In or Out? Year in Review of Top Google Winners and Losers in 2016

January 18th, 2017 | Analysis, General 2 comments

In the words of fashion icon Heidi Klum, “One day you’re in, the next day you’re out.”

These words were never truer for online marketers in 2016. Faced with another year of Google updates and marked changes in strategies for succeeding online, our third-annual Searchmetrics Winners and Losers report reveals that publishers with specific editorial direction and household-name websites like Wikipedia and Facebook were the biggest gainers of the year, while other informational sites showed marked declines in desktop search.

 

rising_falling_stars_2016

SEARCH TRENDS IN 2016

As with everything surrounding search and Google, the goal posts are constantly moving. Last year was no different. In 2016, we saw:

  • Google’s Core Update in January
  • Mobile Update 2 in May
  • Phantom IV in June/July
  • Penguin 4.0 in October

These led to large changes in yearly winning and losing trends for various domains. Some publishers, who were among the big winners of 2015, struck gold again in 2016 in terms of visibility. While Brexit, the U.S. presidential election cycle and other world events may have played a large role in their rise, Google’s efforts to ensure viewers receive what it deems more relevant information, more quickly is just as notable. On the other hand, Google Answer Boxes and the rise of mobile search likely contributed heavily to declining desktop visibility for encyclopedia pages, dictionary sites, translation pages and lyrics domains.

HOW WE ANALYZE THE DATA

This analysis is based on the SEO Visibility of each website, which Searchmetrics has developed as an elementary indicator for measuring a webpage’s performance in organic search. For our evaluation, we have analyzed how the SEO Visibility of all domains that are included in our Index over the course of the year.

Thereafter, we checked those domains that displayed the largest absolute change in SEO Visibility. This change again represents the domain’s trend over the entire course of the year. The lists of winners and losers is sorted by absolute change. In order to provide an idea of the dimension of this change – and to aid comparability – we have also indicated the percentage changes. We removed adult and unofficial streaming websites from both lists, as these sometimes appear among the top winners and losers, but are irrelevant for analysis because their status is not sustainable. Migrated domains have also been excluded.

IF YOU PIN IT, THEY WILL COME

Thanks to relatively steady economies and a host of global issues, including terrorism, immigration, elections and strong economic recoveries, many publishers and shopping sites experienced big gains in visibility last year.

Among the biggest winners? Pinterest.com, with its 150 million global users. The startup recently announced it is using deep learning, a precursor to artificial intelligence, to generate more relevant results that evolve based on user behavior. Like Apple, Google (and even Searchmetrics), Pinterest’s application of deep-learning techniques is a key step in helping software understand the ultimate intent of a user, thereby generating more loyalty and stickiness online.

Here’s the Top 100 Winners of 2016:

