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Google Web Stories for WordPress with Cathi Bosco

Welcome to Press This, the WordPress community podcast from WMR. Here host David Vogelpohl sits down with guests from around the community to talk about the biggest issues facing WordPress developers. The following is a transcription of the original recording.

David Vogelpohl: Hello everyone and welcome to Press This the WordPress community podcast on WMR. This is your host David Vogelpohl. I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine and I love to bring the best of the community to you here every week on press this as a reminder, you can follow me on twitter @wpdavidv. And you can subscribe to Press This on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Spotify, or download the latest episodes at In this episode we’re going to be talking about Google’s Web Stories. You may know them as amp stories for WordPress and joining us for that conversation is Cathi Bosco. Cathi, welcome to Press This.

Cathi Bosco: Hey, David, thanks for having me today.

DV: Awesome. Glad to have you here. I think the last time you and I spoke, at least at length was at WordCamp US in St. Louis. And I think you were asking me the questions then Cathi, as part of your UX study or something would work well,

CB: Yeah, I’m sure we were talking about a usability study.

DV: Yes, yes, that does sound like you. And so for those unfamiliar with Cathi, UX is a big part of her focus. And she’s been quite a lot of time with Google’s web stories. But in this episode of crest this, what Cathi is going to cover is really her experiences working with web stories, in particular through a project with the agency UX MVP. Cathi is also going to share her thoughts generally on what web stories are, their potential impact to the open web in the strategy, how you may think about the strategies behind using web stories and the sites Though. So Cathi, to kick us off, I asked this question of every guest. So you will be the same. But if you can briefly tell us your WordPress origin story, that would be great.

CB: Sure, well, many, many years ago, I was a illustrator and a commissioned portrait artist, and I had quite a large portfolio portfolio building up, and I needed to get my work online. And so that’s when I met WordPress. And I, that was, gosh, 15 years ago, possibly. So now I empower others with WordPress, professionally. So it’s been a great way to, you know, move from an analog career to a digital career.

DV: I like that, you know, I don’t think anyone’s mentioned that kind of origin story before I wouldn’t have any photographers out there have that same story. goes my photography website was like, Hey, I can kind of build a website. I’m gonna go, you know, make this a career. It’s really interesting. Now you run a company UXATT, Could you briefly tell us about that?

CB: Yes, we are UX design collective. Monique Dubbleman, Jackie D’Elia and myself. We do contract work and work on medium and large scale products and sites and businesses to bring UX solutions and fresh eyes to projects.

DV: What is your UXATT stand for?

CB: UX, all the things. So yeah, we were born out of the WordPress ecosystem. But we work beyond that now in a variety of different platforms.

DV: Nice Nice. Yeah, I like some of the work you’ve done in the WordPress space. But it’s interesting to hear about the kind of expanded scope if you will, for the collective that UXATT. So getting to the topic at hand, though, obviously, what we’re talking about here today are web stories. And so I was hoping you could explain like, what are web stories and why you think they’re valuable?

CB: Absolutely. Well as a visual storyteller, innately this appealed to me immediately. Web stories are a short format, visually immersive, mixed media platform. They’re highly performant. It’s a tappable interface, where you can use video, images, text, eventually, well, web stories in the wild. You can use animations and so many wonderful, wonderful tools to tell a high impact short format story. The web needs short format stories. They’re useful in a variety of use cases, which I’m sure we’ll talk about. So right now beta two is out for web stories for WordPress is very exciting. This is coming WordPress. The stable releases due out I think the end This month, and new features will continue to roll out after that. The new editors incredibly useful. You can try it out. I know, David, you’ve built some stories, I think. And I have to of course, I think the power in web stories is that it’s a stories platform where you own your own content. You are not in a walled garden, using stories under a closed system like Instagram or Facebook, you get search results. Each story has its own URL. So it gets searched credit is a great way to promote longer format content, or events. Or I could go on and on. I’m super excited about it.

DV: You know, I’ve talked to folks over Google talk to folks like yourself that have used you know, amp stories before this, but you know, the way I the very terrible way I used to describe it is like it’s like A mobile friendly slideshow for your website. But obviously that’s just really scratching the surface. I liked how you kind of pointed out the stories format really became popular in these walled garden platforms like Instagram, but never really made their way to the web, despite being wildly popular platforms. Do you think that open web is just kind of slow to respond here? Or is it that people haven’t just really found use cases in a website context versus say, a social context?

