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May Winners and Losers – Tyson Stockton // Searchmetrics

Episode Overview: Google’s latest algorithm update indicates a greater shift toward the company prioritizing its own properties in their search engine. Major brands experienced significant losses in visibility after this latest move while others remained unscathed. Join host Ben as he speaks with Searchmetrics’ Vice President of Services Tyson Stockton about this trend with Google and how other brands managed to remain on top despite the shift.

Summary

  • Despite a track record of success over the past year, Spotify saw significant dips in visibility week after week since the May Google algorithm update.
  • The Algorithm shifted priority to media sites like Rolling Stone and ET Online that featured artists and bands in their articles.
  • Top brands Amazon, Walmart and Target maintained or saw increases to their visibility whereas fellow brand heavyweight Best Buy saw their visibility dip between two to five percent.

GUESTS & RESOURCES

Ben:                  Welcome to our May 2020 edition of Winners and Losers on the Voices of Search podcast. Today, we’re going to take a look back on the month, and talk about some of the trends behind some of the biggest movers, shakers and slackers in the SEO world.

Ben:                  Joining us for Winners and Losers is Tyson Stockton, who is the vice president of Searchmetrics’ services. Tyson manages Searchmetrics’ SEO content, and client success organizations, and outside of shepherding Searchmetrics largest and most strategic clients to SEO success. He’s also dug through the Searchmetrics suite to help you understand who’s making moves in the SEO community.

Ben:                  Okay. Here’s my monthly sit down with Searchmetrics Vice President of Services, Tyson Stockton. Tyson, welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.

Tyson:             Thanks Ben. Back again. Still at home, different room though.

Ben:                 It’s been a heck of a month and I appreciate that you actually got out of bed to record this podcast. I do also see that you stole my microphone from the Searchmetrics office. You sound fantastic.

Tyson:            Thank you, Ben. Much appreciated.

Ben:                Yeah, you’re welcome. Thank you for asking. There’s been a lot going on in the SEO community as well. We’ve had an algorithm update. We’ve seen changes in ecommerce. Hey, there’s this Coronavirus thing that we really don’t want to talk about anymore, but we probably have to.

Ben:                Well, let’s start off with the algorithm change. Google shook up the globe again, we’re seeing all the snowflakes fall. Where are they landing? What do we know about the algorithm, and how has it impacted SEO this month?

Tyson:            Yeah. No surprise. May, that time of year Google launches the new algorithm update. This is a core update. Similar, to actually some of the ones that they’ve done in the past. This one has been a lot of focus around relevancy. How Google is understanding the intent of a query, and then obviously the content that follows, shouldn’t be anything new to a lot of the SEOs out there. We’ve seen these time and time again a few times during the year, but definitely a lot of movement from this one.

Ben:                Tyson, you talk a little bit about relevancy and that’s really where Google is focusing, and we’re seeing some big moves. Talk to me about how we understand what Google has changed based on who’s actually moving up and down in the search ranking.

Tyson:            Yeah, and I think one of the best examples that I would say that really illustrates the algorithm update, and I think there has been a fair amount of noise in this algorithm update because you have this shifting search behaviors during this event, and then you have an algorithm update. And so, I think sometimes those factors will cross over, but as far as the algorithm update, and the relevancy of what people are looking for, a great example of this is Spotify, and Spotify obviously still a very dominant product. I mean, I saw your post earlier today with Joe Rogan signing on with them, so obviously they’re doing well.

Ben:                 A hundred million bucks, and I think it was a year.

Tyson:             Yeah.

Ben:                 For everybody who isn’t familiar, Joe Rogan, one of the biggest podcasts in the world signed an exclusive license with Spotify to distribute his content. He still owns it and he gets like a hundred million bucks a year. Unbelievable. Let’s move on.

Tyson:            We’ll write them for the Voices of Search exclusive later. But at Spotify, what we saw, huge decrease. They had basically over the last couple of weeks, which we know that two weeks ago is kind of the timeframe we’re looking at for the algorithm update. They lost in this last week, 33% of their visibility, and the week before 15%, so it’s the largest movement I’ve seen on this domain in a very, very long time, if not potentially ever.

