We identified more than 130 high performing content directories; the majority of which have stable and growing Google visibility. Out of these, we have focused on the most fascinating cases where the rise to the top has been fast; looking into their visibility history and what may have contributed to their more recent success.
Small content hubs
Let’s start off with some of the smaller examples. But before we delve into the analysis, here is a list of 10 leading small websites:
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Creative Bloq. 809% increase in 12 months
Creative Bloq’s “/graphic-design-tips/” directory has seen an 809% visibility increase over the 12 months to mid-July 2022.
Creativebloq.com provides art & design news, advice and inspiration for different creative disciplines. Here’s the visibility index graph for the last two years:
Over the last four years, the section has gained a lot of SERP prominence. On 7th May 2018, the section reached its all-time high visibility levels. However, the Medic #2 update (November 2018) did seem to trigger a significant visibility decrease.
In early 2020, visibility stabilised before increasing around the time of the November 2021 Core Update. Improvements in keyword data also suggested an evolution in the section’s content strategy.
The percentage of overall keyword rankings on page 1 is just under 30%, with over 20% of rankings on page 2, but there’s a small issue here in that one URL is responsible for 45% of the whole visibility of the directory.
The URL with the most visibility is a resource for free fonts.
Similar to “free anti-virus”, “free video converter” and “free PDF editor”, this covers a set of high volume keywords. The URL’s historical data also shows what can happen when the URL drops out of the rankings.
Tesco Real Food: Well organised categories
Realfood.tesco.com is a subdomain that contains recipes and helpful resources for cooking, such as cooking calculators and meal planners.
The subdomain’s “/category/” directory, including the underlying URLs, has seen a notable increase in visibility since 1st July 2021 (+345.3%).
Pages housed in the “/category/” directory are collections of recipes for specific dishes or for recipes that contain a specific ingredient (e.g. “chocolate cake recipes” & “sausage recipes”).
The directory has seen improved rankings for 3,877 queries, 42% of which rank in the top 10 positions. In addition, 56% of its keywords contain either “recipe” or “recipes”.
In alignment with Real Food’s organic growth, many of its search competitors have experienced decreased visibility for their recipe-based directories; notably lovefoodhatewaste.com and theguardian.com.
Content quality and relevance are ongoing themes in modern SEO. Even more so with the roll-out of the Helpful Content Update and ranking signal.
Reviewing the content and structure of Tesco vs competitors emphasises some significant differences. For example, recipes live on a topic-specific subdomain rather than a directory. Also, The Guardian and Love Food Hate Waste’s keyword data highlights missed content opportunities. Tesco Real Food is targeting keywords for users uncertain about what to cook (e.g. “vegetarian pasta dishes” and “chicken recipes”) and competitors are not.
Competition’s focus on general recipe terms and inclusion of recipes on their root domains – which have a broad topical coverage – could be elevating user experience and domain relevance for Tesco’s subdomain, aiding organic performance.
BBC Good Food – Reviews take off
“/Reviews/” on bbcgoodfood.com has experienced a spectacular increase (+3,969.3%).
Like Tesco Real Food, BBC Good Food provides recipes, inspiration and handy cooking resources. However, interestingly, the new “/reviews/” directory is looking more like Good Housekeeping than good food. Typical content in the “/reviews/” section includes reviews of kitchen utensils, appliances, food and drink.
Research suggests that this directory went live around July/August 2021. Since, it has obtained rankings for 6,664 keywords; 20% of which rank in the top 10 positions.
As an entity owned by a globally-recognised and licensed brand, it is interesting to see considerable improvement. Naturally, it does beg the question of how much BBC’s setup aids its organic search success. Does it get preferential treatment as a licensed brand? Is its success credited to a strong and well-funded SEO strategy?
Whatever the explanation, it is certain that bbcgoodfood.com will be denying self-funded food, drink and supermarket competitors crucial SERP positions for important terms.
Large content hubs
These particular examples are directories that have higher Visibility Index scores than most websites. Specific insights about Argos, Mano Mano and What Hi-Fi are available following the top 10 list:
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Argos: Two areas of success and growth
Two of argos.co.uk’s directories have experienced visibility wins. These are “/sd/” (+38.3%) and “/features/” (+52.7%). As a generalist retailer, Argos offers everything from furniture and appliances to make-up and jewellery.
The URLs in “/sd/” are product listing pages derived from internal searches. Usually, internal search URLs are set as “noindex” to prevent content duplication and keyword cannibalisation. They are typically blocked in robots.txt to improve crawl efficiency too. That said, the typical handling of certain URL types is not always what is in the best interest of a specific site.
Examining a sample of 100,000 keywords associated with “/sd/” confirms that only 5% of “/browse/” URLs target the same keywords. The “/browse/” directory is where Argos houses its predefined category content listed in its “Shop” mega menu.
