Two Weeks ago, Barry Schwartz wrote the following blog post: “Giphy CEO: We Own Happy Birthday On Google. Next Day They Get Hit”. And indeed, Giphy.com has lost 91% of their Visibility in the UK, 84% in the USA, 87% in France, 88% in Italy, 83% in Germany and 85% in Spain.
Barry then asked his readers if we think that Google smacked them because of the article released by FastCompany. Well, I would like give you my opinion in this blogpost.
Digging Into the Domain Architecture
There are many reasons why a domain may drop on Google. Due to this, you have to dig deeper as part of your domain analysis, in order to find out if the entire domain has been affected or just one host, a directory or maybe just one very import URL – with many keyword rankings on Google. In doing so, you are able to arrive at more focussed conclusions, make better decisions and take better actions.
(1) You should start analyzing the hostnames:
Here, we can clearly see that 3 of the 4 different hostnames on Giphy.com are almost irrelevant on Google and that the drop occurred on the non-www host giphy.com/.
(2) Now, go into the host giphy.com/ and take a look at the directories:
After seeing this chart it’s very likely that the most experienced SEOs already know what might have happened with Giphy.com. But let’s take a look at the Visibility of the different directories first. In doing so, we can see this is not a domain-wide penalty, as there are many parts that are still growing on Google:
(3) Now let’s analyse the directory https://giphy.com/search/.
This directory alone had a visibility score of 153.78 points (the entire instagram.com domain has 153 points!), and now it dropped to 4.19. It was ranking for 116,027 keywords and now there are only 12,323 left, of which only 268 are in the Top 10. In other words, this directory was responsible for 96% of the entire Visibility of Giphy.com. Now it is simply gone.
Search is Google’s Cores Business
Google has been making it plain, for years, that they do not want to have search-results within their index:
“It’s still good to clarify that Google does reserve the right to take action to reduce search results (and proxied copies of websites) in our own search results.” – Matt Cutts March 10, 2007– Matt Cutts March 10, 2007
Experienced SEOs know very well that you should never allow Google to index your internal search results. And that is exactly what Giphy.com was doing. The URL ranking for the keyword “happy birthday” not only looks like an internal search result, it is an internal search result:
If you type “happy birthday” into the search bar on Giphy.com it will automatically generate this URL: https://giphy.com/search/happy-birthday – you can try it out yourself by typing nonsense into the search bar (or letting your cat walk over the keyboard), which will create a new URL.
An example could be “Giphy drops on Google“. Et voilà!
That worked very well for them, as they were ranking on the top of Google’s search results for the keyword “happy birthday” for the past 3 years:
But now, this is not the case anymore and all these keywords are ranking from the second page of Google’s search results onwards:
Do you Think Google Smacked Them Because of The Fast Company Article?
4 Years ago, the well known lyrics website “RapGenuis.com” (today Genuis.com) was building links for the keyword “Justin Bieber” by using unscrupulous tactics. Matt Cutts got wind of it and announced on the Hacker News thread “we’re investigating this now”. Shortly afterwards, RapGenuis.com was penalized. They went on to say the following for themselves: “We overstepped, and we deserved to get smacked“
As far as Giphy is concerned, if you are loudly claiming that you are The search engine for gifs and you are number one on Google on a multitude of different channels, I would definitely take a look at your domain if I worked for Google. It’s that simple.
The Missing Piece
Giphy.com is not the first domain which allowed Google to index their internal search results. We reported on a number of similar cases in the past, Softonic and Cnet for example. Both were cases where the domains received a notification from Google within their Google Search Console related to “thin content”.
In manual actions, Google usually moves all your search results on the first 4 result pages backwards, to pages 5, 6, 7, etc. In other words, you will not show up before page 5. It was long called “the -50 penalty”:
(1) Ranking distribution for Softonic.com/s/ in June 2016:
(2) Ranking distribution for Download.cnet.com/s/ in August 2016:
(3) Ranking distribution for eBay.com/bhp/ in June 2014:
But Giphy.com does not show the same pattern. It was eliminated entirely from Google’s search results. We recorded 210,843 different URLs for the directory /search/ before the drop and now, if we use the site: command on Google, we see this:
A similar case to Giphy.com was the one of Search.com (who are, coincidentally, also part of CBS Interactive, just like CNET.com), where they were also expelled because they let their search results being indexed on Google.
To shine more light on the story and help Giphy.com, I tried to get in touch with their team, but sadly I never received an answer. Without Giphy’s confirmation that they also received a “thin content” manual action, I would prefer to keep this blog post as an opinion piece.
Nonetheless, I am extremely interested to hear what your opinions are on this matter. Let me know in the comments.
I hope you like it and have a nice and successful day!