Although Google took the unusual step of pre-announcing the July 2021 Core Update in conjunction with its June 2021 Core Update, the July update still created a bit of a shockwave through the SEO industry. Promptly launching on July 1, 2021, this broad core algorithm update rolled out quickly and lasted a total of 11 days, formally concluding on July 12.
We had previously reported on the impact of the June 2021 Core Update, and how it changed SEO visibility across 1,900+ domains and 31 categories. As noted in our previous article, not only did Google warn of the possibility that some sites could see a reversal between the June and July updates, but also data and outcomes were even further muddied by the fact that Google’s Page Experience Update (focused on Core Web Vitals) was also launched in June.
On top of these changes, Google also launched a two-part “spam update” on June 23 and 28. Adding further volatility to the performance of many sites, this update primarily affected sites engaging in spammy tactics that violate Google’s quality guidelines.
Disclaimer: Due to the timing of these many updates, plus Google’s strict adherence to not sharing specific details about its core algorithm updates beyond the broad changes it hopes to achieve with them, it’s extremely important to understand that it’s impossible to know exactly which factors led to changes in rankings.
Also, it’s always imperative to remember that correlation is not causation. For example, just because a site passes Core Web Vitals metrics, receives backlinks from a certain set of domains, or features specific keywords in its page titles, it does not indicate that those factors necessarily caused changes to its rankings. There are thousands, if not millions, of correlating factors that could potentially serve as actual ranking factors in Google’s algorithm. This is increasingly true as Google becomes more sophisticated when understanding user experience and user intent.
All of that being said, we do believe that looking at changes to rankings at scale and across categories can help to illuminate patterns that may shed light on what Google aims to achieve with these algorithm updates.
Methodology of our Analysis
For our analysis of the July 2021 Core Update, we collected Sistrix Visibility Index scores of over 2,300 domains within its U.S. index between the dates of June 30, 2021 (the day before Google announced the launch of the July Core Update) compared to July 12, 2021 (the official conclusion of the core update.) 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 24 different categories.
Top 50 Winners of the July 2021 Core Update
Below are the 50 domains that saw the greatest percentage increase in visibility (using the Sistrix Visibility Index score) between June 30 and July 12, 2021.
Below are the 50 domains that saw the greatest total increase in visibility (using the Sistrix Visibility Index score) between June 30 and July 12, 2021.
Top 50 Losers of the July 2021 Core Update
Below are the 50 domains that saw the greatest percentage decrease in visibility (using the Sistrix Visibility Index score) between June 30 and July 12, 2021.
Below are the 50 domains that saw the greatest total decrease in visibility (using the Sistrix Visibility Index score) between June 30 and July 12, 2021.
Full List of 2,300+ Analyzed Domains
Note: Sorting this table by any of the displayed columns only sorts the 100 URLs actively displayed, not the entire list of 2,300+ domains. Use the search bar in the upper-right for more granular filtering.
Impacts of the July 2021 Core Update Across Categories
The below chart details the average percentage change across the 24 categories we analyzed. This represents how much the category gained or lost visibility on average, relative to the visibility of the domains within that category set, between June 30 and July 12, 2021.
The chart below shows the total average gains and losses in visibility by category, which represents how much a category has gained or lost visibility relative to all the other analyzed categories.
This chart has been filtered to display only those categories with the greatest positive or negative change, so not all categories are displayed in this visual.
Note: The category “Reference Materials” includes sites that define words, parts of speech, etc. such as dictionary, thesaurus, and wiki sites. It also includes Q&A sites such as Quora and Urban Dictionary, as well as “public directory” sites like Yelp and other maps sites. The category “Arts and Entertainment” is inclusive of music and lyrics sites.
One interesting result of the July 2021 core update is the complete reversal of the “Reference Materials” category, which saw the greatest total declines in visibility after this update. This category had previously been the biggest winner in total organic visibility after the June 2021 Core Update. Perhaps, this is an example of some of the recalibrating Google told us could result from the two consecutive updates.
As a bonus, Similarweb also offers secondary, more granular classifications for its domain categories. Here is a view of the average percentage change in visibility across those secondary categories as a result of this update.
Like many updates of the past few years, “Alternative & Natural Medicine,” a category containing sites that tend to contradict mainstream scientific and medical consensus, fell at the far end of the greatest percentage losers. This is a topic we frequently discuss in our articles related to improving E-A-T: expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. “Adult” domains have also consistently lost visibility as a category in Google’s U.S. search results across many recent core updates.
