depth articles. What’s good for the goose, as they say, is good for the gander.

  2. Thanks for reading, Aaron! It’s a pleasure to hear from you.

    I think that’s a sound observation. Google is a bit notorious for either making changes or phasing out features under the radar. That being so, by keeping tabs on their “latest and greatest” guidance, you can ensure your content is always primed for visibility — in this case, by optimizing for Article Rich Snippets. I’ll be updating the post with that clarification, in light of your feedback.

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