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The Winners and Losers of Google’s “March 2019 Core Update”

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Episode Overview

March 12 was the big day when Google implemented an update to their core algorithm. A number of industries and key players have seen some profound changes in their rankings, which are impacting their business. Tyson Stockton, director of services at Searchmetrics takes a deep dive, looking at the web winners and losers—and why.

In this podcast, we cover:

  • What’s happening to the Amazons and Walmarts of the world
  • How the health industry and companies like the Mayo Clinic, WebMD, and Healthline have been impacted
  • Why companies like Etsy are winning the rankings game
  • How Searchmetrics’ Research Cloud has been tracking Google’s changes


Episode Transcript

Ben:                             Okay, here’s our monthly sit-down with Searchmetrics’ director of services, Tyson Stockton. Tyson, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Tyson:                          Thanks, Ben. Lots of changes and movements going on this week.

Ben:                             Seems like it was a busy month some updates, some big changes across a couple of key industries. So, let’s dive right into it and just talk about what we saw from Google. There was a big YMYL focus change. Tell me a little about what you know.

Tyson:                          Yeah, so little, little disclaimer going into this session. You know, normally in these we want to talk more to what’s going on for the whole month, and this one’s going to be really heavily skewed towards this algorithm update. Because it kind of dwarfs a lot of the other movements that have happened earlier in the month.

Tyson:                          So, actually the, the update that happened was on March 12th, that it was announced. And this was a core update and, meaning it was impacting the core algorithm. And, that also signifies that it’s not necessarily targeted in any specific one industry. So, in the initial, kind of like reports that were coming out and the information that was, kind of, moving around, was that Google confirmed it was a core update. It was also said that it wasn’t going to focus on any specific one industry. And then, it was also known that it was going to have, kind of a roll out period. Where it was hitting all markets at the same time, where sometimes they might have like a US market first, and then kind of cascade out. So this one was supposed to roll out across the board. But then take a few weeks to really kind of like settle in.

Tyson:                          So, the first week that it happened, and again it was March 12th, and people were kind of calling it the Florida 2, but March 12th was where they landed on a leveling inning. But after the first the week in a research cloud update, we saw some movement. And there are a lot of early kind of findings that was talking more of your money, your life, and those kind of things; it’s focused on the health or the finance industry. And even though we saw a lot of movement in the beginning card or the first week in those sectors, we saw that shift this last week. In this last week we saw a lot more significant movements, and it was definitely more destructive as far as the results and how websites kind of responded to these changes.

Ben:                             So talking about some of the industries that you think were impacted, you mention that health and finance were some of the areas that we thought were going to be impacted, we also have seen some shift in eCommerce and specifically in the audio market. Tell me what happened in the health industry first.

Tyson:                          Yeah, so the health industry, they’re, they’ve been the almost center of focus in a lot of these it seems. And there’s kind of the quick, go to hope something happens, that’s like an industry that a lot of people tend to look to really early on. Because there is so much kind of focus on that as far as how it impacts users’ well-being. And, it was certainly a rough, a rough go for a lot of the big choirs in that space. Starting out with one of the largest websites in the health industry, WebMD. Just last week they took a nine percent decrease in their overall visibility. They still are a market leader of course, but that was an area that we saw them decrease.

Tyson:                          And interesting enough, and this is going to be a consistent theme that we’ll touch on again and again in this conversation, is in the previous core update, where actually three core or major core updates in 2018 that was announced, or kind of confirmed by Google. And especially the one that we saw, a lot of movement was on kind of the late August one. And WebMD was on the winning side of that first, of that August update. And this we saw them coming back down. So overall I’d say, there still up from that swing, but this was a pretty substantial, pretty big hit for them.

Tyson:                          Then, Healthline was another website that was in the health industry, losing 29 percent of their SO visibility. You also saw an increase kind of in that August timeframe, not as much in the September update. But, you saw some upward trends, kind of that part of Q3, Q4 of last year. And indefinitely the one that had the most substantial fallout was and they had a 74 percent decrease, so the most substantial decrease that we saw in the health industry. And this website, just like the others, and it was more on the September core update, they had a sharp uptake but not nearly as substantial as this downturn.

Ben:                             So, with these updates it seems you know, companies like WebMD have been bounced around a little bit. They were positive on the last update, this update they were negative. Healthline, kind of a similar story. Every day Health got absolutely crushed in terms of visibility from this update. Who is the winner in the health industry? Why, you know, if there is a reduction in visibility for all of these major sites in health, doesn’t somebody have to win?

