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October 23, 2023

Half of top newsbrands see fall in search visibility after latest Google core update

The October core update appeared to have a bigger impact than other algorithm changes this year.

By Aisha Majid

Google‘s latest core algorithm update had a bigger impact on news publishers’ search visibility than earlier updates this year, new data suggests.

The search engine giant carried out its latest core update in October, its third of the year following earlier updates in March and August.

Of 70 leading publishers tracked by Press Gazette – which includes publishers in our monthly top 50 biggest newsbrands ranking and others on a list of news sites tracked by Sistrix – half saw falls in their visibility score. Of those, 24 saw declines in the double-digits.

The five brands that saw the largest falls were all owned by Reach.

Visibility fell by 36% for Leicestershire Live (from 1 to 0.7 points), 36% for the Daily Record (9 to 6 points), 38% for Chronicle Live (6 to 4 points), 40% for Lancashire Live (0.6 to 0.3 points) and 41% for Nottingham Live (1 to 0.6 points) – point values are rounded. These sites have low visibility meaning small changes in score can have a relatively big impact.

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Barry Adams of SEO constancy, Polemic Digital said: “Reach’s regional websites have been overperforming in Google’s news ecosystem for several years and have previously been on the receiving end of major boosts from algorithm updates. These latest updates seem to have a correcting effect on these publications, lowering their overall visibility and traffic to levels that are more in line with how we’d expect these websites to perform.”

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Sistrix’s Visibility Index measures how successful a website is in Google search results, assigning higher scores to sites that rank better in search results.

Google October core update winners

There were 13 sites that saw a visibility gain of at least 10% in the latest update, while an additional 13 saw an increase in visibility of at least 5%.

The biggest winner was GB News, which saw its search visibility increase 103% from 0.4 to 0.8 points between 5 October – when Google began rolling out the update – and 19 October, when the update was completed.

The new gbnews.com domain, which was rolled out earlier this year, again has a low visibility score meaning percentage shifts are more noticeable.

“The latest series of Google updates, a set of core updates as well as a spam update and a helpful content update, have had varied impacts on different publishers. Some trends I see are sites that have abundant third party commercial content, especially sports betting, seeing negative impacts site-wide (even when their commercial content is limited to specific sections). It appears that this type of commercial content can result in site-wide negative quality signals, something Google has hinted at several times over the years,” said Adams.

Other winners included Huffpost, which saw its visibility over two weeks increase 35% to 6 points, MSN (up 25% to 8 points) and The Spectator (up 25% to 3 points). However, these domains also began from relatively low starting points.

Tech Radar ranked highly for relative visibility gain among sites with larger visibility, with the visibility score of the Future-owned site increasing by 16% from 47 to 64 points.

How UK's biggest sites fared in October core update

The UK’s largest newsbrands by audience size saw smaller percentage shifts in visibility. BBC News saw its visibility fall 3% from 59 to 57 points, The Sun was down 5% from 47 to 45, while Mail Online was down 6% from 91 to 85.

Mail Online has in the past accused Google of downgrading its stories. Executives at the DMGT-owned title told Press Gazette they felt that "woke" Google downgraded sites such as theirs in favour of the more liberal Guardian and BBC.

The news site with the largest visibility on our list was aggregator Google News (score of 331), while The Guardian maintained its spot as the single newsbrand with the greatest visibility (274 points). Its visibility increased slightly by 6%, following a large jump in its visibility earlier this year in March’s update.

Sistrix’s Visibility Index does not include top stories, a key driver of traffic to news sites, or the Google News tab. Adams has, however, previously told Press Gazette that he believes Sistrix data likely reflects similar changes in visibility in the top stories box.

While Sistrix says its visibility index is not a traffic index, search is a major driver of traffic to many news sites. A Press Gazette analysis of data from Chartbeat earlier this year showed that search has grown in importance as a traffic source over the past five years while social media has declined.

Overall, 18 news publishers found their search visibility either unchanged or slightly affected, an increase or decrease of less than 5%, as a result of the October update.

In September, Google also rolled out a helpful content update intended to penalise sites with unoriginal content and poor user experience.

Speaking at the 2023 News & Editorial SEO Summit held earlier this month, SEO consultant Glenn Gabe said that because news sites tend to be large, carry a lot of older content and are reliant on advertising, they can find themselves penalised in the new updates.

An earlier assessment for Press Gazette by the website design and development company Baytree found that adverts considerably affected the page speed performance of 19 sites in Press Gazette's top 50 ranking. The speed at which sites load is closely connected to increased page views, user retention and SEO ranking. It found 12 of the 14 Reach sites in the top 50 ranking scored poorly for performance.

While core updates are designed to help Google improve the quality of search results for consumers by rewarding authoritative and trustworthy content, factors internal to a publisher such as technical issues and changes to a site can also affect rankings.

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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