I’ll start out each of these by disclosing whether or not I have any relationship or financial interest in the company I review. I wish I could tell you that when I got into SEO in 2004 I bought 500 shares of GOOG…but sadly I didn’t have any money to invest so that didn’t happen. I think I interviewed with Google back in 2006 and I completely blew the interview (I got tongue-tied when they asked me how I would go about estimating the number of gas stations in a 10 mile city). So like most of you, I use Google and YouTube every day, I’ve made a living out of helping others be successful on them, but no, I don’t have any financial interest in them directly.

I had to do a double-take when looking at SEMRush’s “Winners and Losers” report for May 2024.

Typically, you”d see sites like Yellow Pages and Wayfair in this report—brands that, as I detailed in the last two reports, once had powerful, well-established brands, but who have been letting their brands slide.

That certainly couldn’t be true of,, and, who are marked as the #1, #2, and #3 biggest losers for May 2024. So what exactly happened?

How to Read SEMRush’s Winners and Losers report

It might be good at this point to take a step back to understand how SEMRush’s Winners and Losers report works.

SEMRush lets you look at which sites gained or lost the most SEO visibility over a given period of time, either a day or a month. In my case, I’m looking at it on a month-to-month basis to choose “victims” for my monthly breakdown (or if you prefer, takedown).

SE Keywords refers to the number of keywords that it sees a given site as ranking for in the top 100 of organic search (that’s the number in black) and the number of keywords that it saw the site gained (the number in green) OR lost (in red).

For example, in May 2024, ranked for 879.6M keywords and lost 54.2M keywords. So according to this report, lost visibility for 6.16% of all of its keywords.

SE Traffic refers to the amount of SEO traffic that the keywords in the first column represent. During this period of May 2024, the 54.2M keywords that lost apparently represented 63.4M out of 1.3B visitors, or about 4.88% of its visitors.

Costs (USD) is a theoretical amount that (very roughly) estimates how much it would have cost you to have paid for your organic search visibility if you were to buy equivalent rankings in AdWords (for example, if I rank #1 for “flowers” organically, the CPC for that phrase is $3.58, and the #1 ranking attracts 823,000 visitors, my theoretical “cost” in this column would be $2,946,340).

In the case of YouTube, it looks like it “lost” the equivalent of $486,200 in keyword value during May 2024.

(We’ll discuss Paid Keywords, Paid Traffic, and Paid Traffic Price some other time; these examine SEMRush’s view of what companies are spending for paid search and the visibility they’re getting from it).

Is YouTube in SEO Trouble?


If you look at the numbers above, you might be tempted to think that YouTube is in trouble. After all, a 5% traffic drop sounds pretty catastrophic, doesn’t it?

Well, no.

Rule #1 of Google used to be “Don’t Be Evil”. That died a long time ago. The new Rule #1 of Google is “Don’t Do Anything That May Hurt Google”.

Let’s look at some historical context.

In the November 2023 algorithm update,’s visibility in Google organic search increased from around 250,000,000 keywords to about 900,000,000 keywords, an increase of a whopping 260% in a single core algo update!

Put another way, while technically was the “biggest loser” in May 2024, this “loss” was really just a tiny correction where they “lost” 5% of their keywords after gaining 260%.

Notice one more thing…even though YouTube ostensibly lost visibility on 54 million keywords, it hardly made a dent in YouTube’s overall traffic, which is way up.

What the Happened in October and November 2023

If you own a niche site, you probably saw your traffic plummet—along with whatever income you made from it—in the fourth quarter of 2023. Here’s one of my sites, a little hobby site I made a few years ago that was driving about $400 a month in affiliate traffic.

I maintained this site every month and filled it with pretty amazing content. I spent about 4-5 hours researching every article, and my content was always up-to-date and accurate.

Who is outranking me now for head terms I used to rank for? Sites like Reddit, Quora, YouTube, and Amazon.

As comparison, here’s what happened to Reddit’s SEO traffic in 2023. The pattern looks a lot like YouTube’s.

The reality is, Google took most of the SEO traffic from niche sites and handed them to big, well-known sites. If it was a Google-owned property like YouTube, all the better for Google and its shareholders.

You’ve probably noticed this yourself, when you search for any long-tail question, that you’ll see a Reddit thread or a YouTube video pop up.

My daughter and I are into Minecraft. To the right you can see what shows up when you type “how do you defeat the Ender Dragon” into Google.

Google’s official explanation, as always, that its Core Algo Updates are put in place to “reward great content”.

But let’s be honest. There are many, many “niche sites” from Minecraft fans that give far better information than sitting through an annoying YouTube video or sifting through piles and piles of annoying, screeching YouTubers who deliberately drag out their videos to get more view time.

But the above-the-fold space on the Google SERP is taken up by YouTube first, and then by Reddit and Quora. Every other site needs to fight for the scraps.

