Google Giveth and Google Taketh Away: Winners & Losers of 2017

January 22nd, 2018 | Analysis 51 comments

What do Netflix, ebates.com and thesun.co.uk have in common? They’re among the top 100 domains that enjoyed rich rewards in 2017. Which domains took the biggest hits in search Visibility? Searchmetrics in our annual Google Winners & Losers study dived into our data to uncover the top 100 winners and the biggest losers, analyzing their performance in the context of the most significant search trends and changes of 2017 – including Google Updates, mobile index and content quality.

Google Winner und Loser 2017

The data

For this study, we analyzed the development of SEO Visibility for all domains listed in our US index tracked over the course of 2017. The list is ordered according to the absolute increase or decrease seen by the website, when comparing the level at the end of 2017 with that of January 1st. We have filtered out adult and illegitimate streaming sites, as well as domains that have migrated.

Top 100 Winners in 2017

Publishers and encyclopedias were the SEO Visibility success stories of 2017. More than half of the top 100 winners on Google.com regularly publish articles on general interest topics, tech or video content as their core business. The runner-up category in 2017 was encyclopedias (including dictionaries, translation sites etc.), who saw enormous increases in their SEO Visibility over 2016.

Rank Domain Gain of SEO Visibility absolute Gain of SEO Visibility in % Industry
1 youtube.com 1890062 8% Media&Events
2 merriam-webster.com 1530828 43% Encyclopedia
3 wikia.com 1499434 60% Encyclopedia
4 dictionary.com 1461674 37% Encyclopedia
5 wiktionary.org 1402039 77% Encyclopedia
6 thebalance.com 1242337 new Media&Events
7 britannica.com 1178391 122% Encyclopedia
8 thesaurus.com 1128342 121% Encyclopedia
9 genius.com 1017911 162% Other
10 imdb.com 938491 11% Media&Events
11 usnews.com 934378 122% Media&Events
12 glassdoor.com 833539 101% Jobs
13 thespruce.com 789330 new Media&Events
14 netflix.com 641224 298% Media&Events
15 tripadvisor.com 537854 25% Other
16 softonic.com 529229 75% Other
17 collinsdictionary.com 506015 466% Encyclopedia
18 cambridge.org 497174 59% Other
19 ebates.com 494899 1191% Shopping
20 thoughtco.com 474379 new Media&Events
21 tvtropes.org 472487 176% Encyclopedia
22 theguardian.com 470823 35% Media&Events
23 target.com 470572 43% Shopping
24 oxforddictionaries.com 459019 57% Encyclopedia
25 geniuskitchen.com 451083 new Media&Events
26 spotify.com 433896 65% Other
27 usatoday.com 417641 43% Media&Events
28 thesun.co.uk 411011 344% Media&Events
29 lifewire.com 388797 53% Media&Events
30 urbandictionary.com 380528 18% Encyclopedia
31 mapquest.com 369930 49% Other
32 washingtonpost.com 354692 35% Media&Events
33 poki.com 327492 186% Other
34 cnbc.com 321863 56% Media&Events
35 healthline.com 315664 27% Media&Events
36 niche.com 310086 141% Other
37 khanacademy.org 302840 58% Other
38 billboard.com 301997 43% Media&Events
39 cnn.com 300447 18% Media&Events
40 latimes.com 294390 35% Media&Events
41 independent.co.uk 293324 132% Media&Events
42 bbc.com 288138 50% Media&Events
43 groupon.com 280787 24% Shopping
44 theverge.com 275764 67% Media&Events
45 ranker.com 274782 150% Other
46 nypost.com 275246 79% Media&Events
47 seekingalpha.com 273678 293% Media&Events
48 people.com 256276 26% Media&Events
49 macys.com 253795 41% Shopping
50 nih.gov 251641 22% Other
51 hulu.com 250780 56% Media&Events
52 medicinenet.com 247817 24% Media&Events
53 ew.com 236260 88% Media&Events
54 foxnews.com 226718 39% Media&Events
55 cbsnews.com 222460 54% Media&Events
56 commonsensemedia.org 222645 80% Media&Events
57 deadline.com 218977 66% Media&Events
58 bloomberg.com 218323 29% Media&Events
59 medicalnewstoday.com 215002 41% Media&Events
60 fortune.com 216359 49% Media&Events
61 ldoceonline.com 206537 327% Encyclopedia
62 variety.com 203903 46% Media&Events
63 microsoft.com 192272 11% Other
64 mozilla.org 187595 44% Other
65 walmart.com 184843 10% Shopping
66 chicagotribune.com 183058 52% Media&Events
67 techcrunch.com 178816 59% Media&Events
68 buzzfeed.com 177901 38% Media&Events
69 engadget.com 175813 68% Other
70 investopedia.com 175317 31% Media&Events
71 vice.com 174461 91% Media&Events
72 247sports.com 174314 275% Media&Events
73 bleacherreport.com 172586 43% Media&Events
74 npr.org 171098 28% Media&Events
75 newsweek.com 170135 186% Media&Events
76 livestrong.com 169636 77% Media&Events
77 zillow.com 169045 34% Shopping
78 live.com 166073 33% Other
79 rottentomatoes.com 165358 13% Other
80 retailmenot.com 165023 12% Shopping
81 tripsavvy.com 164500 new Media&Events
82 reverso.net 164418 195% Encyclopedia
83 indeed.com 162933 15% Jobs
84 aarp.org 159958 102% Media&Events
85 agame.com 157387 52% Other
86 delish.com 158025 74% Media&Events
87 gizmodo.com 155307 48% Media&Events
88 sciencedirect.com 154658 162% Media&Events
89 businessinsider.com 153736 27% Media&Events
90 mayoclinic.org 153451 11% Media&Events
91 bestbuy.com 152577 14% Shopping
92 spanishdict.com 149513 48% Encyclopedia
93 snopes.com 148612 102% Encyclopedia
94 techradar.com 147519 71% Media&Events
95 deezer.com 146344 71% Other
96 coolmath-games.com 145811 48% Other
97 pagesix.com 143935 99% Media&Events
98 autotrader.com 140567 49% Shopping
99 vevo.com 140429 93% Media&Events
100 ebay.com 134447 7% Shopping