Trends and Analysis by Category
Dictionaries and Reference Websites
As a total reversal of the June Core Update, Wikipedia drove the vast majority of the decline in total organic visibility in the “Reference Websites” category during the July Core Update. Due to its size, Wikipedia carried the bulk of the total decline for this category.
Because Wikipedia is the largest organic market shareholder of all websites in the Sistrix database, these changes often look like a ranking decline of 1-3 positions across millions of keywords, which might not seem like much on their own, but can add up to enormous changes in overall visibility.
Urban Dictionary is another website that can’t seem to catch a break with core updates. The site saw declines not only as a result of the July Core Update but also with the previous June Core Update, as well as the past several major core updates of recent years. See the chart below:
On the contrary, there were a variety of sites in the “Dictionary & Reference” category that saw gains as a result of this update, such as Macmillan Dictionary, which earned a whopping 48.95 visibility points. As noted in our last article, dictionary sites may see improvements as a result of Google recognizing that dictionary definitions better meet the needs of users than the results it was previously showing. This was a change that Google made more clear in its recent changes to the Search Quality Rater Guidelines.
Here’s an example of what this type of change looks like in practice for the search query “timespan” which is a broad query that could mean a variety of different things.
Before the July update, Google determined that the top two best results for this query should come from C# coding websites that discuss the “TimeSpan” class. After the update, Macmillan Dictionary moved up 7 positions to earn the #1 result — likely indicating that Google determined a dictionary definition is a better result (and that Macmillan has the best page for this query above all dictionary sites).
Declines in Visibility Among International ccTLDs in the U.S.
Another major change as a result of this update was the extreme declines seen by non-U.S. ccTLDs among some of the brands with the greatest SEO visibility — Amazon, Pinterest, Ebay, and Tripadvisor. The impact of these changes is that the disappearance in rankings of international versions of these sites frees up many page-1 rankings for other players and many smaller eCommerce brands to compete for high-volume keywords.
I and others shared throughout the course of 2020 that these international sites were receiving an unusual amount of visibility in the U.S. index, in addition to their U.S. counterparts. There were examples of queries where almost the entire first page of Google’s results was dominated by various international versions of Pinterest. (See example below.) Steve Pain of Sistrix also noticed this same trend occurring in the UK version of the Sistrix index.
Music & Lyrics Websites
Within the “Arts & Entertainment” category, some of the most significant positive movement in this update stemmed from visibility increases in music and lyrics websites like Spotify, Last.fm, Shazam, Sweetwater, Discogs, and more.
For a variety of vague queries (queries that may or may not be the name of a song or a band), these sites started seeing massive improvements in rankings. Perhaps Google determined that the user was looking for more results from dedicated music websites or sites containing ways to play the music.
In the below example, Last.fm improved by 12 positions for the ambiguous query “steel dragon” which could mean a variety of things, but is also the name of a popular band.
As a result, a roller coaster review website reviewing the “Steel Dragon,” a Home Depot page listing Steel Dragon tools, and some other eCommerce sites lost positions — not because they did anything wrong but because Google potentially realized that the user was more likely looking for a result containing information about the band.
This type of intent change seemed to be a common theme of this update.
Declines in Visibility Among the Major Players
It’s worth noting that this update caused some visibility declines among sites that tend to be the biggest winners of the core updates of the last few years. These declines are not even remotely big enough to dip into the massive gains felt by many of these sites. However, they are worth noting as they do create space for less prominent competitors to fill in some of the newly available gaps. Below are some examples:
Reversals from Prior Core Updates
There were several examples in the July update where sites saw significant reversals in visibility at a scale not seen since core updates of years prior. In the example below, one of the biggest winners, Viewpoints.com, saw increases in visibility it had not seen since the original Panda update of 2011.
Another winner, Mojim.com, a lyrics website, is seeing a huge recovery in visibility it has not seen since a brief blip that took place after the Medic update of 2018.
Based on the analysis we have done so far, this update appears to be most focused on Google shifting its understanding of user intent across a large variety of queries. This is purely speculation, but there may also be some bigger initiatives at play, such as reducing the visibility of non-U.S. ccTLDs in the U.S. results (and vice versa for other countries) and potentially even reducing some of the extreme gains in visibility felt by the biggest winners in the past few years of core updates.
We will continue analyzing this update and provide more information to this article over time.
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