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Voices of Search Podcast: February 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 February of 2019. Join us to learn who the big movers were, why, and the lessons to be learned from their success and failures.

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Episode Transcript

Ben:                 Welcome to our February edition of Winners and Losers on The Voices of Search podcast. Today we’re going to 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. Joining us for Winners and Losers is Tyson Stockton, who is the director of Searchmetrics’ Services. Tyson manages our SEO content and client success organizations, and outside of shepherding Searchmetrics’ largest and most strategic clients to SEO success. He’s dug through the Searchmetrics suite 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. A member or 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 is our monthly sit-down with Searchmetrics’ director of services, Tyson Stockton. Tyson, welcome back to Winners and Losers on the Voices of Search podcast.

Tyson:              Thanks, Ben. Yeah, glad to be here and talk about what’s going in February.

Ben:                 Great to have you back for the second Winners and Losers episode. This month, we’re going to cover a couple of different topics, some of them that are more seasonal. We’re going to talk a little bit about the Oscars and what’s happening in the media industry, and we’re going to talk a little bit about some of volatility related to User Generated Content (or UGC) companies, and then take a quick look and see how the retail industry has recovered from the big E-A-T update that happened in September. So, let’s start off with one of the biggest events in pop culture. You know the Oscars launched this month, so we took a little bit of a deep dive into some of the biggest media companies related to movies and televisions. Tell me a little bit about what you saw this month in the media category.

Tyson:              Yeah, and you know, to start off, I want to kind of build off one of the winners that we highlighted last month, Rotten Tomatoes. So, this month, I would still put them in the winner’s category. We did see, they didn’t experience the same growth that we saw from the previous month. They had a little bit of incremental growth, but largely what it showed was some stability. So, this is significant, because a lot of times, when we’re looking at SEO visibility on a short timeframe, you could have these increases and then, followed by a decrease, or vice versa. So, for me, what I was looking for after last month, when I saw the significant increase, was wanting to see more stability there; showing that it’s something that’s a little more sustainable for them, you know, and it wasn’t just necessarily this flash in a pan.

Tyson:              So that’s on the positive side, seeing the stability of RottenTomatoes.com. Then as far as the negative side of who has decreased, a couple ones that have been on a negative trajectory, but we saw that continue into the month of February, is IMDB.com, so much larger website and search presence than Rotten Tomatoes. But we did see that continuing trajectory decline for the month of February. Looking at our SEO visibility over the 12 months to six months, it looks like we may have actually been on a decline since towards the beginning of November. I wouldn’t say that this is a direct kind of one for one trade of market share with Rotten Tomatoes, given the size and presence of IMDB, but certainly we did see some of the similar winners and losers on those respective domains.

Tyson:              The final one that’s in a similar category, not necessarily like Oscars, but still in kind of the media space is TVGuide.com. TV Guide, over the latter half of last year, saw a pretty strong upward trajectory, reclaiming some market share that they lost. However, they’ve also been on a decline since towards the end of November of last year, and we saw that continue in February. So, both of those, TV Guide and IMDB, on the negative side, and Rotten Tomatoes showing some stability on the winners’ side.

Ben:                 It being Oscars season, the reason why we bring this industry and this category up, is it’s one of the most important, if not the most important times for this section of the media and publishing industry. We talked a little bit about SEO visibility and how Searchmetrics sort of filters out the seasonality. The reason why I think it’s interesting to talk about these businesses, even though seasonality is not included in the visibility metrics, is it’s the most important time of the year for these businesses.

Ben:                 The other point that I want to make is, you mentioned Rotten Tomatoes, where we’re calling Rotten Tomatoes our winner for the media category for this month, and it didn’t have a giant gain. Talk to me about the size of the gain that Rotten Tomatoes had last month, in terms of visibility, and what did you see this month.

