If you can’t measure it you can’t improve it: IndexWatch 2017 – the Losers in Google UK
Two weeks ago, we looked at the Winners on Google UK. Today we will look at those domains with the highest loss in visibility on Google UK. After reading this blog post, I hope you will have gotten some takeaways that you can use right away, for your projects.
We took all domains into account who had at least 3 points in the Smartphone mobile Visibility Index at the start of 2017 (Our mobile mobile visibility is 2 and half years old. If you would prefer to go further back in time, you can switch to the desktop visibility, which is 8 years old). The increases are shown as percentages.
Let’s jump right in.
Table of Contents
- One of Google’s Updates deals with the spread of misinformation?
- The Fred Update
- Copyright infringement
- 2 big brands, 2 big mistakes – Doorway pages
- Technical Issues
- Other interesting cases
- The 100 Losers 2017
- Top 20 in absolute numbers
One of Google’s Updates deals with the spread of misinformation?
In November 2017, Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt announced that Google will be “deranking” stories from Russia Today and Sputnik – in response to allegations about election meddling by President Putin’s government – provoking an accusation of censorship from both outlets.
Mr Schmidt said: “We’re well aware of this one, and we’re working on detecting this kind of scenario you’re describing and deranking those kinds of sites.”
The interesting fact is that Russia Today and other news websites were already deranked through an “Unknown Google Update”, 10 months before this statement.
Rt.com (-58%) – Russia Today
Ibtimes.co.uk (-97%) and Ibtimes.com ( -95%) – International Business Times
Both domains also got hit by “Mr. Schmidt’s Update” on February 2017: An internal IBT memo allegedly advised IBT journalists on how to “re-work a story you’ve already done and re-post it in the hopes that it will chart better via Google…” Some people even went so far as to just re-post the exact same story, with a new headline.
If we take a look at the ranking distribution – which shows us how many keywords they have ranking on Google’s first results page, the second, the third and so on – we discover that almost all the rankings were moved to the tail-end of search result pages:
Going into more detail, let’s use the history for one keyword which was ranking at the first position, “amazing technology”. We can now see what is going on here:
Perezhilton.com (-91%) and Justjared.com (-65%)
The same holds true for celebrity gossip and entertainment news sites like Perezhilton.com and Justjared.com:
The Fred Update
The Fred Update was confirmed by Google and rolled out in March 2017, which we reported on. A large number of the domains affected by this Update have one of two things in common: low quality content or a violation of Google’s ad placement policies.
Here we have an example where images are aligned with ads:
Another example would be encouraging accidental clicks:
All in all, there is no clearly noticeable pattern for Google’s actions. They are adjusting more than one thing at a time. Which is the reason why it is rather unlikely that Google is re-evaluating either the content or the link-profile of domains. Instead, this can be seen as evidence that Google is re-evaluating and re-calculating ranking signals based on current and extended data.
A look at Google’s Transparency Report reveals that copyright holders are very active in reporting infringements. It does not matter how much effort you invest in SEO, if your business model is build on content you do not own or did not licence, sooner or later, Google will start to remove your content:
2 big brands, 2 big mistakes – Doorway pages
Experienced SEOs know very well that you should never allow Google to index your internal search results (better known as doorway pages). And that is exactly what Aliexpress.com and Giphy.com were doing (We reported in detail about Giphy.com).
Other examples for SERPs in SERPs would be Shopstyle.co.uk (which is a web search engine for fashion), Photobucket.com and Reference.com.
Reference.com started the year 2017 with an amazing 84 points of mobile visibility and for whatever reason they set their content to “Noindex/follow” (line 56 of the pages source code: <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex” />), which means they practically made it disappear from Google:
For this reason the site lost almost all high ranking keywords. For example, they were ranking on position number 1 for “mobile hairdressers” and now they have vanished:
In addition to that, if we take a look at their robots.txt, we will discover another “Noindex” there. The “Noindex” in the robots.txt file is something that I’ve mostly observed on US domains, with some European domains starting to do the same.
