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January 2019 SEO Winners and Losers

Episode Overview

Tyson Stockton, Searchmetric’s Director of Services spends some time with Ben to discuss the big winners (and losers) for January of 2019. Join us for you first monthly review of who the big movers were, why, and what lessons are to be learned.

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Episode Transcript

Ben:                             Welcome to our January 2019 edition of the winners and losers segment on the Voices of Search podcast. Today we’re going to look back on this month and talk about some of trends behind some of the biggest movers, shakers and slackers in the SEO world.

Ben:                             Joining us for winners and losers is Tyson Stockman, who was recently promoted to the Director of Searchmetrics Services Organization, which means that he manages our SEO, content and client success teams.

Ben:                             Outside of shepherding Searchmetrics’ largest and most strategic clients to SEO success, Tyson has been digging through some of the Searchmetrics Suites data to help you understand who’s making moves in the SEO community.

Ben:                             But before we get started, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise-scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic.

Ben:                             A member of our digital strategies group will provide you with a consultation that reviews how your website, content and SEO strategies can be optimized. To schedule your free digital diagnostic, go to Searchmetrics.com/diagnostic.

Ben:                             Okay. Here’s our monthly sit down with Searchmetrics’ Director of Services, Tyson Stockman. Tyson! Welcome back to the Voices of Search Podcast.

Tyson:                          Thanks man. Glad to be back on again.

Ben:                             Hey it’s great to have you here. Excited to kick off our winners and losers segment, something that we’re going to do on a monthly basis moving forward, and also very excited for you, the big promotion, you now run a large portion of the Searchmetrics organization, so congrats on the new title.

Tyson:                          Thank you. Yeah it’s been a great journey, so really looking forward to kind of this next chapter.

Ben:                             Awesome. Well let’s dive into the data of who were some of the winners and losers for the first month of 2019, and let’s just start off by talking about what some of the data that you’ve looked at to try to understand who’s making moves in the SEO community.

Tyson:                          Yeah and I think this is an important piece understanding where the data’s coming from helps put it in context. And for this, we’re primarily using our research cloud database. And this database is roughly, I believe, kind of like a billion keyword data set. And this is not specific to any one industry, so the objective behind this is to give this kind of Birdseye kind of wide net perspective of what’s going on in search.

Tyson:                          And so when we were talking about this idea of discussing just kind of like a monthly winners/losers, who’s going up? Who’s going down? This was the obvious kind of starting point for that data poll. Because we’re able to look across a multitude of industries, really understand who’s actually being impacted, whether it’s an industry shift, and algorithm change, changes in the competitive landscape, and so you’re really able to see all those kind of components and get a nice kind of overview of what’s happening in our industry.

Ben:                             So, I’ve been working with Searchmetrics in a variety of capacities for roughly three years. And when I first started working with the company, one of the things that the marketing team sort of hinged their promotion on was that Searchmetrics had one of, if not the largest SEO datasets for any company not named Google.

Ben:                             You mentioned that there’s a billion queries. Tell us a little bit about how’s that captured and a little bit about the data cleanliness before we get into what the conclusions are for who are the winners and losers. How do you capture a billion queries?

Tyson:                          Yeah and this is kind of an interesting point, as far as us as an organization, because since our really creation and the company formed, we’ve been crawling, storing and owning all of the data ourselves, which is a large endeavor and certainly not a cheap endeavor either, but it’s something that’s been at the core, very fundamental, and something that our founders and also our executives have been very rigid on wanting to maintain.

Tyson:                          And so this is not just as far as size and number of keywords, but also as far as how long that we’ve been tracking and storing this data. So it’s a great resource for our clients in the sense of understanding broad domain-level comparisons, but then also if you want to be getting insights and information that may be outside of what you’re tracking for your own domain, and again, that’s where it’s like I think there’s a lot of value that comes from the research with cloud is you’re able to not just see your individual website, but the industry as a whole, as well as kind of opening again and casting that net wider outside of what you may be tracking with any kind of the project section of the suite.