CB: Well, I think there are a couple different ways to look at stories on the web. One is a very casual, toss it away I don’t need to see it more than a day or two, which is what stories are on Instagram primarily. And there’s a good use case for that. My mom, I’m at the airport look here, Atlanta and I’m safe and sound nice and that story up, mom gets it. There’s also a much higher level use case for stories. Where you are using it to tell a story I’ll give an example of one of the highest levels is a reporter in the war in Yemen, reporting about a horrible, horrible human condition and war there. They publish the story, it was a web story to win a Pulitzer Prize. So if you have something meaningful of value, to share, it’s incredibly powerful. That’s why I like playing with the beta two because I’m pretty good at telling visual stories. I mean, I don’t mean to brag, but like that’s sort of my thing. And I need to practice telling visual stories. And the beta plugins been great way for me to see that Yeah, really need to practice telling the story. And that’s like the most powerful content you can produce, right where you’re telling a story of providing something of value.

DV: So you know, I mentioned Web stories were previously called amp stories. What happened to amp stories or web stories? amp compatible? Or was it just a name change? I don’t know.

CB: I think originally, you know, amp is all about high performance in a particular web component called an app web component. I’m not terribly technically savvy, but you don’t have to have a website to use web stories. And I think there was some confusion that, oh, my site has to be app compatible to use web stories. And no, not at all web stories are much bigger. They’re, they’re a real gem in the open web. And I think that they do use a some sort of technical amp component in the structure of the code in some places, but it’s not a requirement.

DV: to you know, be m compatible, so that is him compatible, but it’s not exact self. Okay. Yeah, that’s makes a lot more sense.

CB: Thanks for helping me explain it. Yes, yeah

DV: It’s confusing. And, you know, I know when you when you introduce new products, you know, naming them the right things can go a long way into avoiding creating confusion. I know a lot of people haven’t taken that leap to him yet because of some of the constraints of choosing to go in. But it sounds like whether you’ve chosen this path of amp or not. Definitely. Yeah, I know that caused some confusion for people who are like, Well, where do they answer is good. does not use amp anymore, and what’s the deal? So thanks for providing some clarity there. I’ve read some more questions for you. But we’re gonna take a quick break and we’ll be right back.

DV: Welcome back to Press This the WordPress community podcast on WMR. This is your host, David Vogelpohl talking to Cathi Bosco about Google’s new web stories plugin, which is out in beta. Cathi, right before the break, you were explaining what happened to amp stories. It was just a rename, if you will, the web stories. So that’s good to know. And earlier, you kind of alluded to the fact that web stories can have their own URL and thus be expressed in things like search results. Do you expect that Google will use web stories content within things like search packs and just search results in general?

CB: Oh, absolutely. I published three stories on Friday and they’re showing up in search.

DV: Is there a query. Can I look this up?

CB: Oh, sure. So if you go to Cathi, you’ll see stories in the menu and you can click on any of those. Does that answer your question?

DV: Sort of. I meant on the Google side over showing up in search results? Do you have a query I can type into Google or the listeners can type in this example? I mean, to put you on the spot, if we need to move on, we can.

CB: I’d have to go back and redo the search. Okay.

DV: Gotcha, gotcha. But you are seeing them in search results. So I guess my question is, do you expect they will use them as perhaps they are? But it’s interesting because it was I thought through this episode, and I was thinking through this question, I was thinking a lot about schema, and how that markup expresses itself, if you will, in search results in various ways. And so it’s started me thinking that well, you know if web stories is this new medium that Google’s pushing? Should we expect to see that? You know, could we scroll through web story on is perhaps another interesting question for the future. But you’re saying that they’re just essentially showing up as a result?

CB: Yes mine have been showing up as a result. And I know that large publishers have been experimenting with web stories over the last year or two. And those results are showing up in search as well.

DV: So make sure you think well, these, you know, the the swiping experience, if you will, the whole web story, if he might see that in a search result one day, it’s really interesting to think about this, because, you know, I know Google cares a lot about the open web because of course, their primary business is around indexing. And, you know, quote, organizing the open web. When we started looking at closed platforms like Instagram, that’s really not Google’s territory. So I could see them finding value in leveraging this format within the search results. Do you agree or disagree?