Tyson:              Yeah, so as far as like, you know speaking more towards percentages, and I’m going back to the graph here, looks like they started their upwards growth around December 16th, and then we saw it peak actually middle of this month, so February 17th, and then a slight decline in this last week’s update. So, of that time that them going up, they went from having an SEO visibility of about 1.2 million at the start of the increase, and then their peak was at 2 million. The largest week over week gain looks to be about 17%, and they had a few of those weeks in there, and then most of them kind of ranging in the lower single digit increases. So as far as for the month of February, not really a substantial, I’d say around like a 2% overall, change for the month, and then the largest swing as far as week over week within that month being around about a 4% increase.

Ben:                 Yeah, I think the biggest takeaway for me here is that Rotten Tomatoes has gone from 1.2 to roughly 2 million in terms of SEO visibility, and then didn’t lose their market share, and so, as I think about some of the strategies that they’ve likely put into place, maybe their upward gains have stopped, right? Maybe they’ve plateaued, but they’ve seen in somewhere between a 60 and 80% gain in a very short period of time. So just retaining that growth, to me, feels like a big win, mostly during a key time in the media and publishing industry.

Ben:                 Let’s turn the page and talk a little bit about what’s happening in the user generated content industries. These are brands like Quora, YouTube, Wikipedia, wikiHow, even the big social networks, Twitter and Facebook. Who stands out to you in the UGC category?

Tyson:              The one that definitely stood out the most to me, and it was another one that we touched on last month, and it was in our losers’ category last month, is Quora. So Quora and a lot of kind of communities have been looked at as like a best practice in user generated, a lot due to their growth trajectory over 2018. Like, pretty much all year they were just incrementally increasing. And it is a very tricky space, because one of the challenges that you run into with user generated content is you have the amazing advantage of having just loads and loads of content.

Tyson:              So, having a lack of content for the site when you have user generated is not really in the cards, but what you do have is now you have things like page quality, as far as what’s the quality of the content that’s being generated. Are there issues of duplication? Do we have issues of crawl efficiency within the site? And those are typically issues that aren’t as prominent on smaller websites, so within this user generated category you have the advantage of loads and loads of content, but then you also have the challenge of how do we control the quality of what’s indexed and what we’re sending to search engines.

Tyson:              So Quora, we touched on last month how they had a decline and a pretty significant fall off in January, and what we saw for the month of February was them regaining a lot of that market share. So, we saw them go from, at the beginning of January, of having an SEO visibility score of just under a million at 927,000, and then ending the month and having a visibility score of around 400,000. So, almost half of their visibility just got chopped off at the legs. And then what we saw at the start of February within two weeks, they regained basically almost all of that market share back. So they went, they jumped back up to an SEO visibility just under 900,000, 874,000 to be exact. And then we saw over the next two weeks, stability of it. So, basically no change less than a percentage point change in their visibility.

Tyson:              When we look at actually what are the keywords that dropped in January, and then what were the exact keywords that increased in February, a lot of them were the same keywords. So, what this kind of tells me is you have … When you have these big substantial changes, you either have the chance that it’s something that’s a change from an algorithm side, as far as how they’re serving the different URLs for those queries, or you have some substantial changes that are happening on the website.

Tyson:              When you get this kind of horseshoe-like curve of a falloff, or I mean it could go the other direction too, a drastic increase, and then a falloff after a week or two, it usually tells me some sort of recalibration. Being that these changes and the decrease and increase were on the same side of keywords, I believe that’s the case for this example. So even though Quora’s kind of peak of SEO visibility was back towards the end of September, at 1.12 million, being that they still have kind of weathered the storm, so to speak, in this area, and have stayed at a high ground or regained a bit of that market share, I would definitely have them in the winners category, especially for the month of February.

Ben:                 I think for the team of SEOs at Quora, I hope somebody bought you a beer this month for regaining the market share that you lost. I’m sure it was a difficult month losing 50% of your visibility, and then waiting for it to rebound in a short period of time. Sounds like lots of up and downs for Quora this month.