Tyson:            And where they’re losing rankings, it’s largely all around artist names or band names. And yes, Spotify has kind of the curated page that has essentially a discography, but then you look at who’s winning on those individual keywords and it’s a lot of publications related around recent news articles that pertain to that artist. In this sense, Google is interpreting the intent of someone just searching an artist’s name, they want to know informational pieces about that artist, versus where can I listen to it, which might have different modifiers in the query.

Ben:                Talk to me about what this tells us about the actual algorithm change. Great, we’re seeing Spotify’s visibility go down with a specific page type. What’s the takeaway there?

Tyson:             The takeaway there, and I think it also comes in the winners where you’re seeing, People.com, Rolling Stone, ET Online, those editorial publishers, focused on the artists and saying recent information about them. In this sense, Google’s interpretation of the intent of those queries is to find information of what’s going on with the artists, versus that where can I listen?

Tyson:             What’s happening is the editorials, which in the past have actually kind of been hurt by a lot of these, a lot of publishers have actually moved up because they have that relevancy for whatever’s new and happening with the artists. And so, I think that’s something that’s a little bit more on less understanding the content of the article, and more focused on understanding the intent of the query.

Tyson:            A lot of the things that we’ve been seeing on this, I think actually, and I wouldn’t say it’s exclusively this, but in compared to some others, I’d say that this one is much heavier focused on Google’s understanding of the intent, and then the websites that fit that intent, versus kind of how they’re classifying the individual pieces of content.

Ben:                What are some of the other brands that you’ve seen impacted by the update, and what does it tell you about what Google is thinking in terms of relevance and their understanding of content?

Tyson:             I mean, one, which I don’t know if it addresses the latter part of that question, but one worth noting is one of the top winners over the last couple weeks has been Google.com.

Ben:                You don’t say.

Tyson:            I know, I know. It’s kind of like how we saw YouTube on some of the other ones come up. This one, the root domain of Google.com jumped up 17% this week, and another 15% the week before.

Ben:                Why would Google.com jump up? It doesn’t actually seem like it’s a content domain. It doesn’t seem like there would be, obviously it’s a very valuable domain, but Google doesn’t actually use the Google.com domain to publish content, do they?

Tyson:            They do on some domains. One of the big areas, if you look at their sub domains, the biggest sub domains that gained the most traffic was play.google.com. I mean, even though they’re only a subset of what the overall visibility of Google, we saw 22% increase on play.google and another 17-18% the week before.

Tyson:             You are seeing these big kind of movements as far as in the play part of Google. And I think kind of similarly another winner that shot up last couple of weeks, Pinterest as well. And I think a lot of that, you see the kind of long tail, but I’d say, yeah, Google, Pinterest, Spotify on the negative downward trend. But a lot of movements in those upper websites are the larger websites that have the vast coverage.

Ben:                 I mean, Google is prioritizing their own properties and hey, turns out Google is doing this update to hopefully create value for their users, people that are using the search engine. But they’re also running a business and they’re prioritizing Google. Which brings up the question, there’s an interesting phenomenon. I had mentioned this with Jordan the other day, that people are on Twitter complaining about the Google update. Why are people complaining on Twitter about what’s been happening with this update?

Tyson:            To me, honestly, I mean, I don’t really have a great answer for it because I don’t think it’s not landing on open ears necessarily. I think from the least little snippets and stuff I’ve seen is just, it’s been such a challenging time for a lot of people. Throwing something like an algorithm update just kind of, I think in some people’s minds feels like fuel to the fire.

Tyson:             I think that it’s fair in some degree, but devil’s advocate to kind of play it on the other side. Google is not making these changes to hurt websites. They’re making the changes because they feel that this is going to better fit user intent. Even though we are going through a troubled time, if people are finding the information is more relevant to their searches, it’s a better experience. That’s something better for the community. I’d say that would be devil’s advocate side to it.

Tyson:             But I’d say it’s not a surprise because these come at the exact same time almost every single year. And really in the last two to three years, it’s been just a very consistent aggression of every three months, Google core update, which it’s not just one element that’s changed in the algorithm. It’s all these different little factors and stuff that’s adding up to how Google’s understanding intent and interpreting content.

Ben:                 Well, I think that’s important. Hopefully Google is pushing this update live to help consumers find more relevant information. On the flip side, I’ll play devil’s advocate as well. If Google is going to push an algorithm change live that dramatically changes the prioritization and visibility of their own domains, maybe this is the best time to do it when people are a little preoccupied with some other things.

