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.
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|
|4||youtube.com||1207007||6%||Media & Events|
|7||medlineplus.gov||811674||new||Search / Portal|
|9||lifewire.com||693143||new||Media & Events|
|15||healthline.com||357911||39%||Media & Events|
|16||huffingtonpost.com||349834||20%||Media & Events|
|17||thebalance.com||301039||new||Media & Events|
|21||medicalnewstoday.com||232351||63%||Media & Events|
|24||fortune.com||218464||72%||Media & Events|
|25||nytimes.com||218351||12%||Media & Events|
|26||draxe.com||216520||202%||Media & Events|
|31||hotmail.com||202750||455%||Search / Portal|
|33||patient.info||195832||92%||Media & Events|
|34||tvguide.com||183129||27%||Media & Events|
|41||people.com||148558||20%||Media & Events|
|42||history.com||148443||15%||Media & Events|
|43||investopedia.com||144018||29%||Media & Events|
|45||makeuseof.com||141799||81%||Media & Events|
|46||delish.com||130714||103%||Media & Events|
|47||vetstreet.com||130270||208%||Media & Events|
|49||rogerebert.com||119074||45%||Media & Events|
|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|
|59||howstuffworks.com||103296||31%||Media & Events|
|64||billboard.com||97777||19%||Media & Events|
|65||dogtime.com||96241||42%||Media & Events|
|68||usnews.com||89092||15%||Media & Events|
|70||thesun.co.uk||87694||176%||Media & Events|
|77||simplyrecipes.com||83162||62%||Media & Events|
|78||countryliving.com||82974||57%||Media & Events|
|82||latimes.com||81514||14%||Media & Events|
|84||vimeo.com||81221||14%||Media & Events|
|88||gamespot.com||79895||35%||Media & Events|
|89||livescience.com||79780||22%||Media & Events|
|91||travelandleisure.com||75931||111%||Media & Events|
|92||webmd.com||74080||3%||Media & Events|
|93||allrecipes.com||72262||6%||Media & Events|
|95||womenshealthmag.com||70739||52%||Media & Events|
|99||rollingstone.com||68694||19%||Media & Events|
|100||thedailybeast.com||68524||52%||Media & Events|
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|
|theatlantic.com||-1116087||-73%||Media & Events|
|about.com||-955798||-95%||Media & Events|
|newyorker.com||-440869||-31%||Media & Events|
|tv.com||-355030||-38%||Media & Events|
|usatoday.com||-307146||-27%||Media & Events|
|wired.com||-269700||-19%||Media & Events|
|eonline.com||-250677||-25%||Media & Events|
|biography.com||-227713||-11%||Media & Events|
|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|
|pcworld.com||-179891||-42%||Media & Events|
|wsj.com||-176889||-18%||Media & Events|
|esquire.com||-172184||-38%||Media & Events|
|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|
|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.
- 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.
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.
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.