Episode Overview

Google’s March Core Update saw earthquake-like upheaval in global search results with 74% declines for some and 20% growth for others. Post aftershocks, there’s greater stability and a clearer playing field to evaluate how companies like Walmart, Wayfair, Amazon, Etsy, eBay and others are doing. Tyson Stockton, Director of Searchmetrics Services shares his insights on companies—dependent on the traffic and revenue that comes in from SEO—and how they are emerging from the Google shakeup.

  • What do the winners and losers of the Google Core Algorithm Update have in common?
  • Why does the impact of visibility not show up instantly with the bottom line?
  • How is Target trending as one of the biggest winners and what has happened in the last several weeks?
  • Why has Walmart lost some market share during this last update?
  • What has happened in the auto industry, where some are growing significantly and others that have been punished by the Google update?
  • Why has the health industry been the most negatively impacted from the Google update?

GUESTS & RESOURCES:

Episode Transcript

Ben:                             Welcome to our April 2019 edition of Winners and Losers on the Voices of Search podcast. Today, we’re going to look back on the month and talk about some of the trends behind some of the biggest movers and shakers and slackers in the SEO world. Joining us for Winners and Losers is Tyson Stockton, the director of Searchmetrics and Services. Tyson manages our SEO content and client success organizations and, outside of shepherding Searchmetrics’ largest and most strategic clients to SEO success, he’s dug through the Searchmetrics suite to help you understand who’s making moves in the SEO community.

Ben:                               But before we hear from Tyson, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic where a member of our digital strategies group will provide you with a consultation that reviews how your website, content, and SEO strategies can all be optimized. To schedule your free digital diagnostic go to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic.

Ben:                              Okay, here’s our monthly sit down with Searchmetrics’ Director of Services, Tyson Stockton. Tyson, welcome to the April version of Winners and Losers on the Voices of Search podcast.

Tyson:            Thanks, Ben. Glad to be back here.

Ben:                               It’s great to reconnect, and I want to ask you first and foremost, has the ground stopped shaking after last month’s Google update earthquake?

Tyson:           It has. I mean, I guess it’s a little bit of a Catch 22 in the sense that, yeah, a lot of movement last month, plenty for us to talk about. It was like, okay, where do we start on this? And certainly now there is quite a bit more stability, much less movement that we’re seeing across the industry as a whole, which is helpful, obviously, for businesses, less volatile, a little more stability for them to get back to work, so to speak. But yeah, from us, from our standpoints, dwarf movements compared to last month.

Ben:                               Yeah, I think when we published our last month’s update, the March update, we were really still feeling the effects from the earthquake and there were still aftershocks that were happening, so some of the data that we reported felt very dramatic. We saw things like 74% declines, we saw some 20% growth, and we’re going to get into a review of how some of those companies and industries performed. But before we get down the path of talking about the real impact a little farther removed from the Google update, I want to take a step back and talk a little bit about how we measure and report on visibility.

Ben:                             We originally talked about this in January when we started our Winners and Losers episodes. Hey, Tyson, before we get going, can you just give us a quick reminder on how Searchmetrics views visibility? And what’s the metric that we’re reporting on?

Tyson:          Yeah, no, I think that’s a really important point to hone in on, because that’s going to set the foundation. It’s really going to ground the conversation of how we’re determining winner or loser, and the primary KPI that I’ve been using for this is looking at our organic visibility from our research cloud. A couple reasons why I’m choosing this as the data source, one being that we don’t want to look at any one industry, we want to kind of touch on… We want to look in e-commerce, we want to look in health, we want to be able to get a good seal of the web as a whole, at least for the US market, that we’re also focusing on for this series. And I don’t want to be pigeonholed into having a smaller keyword stat, where if I’m running a website, yeah, I’m going to be more focused and more honed in on my core keyword search driving the biggest impact of my business.