Ben:                             So, I think the important take away here is that while it’s a large dataset, it’s a billion queries, it’s also something that’s been owned proprietarily by Searchmetrics, so we’re not cobbling together multiple datasets, but let’s not talk about where the data is coming from, how we captured it too much.

Ben:                             What’s a billion queries amongst friends? Let’s talk about some of the trends that you’ve seen looking at the research cloud. What did you notice for the beginning of the year and what reports did you pull to try to triangulate who were the winners and the losers?

Tyson:                          Yeah and one of the things that I’ve been doing for a while is within our research cloud, it is you’re able to look at just kind of like across the entire dataset, what are the websites that have increased or decreased from the previous crawl? And this is our weekly refresh. So every Sunday night, Monday morning, depending on where you’re located in the world, we do a refresh to this research cloud. And so I have just a report that goes out to myself for a few primary countries and markets, and obviously for today we’re just going to kind of focus on the U.S. market.

Tyson:                          But I have set up basically a dashboard that every Sunday night I get an email, and it gives me a snapshot of who moved up and who moved down on a domain level. So in this report, I basically have who the top performing SEO visibility websites are, as well as the absolute winners and losers as far as the highest net gains, and then also a relative winners and losers, so more of a percentage of what their footprint is, and how much of a change in the overall.

Tyson:                          Both of these are kind of interesting, because one you can see absolute gains from keeping, not giving respect to the size of the site, but just who gained the most points, if you will. And then the other one’s more gives that relative components, and then you understand a little bit more of wow this domain has doubled what their visibility was or they lost half on their visibility. So it’s interesting to see those kind of two lenses.

Tyson:                          And then the other thing too, just because it was recently released, was we recently published an article on the blog that was looking at what the 2018 winners and losers was. This I thought was really interesting because one, beginning of the year, it’s always nice to take that retrospective look, put some context into how we’re moving forward. But then when I was looking at what movement has happened in January, I also was seeing that a lot of the maybe winners or losers in January, was actually on the reverse side of the list for the 2018 numbers.

Tyson:                          So, I think that’s something else that’s always good to put in context as far as yeah, there may have been these movements on a monthly campaigns, but how does that fit into a larger vantage point? How does that fit into the bigger picture? So I think for this session, I wanted to kind of focus a little bit more on what’s going on in January, but I did also want to make some connections and context of how that fit into the landscape from like a 2018 lens.

Ben:                             So what I’m hearing is that you’re basically taking the 2018 winners and losers as your baseline, as your benchmark to understand what’s been happening in the industry that to do this analysis. And you’re looking at four data points on a weekly basis across the month to understand where there’s been variance.

Tyson:                          Exactly. And I think something else to kind of call out too is the primary KPI that I was looking at for this, is our SEO visibility score. And one of my colleagues, he describes it as almost being like a stock index, where there’s no absolute ceiling, but obviously zero is going to be kind of your floor, and it’s essentially telling us what the SEO footprint or what your reach is in search from an organic perspective.

Tyson:                          And what we take into account in that score, is that if we’re looking at a domain-level, we’re looking at the number of ranking keywords on that given domain. And then we’re looking at what’s the search volume on those individual queries or keywords, and then what position is this website ranking in? And then also what’s going on with the sort of elements for that page? Because all those elements are going to have an impact into how that query or that keyword impacts your business.

Tyson:                          And one of the ways or one of the reasons why I really like combining this with things like internal analytics is because it allows you detect on changes that may be happening outside of page one. And on page one, that’s basically where most all of the traffic is going, but if you’re making changes to the site and you see yourself moving from a position or page five to a page two, it’s a good leading indicator as far as the direction of the health.

Tyson:                          So when we’re looking at what these winners and losers are, the main KPI that I’m looking at is this SEO visibility score, so I understand how is the reach of these different websites responding? And it’s taking into account that demand or search volume of the terms, not just the volume of keywords. And the average position of those.

Ben:                             At the end of the day, SEO visibility is a proprietary score about how your site is performing and where your content is showing up, and it gives you, not necessarily a range, it’s giving you an indication of how visible your content is, hence the name SEO visibility.

Ben:                             Just for context, when we talk about the scores for SEO visibility, what’s the range for best in class, and what is a subpar score for visibility?

