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Google Core Update 2016: Analysis of Winners and Losers

The new year has begun with a confirmed Google update. However, what was initially believed to be either a change to Panda or Penguin is in fact a core ranking algorithm update. Here, we take a look at the fresh data from the Searchmetrics Suite.

Background to Google update

We were expecting a Penguin update for the start of 2016. Initial analyses from the weekend 9/10 January were focused on this. The changes in the Google rankings were considerable on a global scale and various services that measure changes in Google search results came to similar conclusions.

Meanwhile several Google employees have spoken about the update via Twitter: John Mueller and Gary Illyes have confirmed that the observed turbulence is in fact due to a Google update – not the expected Penguin update, but an update to the core ranking algorithm.


Analysis: lots of change, few observable patterns

We have pulled fresh research data from the Searchmetrics Suite to analyze the changes in Google search results. We observed massive changes in the top 100 websites by SEO Visibility (our flagship indicator for online performance) – 50% of the websites that are now amongst the winners and losers are different to before the update. This holds true for both desktop and mobile SERPs. We have tried to detect any patterns that are characteristic of a quality update, which we will now have a closer look at.

 Check your visibility now

Content quality is decisive

We drew attention to the volatility of the search results following last update of 2015 – Phantom III / Quality Update. This volatility matches again with the current data. In particular in the USA publisher websites with pieces of content that rank with brand keywords and entities have witnessed heavy losses in visibility. Brands, on the other hand, have seen a boost in rankings. This trend is not yet noticeable in other international markets, which could indicate that the update has not yet been rolled out globally.

Let’s take a look at the biggest loser in the US – This publisher has primarily lost with old URLs that ranked for brand keywords and entities: visibility loss

It is apparent that many loser domains are classic print publishers and their losses in rankings mainly stem from older content pieces. Additional publisher who lost rankings are,,, and

These losses amongst publishers are mainly compensated by corresponding gains amongst brands such as

Parallel to this development many publishers have actually won in search results. Particularly those publishers with current or holistic content. Top winner according to our most recent Suite data is On the biggest winning URL is a comprehensive article about NFL star Tom Brady, shown here in the screenshot on the left.

The article contains photos and a video and a lot of text (more than 3000 words including an interview). A test with Content Optimization in the Searchmetrics Suite shows that the article covers all important subtopics about entity Tom Brady.


Additioanl publishers who gained visibility are,,, and

Whether a publisher or brands won or lost for a specific keyword is dependent on the individual QDF score that Google calculates according to current events and user behavior, particularly search volume. For topics that are current, obviously publishers with current content witnessed visibility gains.

In summary, the quality of the content is absolutely decisive for rankings.

User intent instead of content

One group of winners is particularly suprising for SEOs: educational games. Domains such as and with landing pages such as this:


The screenshot is no cropped, this is actually the complete page. If you are thinking of cloacking or hidden content, just take a look at the Google cache:


From a classical SEO perspective, these rankings can hardly be explained. There is only one possible explanation: user intent. If someone is searching for “how to write a sentence” and finds a game such as this, then the user intention is fulfilled. Also the type of content (interactive game) has a well above average time-on-site. According to SimilarWeb, the duration of an average visit to BrainPOP is more than 8 minutes, with a bounce rate below 20%.

Even though the site regained rankings, BrainPOP is a good example of the downside of having a lot of pages with low amounts of content: each page only ranks for a few keywords, as our Content Performance analysis shows quite well:


Conclusion: High quality, longform content pieces that cover a topic in-depth are the winners in many areas. But the sheer amount of content is not decisive for rankings, rather the question of whether the content is relevant and fulfils the user intention.

De-indexed guitar tab pages

Websites that offer guitar tabs have been completely de-indexed in some cases.  Let’s take a look at the visibility of as an example:


ultimate-guitar de-indexation

This change, being de-indexed, has been implemented globally. This has also been carried out for in the US: de-indexation

Check your visibility now

Due to the branch specific nature of this complete de-indexation of thousands of URLs, we suspect this change was implemented manually. In addition, ranking positions have been filled by pages with effectively the same content (guitar tabs). The former market leader Ultimate Guitar still ranks for some keywords, however, typically with relatively low quality subpages in correspondingly low ranking positions. The complete domain has not been de-indexed. While the subdomain has been completely de-indexed, the editorial content can still be found in the Google index.

