PUBLISHED: Feb 26, 2024 18 min read

SEO in 2023: Winners, Losers, and Overall Trends

Lily Ray

Lily Ray

Vice President, SEO Strategy & Research

Silvia Gituto

SEO Data Analyst and Content Writer

Jump to: Methodology | Greatest Visibility Winners | Greatest Visibility Losers | Category-Level Analysis | Analysis of Winners | Analysis of Losers

2023 was an unforgettable year in the SEO industry.

At the start of the year, it was clear that the advent of new generative AI tools, including ChatGPT among others, was set to pose a new challenge to Google’s search quality. Google, the world’s leading search engine for 25 years, has maintained a reputation for serving the highest possible quality of search results and the best user experience. But with generative AI, those results could quickly become flooded with mediocre to low-quality content, presenting a new challenge in Google’s ability to combat spam and autogenerated content.

At GoogleIO in May of 2023, the tech giant unveiled a suite of new generative-AI innovations and additions designed to enhance its search offerings, with the spotlight on its Search Generative Experience (SGE), potentially revolutionizing the way we engage with organic search results. However, in early 2024, it is still unclear when or whether SGE will become live for all users.

Further, Google rolled out several search algorithm updates and new products and features aimed at refining how it presents and prioritizes search results. Google announced new search features and products, such as its generative AI tool, Bard, plus Perspectives, Fact Check Explorer, Community Notes, and more. 2023 also presented significant changes to Google’s organic search ranking frameworks, such as the introduction of Hidden Gems, notably the September Helpful Content Update, and various updates to the Reviews ranking system.

In the latter part of the year, Google encountered considerable criticism from many frustrated site owners who were unhappy with the major changes Google made to its algorithms. Many SEOs, publishers, and site owners were particularly frustrated with the fact that a few highly authoritative websites were seemingly able to rank well for so many categories of keywords, when smaller publishers had faced substantial reductions in visibility after the Helpful Content Update, followed by the October and November core updates. This was especially true for product review content.

These complaints, along with issues surrounding spam and the proliferation of low-quality affiliate content, captured Google’s attention, prompting multiple public acknowledgments that they would be responding to these issues with future updates and potential adjustments to the algorithms. As of February 2024, site owners are still anxiously waiting for these updates.

Learn about how the various changes to Google’s ranking systems, plus the natural ebb and flow of web search, affected the visibility of websites throughout the year.

Methodology of our analysis:

Each year and after major Google updates, we use the SISTRIX Visibility Index to measure the domains with the strongest organic visibility growth and declines on in the U.S. This year, we looked at over 3,000 domains from each of the following categories: biggest winners (percentage visibility growth); biggest winners (absolute visibility growth); biggest losers (percent visibility decline); and biggest losers (absolute visibility declines). Deduping this list resulted in a total list of 2,496 domains for the below analysis.

As a reminder, SISTRIX measures rankings of over 100 million domains for 100 million keywords on Google. The data below will focus specifically on Google’s U.S. index (

By actively measuring the rankings across a representative keyword set, the SISTRIX data is free from external influences such as seasonality, the weather, vacation times, and other external factors and trends. The data shown below is collected from mobile search rankings only.

As a sidenote: implementing an SEO strategy is one of many variables that can influence how a website fares during these algorithm updates. Organic search rankings may also be influenced by factors such as QDF (query deserves freshness), political and global events, significant shifts in consumer behavior (such as government-imposed lockdowns), seasonality, and more.

While many visibility changes can be tied to specific SEO efforts, others could be influenced by these external factors, or could simply be the result of Google developing a better understanding of how to best meet search intent.

We also used ChatGPT to classify the domains into logical topical groups, which resulted in the following list of categories:

  • Adult Content
  • Advocacy and Nonprofit
  • Appliances
  • Art & Culture
  • Authority Health Site
  • Automotive
  • Baby & Kids Clothing
  • Beauty & Fragrances
  • Books & Literature
  • Business & Finance
  • Career & Job Search
  • Classifieds
  • Consumer Electronics
  • Consumer Goods & Retail
  • Dating
  • E-commerce
  • Education & Learning
  • Employment
  • Entertainment & Social Media
  • Environment
  • Family & Parenting
  • Fashion & Apparel
  • Food & Delivery
  • Games & Puzzles
  • Gaming Blogs & Forums
  • Graphics, Images & Stock Photos
  • Health & Nutrition
  • Hobbies & Collectibles
  • Home & Furniture
  • Information & Research
  • Insurance
  • International Organization
  • Jewelry & Accessories
  • Law & Government
  • Lyrics & Music
  • Marketing
  • Museum
  • News & Media
  • Personal Care
  • Personal Development
  • Pest Control
  • Pets & Animals
  • Product Reviews
  • Real Estate
  • Religion & Spirituality
  • Science & Education
  • Social Media, User Generated Content & Forums
  • Sports & Outdoor Equipment
  • Sports Teams & Sports Publishers
  • Streaming
  • Technology & Computing
  • Tools & Utilities (not listed, closest match could be “Technology & Computing”)
  • Toys & Games
  • Transportation
  • Travel Directories & Blogs