Tyson:                          I mean, that, even though it seems like a very simple question, I think that is very subjective, because you have to take into account the size of a domain. So if you’re looking for the big players, like Wikipedia is going to be like the dominant one, because they have such breadth as far as the number of keywords that they rank for, and the position that they typically rank for.

Tyson:                          So someone like Wikipedia is probably going to be, and I can pull up on my list here, Wikipedia like week in, week out is our number one SEO top visible website. To give you an idea as far as what that volume is, it is just under 51 million.

Ben:                             Don’t they get an SEO visibility score though?

Tyson:                          Yeah so the visibility score for Wikipedia is, exactly speaking, 51,298,785. And then if you wanted to compare that to YouTube, they’re sitting just over 41 million. If we get into something that’s more like an e-commerce site, Amazon’s close to 11 million. And then an example of someone like let’s say Twitter, almost 7 million. Those are the huge, big conglomerate players.

Tyson:                          But then if we kind of go down to something that’s a little more, still very, very large site, to something like AllRecipes.com, now you’re in the kind of 1.3 million range. Hopefully that gives a little context.

Ben:                             Okay. So basically the niche players are in the low millions, and the mega-web conglomerate dominating behemoth companies are maxing out at about 50 million in terms of their visibility score.

Ben:                             Let’s get down to your analysis. Let’s talk about what’s happened in January. Who are the winners and who are the losers? What did you see from the analysis that you put together this month?

Tyson:                          Yeah, so one of the things that really jumped out at me, and again this was actually starting from the 2018 winners and losers, and we saw quite a bit of movement over the year in the media category. So this is one that I kind of kept an eye out in January to be like hey what’s going on? And what I saw is actually a lot of large media sites actually declining in SEO visibility.

Tyson:                          So, a couple ones to call out that I saw was Today.com. So the last basically for the last month, they’ve had a pretty significant drop in what their visibility score was. Like just in the last week, it was a 16 percent decline. However, when you look at that over like let’s say Q4, since September, they were increasing a fair amount. But we saw this fall in January for Today.com.

Tyson:                          Then when we looked at another one that’s actually been kind of on the decline since September, Q4 of last year, and it’s continued to have between probably a five to ten percent decline for the last four weeks, is CNBC. And we could keep going on these. So, a couple others, very similar situation, CBS Local as well as USA Today. So we’re seeing that some of these larger media news sites were actually kind of had a little bit of a softening into January, but then again when you put that into context for the larger macro, some of these can also be kind of fitting more into recalibrations or kind of coming back down, where they might have been in an inflated rise, and then it kind of falls back.

Tyson:                          But not all media sites were declining in January. And one to call out that actually started it’s rise, but it’s continued and it stayed up in January was MSNBC.com, so that was one within the media area that had a strong Q4, and it’s seeming at least at this point of time to be stable through January, where some of the other websites we experiencing a little more softening in performance.

Ben:                             So in general, you’re seeing that the media companies as an industry have softened in January after having a strong Q4 and with the exception of MSNBC, which has continued to see it’s rise, what are some of the other takeaways that you’ve seen? Are there any other industries or companies that stuck out to you?

Tyson:                          Yeah and some of the other ones too, I would say even though they’re slightly different industries, it’s a little bit more heavy in this informational intent, where there’s been a bit of a movement in that kind of space, but another one that kind of jumped out at me was Dictionary.com, and they’ve been on the winners reports for the last four weeks in a row, so they’ve gained back some market share. But then when I looked at their performance over the last year, they’ve been on this decline since beginning of 2018, and they’ve had a couple points where you have this horseshoe looking curve in their visibility, where they have a drop and it kind of comes back up, and when we look at Dictionary.com for December, it dropped drastically.

Tyson:                          And now we’re seeing them kind of regain a little bit of that market share from SEO perspective, however, they’re still significantly down from there were at the start of 2018.

Ben:                             Okay. Are there any other winners that you’ve seen? Anything that’s specifically just jumping off the charts?

Tyson:                          And actually, there’s two that I wanted to call out. One is the winners here, to answer your question, and then another one that’s another interesting kind of flip on performance, and it’s on the losers side.