As always we will continue to monitor the data and keep you abreast of any further changes. Have you noticed any changes in your rankings or have any more info about the update? – Let us know in the comments below.

Marcus Tober

Marcus Tober

My name is Marcus Tober and I’m the founder of Searchmetrics. Because we really love to analyze all kinds 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.

72 thoughts on “Google Core Update 2016: Analysis of Winners and Losers

  • Thanks for sharing

  • Schlüsseldienst Lübeck 2016/01/26 at 11:37 am

    Very interesting article! Thanks!

  • Nikolay Stoyanov 2016/01/26 at 12:11 pm

    I feel that SEO experts are the biggest losers after this update because we will have to adapt to newly found situation (at least those who haven’t adapted up to this point). However, this also means that those who have the necessary knowledge will progress much quicker. As I always say: “Where others see danger, I see opportunity”.

  • I’m surprised to read that the subdomain got hit and the actual domain kept ranking! Certainly some crazy stuff going on in the serps over the last 2 weeks.

  • Anthony Jackson 2016/02/01 at 10:42 am

    This is good news for SEO experts that do actually follow correct guidelines and procedures. As Nokolay states ‘where others see danger, i see opportunity’ i totally agree with this. Everyone who works with SEO should be alert to how google is working hard in the back ground to change SEO of the past and keep everyone in line to make sure the customer – user, finds the best content related to the subject matter.

  • I can still see the changes going on, after every few hours the rankings are shuffling (it may be changing more frequently but I am checking it after a couple of hours). Just checked out for my website’s SEO visibility through the tool mentioned in the article , although the visibility has decreased but the good news is I have also seen some positive changes and I am pretty much sure that I can heal the damage caused (fingers crossed).

  • Private Cloud Hosting 2016/02/06 at 12:20 pm

    This is a good read. Thanks for sharing such an insightful info.

  • I agree that long, well optimized content is helping a lot. However I still see competitors that are gaining good links climbing rapidy 🙂

  • Outsource Image 2016/02/09 at 12:31 pm

    My Website Ranking Positions for a particular keyword get reduced in the Search Engine Result Page. On reading this, I decide to change the SEO tactics which I followed in earlier. Thank you for sharing this useful article.

  • Pankaj Shrivastava 2016/02/14 at 7:03 pm

    So more and more focus on researched in depth quality content supported by relevant images and videos.

  • it’s very hard to rank new sites but after this update i see some thing change in algo.

  • thanks for giving nice information very useful

  • I have noticed this, Keywords ranking has been down one of my client. I am really appreciate reading this helpful article. This is helpful for me for analyzing my website.

  • thank’s for sharing very helpful article

  • Very informative post about google algorithm. Thanks for sharing in details.

    This post is also give very interesting details about google algorithm :

  • I agree user intention is key. Google wants to provide the best user experience for the people who use their platforms otherwise they start to lose market share. It is up to us marketers to understand what the intention is for any given keyword and present the best possible content for that, either long form or short form as long as it’s relevant.

  • Hi I experienced a sharp fall in sales from end Jan to our website – looking at google analytics this is a direct result of declining site visitors. We used to feature on page 1 for ‘photo cakes’ but now not even on the first few pages!

    I need to understand what element of the change has affected us – depth of content, frequency of site updates, images etc..

  • mortal kombat x cheats 2016/03/14 at 2:58 am

    Thanks for finally writing about >Google Core Update 2016:
    Analysis of Winners and Losers Searchmetrics SEO Blog <Loved it!

  • You have a shared a very useful information. Thanks for sharing this informative article.

  • Mithilesh Kushwaha 2016/03/31 at 9:17 pm

    This article is very useful. and i learn many think of google update 2016

  • Good article . you have share good information about google update . This will help us a lot in the seo of our website.
    Thanks .

  • Thanks for sharing Google algorithm updates.

  • Srinivas Ramakrishna 2016/04/11 at 3:27 pm

    That’s an useful information on Google Core update. Hope there won’t be major turn around with Google Penguin update

  • Thanks for sharing.

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