Ten of the leading news websites in the UK saw their visibility in search rankings reduced as a result of Google’s latest core algorithm update in September.
Of the top 25 publishers by audience size in September, heaviest-hit in relative terms was millennial-focused publisher Ladbible, whose visibility in Google’s search rankings fell 52% from 3.8 to 1.2 according to data from Sistrix.
Mail Online dropped by 28 points from 76.2 at the start of the update to 48.2 – the biggest fall in terms of number of points lost in the visibility score. Meanwhile the i fell from 12.7 to 7.9.
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.
The Mirror and Independent were the only other two websites that saw a double-digit fall in points.
September’s core algorithm update was the second such change to the search giant’s algorithm in 2022. Although Google is constantly modifying its algorithm, the company announces a core update when the changes it makes are big enough to be noticed by publishers and search marketers.
Google is the biggest single source of traffic for every major news website in the UK.
The latest core update came just weeks after Google's "helpful content" update, which completed on 9 September and was designed to crack down on publishers creating "unsatisfying content" aimed at pleasing search engines rather than humans. For most news websites, however, "very little has changed" as a result of this update according to SEO specialist Yoast, which said only "some very low quality spam sites" had seemingly been penalised.
The latest core update had a more significant impact on publishers, Yoast said, even though it was not as big as some previous updates.
"Google’s core update in September was similarly about rewarding high quality content," said Yoast on its website. "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."
DMGT, publisher of Mail Online, the sixth most-popular English language news website in the world according to our rankings, told Press Gazette in 2021 it believes "woke" Google unfairly downgrades its stories in search rankings. Its visibility on Google had dropped from around 100 at the start of 2021 to around half of that level by mid-year. Although the publisher’s visibility had recovered by the first half of this year, this latest algorithm update has returned it to mid-2021 levels.
In Mail Online's view the tech giant instead favours more liberal or centrist sites such as the Guardian and the BBC.
Not all publishers found themselves losers from the latest update.
Many publishers found their search visibility either unchanged or slightly affected. The Sun, where insiders believed their original reporting was being downgraded in favour of follow-up stories from rival titles, gained two points (a relative change of 3%) in this update, while the BBC's visibility was down five points (2%). The Telegraph's score was unchanged.
Among the biggest winners was The Guardian whose score jumped 14 points from 253.3 to 266.9 (5%) while the biggest winners in relative terms were several Reach local titles. Wales Online's visibility was up 66% to 8.2 points, while Liverpool Echo’s score was up 64% to 7.4.
They were among 14 of the 25 publishers that we looked at whose search rating was improved by the end of September.
Our analysis of the impact of Google's helpful content update suggested it was less impactful to news publishers. Of the 25 sites we looked at, most were more impacted either positively or negatively by September's core update. And changes in search visibility were on the whole smaller in scale from the helpful content update than after the core update.
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