Greatest Visibility Winners in 2023

Greatest absolute winners:

Greatest percent winners:

Greatest Visibility Losers in 2023

Greatest absolute losers:

Greatest percent losers:

Note: although appears as the #1 percent loser, this is because was migrated to

Category-Level Visibility Analysis

Below is a view of the ChatGPT categories that contained at least 3 domains, and how much total visibility those categories saw throughout 2023. As a reminder, the Visibility numbers indicated here are pulled from the Sistrix Visibility Index. Social Media, User Generated Content (UGC), and Forums was by far the biggest category winner in 2023. E-commerce was the biggest loser.

Winning Categories:

Social Media, User Generated Content & Forums

Throughout the year, the significant growth in Google’s organic visibility for the category labeled as “Social Media, User Generated Content & Forums” was obvious to the larger marketing community, even without formal data reporting.

The data also strongly supports the narrative that these domains already had very large visibility before they experienced this substantial percentage increase. However, the growth of Reddit and Quora, in particular, were highly unusual compared to their growth in prior years. This growth began around August of 2023 and continued consistently throughout the end of the year.

As seen in the chart above, Reddit saw an unprecedented spike in visibility that started around the end of July, making it the most significant, and the most talked about winner throughout 2023. No confirmed Google update closely aligns with the timing of this rapid growth, but the SEO industry later learned from Google that the new “Hidden Gems” update likely launched around that same time. The Hidden Gems update was supposedly aimed at elevating high-quality content buried deep within forums and social media posts, which might explain why these sites – especially Reddit – saw such significant growth throughout the second half of 2023.

Interestingly, in February 2024, we have since learned from Google that there is a new, official partnership with Reddit, in which Reddit receives $60 million per year in order for Google to have access to Reddit’s Data API, “which delivers real-time, structured, unique content from their large and dynamic platform.” According to Google, this will enable them to have “efficient and structured access to fresher information” in order to better understand Reddit’s content, which can be used to display Reddit information across Google products and for Google to “train on” that information.

While this partnership may explain why Reddit has seen such a substantial growth in SEO visibility, Google’s announcement does not directly confirm that. Furthermore, Reddit is not the only user-generated content website seeing exponential growth in the last several months; Quora, Superuser, TikTok, LinkedIn, Medium, and others, have also seen a similar growth pattern, albeit not as extreme as Reddit’s trajectory.

Several career and job search sites saw significant gains:, and had a substantial increase in visibility last year. In the case of, this growth appeared to be consistent throughout the year, and not necessarily tied to any specific Google update.

All the same, most websites in this category also saw consistent and steady growth this year, rather than sudden fluctuations tied to Google updates, as shown in the image below.

Below is a visual representation of the keywords for which began ranking in top positions, which was largely driven by their blog subfolder and began to surge around March of 2023.

As you can see, most of these high-volume keywords, for which Join Handshake earned top 10 positions between February and September of 2023 were not ranking at all in the top 100 in February.

Furthermore, according to Ahrefs, the Join Handshake blog subfolder saw a substantial increase in organic traffic and ranking keywords around March of 2023.

Ahrefs projected organic traffic and ranking keywords to the subfolder throughout 2023

While these newly ranking articles, which offer career advice to students, do not have an author or publication date listed as part of the page template, a manual spot check of several of these articles reveals that they were newly written around March or April of 2023.

In our opinion, we think these new articles might be an example of AI-generated content succeeding in Google’s results. We do not know for sure if these articles were AI-generated (and we’d love to chat with the Handshake team if they’re willing to reveal anything about this successful SEO campaign!). However, the lack of an author byline, the style and tone of the content, plus the fact that the AI content detection plugin, Copyleaks, indicates that AI content was detected on the page, could provide a clue about how Join Handshake generated this blog content at scale. Handshake also appears to be using AI for other creative uses for its student audience.

Law & Government

The “Law & Government” category saw a big increase in many government and federal websites. The table below shows the biggest visibility winner in 2023, the CIA (, which saw a percentage increase of over 1,223%.

