Which site is crushing it in SEO?

I looked at 3,000 sites over the last 12 months to figure out which ones are crushing it in organic traffic growth and which ones aren’t.

Which site is crushing it in SEO?

SEO is getting harder due to competition from Google, more competition in the SERPs, and ads that suck away traffic from organic results. It seems like most sites these days are losing traffic, which leads to the question who is actually crushing it these days?

To answer that question, I pulled a data set from Semrush’s top winners and losers over 2021. What I found is that sites that serve a strong current need won the most traffic.

Methodology

To come up with a clean list, I exported the top 3,000 ranked sites from Semrush over the last 12 months (US, Desktop) and compared organic traffic for:

  • January vs December 2021
  • H1 vs H2 2021
  • December 2020 vs December 2021

Looking at three ways to compare December 2021 traffic ensured there were no false positives.

The goal was to find sites that consistently grew over the last 12 months.

Winners and losers

2021 winners

Absolute organic traffic

Relative organic traffic

I want to comment on a few interesting winners.

Youtube. The number of serps featuring videos is growing. As a result, Youtube gets more visitors, some of which create videos, and their flywheel spins faster.

Youtube as a product also fits the Zeitgeist: learning and staying up to date is much easier through video than text. Youtube’s adoption caught speed when people were forced to stay at home during the pandemic and kept themselves entertained or learned more skills.

Yelp. Yelp seems to have doubled down on “near me” queries over the last year. The subdirectory (yelp.com/nearme/) grew in traffic.

Yelp's near me landing pages

Vaccines.gov. The government site for vaccines occupied top positions quickly. Who is surprised? In October 2021, vaccines.gov jumped from ~3M visitors to ~40M. The site’s rankings actually decreased over the year, but traffic grew due to increasing search demand for vaccines or booster shots.

Coinmarketcap. The biggest relative winner fits into the series of sites that won by fulfilling a big current need. Coinmarketcap rides the Crypto wave (Coinbase is also one of the top relative winners). Their pages are clean, easy to digest and full of information, following the classic setup of stock sites: data + news feeds.

Gasbuddy. Who would have thought that a gas rewards program could grow so well? Taking into account that gas prices reach record prices over the last months, it makes sense.

Looking at the top loser list, we can also see that shell.us lost rankings for a lot of “gas near me” queries. I assume Gasbuddy took a lot of their marketshare.

2021 losers

Absolute organic traffic

Relative organic traffic

I also want to call out a few interesting sites that lost.

Tripadvisor. What can you really do when your market breaks away? Nothing! Tripadvisor’s decline makes sense given the travel restrictions and overall interest decline in travel.

Yelp seems to have taken over many of the “near me” terms from Tripadvisor. Interesting choice by Google, I assume due to fewer UGC on Tripadvisor.

Pinterest. Pinterest is losing visibility for all TLDs, not just .com but also .es, .co.uk, and others. It’s comical as Google rolls out SERPs that look a lot like Pinterest itself.

Pinterest is a common guest on core update winner/loser lists. Google has a hard time making up its mind about the site, possibly due to its image-heavy nature.

Google's search results look more and more like Pinterest

Worldometers. The site became very popular during the Pandemic as a source of statistics. Now that the urgency has cooled down a bit, worldometers.info lost a lot of traffic. A lot of the keywords they ranked for dropped in search volume, which you can see when comparing traffic to keyword ranks: they didn’t lose any.

Google prefers sites that are in high demand

Reading that headline out loud makes me tell myself “of course, dummy!” And yet, it seems that we’ve finally arrived at a point at which real life events and trends have a major impact on organic traffic, even apart from search demand tailwinds.

Brand strength and sentiment seem to become more important. As, for example, more people are looking for restaurants around them, Google seems to prefer Yelp over Tripadvisor due to the local business specialization over the travel focus, even though both sites technically serve the same type of content.

Search results for "restaurants near me"