Tag Archives: searchmetrics

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Who were the “winners” and “losers” of organic search in 2017?

Earlier this week, Searchmetrics published its fourth annual Winners and Losers Report, which reveals how certain sites fared in organic search visibility on Google.com during 2017.

Searchmetrics bases its analysis on a unique indicator known as ‘SEO visibility’, which it uses to measure a webpage’s performance in organic search.

This is not the same as organic search ranking, but aims to give an overview of how often a website shows up in search results, based on “search volume and the position of ranking keywords” (as explained in the Searchmetrics FAQ).

Using this metric, Searchmetrics calculates the change in websites’ SEO visibility over the course of the year, and sorts the top 100 winners and losers by absolute change in visibility.

Last year, we examined the winners and losers in organic search during 2016, and concluded that social media and shopping were the overall “winners”, while online encyclopedias, reference websites and lyrics websites all lost out.

How do the results from this year stack up against last year, and what can we learn from the trends highlighted?

Encyclopedias and dictionaries are back on top

In a surprising reversal of 2016’s fortunes, online encyclopedias and dictionaries were among some of the biggest “winners” in 2017.

Encyclopedias made up 9% of the overall winners by industry, with websites like britannica.com, thesaurus.com and collinsdictionary.com enjoying triple-digit percentage gains in SEO visibility. Of the top five domains ranked by gain in absolute SEO visibility, four were dictionary or encyclopedia websites: Merriam Webster, Wikia, Dictionary.com and Wiktionary.

This is a huge change from last year, when social networking websites dominated the top five; out of last year’s top five “winners”, only YouTube is still on top, rising up the ranks from fourth to first place.

Who were the “winners” and “losers” of organic search in 2017?

Searchmetrics attributes this miraculous change in fortune to an algorithm update in June 2017 dubbed the “dictionary update”. Dictionary websites had been slowly gaining in visibility since the beginning of the year, but over the three-week period between 25th June and 16th July, they saw an even more notable uptick:

Who were the “winners” and “losers” of organic search in 2017?

Dictionary websites saw a boost from Google’s “Dictionary update” in June and July 2017

Searchmetrics noted that dictionary URLs particularly improved their ranking for short-tail keywords with ambiguous user intent – suggesting that Google might be examining whether the users searching these terms could be looking for definitions.

I would speculate that Google could also be promoting fact-based reference websites as part of its ongoing efforts to battle fake news and dubious search results – but this is purely speculation on my part.

The trend is also not borne out by Wikipedia, which continues to see its SEO visibility drop as more Knowledge Graph integrations appear for its top keywords, allowing users to see key information from Wikipedia without bothering to click through to the site – and possibly preventing those pages in Wikipedia from ranking.

Who were the “winners” and “losers” of organic search in 2017?

The losers lost out more on mobile

One very interesting trend highlighted in Searchmetrics’ findings is the fact that domains which lost out in 2017 saw even bigger drops on mobile than on desktop.

Domains which started out the year with roughly equal desktop and mobile visibility closed out the year with their mobile visibility far below that of desktop. For example, TV.com’s mobile visibility was 41% below its desktop visibility by the end of 2017, while perezhilton.com’s mobile visibility was 42% lower than desktop, and allmusic.com was 43% lower.

Without going behind the scenes at Google’s search index, it’s hard to know exactly what the cause could be. TV.com decidedly fails Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, but perezhilton.com and allmusic.com both pass. Because Searchmetrics is measuring organic search visibility, these drops may not be due to a lower SERP ranking, but could be due to the websites not appearing for as many search queries on mobile.

Who were the “winners” and “losers” of organic search in 2017?

What isn’t surprising is that in 2017, we began to see much bigger differences between the way search behaves on mobile and the way it behaves on desktop. Back in August, we looked at the results of a BrightEdge study which found that 79% of all keywords ranked differently in mobile search compared to desktop.

At the time, we speculated that this was due to tests on Google’s part to prepare for the upcoming mobile-first index. Just two months later, Google’s Gary Illyes announced at SMX East that the mobile-first index had in fact already begun rolling out, albeit very slowly.

2017 was the year that we truly started to see mobile search on Google diverge from desktop, and in 2018 we’ve already had confirmation of a major upcoming change to Google’s mobile algorithm in July, after which point page speed will officially be a ranking factor on mobile. So to say that mobile and desktop search results will continue to diverge further in 2018 seems like a very safe prediction to make.

So long, social media?

Possibly the most curious change in fortune between 2016 and 2017 was seen with social media websites, which were among some of the biggest winners in 2016 and some of the biggest losers in 2017.