Tyson:                          Yeah, and I think there are still kind of niche sites that are emerging kind of on the front side, but they get dwarfed a little bit in these large websites, when you’re looking at, kind of like the macro lens. But one website that does kind of surface that had a few good weeks in a row here, so it’s a strong march overall, is the Up four percent just this last week, but again, similar kind of bombs over the course of the month. And, they’re also interesting because you have the, kind of the reverse trend is what we saw with some of these others. So, some of these other ones, they had a positive bump in those September album updates, and then a sharp decline or kind of movement now. The Mayo Clinic actually had bumps in the same direction. So, they were on the positive side of kind of some of those updates, towards a Q3 time period of 2018. And this one, not nearly as pronounced and as noticeable of an impact on their site compared to some of their competitors. But they were still positive, positive trajectory on this. So it’s still a good sign for them.

Ben:                             Yeah. It, it sounds like the industry as a whole saw a decrease in visibility and the fact that the Mayo Clinic was slightly up, you know, bucks the trend, and that probably makes them the winner during this timeframe and for the health industry related to this update.

Tyson:                          Absolutely. Yeah, and I mean, they’ve had small wins, week over week, going back to the beginning of February. So, I’d say we see a lot of stability in their rankings. They thin, they’ve had these kind of  little bit more significant movements, but I think the noticeable thing, really coin that would solidify them as a winner for this month in my book is this stability that they’ve had through the increase in the last year and then also being on the winning side of the last two core updates. That would get me a little bit, kind of a relief in a very volatile industry lately.

Ben:                             Okay, talk to me a little bit about some of the other industries that were affected.  I know that there was some eCommerce companies that we’ve been talking about pretty consistently in our Winners and Losers episodes. How were the big boys affected? The Amazons, the Walmarts of the world.

Tyson:                          Ah, this was a very, very rough last week for the biggy commerce players. This was the most substantial decrease in one week that I have seen with Amazon over the course of probably the last few years. And an eight percent decrease on their overall visibility. Which in percentage points isn’t the most.  We just discussed one that was like high seventies. Ah, there’s several others that beat them in percentage points. But as far the volume or the absolute number of SEO visibility points lost across most of the, all of the industries that I’ve looked at on this they’re right up there and they’re actually in our overall Winners and Losers portion of the research cloud. We had them in our database as the one that lost the most ranking in this one individual week. So they’ve had, and they certainly were on the winning side of these algorithms last year. So I wouldn’t say that they’ve completely kind of neglected that. But that one in particular I think, as far as volume goes, had the biggest decline and the biggest shift. So that one’s really substantial.

Tyson:                          Walmart, which you remember from previous episodes was on the winning side of the previous kind of algorithm update, and they had a good start to the year, we talked about them around Black Friday, and kind of-

Ben:                             And a good Christmas, too.

Tyson:                          Exactly.  there was, they were winning in the right times, and it seems to me that they are coming down a little bit, or coming back down to Earth. It’s not as big of a, a decrease that we saw in the last couple weeks as the increase that they experienced going into Q4. But still as far as the month of March goes, they would be on this, on this losers list.

Ben:                             So do you think that Walmart’s adjustment and the softening that they saw this week was because of the core update or was this just the Walmart site coming back to reality a little bit after having a hot December, January and February?

Tyson:                          I would say this is related to this algorithm update.  The movements that we saw on the domain kind of in the time between the last two core updates were there definitely were movements. But it wasn’t as substantial or as pronounced as this. The timing, looking at some of the key words that have dropped in comparison to some other competitors, all the signs kind of point that this is more of the website responding to this tweak or change to the core algorithm, rather than just kind of like a normal settling or changes that they’re making to the site.

Ben:                             Yeah. So not a random change that happened to Walmart really related to the recent update. So, who are some of the winners in eCommerce, you know related to this update?

Tyson:                          I think definitely the one that I would say is the winner in, really an overall winner in my book, looking at their last six to nine months, is Etsy. They had a fifteen percent increase in just this last week as well as two positive weeks before that. And as far as the trajectory goes, they’ve been on a positive trajectory since about the end of May in 2016. They were on the winning side of the update in September, or kind of going into October, they saw a good jump there. But this is a website, it’s a very competitive space that they’re in. They have a lot of users generated, which we’ll touch on also before and it’s a hard space to do well. But this, this algorithm update as well as just, and looking at kind of their graph over time, it a co- it’s, it’s not just algorithm updates that are helping them. It’s, it’s clear that they are doing a lot of work on the site and a lot of positive things to improve their overall performance.

Ben:                             So, Etsy has been on an upward trend, we think that this update helped them continue that. Is the cause of this update the fact that Etsy has unique content even though its user generated as opposed to the Walmarts and Amazons of the world are, you know, a lot of overlap in terms of what those projects are, so less of them is actually unique.