Ben:                 It seems like there’s also volatility, based on the authority of content and, you know, as Google assesses content quality for multiple UGC companies, what else are you seeing for e-companies like Wikipedia, YouTube, some of the social players?

Tyson:              Yeah, these are interesting sites, ’cause they have some similar challenges to like a Quora. It’s a slight … I mean slightly different types of websites, but Wikipedia is just, kind of like across all queries. They’re almost kind of like the Amazon of the web, even bigger in the sense that they’re … Almost any kind of search, you’re going to see some sort of Wikipedia piece. So, looking back on our visibility, also in the beginning of September timeframe, they kind of hit their peak for at least the last year, and during that time they were at basically 55 million for their SEO visibility. And since then we’ve seen a decrease, or kind of a softening, and in the month of February, they’re down basically to 50 million. So, we’re seeing about a 5-million-point swing from the beginning of September to where we are today. For the month of February, they went from 51 million down to about 50 million, so they still lost a million points there.

Tyson:              For a normal sized website, if you will, like that would be a pretty substantial change. Looking at their curves over the graph, it doesn’t appear to be as much, but when you really kind of look into like, okay how many keywords are we talking that moved up or down, or flipped positions, it’s still pretty substantial. And one of the things that I do believe is also impacting kind of Wikipedia’s footprint is some of the evolving kind of surf elements, and they certainly have been on the winning side of this with how much information of theirs gets pulled into the knowledge graph. So if I was them, I wouldn’t necessarily be complaining about it, because they’re still in a good position, but also with like the introduction and kind of the increase of presence from the video carousel, which typically, videos aren’t an area or space that Wikipedia is going to compete in, this is going to be kind of a surf real estate area that they’re not going to be able to kind of capture.

Tyson:              So, they’re having this kind of softening of it. I wouldn’t say it’s like, “Hey, let’s raise the alarms.” Obviously, they’re still very … a very competitive website that’s dominant in a lot of queries, but it is notable to see that they haven’t been on this larger trajectory, and they are having to battle with some of these challenges to SEOs, especially in the sense of like, surf elements and the increase of the video carousels.

Ben:                 Yeah, I think that the percentage gain or change for Wikipedia is easy to brush under the rug, right. They went from 55 to 54 million in terms of visibility, so percentage-wise, it’s not that big of a deal. On the flip side, Wikipedia lost to Quora. All right, when we talk about Quora being the big winner, their overall visibility is about a million, and Wikipedia went down by that much, so from a absolute value, there was a pretty significant drop.

Ben:                 You mentioned that one of the things that affected Wikipedia was the surf real estate and how it relates to video. Talk to me about YouTube. What did we see there?

Tyson:              Yeah, so … and it’s almost like a tangent with user generated, but I put the social media platforms in a similar space, because so much of the content that they have is still coming from users. So, with YouTube, they actually had a really strong last week, where they jumped up 4%, 4.5%, so they regained probably around 2 million visibility points. However, we saw a decrease back in the beginning of January of a similar amount, so it’s almost kind of like this Quora type visibility curve, where you have the U, horseshoe shape, however the bottom of that U, you’re seeing several weeks kind of flat. When you look at YouTube on the macro scale, and obviously, you know, you get kind of the questions as far as being a part of Google, they’ve been obviously gaining a ton of ground; largest video platform out there. So as far as just search real estate goes, you know, they’re on the winning side there.

Tyson:              But I’d say for them, the story’s more of really, really strong growth over 2018. Like it was in our winners list for the year. And then since about, let’s see, towards the end of September as well, there’s been a bit of a softening and a plateau of that. So they’ve gone from their peak of almost 48 million at the end of September, and now they’re sitting around 44 million. So you know, they’re still retaining and keeping some of that market share, and you saw an increase in this last month for them, but when you kind of compare it to some of the other platforms like Facebook or Twitter, one, they have a much, much stronger SEO visibility, so their presence is higher in search, but you also have a reverse kind of trend.

