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February 2, 2023updated 07 Feb 2023 7:00pm

How Google has downgraded importance of news websites in search results

Data from SEO experts Sistrix reveals big losses for news domains in organic search in 2022.

By Aisha Majid

News websites saw a significant drop in their prominence on Google search results in 2022, according to data from independent search visibility performance company Sistrix.

Press Gazette analysis of data from the search engine optimisation (SEO) experts reveals that 45 out of the 68 news domains ranked worse in UK Google search results in January of this year compared to the same month in 2022.

Sistrix’s visibility index assigns web domains values based on how well they rank in Google search results. The score draws on organic (unpaid) search results and does not include Top Stories or other Google news platforms such as Discover (a personalised Google content feed on Android devices). A higher score means that a domain appears higher in search results.

Press Gazette used the news domains that appear in our latest UK monthly top 50 list, which ranks news sites based on their number of unique visitors each month. We also included some additional news domains that Sistrix tracks as part of its regular IndexWatch project.

When it came to relative change in visibility – how much a site lost out in Google rankings compared to its own position at the start of the year – the biggest losers were Reach‘s mylondon.news and independently owned irishtimes.com. Both sites saw a 61% fall in their search visibility between January 2022 and January 2023. They were closely followed by DMGT’s inews.co.uk, which saw a 60% fall in visibility.

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Since all three sites have relatively low visibility scores relative to the other sites in our analysis, small changes in score will inevitably make a larger relative impact.

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Among our list, in absolute terms, guardian.com lost the most visibility points over the year (125) – a relative fall of 36% as its score dropped from 351 to 266. It was followed by thesun.co.uk (down 41 points or 48%) and nytimes.com (down 35 points or 34%).

Commenting on the changes, Steve Paine of Sistrix told Press Gazette: "The key factors seen in the data are mostly due to a reduction of news-related URLs appearing in search results. This has been a trend we've seen over a number of years."

Overall, across the 68 sites we looked at, visibility was down by 20% based on a combined total of 390 fewer points on the visibility index between January 2022 and January 2023.

At the other end of the list, the biggest winner in 2022 was Newsquest's thenorthernecho.co.uk, which saw its search visibility surge by 111% in 12 months. It was followed by the irishmirror.ie, whose visibility increased by 99% and dailystar.co.uk, up 92%.

Forbes.com saw the biggest absolute gain. The domain, which at the start of 2022 was the fifth-best ranked for visibility on our list with a score of 89, saw its visibility score increase by nine points in the 12 months to January this year. It is currently the third-best ranked news site in our list for search visibility.

The business-focused publisher was followed by dailystar.co.uk, whose visibility score increased from six to 11, and journalist Martin Lewis’ consumer advice site moneysavingexpert.com which was up five points from 50 to 55.

News publishers have, in recent years, been expanding their digital offerings to include more non-news content by going into verticals such as games, recipes and reference content.

Such non-news content has, according to Paine, helped drive the increased visibility of the sites that have seen the biggest gains in 2022.

"The winners in this list don't appear to have won through news content," he said. "Nearly all of the gains were made through other content strategies. Examples include lottery results, what's on content and reference content. The most prominent example of success is the Forbes Advisor content project," which aims to help consumers with financial decisions.

Despite its large loss of points in 2022, the Guardian remains the site with the greatest search visibility in our analysis. As of 27 January 2023, guardian.co.uk's visibility index was 229, 103 points higher than the second-best ranked independent.co.uk (126) and 123 points higher than third-best ranked forbes.com (106).

Strong brands and larger content bases across many topics tend to perform better, according to Sistrix.

While a site’s visibility score reflects the success of a web publisher’s SEO strategy, visibility in search can also be affected by core algorithm updates by Google. While the company is constantly tweaking its algorithm, these periodic major changes have a big enough effect on who ranks in search results to be noticed by publishers and search marketers.

While not all core updates spell bad news for publishers, a Press Gazette analysis last year found that ten of 25 leading news websites in the UK saw their visibility in search rankings reduce as a result of a major update to Google’s core algorithm in September.

That update was designed to reward high-quality content, according to SEO specialists Yoast. "This update had a massive impact on a huge amount of the publishing industry. Major news publishers and information sites which publish reviews and informative guidelines lost up to 40% of their traffic in some cases."

Google has for many years been the biggest single source of traffic for every major news website in the UK, although some are now successfully growing their direct audiences.

Paine said: "The majority of factors affecting visibility are under the control of the domain owner, but, given that there is finite space in organic results, a close competitor's visibility change can have a large impact."

Although publishers are always striving for better search visibility, it does not always have an immediate effect on actual traffic to a site – for example, it can build up authority on Christmas trees, but cannot benefit from this all year round.

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

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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