Tyson:                          But on the winner’s side, one website that’s just really skyrocketed in the last six weeks in Rotten Tomatoes. And this website, I’m looking at the visibility score here, and starting in the beginning of December, kind of mid-December to now, they’ve increased basically almost close to 800,000 visibility points. And the last week alone, we saw 17 percent increase, but they haven’t had a down week in the last six weeks. So this is one that actually from our data set, is showing that they’re reaching an all-time high visibility.

Tyson:                          so that’s one that is relatively stable and if you went all the way back to 2014, big increases. They kind of had a little bit of a falling off a cliff, and then kind of remained at a somewhat consistent level, but that’s one that’s really jumped up in January of 2019.

Ben:                             So I have a theory about that. To me, just knowing, not having looked at a ton of the search visibility data, but knowing a little bit about the media and the movie business, this is the best time of the year for the movies. You run into the holidays, you get the big winter, Christmas blockbusters, and then you move right into the awards season, you know the capstone being the Oscars.

Ben:                             How much do you think seasonality plays into this or is that something that the visibility score kind of normalizes out?

Tyson:                          Excellent call out on that. One thing knowing the industry and what you just said is there’s this surge in search volume, and we can even go as far as actually looking at the individual keywords that are ranking on the domain, and what’s the seasonal nature of those, and what put data lines in to validate. And they’re absolutely going to see that from a traffic perspective of what are their analytics showing on it, however, the search volume component that we’re using in our SEO visibility calculation, is we’re actually taking the average monthly search volume for it.

Tyson:                          So we’re normalizing that search volume across the year, so you don’t have those seasonal swings. And this is really helpful in the sense of if I want to compare my website from a couple weeks back, and I don’t necessarily want to have that seasonal component, where it’s like oh I’m only able to compare back to last year at this time frame, by taking the average or the monthly average into our SEO visibility, it allows us to actually see what’s my week over week performance change?

Tyson:                          And there could be whole sections of the site that maybe you didn’t have last year when the seasonal component was hitting, or it would be a more consistent comparison. So when we’re looking at SEO visibility, if I never had that coverage last year, I can’t do a year over year comparison to take into that seasonal component. However, if I’m using a monthly average search volume in the SEO visibility calculation, I can see how I’m trending over the last couple weeks.

Tyson:                          And when you come into a more of putting this into action to it, obviously every SEO wants to know how are these changes that I’m making with my Doug team or with other parties, other stakeholders in the business, how are they impacting and am I trending in the right way?

Tyson:                          SEO visibility’s going to take out that seasonal component. It’s going to give you a new lens, and more of a feeding variable to understand your website’s performance, and then always advocating and I always advocate to clients and others to be comparing this and combining this with your actual traffic. It’s one KPI that leads into this overall vision or viewpoint of what the website’s doing.

Ben:                             So essentially what you’re saying is that the SEO visibility metric works on something similar to a rolling average, which normalizes out the seasonality component, meaning Rotten Tomatoes is actually increasing their visibility, as opposed to going through a seasonal peak.

Tyson:                          Exactly. And since we saw this huge surge in SEO visibility, and we also know that it has an also surge in search volume, this is the best possible time for them to have an increased performance, is because you know that they’re capitalizing on that more than they would have maybe six months ago.

Ben:                             The takeaway here I think is that Rotten Tomatoes is going to be our winner of the month, so if you’re the VP of marketing at Rotten Tomatoes, go give your SEO a hug.

Ben:                             Let’s talk about the flip side. Who are some of the companies that have struggled or the industries that have struggled this month?

Tyson:                          Yeah and, so I mean we started out talking about the media companies, and there was that group of five large media companies that we saw some softening in that again. Today.com, CNBC.com, CBSlocal.com, USAToday.com and CNN. But the one loser that really jumped out to me and I thought was really interesting is Quora.com.

Tyson:                          And Quora.com is an interesting story, and again it’s one that my colleague, Zash Nager is always kind of bringing up in different conversations, because some of the growth that they’ve had since the beginning of 2018 has been tremendous. They had this excellent, excellent 2018 year. They were on our winners list for 2018. They have the challenge of using user-generated content, which is a very tricky beast, especially in this world of content quality and relevancy, but what we saw is dating back, I can look at the exact date, on January 6th they’ve been on this really sharp decline.