Rank Domain Visibility gain in total Visibility gain in % Industry
1 google.com 2519956 24% Search / Portal
2 pinterest.com 2253019 80% Social Media
3 twitter.com 1451591 22% Social Media
4 youtube.com 1207007 6% Media & Events
5 instagram.com 1050030 28% Social Media
6 facebook.com 864418 5% Social Media
7 medlineplus.gov 811674 new Search / Portal
8 reddit.com 733722 37% Social Media
9 lifewire.com 693143 new Media & Events
10 linkedin.com 656500 39% Social Media
11 giphy.com 643060 125% Other
12 apple.com 632935 11% Shopping
13 oxforddictionaries.com 504594 109% Encyclopedia
14 spotify.com 452273 121% Other
15 healthline.com 357911 39% Media & Events
16 huffingtonpost.com 349834 20% Media & Events
17 thebalance.com 301039 new Media & Events
18 indeed.com 298134 36% Social Media
19 iheart.com 274159 90% Other
20 cambridge.org 267287 43% Other
21 medicalnewstoday.com 232351 63% Media & Events
22 ebay.com 224821 14% Shopping
23 retailmenot.com 221864 24% Shopping
24 fortune.com 218464 72% Media & Events
25 nytimes.com 218351 12% Media & Events
26 draxe.com 216520 202% Media & Events
27 target.com 212786 23% Shopping
28 walmart.com 211683 13% Shopping
29 github.com 207318 29% Other
30 discogs.com 206366 39% Other
31 hotmail.com 202750 455% Search / Portal
32 theblackfriday.com 197120 217% Shopping
33 patient.info 195832 92% Media & Events
34 tvguide.com 183129 27% Media & Events
35 macmillandictionary.com 178221 65% Encyclopedia
36 genius.com 176479 34% Encyclopedia
37 babycenter.com 169055 61% Shopping
38 nerdwallet.com 160289 68% Shopping
39 deezer.com 150721 147% Other
40 flickr.com 149058 58% Other
41 people.com 148558 20% Media & Events
42 history.com 148443 15% Media & Events
43 investopedia.com 144018 29% Media & Events
44 blackfriday.com 143024 212% Shopping
45 makeuseof.com 141799 81% Media & Events
46 delish.com 130714 103% Media & Events
47 vetstreet.com 130270 208% Media & Events
48 wikitravel.org 130068 39% Travel
49 rogerebert.com 119074 45% Media & Events
50 glassdoor.com 119064 19% Social Media
51 everafterguide.com 116551 new Media & Events
52 aol.com 116450 26% Search / Portal
53 cnbc.com 115890 27% Media & Events
54 mirror.co.uk 115200 36% Media & Events
55 vocabulary.com 109243 15% Encyclopedia
56 stackexchange.com 106237 69% Other
57 shutterstock.com 105386 96% Other
58 khanacademy.org 105109 23% Other
59 howstuffworks.com 103296 31% Media & Events
60 gettyimages.com 102996 99% Other
61 booking.com 101675 100% Travel
62 npmjs.com 101358 73% Shopping
63 office.com 99103 37% Other
64 billboard.com 97777 19% Media & Events
65 dogtime.com 96241 42% Media & Events
66 azlyrics.com 96008 7% Encyclopedia
67 westfield.com 93730 167% Shopping
68 usnews.com 89092 15% Media & Events
69 poki.com 88665 85% Other
70 thesun.co.uk 87694 176% Media & Events
71 bandcamp.com 86995 40% Other
72 songkick.com 86605 53% Other
73 cargurus.com 86278 33% Shopping
74 monster.com 86186 23% Social Media
75 allmusic.com 85943 13% Other
76 brainpop.com 84509 64% Other
77 simplyrecipes.com 83162 62% Media & Events
78 countryliving.com 82974 57% Media & Events
79 stackoverflow.com 82768 62% Other
80 homedepot.com 82691 10% Shopping
81 drugs.com 82156 11% Shopping
82 latimes.com 81514 14% Media & Events
83 weheartit.com 81451 185% Social Media
84 vimeo.com 81221 14% Media & Events
85 giftcardgranny.com 80541 174% Shopping
86 pexels.com 80528 248% Other
87 bestproducts.com 79952 474% Shopping
88 gamespot.com 79895 35% Media & Events
89 livescience.com 79780 22% Media & Events
90 offers.com 79232 108% Shopping
91 travelandleisure.com 75931 111% Media & Events
92 webmd.com 74080 3% Media & Events
93 allrecipes.com 72262 6% Media & Events
94 businessdictionary.com 72208 33% Encyclopedia
95 womenshealthmag.com 70739 52% Media & Events
96 deviantart.com 69937 47% Shopping
97 citi.com 69784 75% Shopping
98 mit.edu 69003 26% Other
99 rollingstone.com 68694 19% Media & Events
100 thedailybeast.com 68524 52% Media & Events

Winner Loser categories 2016

Selected Decliners of 2016:

The following is an overview of those pages that saw big declines in their organic Visibility in 2016. This does not necessarily mean that these pages have experienced losses in traffic or turnover; it is simply an indicator of the domain’s presence in non-paid search results of google.com.

Domain Visibility loss in total Visibility loss in % Industry
wikipedia.org -2117190 -4% Encyclopedia
imdb.com -1184072 -12% Encyclopedia
theatlantic.com -1116087 -73% Media & Events
about.com -955798 -95% Media & Events
softonic.com -837628 -70% Other
nih.gov -766369 -46% Other
thefreedictionary.com -765514 -39% Encyclopedia
yelp.com -608992 -25% Travel
urbandictionary.com -523731 -22% Encyclopedia
wikia.com -486637 -17% Encyclopedia
newyorker.com -440869 -31% Media & Events
metrolyrics.com -395783 -43% Encyclopedia
tv.com -355030 -38% Media & Events
last.fm -329930 -47% Other
alexa.com -321612 -62% Other
usatoday.com -307146 -27% Media & Events
wired.com -269700 -19% Media & Events
eonline.com -250677 -25% Media & Events
microsoft.com -230154 -11% Shopping
biography.com -227713 -11% Media & Events
yellowpages.com -222616 -36% Other
goodsearch.com -219496 -53% Shopping
imgur.com -218656 -80% Other
wiktionary.org -210602 -7% Encyclopedia
nymag.com -209399 -16% Media & Events
mayoclinic.org -201314 -13% Media & Events
hollywoodlife.com -200685 -85% Media & Events
bleacherreport.com -190906 -36% Media & Events
ew.com -187201 -38% Media & Events
thesaurus.com -183173 -14% Encyclopedia
pcworld.com -179891 -42% Media & Events
wsj.com -176889 -18% Media & Events
esquire.com -172184 -38% Media & Events
coupons.com -167282 -31% Shopping
sbnation.com -163214 -34% Media & Events
marthastewart.com -157485 -49% Media & Events
tmz.com -156287 -22% Media & Events
time.com -155737 -16% Media & Events
reuters.com -154348 -37% Media & Events
bizjournals.com -152768 -48% Media & Events
metacritic.com -147797 -12% Media & Events
nydailynews.com -145323 -27% Media & Events
popsugar.com -141757 -23% Media & Events
lyricsmode.com -139727 -54% Encyclopedia
buzzfeed.com -138672 -23% Media & Events
pbs.org -136459 -18% Media & Events
fastcompany.com -132212 -81% Media & Events
myrecipes.com -131867 -65% Media & Events
locatetv.com -124192 out Media & Events

The most commonly-found category amongst the top losers of 2016 is publisher websites, many of whom were general news domains. Other categories with several representatives in the year’s losers are shopping and encyclopedias.

