IndexWatch 2020 – SEO Winners in Google US

2020 proved to be an interesting and unusual year. Aside from the standard visibility changes we’ve come to expect from Google due to its ongoing algorithm updates and an always-improving understanding of user intent, the coronavirus pandemic also created drastic shifts in user behavior and market forces.

These changes directly impacted the organic visibility of domains in various categories, as Google’s algorithms adapted to best meet the rapidly changing needs of its users. In this post, we will show you the domains that have gained the most visibility on Google in 2020, both in terms of absolute and percentage change.

Methodology

We have identified the 350 domains with the strongest growth – both in percentage and in absolute terms using the SISTRIX Visibility Index, which indicates a value for how visible a domain is in Google’s search results. SISTRIX measures rankings of over 100 million domains for 100 million keywords on Google. The data below will focus specifically on Google’s U.S. index (Google.com). 

By actively measuring the rankings across a representative keyword set, the SISTRIX data is free from external influences such as seasonality, the weather, vacation times and other external factors and trends.

The data shown below is collected from mobile search rankings only.

The complete tables with all the winning domains will be listed at the end of the article. Before that, we will analyze some interesting trends among the SEO winners from 2020.

Pinterest.com and its ccTLDs

One of the most interesting trends in the 2020 winners in organic visibility was what took place with Pinterest.com, as well as several of its associated ccTLDs, beginning at the time of Google’s May Core Update.

As a result of Google’s May Core Update, Pinterest.com surged in visibility, gaining a massive increase of 165 Visibility Index points within the span of 3 weeks. 

By filtering down to the high-volume keywords for which Pinterest saw the greatest positive change, a few interesting patterns emerge. For one, Google began to display Pinterest in top positions for many high-volume, generic terms that previously resulted in informational articles earning top results. Pinterest often took the #1 position for these keywords, perhaps suggesting that Google’s algorithms determined that Pinterests’ series of images best served user intent for these queries, rather than an article.

Another factor behind Pinterest’s surge in visibility stemmed from what appears to be a major relevancy adjustment for keywords that could be interpreted as adult content. Prior to the May Core Update, these queries returned adult sites in top positions, but were later replaced by Pinterest and other ‘family-friendly’ informational pages after the update. 

Some examples of this would be queries with an ambiguous intent, such as “cute girl,” “men in underwear,” “older mature woman,” “Asian ladies,” and “online adult games”, where Pinterest surged anywhere from 5-40 positions to earn the #1 spot, replacing rankings that were previously held by adult content.

Pinterest.com was not the only Pinterest domain seeing huge surges in SEO visibility during the May Core Update in Google’s U.S. index; the same uptick took place among a variety of international versions of Pinterest, most notably Pinterest.ca (its Canada domain). 

As a result of these changes, it was noted throughout 2020 that for certain queries, Pinterest (as well as some other domains) often captured 5 or more results on the first page across its various ccTLDs. In fact, several users on Twitter flagged this to Google after the May Core Update, to which Google responded that they’d be looking into the issue. Pinterest.com and its ccTLDs did see declines during the December 2020 Core Update, so it may be possible that domain diversification played a role in that update.

Domains that Benefitted From COVID-19

For a variety of domains, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in massive gains in visibility. These sites offered content that met the rapidly changing demands of searchers, as the world abruptly adapted to a stay-at-home lifestyle. For these sites, it wasn’t their SEO strategy that resulted in massive increases in organic visibility; they were simply in the right place at the right time.

Zoom is the most obvious example of the effect of coronavirus on organic visibility. During the onset of the pandemic, Zoom rapidly earned prominent rankings for high-volume keywords such as “meeting room,” “rooms,” and “conference room.” By ranking Zoom in top positions for these terms, Google’s algorithms demonstrated the ability to pick up on the fact that users were looking for online meeting rooms, despite not including the words “online” or “virtual” in their query. 

The ranking distribution makes clear that it wasn’t their SEO strategy that resulted in massive increases in organic visibility because 84% of Zoom’s content on Google is ranking between the second and tenth page of Google’s search results:

The CDC (Center for Disease Control) is another example of a domain that saw an enormous increase of 51 visibility index points, most of which took place beginning with an unconfirmed Google update on June 22, 2020. Another winner, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), saw an uptick on the same date.

This update took place during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, and it appeared that Google aimed to rank authoritative sites above all else for queries related to coronavirus and public health.

Several sites that were able to quickly and reliably ship users the products they needed to survive and thrive during mandatory stay-at-home orders were among the winners of total overall visibility, such as Amazon (+90), Home Depot (+62), Target (+37) and  Etsy (+76).

Domains that Grow As New Pages are Indexed

Among the list of winning domains are several that earn increases in visibility as more users or products are added to their platforms, for example, Amazon, Ebay, Instagram, and Facebook. One way to identify this trend is to monitor the number of indexed URLs on these domains over time. 

All four of these domains have approximately doubled their number of indexed URLs on Google throughout 2020, which can contribute to their growth in visibility, given how prominently they rank.

Google Is Your Biggest Competitor

It can’t be overlooked that one of the biggest winners in 2020 was Google’s own properties, which are denoted as the domain ‘universal-search-box.com’ in Sistrix’s data. These Google SERP features include Google Images, the Video carousel, People Also Ask boxes and more.