In the chart below, you can clearly see a pattern of rapid growth in 6 different .gov domains right after the March 2023 Core Update – a growth trend they maintained throughout the year.

In the chart below, seems to have increased visibility not only after the March Core update, but also after the August Core update and the September Helpful Content updates. This increase steadily continues till the end of the year.

Below is a visual representation of the keywords for which began ranking in top positions, which largely stemmed from their World Factbook content, which provides data-driven information about countries around the world. This enables their site to rank in prominent positions for extremely high volume names of countries and regions.

The growth of websites in the Law & Government category – especially during core updates – is a good reminder of how highly authoritative websites, which by definition have the highest levels of E-E-A-T – have seen substantial, consistent growth in SEO performance not only in 2023, but over the past 5+ years.

Information & Research

The Information and Research category saw a significant visibility increase for most websites as shown below.

As shown in the Sistrix chart below, there was increased visibility that started in the middle of 2023 and maintained a uniform, steady rise in several “Information and Research” sites up until the end of the year. This growth actually began earlier – around the May 2022 core update (G), and was exacerbated by core updates in 2023, such as the November Core Update (J)., which saw significant growth around the November Core Update, stands as a good example of this success. They witnessed tremendous keyword ranking improvements as shown below, seemingly for keywords providing informational content about universities and geographical locations.

These data-driven pages provide consistently updated, accurate information and data visualizations about the city, such as its population, housing, diversity, income, politicians, and more, which you can learn more about via their About page.

Education & Learning

Like the “Social Media, User Generated Content & Forums” category, the “Education and Learning’’ category was another big visibility winner in 2023. 

In the chart below, notice how the October Core Update and the October Spam Update seemed to work in their favor, causing a huge, continuous spike in their visibility – an upward trajectory that they maintained till the end of 2023. This is especially true for – Oxford English Dictionaries.

Educational Site Winners

See in the chart below how also saw a massive increase in visibility after the Core Update and the Product Reviews Updates in November- a rise that continued till the end of the year.

News & Media

While the total visibility among sites labeled as “News & Media” saw an absolute decline of -388 visibility points across 74 domains, some sites in the News and Media category saw a significant improvement in SEO visibility in 2023, and maintained somewhat steady growth throughout the year.,, and, amongst others, emerged as major winners, experiencing significant visibility improvement with over 100%+ increased visibility.

The below websites were the major winners in the news and media category.

The websites improved visibility starting in February, and as seen in the chart below, showed a pattern of gradual increased visibility. As a reminder, Sistrix’s visibility index only tracks visibility of the standard organic links, not Google News or Top Stories visibility, so this growth is only tied to those organic results.

From June 2023, Al Jazeera saw substantial year-over-year ranking improvements for keywords like “Ukraine news” and “Russia-Ukraine war”, which could indicate that Google finds its coverage highly useful for these extremely high-volume and politically charged keywords.

Science & Education

Four websites in the “Science & Education” category saw substantial visibility growth in 2023.

With, for example, It’s interesting to see that despite a slight hit, most likely due to the March Core Update, this domain bounced back right after the April Product Reviews Update.

It’s also interesting to see, in the chart below, how these sites had similar trends all year. Except for, there was also a visible decline in visibility in April, followed by an interesting upward spike in May. This could be an example of Google testing whether these calculator sites provide the best experience for users for high-volume.

Authority Health Sites

The “health and fitness”Authority health site” category saw steady visibility improvements in 2023. With an average percentage increase in visibility of 205%, emerged as the biggest winner.

The chart below shows how sites in this category experienced increasing visibility that started in August and grew steadily till the year ended.

Top keyword positions were held by .gov and .org websites – a huge indicator of just how authoritative these sites are.

Losing Categories: 


E-commerce was the most heavily impacted category, with an average decline of nearly -24% across 32 domains in this category, and the biggest loser suffering a loss of over -85% of its average visibility percentage. Furthermore, many of the other “biggest loser” categories were also technically comprised of e-commerce websites.

Below are some of the domains that saw the greatest visibility decline in terms of percentage visibility decreases:

Some of the biggest e-commerce websites in the U.S. saw their visibility decrease significantly in 2023. These sites had a similar pattern of increasing visibility at the start of the year, followed by a heavy decline toward the back half. The big increases in visibility around February 2023 closely coincided with Google’s February 2023 Product Reviews Update. The sites may have (temporarily) replaced the rankings of Reviews sites that previously held top positions for transactional keywords.