The Risks and Rewards of Google Updates 

The following graph shows the weekly development of winners and losers throughout 2016. You can see the impact on Visibility of the Google Updates that were rolled out in 2016.

winner_losers_2016_US_v2

  • Google Core Update: At the start of 2016, the Google Core update caused quite a stir. This saw changes in Google’s core algorithm, which improved how user intent was gauged and how content relevance was evaluated. After this update, numerous publishers were already amongst the losers, as older posts and articles about brands experienced drops in ranking. High-quality content, which deals with topics holistically, were the winners. In this respect, it is not just the sheer amount of content that is decisive for a good ranking, but whether the content is deemed relevant and useful to the user.
  • Mobile Update 2: A year after the first Mobilegeddon, Google rolled out its second Mobile Update in early May 2016. Although John Mueller didn’t announce the completion of the roll-out until May 12, it can be confidently assumed that this update is behind the marked changes in Visibility amongst the winners and losers in calendar week 17. As with the first Mobile Update, Google’s aim here was to promote mobile-friendly websites in the mobile search results. All other domains, ones that are not optimized for mobile devices (particularly smartphones), saw drops in their mobile search rankings.
  • Phantom IV Update: Clear movement in the SERPs was observed at the end of June/early July, caused by Google’s fourth Phantom update. The focus of this update was low-quality and duplicate content – as well as structurally hidden content that users could not easily find or consume. An interesting effect of this update was that some domains that had been the losers of previous Phantom updates were now able to benefit. However, there were also domains that saw drops in Visibility following Phantom IV and earlier iterations.
  • Penguin 4.0 Update: The final Penguin update was rolled out in October 2016 – this was not a traditional update, as it saw Penguin’s backlink and spam detectors become incorporated into Google’s core algorithm. Accordingly, future adjustments will be low-key and happen at URL level, but also take place in real time. This update saw almost exclusively winner websites, who were presumably hit by an earlier Penguin update and now able to experience a recovery.

Big Changes for Publishers

Whilst publishers as a result of  the Newswave update and other change to the Google algorithm were some of the clear winners of 2015, this trend didn’t continue in 2016. Instead, numerous publishers experienced a drop in their SEO Visibility. One example is theatlantic.com. One of the reasons for its drop is probably the algorithm change concerning in-depth arcticles.

the_atlantic_visibility_2016

A lot of the top losers of 2016 are in Publishing. Amongst the declining websites, they ran the gamut, from news and tech publishers to TV providers. AThe winners, on the other hand, tended to focus on special interest content – dealing with TV, health or technology and games. Another trend ist the algorithm change for video publishers. While Google’s own YouTube.com is continously growing, other video platforms such as dailymotion.com are losing Visibility as a result of this change.

Online Encyclopedia Going the Way of Printed Siblings?

Dictionaries, translation sites and lyrics domains were some of the losers of 2016. The Visibility declines were caused by the Phantom IV update and the increased implementation of direct answers, a Google in a widget above the organic search results.  The following is the Visibility trend for thefreedictionary.com.

freedictionary_visibililty_2016

There is a ray of hope: Whilst many lyrics pages lost Visibility, various music portals saw significant improvements. Spotify, Deezer and the like were able to celebrate considerable rises in their organic Visibility in 2016. Amazon Music, Apple Music and others increasingly are including lyrics in products to their subscribers.

Why You Succeed

Large portals like Amazon, Instagram and others continue to be big winners by offering new and differentiated content – key themes for Google and other search engines as they travel down the road toward artificial intelligence. Sites that get quicker at loading new, engaging content that seeks to understand the user’s search intent are poised for even greater gains in 2017.

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Who’s writing this stuff? My name is Marcus Tober and I’m the founder of Searchmetrics. Because we really love to analyze every kind of online data, we can give you more insights than any other company in SEO, SEM and Social Media. It’s not a job, it’s passion. You can find me also on Google+ .
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Comments (2)

Comments (2)

  1. 2017/02/04

    I never Thought “giphy” would rank higher than Apple !

  2. 2017/02/07

    Very nice post. 2016 we a Big year to all, especially to Google. Congratulations for Pinterest for making it at the Top of the Winners list of Google 2016. It’s really good to say that we can learn a lot from you guys. Kudos to your Team, and thank you again for posting about this.

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