Visual social network Pinterest went from being the second-biggest ‘winner’ in terms of absolute search visibility in 2016 to suffering a 23% visibility loss in 2017. Similarly, discussion forum Reddit saw a 54% drop in visibility in 2017 after having been the 8th biggest ‘winner’ in 2016.

Tumblr and Myspace also experienced significant losses, and while Facebook and Twitter (#3 and #6 in 2016, respectively) weren’t among the “losers” highlighted by Searchmetrics in 2017, they also appeared nowhere in the list of “winners”.

It’s hard to say exactly why this would be. In last year’s study, Searchmetrics attributed Pinterest’s huge gains in visibility to its “application of deep-learning techniques” to understand user intent, “thereby generating more loyalty and stickiness online”. Whether Pinterest has slowed its progress on this front, or whether other shifts in Google’s index have caused its visibility to suffer, is unknown.

Reddit, meanwhile, appears to have suffered at the hands of Google’s “Phantom V” update, with visibility dropping off sharply at the beginning of 2017. Its mobile visibility was particularly low going in to 2017, which Searchmetrics tentatively attributes to technical issues with the mobile version of its website.

Who were the “winners” and “losers” of organic search in 2017?

Reddit’s visibility drops off as Phantom V hits in February 2017

It could be that the losses in visibility suffered by social media websites in 2017 are due to differing circumstances and not part of a wider trend, but it’s an interesting coincidence nonetheless.

What can we learn from the “winners” and “losers” of 2017?

Many of the changes of fortune experienced by websites in 2017 were the result of a specific Google update. Phantom V was spotted in the SERPs in mid-February, sending a number of brands’ domains yo-yoing up and down. Google Fred hit not long afterwards, affecting ad-heavy websites with low-quality content and poor link profiles.

Another key change of note is the User Localization Update of October 2017, in which Google started showing search results based on users’ physical location regardless of the Top-Level Domain (.com, .co.uk, .fr) they might be using to search – a big development for local SEO.

Individual updates aside, however, there are a few key points that we can take away from 2017’s Winners and Losers Report:

  • High-quality content continues to be king, along with content that perfectly serves the user intent.
  • Brands continue to do well targeting a specific content niche – as exemplified by About.com, the old content network from the late 90s. It recently relaunched as “Dotdash”, an umbrella brand spanning six different niche verticals – several of which are already making great headway in search.

Who were the “winners” and “losers” of organic search in 2017?

About.com is reborn as five (now six) different niche websites, which quickly begin to climb in search

  • If you’re targeting short-tail keywords with ambiguous user intent (like “beauty”), be aware that your consumers might now be seeing reference websites appear much higher up in the search results than before – so you may have better chances of ranking for longer-tail, more specific keywords.
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What can we learn from the winners and losers of organic search in 2016?

Who were the winners and losers of organic search in 2016?

For the third year in a row, Searchmetrics has published its annual Winners and Losers Report, which reveals how certain sites fared in organic search visibility on Google.com over the course of 2016.

Searchmetrics’ analysis is based on the ‘SEO Visibility’ of each website, an indicator developed by Searchmetrics to measure a webpage’s performance in organic search.

This is not the same as organic search ranking, but aims to give an overview of how often a website shows up in search results, based on “search volume and the position of ranking keywords” (as set out in the Searchmetrics FAQ).

Based on this metric, Searchmetrics then analysed the change in websites’ SEO Visibility during the course of the year, and sorted the top 100 winners and losers by absolute change in visibility.

While the results are limited to Google.com – and thus are mostly applicable to websites from the U.S. – they are an interesting insight into how the trends and algorithm changes that we cover throughout the course of the year affect sites in real terms.

So who did well out of 2016, and what was the secret to their success? What caused the downfall of the poor performers?

The winners: social media and shopping

Among the biggest winners, although only making up 10% of the ‘winner’ sites overall, was social media. Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook all ranked in the top 10 in terms of absolute gains, with Pinterest the surprise leader of the back – it came in at #2 in terms of overall visibility (Google, surprise surprise, was #1) and had a whopping 80% gain in overall visibility during the year.

We’ve already covered Pinterest’s prowess as a platform for visual search, which goes a long way towards helping keep users on its site by finding Pins which are visually similar to what they’re looking for. Searchmetrics attributes Pinterest’s success in SEO visibility to its forays into deep learning, which “generate more relevant results that evolve based on user behavior.

Like Apple, Google (and even Searchmetrics), Pinterest’s application of deep-learning techniques is a key step in helping software understand the ultimate intent of a user, thereby generating more loyalty and stickiness online.”