Why is Reddit, Quora, and YouTube Getting So Much Love?

I have the answer I give my clients, and then I have my “conspiracy theory answer”.

The Answer

There are a few traits that sites like Reddit, Quora, and YouTube have in common that give them an edge.

  1. They screen for real humans. Remember Yahoo! Answers and Google Questions? Yeah, neither does anyone else. Those sites were once darlings of Google organic search, but they died a slow and painful death because of one thing: they were overrun by spam and neither Yahoo! nor Google wanted to put the effort into making sure that actual humans who cared about the subject were writing answers. By relying on sites like Reddit and Quora, Google is essentially outsourcing the job of identifying authenticity.
  2. These humans have real conversations. Unlike a typical “niche site” that might focus on writing succinctly and to-the-point, conversations on these sites tend to meander, sometimes uncovering details and nuances of a topic. From an SEO perspective, that opens up the long tail.
  3. These conversations use real words. Even the best “niche writer” can fall into the trap of using fancy words they think sound good in writing but doesn’t reflect words that people actually use. On forum sites, you can always be sure that users are using words that your audience uses because—they are the audience.
  4. They’re constantly self-moderated. Here’s the brilliance about sites like Quora and Reddit. These companies don’t hire hundreds of hundreds of moderators who read every board constantly. Instead, they enable their communities to self-moderate. For example, each subreddit has its own set of rules; if a user breaks a rule, both the community and the moderators will call that users out.

It’s always been try that forums have had an outsized advantage in SEO because of these things. However, there is one additional reason sites like Quora, Reddit, and YouTube may be seeing a resurgence in ranking lately. Which brings me to my conspiracy theory.

The Real Answer

I believe in many ways, the sudden ranking of forum sites is Google crying uncle.

Think about it. Let’s say I spend 5 hours every day researching a topic, writing, and publishing my Web site. While I’m doing this, 99 black hat SEOs are scraping my site (along with other niche sites), using AI to rewrite it, and publishing my research as their own, making sure to present my information in such a way that I can’t issue a DMCA takedown (nor even realize what they’ve done).

Google no doubt sees this world coming. We’re coming to a world where it’s impossible to tell the difference between someone who spent hours and hours researching a topic vs. someone who spent 30 second typing a prompt into ChatGPT. In fact, it’s probable that AI plagiarism will be an even better read than the original work.

We all read with great interest the recent Google leak that revealed Google’s 14,014 ranking factors. Over the years there’s been a cat-and-mouse game as black hat SEOs learn to fake each ranking factor, and Google finds others that aren’t as easily mimicked. Title tags, keyword density, latent semantic indexing, quality backlinks…these can all be faked, and pretty easily.

But we’ve reached the end of the runway. We’ve gotten to a point where humans can’t tell the difference between a fake content site and a real one, and if humans can’t tell the difference, Google is helpless to as well.

In a way, what’s happening to all Google organic search is what happened to News and YMYL search after the “Medic” update in 2018. Instead of every site on the Web having an equal shot at ranking based on the quality of its content, Google looks like it’s solving the problem of separating real from fake sites by deciding that only the largest, most well-known sites in the world are “real”.

So What Can a Niche Site Do?

The answer to this is not going to be one that we owners of niche sites want to hear.

We need to get used to the fact that we’re not going to rank on the short tail anymore. In reality, it’s been like this for a while, but every now and then a great niche site could sneak into the top 10 rankings of head terms. No longer. Those rankings are going to be dominated by major forums and corporate sites with UGC.

Here’s my best advice for anyone in this spot: Stop Relying on Google

A lot of us in the SEO space have been spoiled over the last 20 years. It really wasn’t hard for someone with passion and better-than-average knowledge on a subject and decent writing skills to write a blog post that ranked in the top 20.

If you’re a niche site with over 80% of your traffic from organic search, your “brand” was basically Google.

Moving forward, the best thing you can do is to forget about Google. If you get organic search traffic, great. But assume you will not. Instead, get out there and do things outside of Google to build your brand. Build a mailing list. Make a forum. Engage with your audience. Get on social media. Reach out to other influencers in adjacent categories to see if they’d like to partner with you. Build your own forum that’s run better than any of the discussion threads on Reddit or Quora. Stop relying on that one word that you rocked in SEO a few years ago that drove most of your traffic, and make great content. Get people talking about you.

Make Google Look Foolish:

Put simply, you want to make Google look as foolish as possible. You want people to recognize your site as so authoritative on your subject that Google will look absolutely silly whenever people Google your subject and don’t see you (imagine if you Googled “online shopping” and didn’t see Amazon in the top 10).

Maybe Google will eventually wise up and rank your site over the big name sites with substandard content. If so, great. If not, guess what? People will inevitably move on from Google to a search engine or an AI that does.

You may also like

The Google Whisperer

Leave a Comment