CB: Oh, absolutely. I think that as, as web stories is adopted and more popularly used, we’ll see, you know, the demand will push for making him even more findable in search for sure.

DV: Yeah, it’s like this critical mass issue we saw with the use of schema in SERPs, excuse me. Meaning that until you have enough sites running it, it doesn’t make sense to put it in SERPs because only a few sites would even have a presence. So it feels like we’re kind of at the starting part of that critical mass component. So that’s how I look at the use of web stories now, which is to say, you know, there’s user experience benefits, there’s perhaps storytelling benefits. But there’s also perhaps this future benefit of search results that might heavily leverage things like web stories. So I think it’s interesting seem to think about that as you think about your strategy. So I know you’ve used the web stories plugin extensively. What’s your advice for using the web stories plugin? As people start to dig into it, like, Is there some place they should start? Something they should think about as they use it? what’s what’s your getting started advice here at a podcast?

CB: I would say you know, have something of value to share. Think about linking to longer format content and practice storytelling. Maybe you’re going to tell a story about the launch of your new podcast or something. Or you’re going to tell a story that is featuring a recipe that you could tap through on a mobile device and someone can make the recipe by tapping the screen through.

DV: So it was a good story to tell for sure.

CB: And be warned that when you are adding video at this stage of product development, that it has to be an mp4. So I couldn’t shoot a video with my iPhone and then use it in my story, I had to take it to a pro dev tool and encode it as an mp4. So it’s still in beta and there’s, I’m sure that will become something more fluid to do but be prepared. You’ll need an mp4 for video. You can loop videos, you can have it start and play one time. The editor is absolutely wonderful to work with the features of masking images and video into shapes is stunning.

DV: It kind of reminds me a little bit of like a page builder plugin because it’s taking me into like this kind of four does the wrong word at this kind of sidecar design system that has its own way of building out a web story format through WP admin. And so I found it very intuitive to use, you know, no code a lot build out a fairly sophisticated story. But I did not I just kind of poked around and put random images and pictures. And just to try it out. I didn’t come in like actually tried to tell the story.

CB: Yeah, it’s good to practice. Just get familiar with the interface. It’s, it is pretty intuitive. And you can preview it. It has if you if you publish a story, there’s a block. So you could, you could put a web story block in a post in your your you can embed your story in a post. It also ships with an archive page. So I would recommend that theme designers or people who manage themes for clients, take into account web stories and start preparing beautiful archive pages.

DV: Yeah, I know in the Genesis front, I didn’t realize that came with an archive page. That’s good to know. Yeah, I know we’ve thought about it a little bit relative to things like theme demo content, because obviously having you know unique types of content that allow people leveraging the themes to you know, sell their message, if you will. But also to hopefully be in a leading position around things like web series and search results. These are, you know, very compelling themes as you think about it from from a theme providers perspective, I think the bigger thing for me, it’s been a number of years since I’ve been in the agency business full time. But it’s like I just putting myself back in that seat. It’s like, well, how am I going to use this to help someone grow? So I’m just curious, like, put you on the spot on this question, Cathi. Like, if I if I was your client, I said, how’s this gonna help me grow? How would you answer that question?

CB: Well, I have, I have some clients, and I’m definitely advise, I’m definitely advising them to embrace web stories. is if you have something of value to share, if you’re promoting an event, if you’ve got a campaign coming up around some launch of a business product. Having web stories in place for that is a wonderful, powerful tool to engage with people in an immediate way in a typical mobile performant. way. So it is important as blog posting on my road.

DV: Yeah, I think about it. It’s interesting because we were having a discussion earlier today around like, well, what ways do people want to learn information, and we had in this one slack community and part of it half of the group said, I want to read everything because I can get through it faster. And the other half of the group said, I want to see a video about it. Because I want to see how it’s done. And I feel like web series is like right in the middle, right. It’s it’s self consumable, so you can go super quick, but it’s also visual like you would have in a video without having to play it at like two x speed or something like that. I think it’s kind of in that nice little sweet spot. Where you can tell a more complex story walk people through things visually that allow them to kind of digest it at their own pace. Do you agree?

CB: I do. But I also think beyond that, you can serve up an opportunity for people who want to read and take a deep dive through written copy and content. You could also direct people to a more interactive video type experience of course it’s like here’s the court here we have a series of courses available here’s a video about it you can take them from an app story to a longer format video on a page or two content where they could read a lot so

DV: the consumer can think the medium with which you consume the content or the medium that helps direct you to the content.