While not every site has the resources or the technology to experiment with deep learning, the idea of generating “stickiness” and giving users an incentive to come back to the site again and again is something all site owners/SEOs can aim for (and many already do). Improving a site’s internal search to help users find what they’re looking for more easily is another way to achieve this.

What can we learn from the winners and losers of organic search in 2016?

Shopping was another significant category of website that did well over the year 2016, with nearly a fifth (19%) of sites that ‘won’ falling into this category. Searchmetrics attributed this trend to “relatively steady economies” and “strong economic recovery”.

Among the successful ecommerce sites in 2016 were ebay.com, target.com, retailmenot.com and walmart.com. Two of the retail sites which saw the biggest percentage gains in visibility were theblackfriday.com (217%) and blackfriday.com (212%), which illustrates the SEO power of exact-match domains – when used carefully.

Media: the ups and downs

Media and publishing was the largest category of ‘winners’ in 2016, with nearly two-fifths (38%) of sites who gained SEO visibility falling into this category. However, a large number of media sites also lost visibility in the same period, with the likes of Wired, USAToday, NYMag, Time and BuzzFeed all appearing in the ‘losers’ category. So why the discrepancy?

Searchmetrics’ analysis pointed to the ‘Google News-Wave‘ update of 2015 as one possible cause. The ‘News-Wave’ update, as dubbed by Searchmetrics, was a mysterious update to Google’s core algorithm which caused a lot of media, magazines and news websites to rise in search visibility.

It’s possible that this bump in visibility has now been reset by other adjustments, causing the affected publishers to sink back down in the rankings, or that the algorithm change introduced more volatility in general for media publishers in search.

What can we learn from the winners and losers of organic search in 2016?

Searchmetrics’ graph plotting SEO visibility for theatlantic.com in 2016 – and showcasing a huge drop in visibility midway through April

Google’s Panda algorithm update also rewards quality, in-depth content above thinner, more short-form content, which may be the reason behind a rankings drop for some publishers.

However, not all publishers lost out. Among the ‘winners’ in publishing were the New York Times, The Huffington Post and the LA Times, as well as more niche publications like GameSpot, Livescience, Rolling Stone and Women’s Health Mag.

The bigger news titles will likely have benefited from the huge flurry of political events which dominated the headlines in 2016, but for smaller publications, it seems as though focusing on a specific interest area is the way to go for better SEO visibility.

Lyrics out, music in?

One or two other notable trends to be observed from the data are that dictionary and encyclopaedia websites frequently numbered among the losers in 2016. Not exclusively – four or five dictionary or encyclopaedia sites were still found among the winners, including Oxford Dictionaries and Macmillan Dictionary.

However, online encyclopaedias were far more likely to lose out in SEO visibility than to succeed, with major sites like Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Urban Dictionary and Thesaurus.com all suffering a loss in visibility.

This trend is probably attributable to Google’s increasing inclusion of encyclopaedia-style information on the front page of search in the form of Quick Answers, featured snippets and Google Knowledge Graph, reducing the need for users to click through to a reference site for more information.

If Google makes user ratings for films and TV shows a permanent feature in search, we might start to see a decline in the visibility of film and TV ratings websites like Rotten Tomatoes as well.

What can we learn from the winners and losers of organic search in 2016?

A downward trend in visibility for thefreedictionary.com

Meanwhile, another type of reference site suffered a drop in visibility in 2016: lyrics sites. Metrolyrics.com and Lyricsmode.com both saw big drops in visibility of 43% and 54% respectively, although A-Z Lyrics saw a small rise of visibility of 7%. Meanwhile, music providers like Apple, Spotify and Deezer all saw big gains.

The fall in lyrics sites doesn’t mean that lyrics are no longer in demand, but rather that users are getting them from elsewhere. The likes of Amazon Music and Apple Music are increasingly including lyrics with the products they sell, while music publication Genius (which rose in visibility by 34%) also provides lyrics on its site.

While it’s probably too early to declare the death of the lyrics site, sites which only provide one thing will inevitably become obsolete as soon as people start being able to get that thing elsewhere.

What can we learn from the winners and losers of 2016?

Some of the ups and downs of the Searchmetrics Winners and Losers Report are reflective of general online trends, and not necessarily anything that SEOs need to account for (although if you run a lyrics website, take note!). But from the rest, there are a few things we can learn:

  • The ‘stickier’ your website and the more people like to return to it, the better. It also helps if you have put thought into user intent in navigation and internal search
  • Well thought-out, high quality content continues to be a winner with Google’s algorithms
  • When it comes to publishing, targeting a specific niche – rather than trying to spread your coverage over too wide a ground – will also help you rank in search
  • For reference sites, Google’s Quick Answers and featured snippets can be a real blow. But for the rest of us, they can be a huge boost in visibility if you know how to cater to them properly.

