Giphy.com’s Drop on Google – Things You Should Never Do

Juan Gonzalez
.I studied Regional Studies of Latin American at the University of Cologne - Germany, majoring in "Business Informatics“. I also studied Business Administration and currently I’m doing a Master in International Business Administration. I feel a fascination with SEO and the people who make it possible.
25. October 2017 8 Comments

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.

Visibility of Giphy.com on Google.uk (-91%)

Visibility of Giphy.com on Google US (-84%)

Visibility of Giphy.com on Google.de (-83%)

Visibility of Giphy.com on Google.es (-85%)

Visibility of Giphy.com on Google.it (-88%)

Visibility of Giphy.com on Google.fr (-87%)

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:

The Hostnames for Giphy.com

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:

Directories on the non-ww host giphy.com/

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:

Directories for Giphy.com still increasing their Visibility 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.

Blue line http://giphy.com/search/, read line https://giphy.com/search/

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

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:

URL and Internal Search Result for Happy Birthday

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!

Giphy.com automatically generates this URL

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:

Ranking History for the Keyword “Happy Birthday” on Google for Giphy.com

But now, this is not the case anymore and all these keywords are ranking from the second page of Google’s search results onwards:

The most important keywords related to “happy birthday” are ranking on the second page.

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:

Ranking distribution for Softonic.com/s/ in 2016, after the manual action. June 2016

(2) Ranking distribution for Download.cnet.com/s/ in August 2016:

Ranking distribution for Download.cnet.com/s/ in August 2016:

(3) Ranking distribution for eBay.com/bhp/ in June 2014:

Ranking distribution for eBay.com/bhp/ after the manual action 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:

site: search operator for giphy.com on the 24th of October, 2017

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!

26. October 2017, 08:04

That’s right, I don’t see any other issue on the site apart from internal search result pages ranking higher. I wonder next could be pinterest as they are also doing the same and using all tags as pages and these pages are getting indexed and ranked for thousands of keywords.

27. October 2017, 05:03

Ramesh has an excellent point. If Google thinks Gyphy.com is bad, Pinterest is extremely aggressive when it comes to multilingual indexation. It goes beyond indexing search result. But it is very thin content for sure.

For example, if you visit https://www.pinterest.ch/explore/outdoor-birthday-games/ and your browser’s locale is set to French, you are automatically redirected to the translated URL: https://www.pinterest.ch/explore/jeux-d'anniversaire-en-plein-air/. The source code of this page lists not less than 35 hreflang pages, most on pinterest.com but others on various top level domains (pinterest.pt, pinterest.se). Studying their strategy is like going down the rabbit hole, maybe you guys could give it a go and tell us what you think? There are a lot of interesting things going on there, and I’m willing to bet their organic presence has expoded over the past years. Would you think what they are doing is risky? Just a thought… 😉

27. October 2017, 13:31

In this case (in my opinion) the Giphy-Search-Pages do make sense for the user!

If I search for “gifs football”, I receive a good selection of Gifs on https://giphy.com/search/football/
There is added value on this page, because it is a selection and it is curated content.

I don´t see why Google should suddenly decide this is all of a sudden not worth indexing any more.
There must be something else!

– Maybe they changed technology and Google now cannot crawl/render their (JS) pages any more? (–> turn off JS in your browser, the page is blank).
– Maybe due to technology change, the links to the detailed search pages cannot be discovered any more?
– maybe they deleted an important “Google path” to their search result pages?
– or maybe they had copyright issues? They do “borrow” a lot of clips from movies…

1. November 2017, 08:13

I totally agree with the Pinterest commenter!! Those search results drive me nutty. I always ignore them.

1. November 2017, 13:17

But I guess the curated content is much more worthy for the visitor who has the choice of exploring much more option based on his query.Why would google do the same….

2. November 2017, 05:25

Hi Juan Gonzalez, Came to your site from FB.Very interesting and educated analysis about giphy’s de-ranking .

Ben
2. November 2017, 14:44

Great article! Thanks for taking the time.

I agree eith the pinterest point as well. Just to put another example, Argos in the UK does the same thing and there are loads of pages indexed from the /search/ directory (do site: search on Google)

i.e.
http://www.argos.co.uk/search/psp/
http://www.argos.co.uk/search/hamster/
http://www.argos.co.uk/search/ninjago/

[…] Giphy hat ihre interne Suche indexiert und musste dafür größte Einbrüche in der Sichtbarkeit in den organischen Suchergebnissen hinnehmen. […]