Tyson:          But for our purposes here, I want to cast that net really wide, and I want to look across all industries, and I also want to see something that removes some of that volatility or seasonality aspect. And our visibility score does just that, because it takes into account the monthly average search volume, so I know what keywords, or I’m giving weight or respect to the keywords that have a really high search volume. But then I’m able to look over a week over week performance, and if I was taking seasonality into the KPI then I’d have to look at a year over year performance. And when we want to see who’s making the most movement from April to March, we want to see something that’s normalized for it, but I think this is also important because this is a way of identifying and feeling and seeing movements that perhaps your business isn’t necessarily feeling as much.

Tyson:           And a good example of this is, say there’s an e-commerce site that captures 90% of their revenue in Q4 for holiday and they have some substantial movement in their SEO visibility. Being that they’re capturing 90% of their revenue in Q4, they might only experience little moderate changes in their traffic or revenue. But if that continues and that gap of performance remains until you get to Q4, well that’s going to be a huge impact on your bottom line, and also being that it’s such a short window to capture those sales, you may not have time to react.

Ben:                               I think what I’m hearing from you is a couple things. One, the metric that we’re reporting on takes into account for seasonality. So when we talk about someone’s visibility, it is not something that is impacted by the fact that they’re in or outside of holiday. The other thing that Tyson mentioned that I think is important to mention is that different brands have different prioritization of their SEO visibility, and when you’re not at a high growth or a high conversion period, sometimes seeing the impact of visibility doesn’t really show up instantly at the bottom line. But when you’re pouring more fuel on the fire, like in times during the holiday, and you’ve been seeing a decrease in visibility throughout the year, you feel it at the crucial times.

Ben:                               So with that said, we’re going to get into a little bit more detail about what we saw in terms of visibility taking a more zoomed out view after Google’s last update. Basically, we saw a big earthquake, we saw a lot of movement initially, and then we saw some subsequent aftershocks, and now that things have stabilized we have a little bit more of a level playing field with which to evaluate how everybody really shook out from that update. So let’s start off first, Tyson, with the e-commerce industry. Tell me what you’re seeing in e-commerce now that we’re a few weeks removed from the Google update.

Tyson:           Yeah, and this was an industry that I was really paying close attention to, just because, one, we spent fair amount of time last month talking about some of the movements, but there were some pretty significant swings, and a lot of these companies are highly dependent to the traffic and revenue that comes in from SEO, so I was just eagerly waiting to see who’s putting measures in place or chaining strategy, who’s continuing to fall, who’s stabilized, and then also just whether or not we were going to  see a bounce back or any potential rollbacks from this. And I think the common element and story across the board is we have reached and we did see stability in April. I would say the greatest illustrations of this is relative stability with Amazon, which is going to cover the board and be a good barometer for the industry as a whole. We saw some decreases in SEO visibility for them, so overall, from where they’re at today to where they were at last month, yes, they’re down a little bit more, but in the grander scheme of things, we saw stability.

Tyson:          And then if we look at some of the other big players, if we look at eBay, if we look at, throw in Etsy, who we saw huge gains the previous month from the algorithm update, and really going back to their last 12 months. And with Etsy and eBay and also Amazon that we just mentioned, those really massive websites in the e-commerce space, we saw the stability. So this one is like, okay, now we can start, then, looking into who else is moving, because that’s largely going to be a signaler or a clue that that’s more of a result to either changes that they’re making to the website, or maybe if it’s a head to head niche competitor, but in these larger box e-commerce sites, their head to heads are going to be the other big players.

Ben:                              So essentially what you’re saying is because the large, more, let’s call them marketplace oriented e-commerce players, Amazon, eBay, Etsy, because you’re seeing stability there, we’re saying, “Look, the ground has stopped shaking, the effects of the Google update are pretty much behind us, and that the other major movers over the last few weeks are a result of either corrections on their site or other macro factors, but not part of the update.

Tyson:           Exactly, yeah. I think for the macro lens, using these sites as a barometer is going to give you a great overall feel of the ecommerce industry.

Ben:                               So now that we saw companies like Etsy vault forward at the update, Amazon took a little bit of a hit, those are stable. The update is behind us in the e-commerce. Who did we see move? Who are our winners and losers in e-commerce?