Here is the Full Agenda for #SEJSummit London! (Part 2) by @mattsouthern

The second half of the agenda for our first ever international SEJ Summit, hosted by Searchmetrics, has just been finalized and we’re excited to be able to present the final lineup!

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Unveiling The Agenda For #SEJSummit Dallas: Part 2 by @wonderwall7

Our second invite-only, one-day conference for enterprise marketers will be held at the InterContinental Hotel Dallas in Addison, Texas on Tuesday, March 31, 2015. You’ll notice that, compared to other conferences, the sessions are shorter than what you may be used to.  We’re avoiding information overload by keeping the sessions moving at an optimal pace. SEJ Summit contains no pitches, no product demos, and no sponsored content. As a reminder, tickets are invite-only and cost is covered by our sponsor, Searchmetrics, a platform that delivers enterprise SEO and content marketing analysis, recommendations, forecasting, and reporting for companies who want potential customers to find them faster. Want to attend? We still have a […]

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Here’s The Agenda For #SEJSummit Dallas: Part 1 by @wonderwall7

Our second invite-only, one-day conference for enterprise marketers will be held at the InterContinental Hotel Dallas in Addison, Texas on Tuesday, March 31, 2015. You’ll notice that, compared to other conferences, the sessions are shorter than what you may be used to.  We’re avoiding information overload by keeping the sessions moving at an optimal pace. All SEJ Summit events contain no pitches, no product demos, and no sponsored content. Tickets are invite-only and cost is covered by our sponsor, Searchmetrics, a platform that delivers enterprise SEO and content marketing analysis, recommendations, forecasting, and reporting for companies who want potential customers to find them faster. Want to attend? We still have a few […]

The post Here’s The Agenda For #SEJSummit Dallas: Part 1 by @wonderwall7 appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

Top Local And Mobile Search Engine Ranking Factors: An Interview With Marcus Tober by @lorenbaker

At Pubcon 2014 in Las Vegas, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Marcus Tober, CTO at Searchmetrics, about what’s new in local and mobile search. Ever year Searchmetrics releases a report about top ranking factors with a comparison to the previous year. In this interview I ask Marcus to go into some detail about the top ranking factors for 2014. If you want to know which factors Google is weighing heavily in search right now, you’re going to want to watch the interview below: Here are some key takeaways from the video: With search diversifying into […]

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Searchmetrics Files “IPRs” To Invalidate BrightEdge SEO Patents In Lawsuit

Roughly a year ago, several BrightEdge SEO-related patents were granted. The company almost immediately turned around and sued Searchmetrics for violation of that IP. Searchmetrics has now filed what’s called an “inter partes review” (IPR) petition to essentially invalidate some…



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Addressing Client Concerns: An Interview With Shaun Siler by @johnrampton

As part of our coverage from the sold-out Searchmetrics x Search Engine Journal conference in San Francisco on SEO, content marketing, and analytics, I caught up with Shaun Siler of Searchmetrics to discuss what in on clients’ minds right now, and how he would address their main concerns. Hear what he has to say in the video below: Here are some key takeaways from the video: Hot topics are Panda 4.0, Hummingbird, and how people are affected by these challenges. It’s important to step back and ask yourself, are you really being affected by these algorithm updates, or are there other things you need […]

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How Link Building Has Changed In 2014: Interview With Prashant Puri by @johnrampton

As part of our coverage from the sold-out Searchmetrics x Search Engine Journal conference in San Francisco on SEO, content marketing, and analytics, I caught up with Prashant Puri of AdLift to discuss how link building has changed over the past few months. What’s going on with link building, and what can you do to keep up with the changes? How can business owners attract better links to their website? Prashant explains in the video below. Here are some key takeaways from the video: Links are still the best way for Google to determine the overall authority of a site. What’s changed […]

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How to Hire the Top International Talent: An Interview with Tom Schuster by @johnrampton

As part of our SEJ interview series, I recently caught up with Tom Schuster from Searchmetrics to discuss how to hire the top talent from around the world. There’s a lot of good talent out there, but there’s also a lot of competition when it comes to hiring that talent. Searchmetrics has offices in multiple countries, so they are well experienced in acquiring top international talent. In the video below, Tom explains what it takes to hire good talent in many different countries, and how you go about finding them in the first place. Here are some key takeaways from the video: […]

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