 

What does it all mean? The cream rises to the top. Companies that focused on delivering quality content, either on differentiated and focused content or on the SEO structure of the site, saw big rewards in the world of Googledom.

Selection of Losers in 2017

In the following, we have identified several domains that fall into the loser category. These are sites that saw a severe drop in their organic visibility during the course of the year. Most domains included here have lost at least 20% of their visibility. However, this does not necessarily mean that the pages have also lost traffic or turnover; it is an indicator of how well represented these domains are in the organic (unpaid) search results of Google.com.

Domain Loss of SEO Visibility absolute
Loss of SEO Visibility in % Industry
reddit.com 1339420 -54% Social Media
tumblr.com 994315 -79% Social Media
pinterest.com 922648 -23% Social Media
giphy.com 763932 -85% Other
reference.com 635112 -99% Q&A
azlyrics.com 569666 -37% Music/Lyrics
tv.com 523543 -70% Media&Events
about.com 453124 out Media&Events
vimeo.com 428151 -50% Media&Events
thefreedictionary.com 422815 -27% Encyclopedia
myspace.com 348804 -68% Social Media
perezhilton.com 340110 -77% Media&Events
wsj.com 332114 -43% Media&Events
addictinggames.com 330743 -56% Other
allmusic.com 328659 -40% Other
infoplease.com 313584 -67% Encyclopedia
alexa.com 292892 -89% Other
makeuseof.com 267649 -73% Media&Events
last.fm 258315 -55% Other
patient.info 250604 -62% Media&Events
msn.com 217784 -29% Search / Portal
justjared.com 218154 -54% Media&Events
drugs.com 203119 -25% Other
metrolyrics.com 190898 -28% Music/Lyrics
popsugar.com 190342 -42% Media&Events
autoblog.com 188263 -65% Media&Events
inquisitr.com 173651 -85% Media&Events
consumeraffairs.com 167121 -40% Other
wordpress.com 161463 -34% Other
foursquare.com 161074 -64% Other
cinemablend.com 158786 -67% Media&Events
dailymotion.com 155299 -43% Media&Events
instructables.com 148539 -57% Media&Events
mapsofworld.com 147512 -76% Other
quora.com 147189 -38% Social Media
nymag.com 144320 -38% Media&Events
babylon-software.com 139714 -91% Other
hotmail.com 115109 -52% Search/Portal
goodsearch.com 133433 -46% Shopping

Winners and Losers by Industry

To identify the industries and relevant trends for the winners and losers whose Visibility on Google.com changed in 2017, we extended our industry and data sample. Instead of using the top 100 winners and a selection of losers, we have categorized the 250 domains with the greatest increase in SEO Visibility, and the 250 with the greatest decrease.

Publishers (media & events) made up 57% of the biggest winners in 2017, and 8% were shopping websites. The proportion of encyclopedias (including dictionaries) amongst the winning domains stood at 9%:

Of the websites that lost out in 2017, 44% are also from publishing (media & events), while shopping websites also comprise 12% of losers:

This shows that there has been much fluctuation within industries: 57% of the winners are publishers, but so are 44% of losers. It is similar with shopping websites. They make up 8% of winners but also 12% of losers. Another area represented in both categories is software/games: 6% of winners and 6% of losers.