Tyson:           Yeah, I’d say the ones that I’d call out as being the greatest winners is, Target has had a really strong last several weeks. They were already on an upward trajectory when the algorithm update hit, but where they’re one of the few that actually saw gains instead of having a negative hit to them. So I definitely would put them in the winners category, just for their growth over the last… And really, you could go back to the beginning of the year, I would say that they’ve been trending upwards. If you look out at the macro scale, they’re still below where their all-time high was from performance, but certainly in the last 12 months they’re at the highest point that they’ve been, so they’re going the right direction [the trend and how they’ve actually weathered the storm and actually came up on top is a great sign.

Ben:                            So basically, Target has shown not only a long-term growth and they’re on a consistent upward trend, but the reason why they’re a winner for us in e-commerce is basically the strong performance post Google update. They’ve had a week over week gain a couple weeks in a row.

Tyson:           Exactly.

Ben:                               Okay. There’s another player in the e-commerce industry that had a similar strong growth. Talk to me about what’s going on with Wayfair.

Tyson:           Yeah, Wayfair also, similar levels of growth as far as how much the website’s increased. They were on the e-commerce winner’s group for last month in the algorithm update. It’s kind of a refresher on them. They had an actual negative where they had a pretty big and pretty substantial, largest decline that I’ve seen with this website for the last several years last year in September of 2018 towards the end of it. This last algorithm bounced them almost back to where they were, and then the last several weeks similar they’ve continued to move up, and now they’re actually, they’ve reached their all-time high, which we were seeing back almost 12 months ago, maybe 10 months ago or so in our organic visibility, they’ve reached an all-time high for them, and they’ve now reached basically that exact same point. So not only is it reaching that waterline that they set before, but it’s also leaving and moving out of the algorithm update having these consecutive weeks where they’ve shown substantial growth.

Ben:                               Yeah. So, the long-term play here for Wayfair, about six months removed from really being punished from a Google update, they’re shown consistent growth. They were on the winning side of the last update, and then they’ve continued to show strong growth. Talk to me a little bit about Walmart. We saw that they had lost some market share during this last update. We mentioned them last week. I think they were down three percent the week of the update, and then they lost another six percent the following week. What’s happened with Walmart since the update?

Tyson:           Yeah, they’re an interesting one, because they’re definitely in this top tier for large e-commerce sites, of course given their size, but a little bit different, too, because much smaller website than some of the other large e-commerce brands that would be in that top ten category. And they were having a pretty strong couple weeks going into the algorithm update, and they were on the winning side of the previous one, that 2018. And they had a similar decline as what we saw from some of these other big players.

Tyson:           What I have liked seeing, and actually I think is a strong positive for them, is since those two weeks of decline, they haven’t had these huge gains where they’ve recaptured in one week a substantial market share back. But what they have done is they’re stringed together about five weeks of consecutive incremental, small growth, and I’d say estimated probably regained one third of the SEO visibility that they lost during those two weeks during the update. You know, they’re not back to where they were, but this type of trend and seeing that continuous incremental growth I think is really promising, and if I was on the SEO team side of that, that’s exactly what I’d be looking for, is with the nature of this type of update and what was included in it, you’re not going to  see that kind of light switch where all of a sudden… At least it’s not likely that you’re going to have just that light switch change that you can make to the site and all of a sudden you bounce back from these updates. Especially when it’s a core update, the field and the game that we’re playing has shifted or altered a little bit, and you’re not going to be able to just bounce back out of it.

Tyson:           What you want to be doing, at least what I would be advocating, is to be re-looking at your strategies and your initiatives, staying the course, and continue to get things live to the site and continue to improve, and then you want to just rebuild those elements back. And if you’re constantly rebuilding and improving the site, let’s call it a white hat SEO friendly manner, that’s ultimately whether it’s an algorithm catching up for you or just continuing to collect these incremental wins, I think that’s going to be more of the sound strategy coming out of these updates that I’d like to see from websites, rather than just hoping for a rollback or a bounce back in the industry level, more of focusing on, what can you control?

