Content Is Killing Social, With One Big Exception

Content is now the supreme ruler of the online universe, with its foot firmly on social media’s neck.

Apparently, content is no longer king, which is good, because we’re all sick of reading that phrase, aren’t we? Instead, content is now the supreme ruler of the online universe, with its foot firmly on social media’s neck.

A recent Searchmetrics report shows that when it comes to search-engine-optimization visibility, news and question-and-answer sites come out way ahead of social sites. Even the big players like Twitter and Tumblr are in the top spot of the “big losers” list. Weird, right? It looks like that content revolution they’ve been warning us about is very real.

Who’s on top?

The biggest winner, according to Searchmetrics’ data, was The Atlantic, which somehow recovered from Google’s Core Update this year. Others are a lot of the usual suspects—The New York Times, The Guardian, Vanity Fairthe list goes on. What’s surprising is that last year those very sites were at the bottom. This year they’re taking charge in the top 20. Why?

Here are the top five winners, according to Searchmetrics:

Domain Trend (absolute) Trend (%) Branch
theatlantic.com 2251821 297 Media & Events (News)
apple.com 1349946 27 Electronics
instagram.com 1280198 50 Social Media
google.com 1145164 13 Search/Portal
groupon.com 972159 138 Classifieds/Comparison/Directory

Although the losers’ list (see below) is led by two social platforms, Instagram is among the big winners.

There are a lot of reasons why content sites are coming out on top this year. For one, Google and various Panda quality updates slowly worked throughout the course of the year to slide quality content up the ladder.

The biggest, although unofficial, reason might be the Newswave update in June. That update gave sites with “fresh,” or relevant and timely content, the mark of approval for a little lift in the rankings. But it’s not all about algorithms. The algorithm only helps if there’s quality content.

Google rewarded sites that optimized for user intention and then went on to fulfill that need.

So don’t think you can just slap any old blog post up and benefit. All of the newspapers and magazines that top the winner’s list provide comprehensive and interesting content, along with being optimized for search. They had to hit that trifecta to avoid the loser’s list.

Who are the losers?

Speaking of, it’s pretty shocking that content sites make up the majority of those with increased visibility this year, while social sites took a plunge. We see that Instagram and YouTube are still standing tall, but they’re the only two social sites inhabiting the top 10 in a sea of content publishers.

Here are Searchmetrics’ top five losers:

Domain Trend (absolute) Trend (%) Branch
twitter.com -3184122 -24 Social Media
tumblr.com -1046737 -51 Social Media
yelp.com -639618 -21 Classifieds/Comparison/Directory
huffingtonpost.com -451484 -21 Media & Events (News)
craigslist.org -426528 -12 Q&A/Content/Info

Dropping in visibility could be due to tech issues, duplicate content (although that doesn’t necessarily penalize sites anymore) or a failed product launch. A drop could also be due to the Phantom II update, which penalized sites for user-generated content, which is heavily redundant.

Twitter, Tumblr, Craigslist, Yelp and even The Huffington Post saw huge drops in visibility this year. But just like with the winners, a number of factors could be contributing, so it may not be an easy fix to regain status.

Although these top platforms may not be quaking in their boots just yet, the main takeaway should be that publishers have finally gotten their act together. The real worry will be if they keep it up.

It’s an underdog story

After taking digital beatings for so long, it’s starting to look like publishers have finally stopped thinking of SEO as a dirty little word. It turns out that there’s a way to make it work by focusing on mobile optimization (all in the top have great mobile experiences, to boot) and quality content that takes the user intention and experience to heart. Sorry, social, but content is coming for you.