2018 was a turbulent year for Google SERPs. 5 significant updates put the results into a roller-coaster of changes that, in some cases, might be catastrophic for some businesses. In this article we look at the Top 100 losers and analyse some significant domains and sectors. We start with the Top 3.
Table of Contents
- 1 – Verywell. 99.91% loss – Domain splits.
- 2 – Vevo.com 99.04% loss – Redirects everything to YouTube
- 3 – Myprotein.com 96.2% loss – Big Medic Loser
- Top 100 losers UK (mobile) 2018
- More Medic-related losses
- Bluewater. Affiliate shop ranks well, for just 3 months.
- co.uk losing brand value?
- UK News Media 2018
1 – Verywell. 99.91% loss – Domain splits.
We start with a loss, that could end up as a success story. Verywell has a history that goes all the way back to the late 90’s and a website called about.com. It was huge, a search engine in itself, and it changed hands a number of times over the years. In 2017 the about.com name was changed to Dotdash and 6 informational websites were born. Verywell was one of them. In 2018, the Verywell domain split into 4 health-related websites and it seems that the project has been a relatively good success story.
Perhaps it’s unfair to include a migration in the list of losers, but if we step back and look at the history we get an idea of how huge that about.com domain was.
The domain verywell.com remains as a landing page for the new business model and of-course, a business-critical redirect engine for over 750,000 incoming links and the 36,900 pages that are still indexed in Google – something we’ll highlight again below.
2 – Vevo.com 99.04% loss – Redirects everything to YouTube
Clearly this is a business-driven change following the complete re-organisation of Vevo content on YouTube but it’s an interesting study. Vevo videos were providing a lot, if not all, the visibility for vevo.com and now that every single video has been re-directed to YouTube, Vevo has disappeared.
Given that Alphabet is a Vevo investor, there’s probably a more important business driver here than SEO. However, despite all the 301 redirects, 433,000 pages, including videos, are still indexed by Google. While they don’t rank well at all, they are an example of a case where 301 redirects don’t have the expected effect. User search activity might still be indicating to Google’s algorithm that Vevo.com should still be indexed for the searches.
We wonder how long the Vevo brand will continue to exist, how long those links will stay indexed and what this deal means for the future of YouTube.
3 – Myprotein.com 96.2% loss – Big Medic Loser
Myprotein.com is the first of a handful of ‘your life‘ websites that were almost wiped-out in the biggest SERPs shake-up we’ve seen in years. It was called ‘Medic’ and consisted of a series of Google search algorithm changes that killed some sites, helped others and gave others a short term gain or loss. A large number, although not all, were related to ‘your money, your life’ content and we’re still analysing the effects, 5 months after it happened.
Myprotein got hit badly.
We’ve learnt a lot about Medic over the last 5 months and in our most recent publication you’ll see the correlation we found on some domains between previous link-related penalties and the Medic penalties. In analysing any domain that was hit by Medic we now always take a look at the link profile.
The link profile of myprotein.com looks good on first-glance. It looks like there have been some direct-ad-sales deals and there are a large percentage of old and low-quality domain backlinks but nothing is really questionable until you look closer at the direct-sell ads. One set of 11,000 links from a huge forum are all indexed as links with a huge array of very specific alt-text. Image placements as advertising should be marked with a nofollow. These aren’t.
In addition, the list of top linking domains shows nothing with any Visibility Index which means they are not well-ranked by Google. Some of the domains in the list below are obviously low-quality. myproteindiscountcodes is a clear example.
Top 100 losers UK (mobile) 2018
onhealth.com, a domain that got hit with Panda penalties in 2014, got hit badly again by algorithm updates in 2018. WebMD bought OnHealth in 2002 and their content certainly doesn’t look bad. However, there’s evidence of those poor backlinks again. This time we’re seeing very old links from 2002 which could be evidence of a link-building strategy that, while it might have worked then, doesn’t work now.
The third domain in this group of ‘your life’ websites is parenting.com. Owned by Meredith corporation in the USA, the print magazine was ended in 2013. As we write this post, however, the website has also gone. Or has it? Accessing via a USA VPN solves the issue which means that Parenting.com is geo-blocking, possibly to the whole of Europe as a result of the new data protection regulations.