Ben:                               To me, what it smells like happened with Walmart is the update did not necessarily work in their favor, but this is a company that is paying very close attention to their SEO performance, and they took action and have been able to tweak and optimize their site to be able to gain some of the market share that they lost back.

Tyson:           Yeah, and that’s certainly my suspicion here. I haven’t been in the room of what their team’s actually… How they’re strategizing, but by looking at the numbers, that’s kind of the story that I see.

Ben:                               If everybody else is stable, that is of their size, and they have continued to gain even after a loss, it feels like they’re doing something right on the operational side to gain some of that market share back. Of course, we can’t say exactly what they’re doing, but that’s what it looks like from our perspective.

Ben:                               So let’s talk about a different industry. When we look at the auto industry, we saw some really interesting differences in terms of some of the companies in the auto industry were growing pretty significantly, and some of the companies were really punished by the Google update. Talk to us about what you’re seeing, not only from the Google update, but in terms of the pecking order within the auto industry.

Tyson:           This one was somewhat similar, like there were some similar elements to the e-commerce industry, and just kind of speculating on it as you do have overlap in that transactional intent of keywords. But one of the ones that was the largest, or took the biggest hit and was on our loser list was CarGurus. So they took a substantial hit at the week after the update, so we were seeing basically a 37% decrease in their overall SEO performance. This reminded me a little bit to some of the declines that you saw from the Amazons and those larger e-commerce brands. The difference that I see with these guys, and actually the automotive market as a whole, where in e-commerce, even though there are a few outliers that showed consecutive growth, we touched on Target, Wayfair having really strong growth in the last couple weeks, stability with Etsy, incremental wins with Walmart, but CarGurus you saw continued to slide after the algorithm update, so they’ve actually… Immediately after, they had a very, very moderate increase, but that’s been back to back losses for the last four weeks. So I have them on the losers side.

Tyson:           But when you look at the market as a whole, you saw quite a bit more movement in the last month than you saw in e-commerce, where e-commerce, it was the big shock from the update, and then the outliers, but relative stability.

Tyson:          In this industry, if you look at Carfax, cars.com, both of those had some really strong growth. Even the Edmunds and… Not as much of a growth, but CarMax also showed stability, so you have the other large players in this space all capturing market share growth in the last really four, five, some of them going back six weeks. So this I thought was interesting, because you saw the larger players responding and continuing momentum coming out of the algorithm updates where you didn’t see large impacts during, and we’re kind of calling out a few of them as being winners because they were showing stability during this, but then in the last four weeks you really see them further improving them. And again, the two that I’d really call our is Carfax and cars.com. Both of them over the last six weeks have surpassed CarGurus in their SEO visibility, and that I think is particularly interesting when you compare to the e-commerce industry.

Ben:                               Yeah, I think the big takeaways for me here is that CarGurus has had a substantial decline, a 37% loss in visibility from the Google update and has continued to slip, and so from being one of the upper echelon auto websites in terms of visibility, they’ve been passed over by two of their biggest competitors, one of them Carfax, who roughly a year ago was not even playing on the varsity team. So seeing Carfax really take a meaningful step forward in terms of their visibility in SEO, and that cars.com has had an effective strategy for at least a medium term time and has now passed CarGurus, so we feel pretty good about their growth as well.

Tyson:          I think that’s the perfect summary, yeah. It’s like, Carfax over the last 12 months has gone from being in the junior levels to being kind of an industry leader as far as SEO visibility score goes. They do have some pressure on them, but I think all those have responded quite well from this ,and it’ll be interesting to see how CarGurus responds to this, if they shift their strategy. So I think I’m actually kind of eager to see how this chess game evolves.

Ben:                              So as we move on to the health industry, this is the area that I think was most negatively impacted by the last Google update where we see companies that were impacted by a negative 74% visibility pretty much across the board, everyone with rare exceptions, their visibility was down for the whole industry. Now that we’re a little farther removed, what have you seen, Tyson?