Ben:                 Which brings me to my next question, when you’re thinking about search behavior and what’s been changing with the Coronavirus, and how people are, just the world is different now. And then we have this algorithm update. How do you reconcile the two, and what is actually driving some of the dramatic changes we’ve seen in the search visibility landscape? Is it people are searching for different stuff because of the Coronavirus? Or is it actually the algorithm update?

Tyson:             Yeah, and I think to me that’s at the core of what’s more unique about this algorithm, where you have this bleed over of impacts of a shifting user behavior. And you have, and we’ve talked about it in the last couple months of what we’re seeing changes in search, and then you throw this on, and it’s not necessarily always as black and white of, hey, this was algorithm driven. This was search driven, and you have in the midst of these changes, like we discussed on Zoom.us, hey, all of a sudden more people are searching rooms in a reference to a conference room, and conference being an online conference, so Zoom has had this increase. But that wasn’t necessarily algorithm driven.

Tyson:              And I think something else that we’ve seen from this algorithm update in finance, quite a few of the big players in finance, like NerdWallet, taking a significant drop down in their overall visibility, and closers kind of call out like, I mean, three big ones like NerdWallet, thebalance.com, Credit Karma. All three of those domains saw between almost a 10% to a 34% decrease of their overall domains visibility.

Tyson:               I think in that area, it’s a little more convoluted than those earlier ones, because there are differences as far as how people are searching in finance related topics given these troubled times. But also we’ve seen kind of a rise in the more niche articles that are very, very specific to the user’s intent that may be related to these topics. The historical content, and ranking articles from some of those big players, which maybe were more broadly based on how to invest, or different elements of investing, is now we have newer relevant information that the intent could trigger. And those smaller sites are actually kind of taking some ground over these larger, and probably in some cases, more authoritative sites.

Ben:                   I think that, on a case by case basis, we’re seeing some fluctuations in search ranking based on user behavior. And in some cases, mostly around sort of content delivery. We’re seeing obviously the algorithm is making significant changes. We’ve seen a pretty dramatic change in what’s been happening in the ecommerce landscape. Talk to me a little bit about ecommerce. What has been changing? Is it related to the algorithm? Is it user behavior, or is it some changes that Google and even Amazon are making as well?

Tyson:              Yeah, and ecommerce, a lot of times when these updates happen, it’s like the big, heavy focus industries are finding health, medical, than your money, your life type queries. But ecommerce had some significant shifts, and specifically looking at the big 10 or the top 10 ecommerce sites in the US, almost all of them have been up through this algorithm update. And it doesn’t mean that they were all necessarily up prior, and we’ve had some fluctuations of how some ecommerce sites were more relevant, or there was increasing search for it.

Tyson:              But looking across the board, just kind of first to call out the few domains that are actually decreased, we actually did see a decrease from Walmart, in the form of basically between two and five percent over the last couple of weeks. And then, also, a little bit of a decrease in Etsy, not very significant, so relatively flat. And then, of the top 10, the only one that had a significant decrease was Best Buy, who was back in Q4 having like a really strong Q4 that helped them through the holiday times. But then we’ve seen a softening. We saw it in the January algorithm update, and then this one’s a little bit more amplified for as far as their decrease goes.

Tyson:            The other pieces though, as far as who’s winning, the largest winner by far from this was Target. Target, they’ve been having some strong performance, they had kind of inched up into that competitive third tier space. And so again, it’s Amazon at the top, Walmart clear number two, and then Target now from this update has jumped up basically 20 percentage points this last week, another 10% the week before, and has claimed that number three spot in this ecommerce field.

Tyson:           You’re also seeing some significant increases in Wayfair, Lowe’s, Home Depot had a really strong last couple months. Home Depot is actually just behind Target, and eBay, in that kind of third place area. And so, there’s been a lot of the larger domains winning, and also in talking to whether it’s clients or others in the industry, I think something else that’s been common across having conversations with some of these brands is the long tail as well. And, I think a lot of them, and it’s not necessarily showing up as prominent because of the search volume of the long-tail queries, but a lot of the domains have been expressing that they’re really seeing significant increases on their product pages as well.