This small percentage indicates that whilst there is some cannibalisation, the “/sd/” pages are mainly ranking for longer-tail product queries which do not have pre-existing categories. It also explains why Argos has chosen for these pages to remain accessible to search engine bots.
Since 1st July 2021, the amount of “/sd/” page 1 rankings have increased by approx. 10% (to approx. 50%).
When it comes to the “/features/” section, it is a completely different situation. The reason for this directory’s growth is its vast topical coverage and ongoing content production.
Argos’ “/features/” contains shopping ideas oriented around seasonal events (e.g. “stocking fillers”) and product types (e.g. “fashion inspiration”). This section is very user-centric and beneficial to SEO as it organically marries products with circumstances.
Due to Argos’ diverse product range, the content themes are extensive. In turn, this has allowed them to rank for keywords associated with many industry sectors.
Over the period analysed, 19,980 of the section’s keywords have seen ranking improvement. The directory has also obtained additional 44,882 keyword rankings through content creation and re-optimisation.
On 25th July 2022, the “/features/” URLs with the most rankings in the top 10 positions were “Ring size guide” (831 keywords) and “Best home gym equipment” (444 keywords). The ranking distribution for the directory (at the time of writing) is healthy.
As we know, content is not only one factor accounted for when it comes to organic search performance. A website’s link profile and technical foundations may have also been updated.
Whilst it is difficult to identify localised technical changes, the SISTRIX crawlers found evidence of the following software technologies on argos.co.uk:
Mano Mano: Smooth growth in categories
The “/cat/” directory on manomano.co.uk has experienced a visibility increase of 455.2% (+17.6 VI points). Mano Mano is an online DIY, home improvement and gardening brand.
Three years of growth in the /cat/ directory at manomano.co.uk:
The “/cat/” directory contains URLs for product subcategories such as “Retractable pergola canopies”. Research suggests that these pages have existed since 2019 but have lacked authority until recently.
The subcategory URLs have started ranking for 359,365 new keywords. Existing rankings have also improved for a further 104,588 queries.
The subcategory’s keywords make up 51% of Mano Mano’s overall target keywords. Over the last 12 months, the percentage of rankings on pages 1, 2 & 3 have fluctuated considerably. Page 1 rankings are currently over 15%, but as you can see from the distribution graph, there is still room for improvement.
What Hi-Fi: The “features” project
Whathifi.com’s “/features/” section saw an impressive visibility increase (+812.4%).
What Hi-Fi is an independent hi-fi and home entertainment site. It provides news, advice and useful guides to help its users make the right purchasing decisions.
Like Creative Bloq, whathifi.com’s “/features/” directory saw sudden and significant uplift. In this instance, the uplift did not correlate with an algorithm update though. The directory’s visibility began to improve around 24th January 2022. This suggests impactful changes to the website’s content or structure.
Digging into the directory’s history confirms that the major increase aligned with improved rankings for 2,918 terms. During this same period, an additional 9,532 rankings were also claimed.
Our URL Changes tool also confirms that between 1st July 2021 & 31st July 2022 349 AMP URLs were redirected to their non-AMP versions. What Hi-Fi started this process following Google’s announcement that they would no longer give content in AMP format an organic ranking advantage.
When this process was in its infancy back in July 2021, the consolidation efforts had very little organic benefit. In fact, at the time, many of the non-AMP pages saw an initial decrease in rankings.
But, if we fast forward to 24th January 2022, the narrative changes. When comparing URL data for 24th January & 31st July 2022, these implementations have had a more positive influence on rankings.
At the time of writing, these were the top URLs in the directory, ordered by share of visibility.
SEO is multi-faceted, and unpicking certain website changes can be tricky. That said, we can glean insights into keywords and the role they may have played in ranking successes.
- In SEO, the budget aligns with what is achievable (from both a quality and quantity perspective) and the pace that it is achievable.
- Adapting your content strategy according to user search trends is important for organic search success. In the case of Creative Bloq, they have really leveraged their “/graphic-design-tips/” section to provide helpful content for beginners to Adobe products. This content is likely to be helping develop the TikTok and Instagram creators of the future!
- There is a place for subdomain creation. Often, directories are recommended instead due to the organic benefit they can gain from the root domain, however, Tesco Real Food’s success with recipe rankings has confirmed that topically, a subdomain can be more suitable.
- In specific circumstances, it is okay for internal search URLs to be crawled and indexed. For Argos, this actually opened up more lucrative ranking opportunities for them. You just have to weigh up the pros and cons for your site and keep the potential ramifications in mind (duplicate content, severe keyword cannibalisation and potentially negative impact of crawl efficiency).
- Redirecting AMP pages has the potential to have either a positive or negative impact on keyword rankings. The benefit of redirecting these pages may come further down the line than you’d wish.
- Not all SEO opportunities involve the production of brand-new content. Identifying the “low-hanging fruit” opportunities and focusing your energy on these can lead to quick and easy wins if approached well.