Tyson:                          Well, I mean, I think that can be a portion to it, but I think that there is going to be a lot more layers that go into this one. I mean, it is true, you’re not going to have Etsy competing against terms like iPhone or MacBook or you know, running shoes, something super, super broad. But you are going to get more of those niche queries. But I mean, we also saw some movement on their site and are on some of these parent kind of terms. So, I think it’s, it’s really a combination for them, it’s them living in a little bit of that niche market, but then also how, how they’re competing and their, kind of the structure of the pages and the site.

Tyson:                          One thing that we saw quite a bit of when we started to dig into the key words that had the biggest movements, is there’s kind of this play between informational and transactional intent, and when you get to the really high parents kind of topics, like running shoes or just shoes, or even iPhone because they’re showing new variations and models of  the iPhone, is that we’re seeing a lot more informational kind of queries along with the transactional word before, it might have been a little bit more predominantly transactional intent. So I think that and it’s, it’s part of your point that Etsy operates in, is they may not have as much of those informational. But then they have succeeded in one, and just as a, like an anecdotal example is, and it’s probably not very transactional one for Etsy’s part, but looking at their winner keywords that jumped up this week. A key word like skulls jumped up 92 positions and on the first page for. So, obviously okay they’re not having information around skulls, but as far as still ranking for a term that has a blend between transactional and informational queries of kind of informational URLs, they’re not, they’re not really suffering as much.

Ben:                             So you mentioned that some of the brand terms were affected or I say brand terms, but some of the queries that can be both informational and transactional were affected. How were some of the more branded companies affected?

Tyson:                          I think a great example of that, and we kind of touched on it, was some electronics topics. And Apple I would also put in the winner category. So, we saw this movement on, specifically with like the commerce sites, a lot of the big swings happening on those like top kind of parent terms. And then when you get a website like Apple, we saw five percent increase, so where you’re having like substantial swings and negative downturns of other eCommerce sites.

Tyson:                          Apple is an eCommerce site, so they have those intents and those page types, but then being the manufacturer and the one producing the product, they’re also going to have a lot of pages on the informational queries of telling you about the new iPhone or iPad, and giving you all kind of the latest and greatest of it. So this is interesting space because in one they have this separation that they need to create on the site of parts of the site that are informational intent and parts of the site that are transactional. But when we see as far as this update goes and how some of the other websites that are especially pure play transactional, they’re one that we’re seeing not only maintain their ranking on the transactional terms, but also keeping that progress and that momentum on the informational terms as well.

Ben:                             So it seems like a company like Apple, or Apple specifically, not only was able to sort of keep the ship headed the right way where some of the major eCommerce players were negatively affected, but they also saw a positive trend in both transactional and eCommerce terms.

Tyson:                          Yeah, I’d say a lot, a lot more of the losses go around, was, you know, there’s a good amount on informational. But I would say it wasn’t as much the movement in those terms as well as just what their overall performance is, and they are able to rank and do well in both of those categories.

Ben:                             Okay. Talk to me about the last industry that we saw a pretty big swing in which is automotive. It’s a subset of eCommerce. What was interesting about what happened in the automotive industry?

Tyson:                          Yeah, I thought the automotive industry was interesting because similar to Apple you have this of intent types. And a lot of the big players in the automotive space are going to have both sides, a transactional section of the site where they’re selling or they’re listing cars that are for sale. And then a lot of them will have, kind of reviews, or what’s new about this car. And so you have, again this play of intent on the parts of the site. And this was another one that we saw some stability in some companies and then we also saw some pretty big movements in others.

Tyson:                          I’d say the most notable and the one that’s just easy to kind of call out was Car Gurus. And, Car Gurus had a 37 percent decline this last week. So that’s a pretty substantial loss. That’s one of the biggest swings that I’ve seen from this site over the last couple years. They’re a site that have done extremely well in recent years. Like I’d say in the last five years, they’ve really commanded a huge ownership of market share and just overall performance. But when you look at them in the last year, you see quite a bit more volatility. And, if we go back five to two years, you saw this kind of steady, almost Wayfair, increase over time.

Tyson:                          But over the last twelve months, you see these wins and losses, and you really see it, they kind of peaked, at least for the time period of the last twelve months, you see the peak and their all-time visibility peak at 7/29, 2018. Since then they’ve been on the decline, but they haven’t had such a fallout as this. And why I think that’s important when we talk about this update and the car market in the, as a whole, it’s because Car Gurus, unlike some of their other competitors, is very heavily transactional skewed in the way that their website’s structured and the way that their website’s designed. They don’t have as much content in car reviews or what’s new about different cars and things like that as some of their competitors. Where a majority of the sites they have are that transactional intent and they’ve done very well at performing in both areas. So, this I thought was interesting, seeing that kind of swing happening on their site.