Tyson:              So Facebook, if we’re looking at them, they’ve had a significant decline in the same time period around the end of September, and then we even saw a good almost 2% decrease this last month. So that’s been continuing. And Twitter, not as extreme of a decrease as Facebook, but Twitter, we’ve also seen a decline since, really kind of towards the end of summer of last year. And the last couple weeks have been stagnant and flat, but they still have lost around from where they were towards the first half of 2018.

Ben:                 It sounds like there are some interesting cases as Google continues to evaluate what they consider to be quality content, that we’re seeing the different social networks, and the different user generated content businesses being affected in kind of adverse ways, right? Quora going up, Wikipedia going down a little relatively, and then they have kind of different fluctuations between Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Ben:                 Let’s change the conversation. Talk a little bit about the retail industry. There was a clearer dividing line in terms of what’s happening with retail, based on the E-A-T update in September. Looking back for the last, I don’t know, I guess it’s been five months now, who have we seen being affected by the major update that Google announced at the end of last year?

Tyson:              Yeah, and this is one of my favorite industries to kind of speak to. The retail industry was quite interesting over the last six months. There were some significant shifts from an overall visibility standpoint, and there were a few ones that just clearly kind of set themselves apart on it.

Tyson:              So first, starting on the losers side … and I do say this in some regards with an asterisk. It’s almost like a Wikipedia type example. But Amazon’s actually been on the decline since this, again, the same timeframe towards the end of September to where they’re at now. We saw for the month of February, at the start of the month, they were around 11 million, just under, and they’re ending the month of being closer to 10 million. So we’re seeing about a million point swing for them, but when we look at where their peak was back in beginning of September, and they were at 12.5 million, we definitely feel like there’s been an impact in this space.

Tyson:              They are such, you know, the elephant in the room, as far as retail goes, that I wouldn’t say necessarily that, “Hey, their business is hurting.” I mean, obviously it’s Amazon. They’re continuing to make waves in the e-commerce space, and you know, capturing more and more market share, but not seeing them have as much coverage on these upper funnel terms that we’re looking at in the Research Cloud portion of our Software Suite.

Tyson:              So, they do have a strong presence on their product pages that I don’t see any change happening, given the authority of the site, but it is interesting to note that they haven’t been on the same trajectory incline that we saw in previous years.

Ben:                 So seeing Amazon basically have some, let’s call it stagnation. They were on such an upward climb. They’re still basically world-dominant in e-commerce, but they’re just not seeing the same type of organic growth that they did. Who have you seen gaining market share as Amazon starts to stagnate?

Tyson:              So, Walmart has been on the upward, or on the winning side of these changes. We saw, back in the same kind of time period that I just spoke about from Amazon, we saw very large increase towards the end of September, beginning of October, where they actually had about a 16% increase in a one-week time span, and then we’ve seen some stability over that. They have had some declines, but it’s not as much as what that growth was. When we’re looking at just the month of February, they’d had three consecutive weeks of a positive increase, the largest being close to 4%, so they’re sitting just under 2 million from a visibility score. And if we went back to the beginning of September, they were sitting around 1.6.

Tyson:              So this is interesting because, from a website size, they’re nowhere close to the Amazons, the eBays, even you know, in the Etsy realm of number of pages, but they’ve shown that they’ve been able to put strong SEO signals towards their important pages and still gain a large market share from having a much smaller number of URLs, or size of website, as some of these other larger competitors of retail space.

Ben:                 I think you can file this in the less is more category, where, you know, from what I understand that you’re saying, is that there’d been less crawls for Walmart, but just a higher quality of the pages that they’re submitting, and so that’s obviously had some positive impact on their business, and you know, goes to talking about what the quality of your content is maybe is more important than the volume of content.

Tyson:              Yeah and speaking to the seasonality element that we touched on with the Oscars and the IMDBs of the world, Walmart is a great example of someone that was able to increase at the right time to capitalize on the holiday traffic and queue core. So this is one that they definitely, they had significant increases at the right time, and then they’ve been able to continue and ride that out.