Using IP-based geo-targeting like this is always going cause problems with SEO. Google will crawl from USA IP addresses and see different content.
The user signals (return to SERPs) will indicate to Google that something strange is happening here.
Unfortunately, this is not the only problem for Parenting.com because the US visibility history shows the same Google algorithm changes. Through our historical data we see that parenting.com went going through a link-related Panda penalty and the link database shows both evidence of ‘cheap’ link building and huge numbers of links from within the Meredith web network and the same IP addresses. Strategies that were working and valid back in 2004 are now risky, and 2018’s algorithm changes are clearly taking action against them.
Read more about our thoughts and research on Medic and links.
Bluewater. Affiliate shop ranks well, for just 3 months.
Bluewater, the well-known 300-store shopping center, lost visibility due to an interesting implementation of affiliate links. A new /shopping sub-directory was introduced in Autumn 2017 and immediately ranked well. At it’s peak at the end of Jan 2018 it had over 16 points of visibility. 3 months after the sub directory started to rank, it was removed from search results.
We’ve seen many cases that have the same 3-month buffer. Consider Google making a first-pass at indexing and then, later, running a deeper indexing process that includes link evaluation. Links that redirect through an affiliate site, especially without any notification and without, as far as we can see, a cookie-tracking warning, clearly don’t help to build search visibility.
co.uk losing brand value?
One of the saddest backstories for me while looking at the ‘losers’ were the number of domains that are jumping from the in-country domain. In most cases it’s a process of website consolidation where separate domains are being brought under a single domain and being managed using hreflang tags. Sometimes it’s working (bbc.com does a remarkable job of user/country management) but in many cases it’s not. Domains are losing visibility as moves are made.
A domain move is always a complex task in terms of technical SEO. It’s also a risk to change what could be part of the brand – .co.uk.
One might think that a .co.uk top-level domain is unimportant, especially in times where the UK ‘brand’ is being tarnished by Brexit and when .com indicates international coverage, but don’t underestimate it. We published a study in December showing a clear case where .co.uk was part of the company brand. They moved to .com, and lost. Read the case of Patient and .co.uk.
With that in mind, lets take a look at a few domain movers.
Good Housekeeping was the biggest shock on the list for me. At 18 years old I was given the Good Housekeeping Step-by-Step Illustrated Cookbook by my mother. There it is, on the right, held together by sticky-tape. Imagine my horror when I found out that Good Housekeeping has moved from .co.uk to .com. A little research reveals it was an American company all along. Who knew? Am I wrong to be suspicious of any future edition of the bible?
Jokes aside though, here’s what happened with the domain move. It’s not good.
Technically there are still redirect issues to be sorted out but I wonder how many people who knew the brand as a ‘UK’ brand are now wondering why it’s no-longer British! Time, and user-signals, will tell Google.
UK News Media 2018
We can’t talk about the losers without paying some attention to a sector that was hit hard in 2018, across many countries. The UK news media sites have suffered huge losses and discussion continues as to why this is happening.
Metro.co.uk lost 73% of visibility during 2018. Metro is the #1 newspaper by distribution in the UK. It’s a free newspaper and part of the Daily Mail group.
Dailymail.co.uk, the online portal of the paid-for Daily Mail newspaper lost 61% visibility during 2018 and was one of the biggest losers in absolute terms.
The Telegraph, Mirror, The Guardian, The Independant and The Sun also faced heavy losses in SERPs visibility and a quick calculation shows a huge 750 points loss by just 10 UK news media domains. 750 points would secure a place in the top 10 most visible domains in the UK SERPs.
We’ll be re-visiting the topic of UK news media again, soon, on this blog.
Medic, and its related updates, shook the SERPs hard and the losers were easy to find. The reasons, however, not so easy.
Google has a long history of learning behind it and, with Android, Chrome and a raft of apps, user signals come from more than just the SERPs interactions. Looking back to the years when Google punished sites with ad-heavy content and bad linking strategies it’s clear now that they have moved beyond the obvious tricks and are working on fine-tuning their algorithms in favour of higher quality content and clean domains.
We wish you every success in 2019. Keep the quality in, and the tricks out! And again, here are the top 100 SEO winners in the UK for 2018.