Brands That Won (and Lost) Google in 2015

As part of the MozCast 10K (a 10,000-keyword daily Google tracker), we keep a close eye on the domains with the most page-one Google real-estate. As of December 1st, these were the “Big 10”:

“Share” represents the percentage of total results each domain has across the entire data set. Of course, absolute rankings can vary a lot depending on the data set, but what’s more interesting is how any given brand moves over time.

We watch day-to-day movements closely as search marketers, and often track winners and losers when Google announces a big update, but I thought it would be interesting to take the long-term view. Who are the brands who won and lost the most Google real estate in the past year? All of the data from this post is from the MozCast 10K and spans December 1, 2014–December 1, 2015.

Biggest winners in 2015

If we look at absolute gains in total page-one Google real estate, the winners are in the table below. The “Rank” columns shows their current position in the Top 100:

Online retail giant held tight to the #2 position in our data set, making the biggest overall gain. Etsy made impressive gains, jumping from the #81 spot at the end of 2014 to the #31 spot on December 1st, 2015. Even with its financial woes, Groupon performed solidly on Google, moving from the #87 spot to #40. Instagram jumped from outside of the Top 100 entirely (#141) to #57.

It’s interesting to note that two of the biggest gains in 2015 were for Google properties, YouTube and Google Play. YouTube moved from #5 to #4, and Google Play came in just shy of the Top 10 at #12. YouTube gains don’t count growth in Video Cards, large video links which dominate some Google results. Here’s an example Video Card from a search for “chandelier”:

The numbers in the chart above may seem small, but keep in mind that there’s only a 0.01% difference in total Google real-estate between #9 and #10 in the overall “Big 10.” A tenth-of-a-percent represents massive land holdings in the world of page-one results.

Most improved in 2015

Another way to slice-and-dice winners in 2015 is to look at sites with the biggest relative gains. In other words, who improved the most relative to their position in 2014? Here are the Top 10 Most Improved:

Six of these are repeats from the overall winners list, but looking at relative changes, Etsy’s and Instagram’s gains are even more impressive. Both sites more than doubled their page-one Google real estate in our data set, with Etsy seeing gains of over 150%.

Biggest losers in 2015

Google real estate is limited, and for every winner there ultimately has to be one or more losers. These are the sites that took the heaviest absolute losses in our data set:

Social media giant Twitter was the big loser in 2015, falling out of the Top 10, from #6 in 2014 to #15 at the end of 2015. This “loss” may be deceptive, however, as Google and Twitter struck a deal in August of this year to display Tweets directly in search results. Here’s an example, from a branded search for “Etsy”:

Tweets are now a true Google vertical result, occupying an organic position and appearing in almost 6% of the searches that we track. Fellow social media site, Pinterest, also lost ground in 2015, after nearly breaking into the Top 10 (they were #11 in 2014). Unfortunately for Pinterest, their losses weren’t offset by a sweetheart deal with Google.

Google-dominating Wikipedia showed a weak spot in their armor this year, losing twice the ground that #2 Amazon gained. Wikipedia took some losses early in 2015, and then ran into more trouble with their mid-year switch to a secure (https:) site.

Online auction site and aspiring retailer eBay added to their troubles in 2015, dropping out of the Top 10 from #9 to #17. eBay took heavy losses in May of 2014, but then partially recovered going into the beginning of 2015. As of December 1st, all of those short-term gains have disappeared in our data set.

Yelp gave up its #4 position in 2015 to YouTube, and seemed to suffer from some of Google’s local changes this year. Retailers Walmart and Overstock also saw year-over-year losses, as did online answer site wikiHow.

An oddly dominant site in 2014, the NIH’s National Library of Medicine site dropped from #17 to #20. Their presence may be the result of a high number of medical queries in our data set, and was probably impacted by a handful of niche Google updates, including the launch of the Medical Knowledge Panel, such as this one for “type 2 diabetes”:

On the bright side, it looks like the Tax Man took a hit in 2015, with the IRS dropping from #19 to #27. While it seems odd that two government (.gov) sites hit our list of losers, I suspect this was coincidental.

The envelope, please…

While Amazon’s continued dominance is impressive, and Wikipedia’s tumble from grace is certainly worth noting, I think the big story this year is Etsy. In addition to taking the #2 spot in total gains, they more than doubled their 2014 Google page-one real estate and rocketed from the #81 overall position in our data set to #31. Etsy and other niche online retailers will be the ones to watch in 2016.