Tyson:                          When we look at some other websites, like, or, yeah actually one that-so, very minimal change. It was negative one percent, but I would take that as a win, being that a lot of their other competitors had this movement., they’re going to have that. They have the informational side, they have the transactional side, and it seems to be that they did, fared a little bit better in this space. Auto Traders, one that also had a decrease of four percent this week and a rougher March in kind of comparison. But they’ll, definitely not, not in the same volume as what we saw Car Gurus.

Ben:                             Okay, so. Seems like there’s kind of wild variances across multiple different industries. And we’ve seen some decreases in visibility, up to 74 percent related to the recent update, and then on the positive side we haven’t seen these huge bumps. So really the winners for this month are really going to be companies that kind of held the line and just didn’t see the type of softness we did in their industry. Talk to me about who you see as the biggest winners for this month.

Tyson:                          Biggest winners, is I would say, probably, especially in the eCommerce space, Etsy.  Etsy did really well.  another winner in eCommerce which we didn’t get into was Storylines. Very similar to the others is Wayfair, they lost a lot in the last core update, and the kind of horseshoed and recaptured a lot of that. So, Wayfair’s also going to be in the winners list.  As far as the rest of their industry, took huge losses. Mayo Clinic’s on the winners as well for me. And yeah, I think those would be my, my big three right now for this update.

Ben:                             Yeah. So it seems like Etsy, because they continued their positive trend throughout this update, that they’ve been on a pretty hot streak lately. Then Mayo is a winner honestly because they just didn’t get crushed like the rest of the health industry.

Tyson:                          Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben:                             Let’s, let’s flip the coin. Who do you think was the loser for this month?

Tyson:                          I would say, so the first one, I’m going to give two different flip sides of the coin. So, one I’d say the absolute volume of visibility lost, so I’d say Amazon, even though it’s eight percent, they’re, the waterline is so high for them that that eight percent is a greater loss than any other one website we saw this week. So I’d put them in this category. And, then from the other side, for overall percentage points, the largest percentage points swing of those sites that I looked at, I’d say Everyday Health at 74 percent decrease. Which, that’s a, that’s a pretty scary swing.

Ben:                             Yeah. I think for the SEO at Everyday Health, if you’re listening to this podcast, give us a jingle. Any other losers or last thoughts on this month, what happened in March?

Tyson:                          I mean, they, we hit on the other losers, I think the one point that I would like to leave onto is I don’t anticipate that this is the full complete extent of it. When these core algorithm updates hit, like it came out and it was launched on the twelfth. And now we’re still seeing these ripples and this last week we saw the biggest movement by far, compared to the previous week when more of the commotion was going on about it. So, I do expect to see some kind of these, still these ripples of the impact. So, it’s going to be interested to see how kind of how the inning part and really how April plays out and what kind of trends we see continue, and which ones we see kind of, maybe soften or reverse a little bit.

Ben:                             Yeah, I think that the Google core algorithm is, the metaphor for it is, it’s like an earthquake, there’s like going to be aftershocks. So, you know, get ready to jump back under the table if you start to see your SU visibility increase or decrease, because the world might be moving under your feet.

Tyson:                          Absolutely. I mean, the last three core updates, almost all the most impacted websites on any one of those regardless of it’s up or down, that’s a perfect place to start looking for the websites that were impacted by this last update.

Ben:                             Okay. Alright, that wraps up this website of the Voices of Search podcast. Thank you for listening to my conversation with Tyson Stockton, Searchmetrics’ Director of Services. If you’d like to learn more about Tyson, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes, or you could send him a tweet, at tyson_stockton. If you have general marketing questions or if you’d like to talk to me about this podcast you can find my contact information in our show notes or you can shoot me a tweet at benjshap.

Ben:                             And, if you’re interested in joining us for our custom ranking factors webinar, which is happening on April 25th, you can go to to register.  If you like this podcast, and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll back in your feed later this week. Later, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast and you’re feeling generous, we’d love for you to leave us a review in the Apple iTunes store or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Okay, that’s it for today. But until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.


Tyson Stockton

Tyson Stockton

Tyson has over 10 years' experience in the digital marketing industry. As Vice President of Client and Account Management, Tyson manages the Enterprise Client Success team and SEO Consulting efforts at Searchmetrics. Tyson has worked with some of world’s largest enterprise websites including Fortune 500 and global eCommerce leaders. Prior to Searchmetrics, Tyson worked on the in-house side managing the SEO and SEM efforts of a collection of 14 sports specialty eCommerce companies in the US, Europe and Australia.

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