Ben:                 So lots of changes in the retail industry going back to the September update, and it seems like Walmart’s going to be the winner. Let’s just recap real quickly. Who are the winners, in your mind, for the month, across the media, UGC and retail industries?

Tyson:              Yeah, so the winners, starting in the retail space, Walmart, Etsy’s another one that we didn’t touch on, but I would say it’s a similar story line of what we’ve been talking about. In the media space, Rotten Tomatoes getting some stability to the significant increases that they saw in January. And then, from the user generated, Quora would be the number one winner to me of being able to bounce back and … from that kind of recalibration in their own performance. And YouTube, in the lesser degree, but they certainly had a strong last week to kind of keep their presence up there.

Ben:                 I think my takeaway here from our winners is that being a winner in SEO isn’t specifically about short bursts of large gains, right? We called out Quora as a winner for having a bounce back month, and we called out Walmart as a winner for consistently gaining ground since Google’s last update. And even Rotten Tomatoes, they’re a winner because they didn’t lose ground after a pretty significant increase in visibility last month.

Ben:                 As we look at the people that struggled, who are our losers for the month?

Tyson:              You hit on an excellent point, just reiterating on that. We want to see stability. There can be so much volatility in the SEO space that stability and sustainability in these trends is a very, very key element. From the losers’ side, we saw some softening, as I mentioned, with Amazon over the last several months. We also saw a decrease in another one being Wayfair, which has been on a large upward trajectory. So, in the retail space, those would be two ones that I would say lost ground and market share. In the media space, IMDB has continued to decrease in a very similar timeline, and decrease has also been seen on a smaller scale, but with TVGuide.com. Then for the larger category and some of the big players, we’ve seen in again, a similar timeline as all these others, we’ve seen a similar decrease across some of the social platforms, Facebook, Twitter. Wikipedia, we saw some kind of much earlier softening of their growth, and also some of the smaller user generated ones like wikiHow and along that have also suffered from some of these recent updates.

Ben:                 So basically, anything named Wiki had a rough month.

Tyson:              Yeah, that’s a tough name in 2019, so far.

Ben:                 Yes, so I think my takeaway here is, you know, for IMDB, there are losses, even though they’ve been consistent over a long period of time, they’re seeing softness at a time that’s critical for their industry. And so, that’s the reason why they’re on our losers list. For the other two losers, the Amazons and the Wikipedias, you know, for us, being a loser, even if you’re a couple of the largest sites in your industry, or the largest sites in the world, when we look at the overall absolute numbers, you know, losing millions in visibility is something that we think is worth noting, and so that’s why they’re on our losers list.

Tyson:              They can definitely be still winner in retail, and they’re clearly the market leader, globally and in the US, but when we’re looking at what’s been going on in February and kind of recently, it is worth noting how that performance and how that trajectory is evolving.

Ben:                 Yeah, tough 2019 so far for Jeff Bezos. Hopefully he’s not sweating too much about his SEO performance. I’m sure he’ll be okay and land on his feet. Tyson, any last words as we look back over SEO performance for February?

Tyson:              No, I think … I mean I think that covers it. A lot of consistencies across these different kinds of segments and industries, which you know, personally I find interesting. If you see something that’s only represented in one particular category, that’s going to leave one type of takeaway, or kind of analysis of what’s going on in the marketplace. But seeing some consistent timelines and stories happening across user generated, e-commerce and then the little bit that we touched on in media, I think is really telling to keep that in mind across the segments.

Ben:                 Okay. Well, Tyson, thanks for coming back and joining us. Looking forward to doing this again next month. And that wraps up this episode of The Voices of Search podcast. Thanks 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 can send him a tweet @Tyson_Stockton.

Ben:                 If you have general marketing questions, or if you’d like to talk about this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes, 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 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 with more SEO predictions for 2019.

Ben:                 Lastly, 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.

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