Tyson:                          And the last week they went down 18 percent. But at January 6th, they were sitting just below a million, and actually it was at 927,000 for their SEO visibility score. And now they’re sitting at 414,000. So they’ve almost lost half or a little bit over half of their SEO visibility in four week’s time. So this I would definitely say was a big change.

Tyson:                          And obviously then that kind of sparks a bunch more questions as far as where is that drop happening? And because of the nature of the Quora site, is you have a lot of, you have a very wide net of content that’s on it, and when we looked into the winners and losers for Quora.com over these time periods, one of the consistent elements that we were finding was a decrease in what we would term as navigational queries.

Tyson:                          So if someone’s doing something like a UPS tracking. That would be considered a navigational term, because they’re interested and think of UPS as a brand. It’s navigating within a section of that website. So although they’ve had this sharp decline, I would be concerned with it at Quora, but I guess there is some silver lining that if this drop is happening in a lot of navigational type terms, the impact on the actual traffic is maybe not as significant as in some of those other areas.

Tyson:                          and what I mean by this is some of the key words that had really high search volume, that they’re no longer ranking on is something like Hotmail login or FedEx tracking. And FedEx tracking, as one example, dropped over 95 positions, so they’re no longer in the top 50. It has a monthly average search volume almost 5.5 million. So that is a huge impact into the SEO visibility, is like a one single keyword.

Tyson:                          However, how much traffic were they really getting for a FedEx tracking if the user clearly wants to know, hey here’s my package tracking number, I need to see where it’s at.

Ben:                             Right.

Tyson:                          So I think this comes into this relevancy, user intent, and in some of these too, you can make the case that there could be a content quality element.

Ben:                             So basically, what you’re saying is that Quora’s overall visibility might have decreased, but the traffic and the quality of the traffic that they’re getting did not necessarily take an equivalent hit?

Tyson:                          Exactly. Like I think your wording there is exactly right. Equivalent hit is going to be the piece, being that not all of the keywords that they dropped on were navigational, and some are definitely keywords that they want to have presence on, I’m sure that they are experiencing some loss here. But it’s not as drastic as what I believe that we’re seeing in the SEO visibility.

Ben:                             Okay. So Tyson, any other last comments or things that you’ve noticed about the winners or losers for January?

Tyson:                          No, I think as far as the websites that jumped out, I think there are a few gems in there, just like what’s going on in the industry. But for me, I think the most interesting takeaway from this, was seeing this comparison of what’s going on in January and then how that relates to maybe a three month or a 12 month scale, because again, we can see these outliers, and it would be interesting to look at someone like Rotten Tomatoes, are they able to stabilize with that increase?

Tyson:                          And as Google’s making a lot of changes on the content quality and relevancy that we’ve been seeing over the last, you could argue 12 months, six months, it’ll be interesting which ones stick and which ones really stabilize this performance. And that goes for both the ones that increase, as well as the ones that have decreased.

Ben:                             Alright, well I think our takeaways here is this month’s winner is the SEO who manages the Rotten Tomatoes domain. Congratulations. If you’re hearing this, or if somebody shares it to you, we’d love to have you on the show to hear what you’re doing to drive the type of increase in visibility that you’ve seen.

Ben:                             And on the flip side, you know, to the SEO managers working at Quora, hopefully the impact to your traffic isn’t as much as what we’ve seen in the decrease in your visibility, but hey if you need some help, call us. We’re always here.

Ben:                             And with that said, that wraps up this episode 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.

Ben:                             If you have general marketing questions, or if you want to talk about this podcast, you can find my contact information in the show or you can send me a tweet @BenJShap. If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, your online visibility or to gain competitive insights, head over to SearchMetrics.com/diagnostic for your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team.

Ben:                             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 be back in your feed next week.

Ben:                             Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast and you’re feeling generous, we’d be honored if you’d leave us a review in the Apple iTunes store, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Alright. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.