CB: Absolutely.

DV: All rightI like that I like that you called it an AMP Story cuz I did.

CB: I have web stories on a little sticky on my computer right now.

DV: Yeah, I like it. I have some more questions for you but ready to take our last break. We’ll be right back.

DV: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to Press This the WordPress community podcast on WMR. This is your host David Vogelpohl. And we’re talking about Google’s web stories with Cathi Basco. Cathi, right before the break, we were talking a little bit around kind of the role of web stories thinking about it as a way to consume content but also a way to kind of direct your audience to find pieces of content that might help them. So you mentioned earlier the plugin is in beta, you know what it’s slated to come out of beta.

CB: I think the stable release is scheduled for the end of this month, end of September.

DV: Alright alright. Sounds like you are using it in production even though it’s not of beta.

CB: Well, I kind of am just for my own. I experiment on my site sort of to teach and work with products that are at the edge of the web. So it’s not uncommon for me to be experimenting, but I don’t have any clients actually publishing with it through WordPress anyway.

DV: Sure, sure. So, you mentioned that web stories work with blocks. And it’s essentially a block that will allow you to, in a sense, embed your read story, but web stories themselves don’t use blocks other than through that embedding function. Is that true?

CB: Right, you can embed a story in a blog post or in a page of your website. But the story stands on its own, you experience a web story at its own URL.

DV: So to be a little bit like how you might, you know, edit a form and then embed it with the shortcode in a block. It seems almost identical to that to me when I made a web story and then put it into a page that was using blocks.

CB: yeah, or like a YouTube video, it’s the same kind of embedded block, you put the URL into that block. And then your your stories there. I don’t think experiencing stories while they’re embedded in a blog post or pages, the optimal experience, I’d rather just experience them on their own interest. Yeah, it could be nice if like you had a series of vegan recipes, if you had an archive page of all those vegan recipes, if you could review them, and then click on it and open it on its own. That’s the best experience.

DV: I can imagine all kinds of wonderful AV tests coming out of this. Oh, yes. Yes. That’s funny, because I was imagining you kind of embedding it within an existing webpage, but it sounds like you’re really pushing for kind of more of the standalone experience.

CB: Yeah, I mean, like I said, there are many use cases, and many ways to sort of choose which stories to view so but to really experience them. It’s It’s good. They look great on desktop. They’re obviously designed for mobile first, though. They’re highly performance. Fabulous.

DV: Yeah, like the mobile first side of it. I mean, I think telling complex stories and mobile is extremely difficult. So I feel like the stories for that is a great way to go about that. Do you imagine people building 100% web stories powered sites?

CB: people will find a way to do just about everything. But I think that it’s good to have a foundation of your own website footprint first. But I could see if you were hosting an event of some kind and online event, if you’re I don’t know. I feel like the people will find incredible ways in creative ways to use web stories that we can’t even imagine right now.

DV: Yeah, that that question came up for me prior to this preparing for this interview as I was looking into them and just listening more about how people were leveraging them just curious. I guess time will tell someone I’m sure we’ll go to 100% Webster a parent site.

CB: But I know a use case for a golf game, like someone was building a web story, while watching a golf game and just adding pages to it as the game went on his details with I. And that story was just for that game.

DV: Oh, wow. That’s, you know, so you feel like it maybe provided them a little agility in their publishing. Do you think it sounds like they were able to do that very quickly?

CB: Yes. And using their mobile phone.

DV: Nice. Are they using the web stories plugin in WordPress for that, or was this done through another medium?

CB: No, they were just using the word web stories. From the wild. Alright, what’s coming to WordPress?

DV: So my last question, we’re kind of getting short on time here. But if people remembered only one thing from this interview, what would that be?

CB: To find use cases that will help you and your clients grow your business or your projects and programs, and to experiment and practice telling rich visual visual stories. Like it’s going to take a little bit of practice, but it’s going to be really worth it.

DV: I love it. I think that’s going to be my new web stories strategy, Kathy, thank you. Sure. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us here today.

CB: Well thank you for having me. I love talking about web stories.

DV: Of course, of course if you’d like to learn more about what Cathi is up to, you can visit thanks, everyone for listening to Press This WordPress community podcast on WMR. Again, this is your host David Vogelpohl. I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine. And I love to bring the best of the community to here every week on Press This.

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