Let’s now look at the differences and try to find out which industries really won or lost.

  • Amongst the winning domains, there are clear gains for encyclopedias and dictionaries. Google increased the presence of these domains in its SERPs in 2017, so that 9% of the winning domains belong to this industry. Large increases in SEO Visibility were experienced by domains like dictionary.com, britannica.com and thesaurus.com.
  • When we look at the losers, we see that many of them come from the category search/portal – domains like msn.com. Another group that is well-represented amongst the losers is music/lyrics – e.g. azlyrics.com or metrolyrics.com. Several social media websites are also found in the loser list. In fact, the top 3 losers were all social media websites: reddit.com, tumblr.com and pinterest.com.

Analysis: 2017 Search Trends

Google Updates, mobile-first index, content quality and ads. Here is a quick summary of the most important search trends of 2017, and an analysis of their impact on SEO Visibility.

Impact of Google Updates

The following graph shows the average SEO Visibility of the winners and losers on a weekly basis throughout 2017. We have included the most important Google Updates:

Phantom V Update: Though unconfirmed by Google, early February saw an algorithm update: Phantom V. The update targeting quality led to drops in Visibility – e.g. for foursquare.com – or significant increases – for domains like tvtropes.org. This update helped these websites take their place in the year’s top lists. Many websites affected by Phantom V had already been hit by earlier iterations of the Phantom, e.g. myrecipes.com:

phantom_5_myrecipes.com-searchmetrics

  • Fred Update: Another update that was not confirmed by Google bears the nickname “Fred”. This came in calendar week 11, which was the most turbulent of the year. According to searchengineland, ad-heavy websites with low-quality content were worst affected by this update.
  • Dictionary Update: In June 2017, an update created (more) Visibility improvements for dictionary domains. URLs for dictionaries improved their rankings first and foremost for short-tail keywords that could have various different user intents,
  • Google User Localization Update: Since October 2017, users are given search results based on their current physical location, regardless of the top-level domain (e.g. Google.com/Google.co.uk) they enter into the address bar.

Big wins for dictionaries

As mentioned above, online enyclopedias and dictionaries are amongst the biggest winners of 2017 (besides publishers). The trend that has seen Google ranking these domains for short-tail keywords that do not have one clear user intent (e.g. to purchase) continued throughout the year. As a result, six positions in 2017’s top 10 list of winning domains are dictionaries. Here are a few examples of how selected encyclopedias fared in 2017:

Towards the end of 2017, these domains started to lose momentum, so we will have to wait and see what Google has in store for dictionary websites in 2018.

Losers losing even more on mobile

Domains that lost out in 2017 also saw bigger drops in Google’s mobile index than on desktop. At the start of the year, desktop and mobile visibility were often around the same, yet as the year progressed, many domains – even though they had mobile versions – saw much greater losses on mobile than on desktop. For example, tv.com’s mobile visibility was 41% below its desktop visibility as the year closed, for perezhilton.com it was 42% lower and allmusic.com had a mobile visibility 43% below its desktop performance.

And the winner is… excellent content

Our analysis of 2017’s best performer shows that investing in high-quality content that perfectly serves the user intent is a great way to be rewarded with top search engine rankings. One highly noteworthy development this year: about.com is history. The internet pioneer of yesteryear, with its archetypal content farm, has been on the downward spiral for several years now. The domain often had many texts on the same topic with a similar format: max. 300 words, not very useful, optimized for a highly specific (long-tail) keyword phrase.

Now: A succesful relaunch and split into five separately branded vertical sites has been completed. The new sites include Verywell (Health), Lifewire (Tech), The Balance (personal finance), The Spruce (home and food) and ThoughtCo (education). And the new umbrella brand is now called dotdash.com.

The pale blue line shows how about.com’s Visibility falls and ultimately disappears. The other lines show that each of the individual verticals is on course to reach the visibility of the old site. On their own! In total, this means five times the visibility of the old about.com. Congrats about.com, ahm dotdash.com. Great job in diversifying and creating a better user and content experience.

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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  1. 2018/02/08

    […] Google Giveth and Google Taketh Away: Winners & Losers of 2017. What do Netflix, ebates.com and thesun.co.uk have in common? They’re among the top 100 domains that enjoyed rich rewards in 2017. Which domains took the biggest hits in search Visibility? Find out in this new report from Searchmetrics […]

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