Tyson:           Yeah, so not a positive story for them. They took a massive hit, so that’s kind of tough to see for any website, but then the six weeks since then they’ve showed they’ve continued to slide. So it hasn’t been, obviously, any substantial movements, but it’s just this consistent decline that would certainly have me concerned from a site health perspective. When we look at some of the other players in this space, you see kind of similar patterns and curves to their performance. WebMD still remaining as the market leader in this space, they were also hit pretty sincerely from this, and they have seen some continued declines, but over the last three weeks it does look like there is some stability for them, at least in that window. They got a nice little win last week, so hopefully that hits their new watermark that they can then grow out of.

Tyson:          The one website that we kind of called out last week as being a winner because it didn’t experience any declines, and I think had some moderate, some very small increases, was Mayo Clinic. They continue to show that consistency. They’ve had one week that they had a negative week over week performance, but then turned that around into three more consecutive weeks of growth. So really I’d say almost over the last 10 months they’ve been on a positive trajectory. So that is interesting to see how they’ve been able to weather the storm in one of the more volatile industries and segments that we see in surge. Typically, the health and finance are very highly scrutinized and often get hit pretty heavily from these updates, so I’d say Mayo Clinic has to be feeling really good about themselves for not only weathering the storm but taking a few quick wins from it. On the other side, it would certainly have some massive red flags from the decline in hit that everyday health has experienced.

Ben:                              Yeah, I think that looking at this through the macro lens that the health industry has trended downward in terms of visibility since the update, and that has slowed, but is still a downward fall. So from our chair, stability is a win in the health industry right now. So as we take a step back and we talk about the winners and losers for the month, Tyson, tell me who we have on your winners’ list and who’s still struggling.

Tyson:           Yeah, so as far as on the winners’ list, starting in the e-commerce industry, I would have Wayfair and Target both showed really strong growth, so that’s been impressive from both of those. I would put Walmart on the fringes of the winners. They did take a big hit, but I do like that consistency of small, incremental growth that they’ve been able to link together over the last few weeks.

Ben:                               I’m going to make an executive decision and I’m going to throw the marketing team at Walmart into the winners’ list, because to me they are bucking the trend where they saw a negative impact, and it sounds like they are doing something operationally to claw that back from the rest of the industry as staying staples. So I’m throwing Walmart in as our winner. So we have Target, Walmart, and Wayfair as our winners. Talk to me about the auto industry and health industry. Any winners there?

Tyson:           Yeah. Autocars.com, relative to their site, biggest wins for them. Carfax from just becoming the new market lead in that space. So both Carfax and Cars winners. And then finally on the health industry, WebMD, I’d have some stability there, but I’d say Mayo Clinic is actually going to be still the top winner for the health industry that I see.

Ben:                               Okay. And so talk to me a little bit about some of the losers. I think that these are probably going to be pretty consistent with last month, where the people that were negatively impacted by the Google update. Who’s still suffering from the update and wasn’t able to bounce back?

Tyson:         Yeah, and for these losers, I’d be looking to… More of continuing a pattern of decline. So someone that’s in a stabilization I would throw out of that. Amazon still has had a little softening, so I think that they could be in that realm within the e-commerce industry. Within the cars industry, definitely CarGurus because it was such a substantial hit, and now being below both Carfax, cars.com, Edmunds, and CarMax, and it was such a dominant player. That one would still be the loser on my list. And then on the health industry, Everyday Health has had a continued rough six weeks, so I would have them in this group, too, with that substantial loss, and kind of a tip of the hat and condolences for their loss.

Ben:                              So, congratulations to the marketing team at Walmart from me personally for picking themselves up, for Target and Wayfair, Carfax as well, and on the losers list, CarGurus and Everyday Health SEOs, by all means, our condolences, best of luck. And if you need some help, of course, give us a call. And that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Tyson Stockton, Searchmetrics ‘ director of services. If you’d like to learn more about Tyson, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes, or you could send him a tweet at tyson_stockon. If you have general marketing questions or if you’d like to talk about this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes, or you can send me a tweet at benjshap. If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team. And if you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed next week.

Ben:                              Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast and you’re feeling generous, we’d love for you to leave us a review in the Apple iTunes store or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Okay, that’s it for today. Until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.

 

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