Google announced on November 17, 2021 that it would be launching the November Core Update, as it does several times per year. As with most core updates of the past several years, the only guidance Google provided webmasters was their 2019 article, “What Site Owners Should Know About Core Updates.” The article provides an extensive overview of how Google evaluates content quality and E-A-T, both of which play an important role in website performance during core updates.
The timing of the November 2021 Core Update’s took the SEO community by surprise, given it was launched a week before Thanksgiving and Black Friday. That said, it is typical for Google to roll out core updates toward the end of the year.
Below is a list of the winners and losers of the November 2021 core update in terms of SEO visibility.
Methodology & Disclaimers About Core Updates
For our analysis of the November 2021 Core Update, we collected Sistrix Visibility Index scores of 1,408 domains within its U.S. index between the dates of November 16, 2021 (the day before Google announced the November Core Update) compared to November 23, 2021.
We then cross-referenced each domain with its classification in Similarweb’s database of website categories. This enables us to see the average visibility changes of domains across a variety of different categories. For this exercise, we looked at domains in 31 different categories.
It’s important to remember that thousands of factors are at play in the changes we see to website rankings during a core update rollout, making it impossible to isolate exactly what happened or what specifically Google aimed to achieve. The November update is also still rolling out, so this is preliminary data.
That said, it can be illuminating to look at the performance of websites and categories at scale after a core update to see if any patterns exist among winning or losing websites.
Winners and Losers of the November 2021 Google Core Update:
Below are the 100 domains that saw the greatest total increase in visibility (using the Sistrix Visibility Index score) between November 16th and 23rd, 2021.
Below are the 100 domains that saw the greatest percentage increase in visibility (using the Sistrix Visibility Index score) between November 16th and 23rd, 2021.
Below are the 100 domains that saw the greatest total decrease in visibility (using the Sistrix Visibility Index score) between November 16th and 23rd, 2021.
Below are the 100 domains that saw the greatest percentage decrease in visibility (using the Sistrix Visibility Index score) between November 16th and 23rd, 2021.
Analysis by Category
The below chart shows the total gains and losses in SEO visibility among various categories during the November Core Update.
“Reference materials,” a category largely comprised of dictionary websites, saw the bulk of the increase in visibility.
Below is a breakdown of the visibility increases seen among sites classified by Similarweb as “Reference Materials,” which include dictionary websites but also directory sites like Yelp and Mapquest.
As noted during the July Core Update, this could signal an intent shift by Google: the increase in SEO visibility to dictionary sites could be a result of Google determining that certain queries should produce dictionary definitions, whereas before, those rankings may have been taken by e-commerce, news publishers or other types of sites.
News & Media
The November core update strongly impacted news & publisher websites. Forbes, AP News and Reuters saw significant declines, whereas the NY Post, The Verge, Cosmopolitan, and Variety were all on the winning side.
This could be due in part to Google’s QDF algorithms: query deserves freshness. If Google determines that a query should be producing news results, it may rank news publishers more prominently for that query. Perhaps this core update dampened the visibility of some news publishers to make room for sites in other categories to rank in top positions.
Ecommerce & Shopping
The November 2021 Core Update had a heavy impact in the ecommerce category, with many big retailers surging in visibility just in time for the holidays, such as Target, Costco, Sears, Ebay, Barnes and Noble, West Elm and more.
Perhaps it was a good thing that Google launched this core update in advance of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, because it seems to be benefitting many e-commerce sites. Of course, Google’s goal is to satisfy user intent, so it makes sense that these retailers would rank more prominently during the holiday shopping season.
There were some big swings in the health category, which has been a common outcome of the past several years of core updates. Everyday Health saw significant declines in visibility, whereas similar health publishers like Parenting, Well and Good, and OnHealth saw upticks. Diet Doctor, which has been impacted throughout various previous core updates and is clearly working to improve content quality and E-A-T, also came out ahead with the November Core Update.
Law & Government
It is interesting to monitor the performance of law & government websites, especially the FDA and CDC, which surged in visibility during the coronavirus pandemic. Google appears to be adjusting its algorithms during times of crisis (they confirm this in their documentation) to increase the visibility of authoritative sites like the CDC and FDA. Those sites saw big increases earlier this year, but both saw declines during this core update. Perhaps Google is dialing back those “authority” signals during the holiday season, allowing retailers and other health publishers to rank in more prominent positions.
Stock Photography & Pinterest
Pinterest was the biggest overall loser from this core update. Interestingly, stock photography websites Shutterstock, Getty Images, and iStock Photo saw significant increases.
It’s important to note that Google’s November 2021 Core Update is still rolling out, so this data is preliminary. Furthermore, it’s impossible to know exactly which factors contributed to performance changes during core updates – there are too many moving pieces to isolate causal factors.
We will continue to add to and refine this article as new data comes in.