The first half of 2023 has been one of the busiest and most eventful periods the SEO industry has seen for a long time, and this time, it’s not just because of ongoing Google updates like we’ve seen in recent years.
The AI revolution and surge of new updates to search, new SEO tools and AI-related product announcements by Google, Bing, OpenAI, and other search engines have created an intense, fast-changing atmosphere for digital marketers.
While it’s still unclear whether Google’s search results have specifically shifted due to the flood of new AI-generated content, or the testing of new AI products like Search Generative Experience (SGE), it is undoubtedly a volatile moment for organic website visibility. Furthermore, there have been reports of significant, unconfirmed Google updates in recent months.
Below are the domains seeing the greatest gains in SEO visibility on Google.com in the U.S., both in absolute and percentage terms. Visibility losses are shown in a separate report.
Top 20 “Absolute Winners”, Google Search US
The top 20 domains with the biggest visibility gain over the first half of the year 2023 in Google Search US.
|#||Domain||VI - 02 Jan 2023||VI - 03 July 2023||VI Change|
Large absolute gains are often seen with big domains but they may not represent a big commercial change. Percentage changes highlights some smaller websites that have made very significant changes.
|#||Domain||VI - 02 Jan 2023||VI - 03 July 2023||Percentage change|
Sites That Gain Visibility As Indexed Pages Grow
The two greatest absolute winners of SEO visibility in the first half of 2023 were LinkedIn and Instagram, which gained 100 and 76 visibility points, respectively.
These sites can be tricky to analyze, because visibility gains and losses are not always tied to specific SEO issues or strategies. For example, if the number of users on either platform grows substantially, this can lead to a significant increase in visibility, as users and businesses often easily earn top 10 rankings for their LinkedIn and Instagram profile pages.
That said, LinkedIn did see a dip in visibility in late 2022 for two of its subfolders: /company/ and /in/, which houses its company and individual profile pages. Its jobs pages and “Pulse” content did not see this same pattern.
Drilling into individual keyword declines during the 2nd half of 2022, when LinkedIn companies and individuals saw significant visibility declines, reveals that most of these keywords were names of popular brand names, individuals, and schools, which dropped about 1-3 positions in the top 10 results.
Looking at the keyword “ConEd” between mid-2022 to early 2023 shows how this subtle movement can ultimately cause a big impact on visibility. Between July 2022 and January 2023, both ConEd’s LinkedIn and Instagram profiles dropped several positions, while other brands with similar names and acquiring companies took their place.
This is a natural shift in user intent and relevance for branded queries. It wouldn’t make sense for these results to stay static all the time for most brands.
Earning Top Positions as Indexed Pages Grow
Some of the winning sites tend to earn top positions out of the gate as new pages are added to their site. For example, Google may be more likely to rank Reddit in top positions for a certain query when a new Reddit thread is created about that topic, because Google trusts Reddit to provide a good user experience.
Google may also rank sites like Soundcloud or Bandcamp in top positions for musician, band, and artist names – or keywords that closely resemble those names. If an artist earns popularity, Google might determine that a Bandcamp or Soundcloud profile may be the best result, even when the band has a generic name like “Lake,” “Shopping,” or “Swans.”
See how rankings changed for generic keywords (that are shared with band names) in the below table, where Bandcamp saw increased positions this year:
Government sites and domains with significant E-E-A-T
As we’ve seen in previous years, one common thread among the biggest absolute winners in 2023 so far is that they demonstrate a significant amount of E-E-A-T. This is usually due to their position as a government agency or another trusted, high-authority institution.
For example, the National Institute of Health (nih.gov) continued to see massive visibility growth in 2023, often corresponding to Google’s major updates, like the March 2023 core update.
The growth of the NIH was isolated to two of its main subfolders: /books and /pmc (Pubmed Central).
According to their site, these two sections do the following:
/books: “Bookshelf provides free online access to books and documents in life science and healthcare. Search, read, and discover.”
/pmc: “PubMed Central® (PMC) is a free full-text archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature at the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine (NIH/NLM)”
One possible reason for this growth could be the fact that they contain trusted scientific/medical content that has earned massive backlink growth in recent years, as more and more publishers link to authoritative primary sources as a way of demonstrating E-E-A-T.
Other high E-E-A-T sites saw a similar pattern, such as the Cleveland Clinic, California’s official government site and its subdomains, the Library of Congress, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, and NASA. All of these sites saw visibility jumps after the March 2023 core update, and all of them have also seen steady and consistent growth in the past 5 years.
In many cases, government sites (and other high-authority sites) appear to earn top rankings when something newsworthy is taking place, and Google ranks trusted sites (like .gov sites) to convey official information.
For example, for the generic keyword “warranted,” a .ca.gov (California government) subdomain briefly earned the #3 position, previously held by various dictionary sites. Other government sites also moved into top positions, albeit briefly.
This kind of change can happen when Google’s algorithms identify that a government resource might be one of the best results for a vague keyword – even if that ranking is short-lived – due to user behavior, trending news, politics or world events, or other signals.
Google’s article, “How Google Fights Disinformation” provides more information on this subject.
Organic Growth Supported by Well-Executed SEO Strategies
Several sites in the biggest absolute winners category seem to have grown in large part because of their SEO efforts. While many factors are at play, these sites have been dedicated to expanding and improving their content, plus adhering to Google’s recommendations around helpful content, top-quality reviews and E-E-A-T.
New York Times
The New York Times has long been a behemoth in the SEO space, but this year, the company has had a particularly good year in terms of SEO visibility, with a 68 visibility point increase, or 31%.
The vast majority of this SEO growth came from The Wirecutter, NYT’s official site section for product reviews. NYT acquired Wirecutter in 2016, and with its robust, high-quality product review content, it has proven to become a tremendous asset to the New York Times’s digital footprint.
While many product review sites have fallen victim to Google’s brutal Reviews updates in recent years, Wirecutter – which exemplifies the best practices Google lays out in its guide to writing high-quality reviews – appears to be an overall winner.
Tripadvisor saw significant growth in absolute SEO visibility: over 52 points throughout the course of 2023 so far.
While Tripadvisor’s ranking improvements were seen across the board, one new development is that new pages in its “Article” section have begun to capture top rankings for mid to longtail travel-related queries.
The red exclamation points in the Sistrix table above indicate that the ranking URL changed between January and July 2023. In the case of Tripadvisor, this changes pages ranking in deeper positions than the new article pages, which have proven to be a better fit for these queries.
Thinkster, an “AI-Enhanced Math Coaching” company, has seen significant growth this year that appears to largely stem from a specific SEO strategy.
Looking at the keywords for which Thinkster has seen big ranking increases during the first half of 2023, the keywords contributing to the greatest traffic changes are mostly math fraction and percentage keywords.
A breakdown of visibility by sub-folder reveals that this growth is almost entirely isolated to their /math-questions/ folder, which contains information about fractions and percentages for thousands of different number combinations.
Who Sampled, which provides content about which songs sampled other songs, has seen significant SEO growth in 2023, particularly during the March core update. The growth is usually tied to the exact names of songs.
Understanding intent switches: providing both who sampled and who covered. Google can pick whichever page is the better fit for user intent (based on its own understanding of user behavior).
As always, major changes in visibility on Google are due to a combination of both external factors – such as Google’s algorithm changes, world events, and seasonality – plus internal factors, like website changes and SEO improvements.
The above sites likely benefitted for both reasons, in many cases, but some demonstrated clear evidence that a strong SEO campaign can generate enormous increases in SEO visibility.
Stay tuned for the next edition, which will showcase the biggest losers in 2023 so far and what led to those declines.