Ben:                 Ecommerce broadly is increasing in visibility, is that a sign of the times is that, people are buying more stuff because of the Coronavirus, and we’re all working from home. Home Depot, I think is probably positively impacted by people spending more time at home, thinking about how to fix it up, and turn their homes into an office. Or are there other factors that are at play here?

Tyson:               It’s a little bit of both, and so we’ve seen, and let’s say Home Depot specifically, we’ve seen them increasing over the last couple months, and I think we’ve brought them up in past episodes. And so a Home Depot, a Wayfair, a Lowe’s, those ones they’re kind of riding the wave a little bit. And even though they got an additional bump from some of the domains from the algorithm on fate, I wouldn’t say it’s entirely algorithm driven for them.

Tyson:               And the ones that I think really jump out is again, Target because however they’ve been having good performance, this has been like a step, like a leap, of performance increase. And I think an interesting part of that is thinking about, and going back to some of Google’s documentation on what to do during an algorithm update if you’re negatively impacted, and when can you expect to come bounce back from this, and some of the verbiage and stuff in there is they state that, “Hey, you’re not going to get necessarily immediate return from that.” It’s not like, “Hey, I have a problem with linking on my site. I fixed linking, and it’s going to jump back to conformity.”

Tyson:             Where the algorithm updates, it’s more of you’re having to make the significant improvements to the user experience, the relevancy of the content, making those investments. And then when the algorithm updates do, you hopefully reap the benefits of that. And so, I think when you look at a Target, it’s very much algorithm driven. When you look at someone more like Home Depot, Wayfair, I mean, Wayfair maybe a little bit different than Home Depot, but those ones I say is more of a hybrid impact of shifting behaviors, and then also having this algorithm thrown on top of it.

Ben:                 Outside of Google search results for ecommerce, we’re also seeing some pretty dramatic changes in the shopping landscape. Talk to me about what’s happening with Google versus Amazon and PLAs. There’s been a lot of movement there. What have we seen in the shopping tab for Google?

Tyson:            Yeah, and there’s a few segments of this. I mean, the first gorilla in the room, you look at Amazon. And a few years back, we saw when Amazon decided to start running PLAs, there was an increase in CPC across ecommerce across the board. And so, you have the largest player, the largest retailer in the US, all of a sudden running it. It’s just the demand, and kind of the bidding just jumps up.

Tyson:           Recently, and not necessarily this month, but going back more towards the start of this event. Amazon pulled out their PLAs. They went from being one of the largest spenders in PLAs, to now not spending anything on PLAs, and so, that has actually drove down CPC in the PLA space. And so, that’s not necessarily Google shopping tab, but that’s the Google shopping picture links at the top of the SERP.

Ben:               Amazon stopped spending all together on Google, which I think is from a headline perspective, pretty damn important. And the impact for maybe the PPC world or the PLA world is, “Hey, prices are going to be better. You’re not competing against Amazon when you mark it on Google.”

Tyson:          Yeah, and I guess one clarification is specific to the PLAs, but I mean, that’s 80-90% of most of these companies ad spend budget. That’s absolutely true. And it’s like, you’re no longer competing on Amazon, and I think we could hypothesize why Amazon did that. I don’t think at least from what I’ve seen, there hasn’t been a clear statement of that. I would probably tend to kind of lean to, hey, Amazon knows that most users, or majority of users are starting their product search within Amazon, so what’s the value of that ad spend?

Tyson:           But then also on the flip side of this, you have Google wanting to be more competitive in this space. And really even in a lot of transactions, things are happening. Google, they’ve still been falling behind to Amazon in this head-to-head battle between the two. Google, a little while back, and now instead the shopping tab, or the product feeds specific to the shopping segment of their site is now free for websites to upload their product feeds. It’s not necessarily like an SEO play, because it’s not, at least at the time being, living in the SERPS. But it’s in the tabs, and for that, I think one of the benefits from Google side is, sure, you have the PR piece of, “Hey, we’re leveling the playing field, so smaller businesses can get their product feeds in.” But also on the selfish side, that is also building out their inventory.