Please don’t do that! This is not an exclusion standard and it makes no sense to have it there. And even though the Googlebot seems to understand it, Google recommends not to use it.
At first glance, the website of Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK seems to be OK. The offer sure is good – “No Win No Fee” – they are a well known brand, the website architecture seems to be OK, the content seems to be OK.
So, what is going on here? What may be the reason for a 85% loss in mobile visibility on Google UK? If we crawl their website using our crawler feature, we can clearly see what is going on. Excessive load times:
Google will not spend this much of their time crawling a website. Take a look at the loading time of Wikipedia which is 100 times faster!
Fortune.com (-63%) – When AMP is missing its acceleration
The mobile version of Fortune.com has already been hosted on amp.timeinc.net for the past year. But this system does not seem to be reliable. This AMP page is just so slow, that Google prefers to use the desktop version for the mobile search results. If we put both mobile Visibility Index charts together, we can see the change:
If we use Google’s AMP validation tool, almost all URLs will pass the test:
But if we use our Smartphone or the Chrome Developer Console (with their new Lighthouse Audit feature) to see exactly how this AMP version performs, we notice that the above URL needs more than 27 seconds to finish loading:
This makes it a validated AMP URL which is not really an Accelerated Mobile Page.
Claires.co.uk (-97%) moves to Claires.com
If we compare the mobile visibility for the two domains Claires.co.uk and Claires.com, we are talking about a mobile visibility loss of 30%. But in fact, after consolidating 2 different domains into just one, the resulting score should surpass the sum of both mobile visibility scores.
And here, this is not the case. Why? If we take a look at the best liked pages of this domain, we can clearly see redirects like this one:
From Claires.co.uk to Claires.com we find a chain of more than 10 redirects! First of all, 301 redirects should be used instead 302s. And second, after the fifth redirect Google will decide to come back another day.
Thomson.co.uk started trading as TUI.co.uk
Thomson Holidays started trading as TUI UK on the 18th of October, 2017 and all of its content was redirected to Tui.co.uk. They are using 301-redirects, which is is fine. The problem here is that they are not correctly redirecting the old URLs to the new ones (some of which do not even exist yet):
This domain got a new design but they did not redirect the old content at all:
Please keep in mind that individual URLs are responsible for the most important quality signals of a domain – such as authority, reputation, trust, user signals, and many more – and that these URLs usually provide the majority of all incoming links. By eliminating, ignoring or redirecting your old URLs incorrectly, your domain is suddenly worth much less – sometimes even nothing – to Google.
Other interesting cases
Babylon-software.com (-95%) (Former Babylon.com)
Between 2010 and 2013, Babylon became infamous for demonstrating questionable behavior typical of malware. The Babylon search toolbar was identified as a browser hijacker that, while very easy to install, inadvertently became unnecessarily difficult to remove afterwards. Google said that complaints had been received from Google Chrome users, claiming that the Babylon toolbar damages the browser’s user experience.
It looks like Google does not want this domain on its search results anymore.
When a result does not pique the user’s interest anymore, Google will notice this change and adjust the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) accordingly.
Two additional domains where user behaviour plays a large role are Songlyrics.com and Myspace.com.
And with this example we get to the core of our IndexWatch article, the Top-100 losers of 2017:
The 100 Losers 2017
Top 20 in absolute numbers
Finally, I want to show you the list of those 20 domains which had the largest absolute loss in mobile visibility in 2017. Where the previous list looks at the decreases as percentages to rank the domains, this one looks at the absolute values.
To give you a feel for the range of values of our mobile Visibility Index, please know that 100 domains in the UK have a mobile visibility of at least 70 points, while most domains have a mobile Visibility Index of less than one point. So, when a domain loses more than 83 points, like Homebase.co.uk did, we can agree that something big must have gone wrong.
“Knowing what to measure and how to measure it makes a complicated world much less so”.
I hope you like it.