Particularly on mobile devices, the ‘People Also Ask’ box – which is listed as questions.universalsearchbox.com in Sistrix – saw incredible growth throughout 2020, often overtaking the #1 position on mobile devices for many of the highest-volume keywords in Sistrix’ Visibility Index, such as “recipes,” “politics,” “reading,” “stock,” “retirement,” “vaccination,” and more.

Google’s own properties earned approximately 4,810 visibility index points throughout the course of the year, with a massive increase occurring in March of 2020. For context, those combined SERP features overtook both Amazon and Wikipedia to become the biggest market share holder in Sistrix’ U.S. Visibility Index.

Strong SEO Performance

Finally, we have the domains that saw increases in visibility due to their strong SEO strategies. For example, masterclass.com, compass.com and prevention.com are all sites demonstrating a strong content strategy, solid website architecture, and top-notch E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness). 

Masterclass saw most of its organic growth (309%) from its /articles/ section, in which it publishes high-quality, expert content that is comprehensive, authoritative, and easy to navigate. 

Loveandlemons.com, a recipe website, saw massive growth during the May Core Update, which was sustained throughout the remainder of 2020. With great usability, fast load times, highly-optimized content, strong internal linking, robust Recipe markup, high quality images, and other features, the site has surged in visibility throughout 2020, earning #1 positions for keywords such as “salad,” “baking,” “eggplant recipes,” “lentils,” and much more.

See the difference between the ranking distribution of this domain and Zoom:  The following chart is showing how many keywords they have ranking on Google’s first results page. This looks more like a good SEO strategy:

Now check how the number of Keywords on Google’s first result page is increasing: The red line is growing amazingly. They are passing their content from the second page to the first page, the place where 99% of clicks take place:

2020 Visibility Changes Were Not Just About SEO

A variety of factors contributed to the huge swings in organic visibility seen among many of the winning domains in 2020. When analyzing these performance changes, it is crucial to remember that the coronavirus pandemic and other breaking news events created a heightened focus on E-A-T throughout 2020, which caused a ripple effect across the rankings of many sites. Drastic changes in consumer behavior also resulted in changes to how Google’s algorithms ranked certain domains throughout the pandemic. Google has also increased the visibility of its own SERP features in 2020, particularly its People Also Ask box, making it increasingly difficult for 3rd-party websites to rank in top positions on mobile devices.

Full list of winners 2020 as percentage and absolute tables

After these five exemplary cases from the lists of Google 2020 winners, we now come to the complete lists and tables. Depending on your interests, you can see both the percentage and the absolute winners (more on this under the next heading).

Here in the blog we have added the first 25 entries of the table – cleaned them up as best as possible to remove adult content projects, domain moves and the like. Here is the list with the percentage winners 2020 in USA

IndexWatch 2020 - SEO Winners in Google US (Percentage)
Domain30.12.201928.12.2020+ Change in %
pinterest.ca1.0221.932042.36
cloudconvert.com2.1817.51703.32
audible.com1.8911.98534.11
pinterest.co.uk1.9911.25464.22
indianexpress.com1.024.94383.37
loveandlemons.com1.738.18374.36
propertyshark.com2.7312.80369.48
zoom.us2.4110.92353.15
switchbacktravel.com1.275.34321.18
muckrack.com1.014.12309.76
masterclass.com3.8715.85309.29
trip.com1.817.37307.90
globenewswire.com1.857.44301.30
frommers.com2.238.90299.30
wordnik.com2.469.74296.30
babynames.com1.977.66288.41
compass.com1.897.28285.11
vacasa.com1.304.94280.56
rtings.com4.9818.12263.64
cartoonnetworkhq.com2.8110.18262.87
studentaid.gov4.2915.38258.86
safetydetectives.com1.204.23252.96
etymonline.com6.6323.30251.55
translate.com3.5512.43250.37
prevention.com2.428.39246.59

To see the full list of 250 domains, click the link. There you’ll find the (unfiltered) list of all winners: View 250 percent winners in a Google Sheet.

Now we come to the winners in the absolute gain in Visibility Index points. Here’s the first 25 of the list. Again, filtered to remove adult content.

IndexWatch 2020 - SEO Winners in Google US (Absolute)
Domain30.12.201928.12.2020+ Absolute Change
pinterest.com193.91409.13+215.2
fandom.com203.05407.89+204.8
ebay.com338.41524.52+186.1
instagram.com198.62378.60+180.0
facebook.com869.30994.44+125.1
thefreedictionary.com166.46272.51+106.1
amazon.com2,630.082,720.31+90.2
etsy.com192.74269.57+76.8
dictionary.com680.95754.24+73.3
pcmag.com91.93160.68+68.8
homedepot.com302.25364.40+62.1
thesaurus.com182.93235.86+52.9
cdc.gov64.10115.22+51.1
expedia.com177.14219.60+42.5
lexico.com45.3287.43+42.1
linkedin.com217.67259.68+42.0
rottentomatoes.com136.59175.94+39.3
reverso.net17.2055.64+38.4
target.com253.79291.06+37.3
yahoo.com60.9392.45+31.5
techradar.com99.67130.83+31.2
medium.com31.0862.08+31.0
healthline.com210.67240.52+29.8
realtor.com114.05143.78+29.7
yourdictionary.com106.76136.30+29.5

We’ve also prepared the full list of 100 entries in a Google Sheet. View 100 absolute winners in a Google Sheet.

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