Tyson:          And by opening it up for free, they’re getting all these product feeds for merchants that’re building their structured data around individual products, which can then open up different ways that they integrate it into the server. I think this is something that maybe it’s not exactly we’re not seeing a full impact from it yet, but I think it’s going to be something interesting to watch that as Google acquires more and more data from all these feeds that businesses are submitting, how do they integrate that? And what additional shopping or crowder related circuit integrations do they start testing and filtering into the search in general?

Ben:              I think that there’s a lot of competition to think about when you’re looking at PLAs, and Amazon is potentially thinking, “Hey, I don’t want to give Google this much money for traffic that probably is going to be coming my way.” And on the flip side, for the ecommerce industry, not only does it lower CPCs, there’s just less competition when you’re in Google shopping now. You don’t have to pay for the listings to be in Google shopping. You’re not competing with Amazon. When we think about ecommerce in general, is this potential opportunity for other brands to pick up some market share?

Tyson:         Yeah, and we’ve seen at the start of this, when we were watching our research cloud data on paid visibility, and paid ad spend, or estimated paid ads spend. We saw some significant increases from some of the larger ecommerce players, and Wayfair had the largest increase in ad spend. You do have some of these other big players that are taking advantage of that. Let’s call it discounted price, or maybe not inflated price. And they’re really ratcheting up that part of their marketing channel.

Ben:              All right, Tyson. Let’s get into the most important part of the episode. Let’s talk about our Winners and Losers. When you think back on the month of May, who’s the biggest winner in your mind?

Tyson:          I’d say the biggest loser from this, I’m going to use Spotify in this one. It was a substantial drop in their overall visibility. I don’t know if that necessarily hurts them as significantly as a business, but as far as just general SEO performance, that’s a huge shift. And also I think it’s just a great story, and a great way to really conceptualize what’s going on with this algorithm update.

Ben:              Yeah. I think for my loser for the week, I’m going to go outside of the conversations that we had today, and I’ve got to say LinkedIn. They delisted themselves, whether they were scared of the Google update, whether it was just an honest mistake, oops, LinkedIn, isn’t showing up in Google search, instant loser for me. Let’s look on the bright side. Tyson, tell me about who your winner is for this month.

Tyson:          And I will say that LinkedIn piece is definitely maybe at the end of the year, the non SEO top 10 right there. The next thing, even though they jumped back, they still took a little bit of a tax from it. That’s definitely not the top 10 there.

Tyson:          Overall winners, I’m really as surprised and impressed by the huge increase that Target had on it. That, again, I think it was the largest single month change that I’ve seen from them, and a lot of the other ecommerce sites of their size.

Tyson:           Then moving into that number three, most visible kind of ecommerce site in the US, I would say Target takes the top of my list for the winner of this month.

Ben:               I’m going to go with a surprise candidate for who’s the winner of the month. And I’m going to say, well, Google, congratulations. You’ve executed the algorithm change, and surprise, you’re the big winner. Who would’ve saw that one coming? Hey, everyone, when Google makes an algorithm change, it is, let’s hope for the consumers, but it is definitely always for Google. That’s the reason why they’re changing the algorithm. I don’t want to hear any more complaining on Twitter about Google making the changes. They made the algorithm, they get to decide how it works.

Ben:             All right. Tyson, any last words before I let you go?

Tyson:         It was nice to talk non-corona today. I think we barely touched on it. Maybe I broke the seal there, but yeah. Nice to talk about regular SEO topics again.

Ben:            We got through this entire conversation and no one asked whether we had masks on or not. And I’m excited about it too. You could barely see the beard coming out of the bottom of your mask. It’s good to see you, everybody. Thank you for listening, and that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast.

Ben:            Thanks for listening to my conversation with Tyson Stockton, vice president of services at Searchmetrics. We’d love to continue the conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Tyson, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter where his handle is tyson_stockton. Or you could visit his website, which is, searchmetrics.com.

Ben:             Just one more link on our show notes, I’d like to tell you about. If you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to voicesofsearch.com, where we have summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You can also send us your topic, suggestions, your SEO questions. Hey, you can even fill out our form and apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast.

Ben:            Of course, you could always reach out on social media. Our handle is voicesofsearch on Twitter, or my personal handle is Ben J Shap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. And if you haven’t subscribed yet, and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish an episode every day during the work week. hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning.

Ben:           All right. That’s it for today. But until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.