Walmart, Ebay, Etsy and Target all saw significant visibility gains in late 2022 and into early 2023, but abrupt drops in visibility toward the back half of 2023.

There seemed to be a search intent shift from transactional/commercial intent to a mix of ecommerce and informational/review intent for many keywords between July and October, as seen with the keyword ”carpet cleaners” in the chart below. It’s also worth noting that the Stanley Steemer homepage earned the top position for this non-branded keyword, despite a category page ranking in the earlier months.

Fashion & Apparel

Several “Fashion & Apparel” ecommerce websites suffered significant losses in 2023. These lost positions were often taken by sites like Wikipedia, Amazon, and Walmart.

Here are some “Fashion & Apparel” sites with significant visibility declines: saw the biggest average visibility percentage decline of -74.25%, which seemingly started right after the October Spam Update. The November Core and Reviews updates also seemed to have exacerbated this decline, sending their visibility down to 1.5 from 5.8. This steady decline continued till the end of 2023.

Sidenote: while it appears that this decline was tied to these Google updates, it’s impossible to know what truly caused the decline – as declines in visibility could be caused by any number of internal or external factors.

This similar decline pattern is visible in the chart below that compares the top 6 losers in this category, although their declines started at different points throughout the year.

Sports & Outdoor Equipment

In the “Sports & Outdoor Equipment” category, many of these e-commerce sites lost their positions for certain keywords to niche brands that were perhaps perceived by Google to give better and more granular information about products, some including detailed blogs.

Google image search also became more visible in the top 5 positions for a large number of keywords in this category, which could indicate that Google finds images to better serve user intent for some of these sites’ core keywords.

The biggest loser in this category,, seemed to have been majorly affected by the February Products Review Update. As seen in the chart below, this site experienced a sudden decline in visibility which picked momentum throughout the year.

Also, the August and November Core Updates and the November Product Review Update seemed to negatively affect the rankings of most seemingly unrelated industry sites in this category, as shown in the chart below.

Just like with prior losing categories, it seems that many e-commerce sites, such as those included in Sports & Outdoor equipment, saw substantial visibility declines toward the back half of 2023.

Consumer Electronics

The Consumer Electronics category – which is also comprised of e-commerce websites – was another category that saw a significant decline in visibility in 2023. The biggest loser in this category saw a decrease in visibility of over 52%.

Below are some of the domains that saw the greatest average decline in terms of percentage visibility decreases:

An interesting downward trend is seen in September after the September Core update and there’s also a steady continuous downward trend after the October Spam update (marked with ‘G’), the November Core update (marked with ‘H’), and the November Review Update (marked with I) respectively. Like other e-commerce categories, this decline grew toward the end of 2023.

Analyzing February’s keyword ranking shifts reveals an interesting shift in search intent.

For example, for the keyword below, “camera straps,’” the 2023 top rankings were comprised of the “camera strap” category page on several large ecommerce websites, such as B&H Photo, Etsy, and Amazon. It also included various product review guides for buying camera straps. In 2024, the top rankings have shifted significantly to category pages and homepages of several niche brands that focus exclusively on camera straps.

Graphics, Images & Stock Photos

Graphics, images and stock photos also lost visibility 2023, with the biggest visibility loser – – losing over -79% of its visibility.

Below are websites in this category that lost visibility in 2023:

The chart below shows that saw a significant loss in visibility right after the September Helpful Content Update  (B), and this decline continued till the end of the year.

Between September and October 2023, after the September Helpful Content update, lost rankings for their top-ranking keywords by over 100 positions, as shown in the image below. This visibility pattern matches that of many sites affected by Google’s notorious Helpful Content Update in September.

The below table shows how the Helpful Content Update affected rankings across the board, with many keywords previously owning the #1 position losing those rankings entirely in October.

Not all sites in this category appear to have been hit by the Helpful Content Update, but they lost visibility at different points throughout the end of 2023.


In 2023, the SEO landscape was significantly impacted by the introduction of generative AI tools, leading to challenges for Google in maintaining search quality. Google responded with new AI innovations and updates to its algorithm, emphasizing the fight against spam and low-quality content. Google also introduced the Hidden Gems update, which might explain the rapid growth of user-generated content sites throughout 2023.

The substantial decline in visibility among many e-commerce websites might have been due to Google showing more types of content, such as user-generated content, forums, review content, and/or informational articles for what were previously considered transactional keywords. It’s also possible that some of this visibility shifted to Google’s “Shopping” tab, which is specifically dedicated to listing e-commerce results.

Learn about how to measure and structure your content for AI-readiness in 2024, or let’s talk about how to achieve more for your marketing—and your business.