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The State of Content SERPs: A Deeper Look into 250,000 Keyword Rankings

Search engine optimization (SEO) expert Glen Allsopp recently conducted an extensive analysis of 250,000 English-language Google search results to uncover who dominates the coveted first-page rankings – independent webmasters or large media conglomerates? His findings provide unique insights into the state of SEO and content search engine results pages (SERPs) today.

As an investigative journalist, I decided to take a deeper look into Allsopp’s data and research methodology to provide readers with a more comprehensive view of this analysis. Here are the key highlights and my own unique perspectives as an objective third-party.

The Core Research Question

Allsopp’s primary goal was to determine whether large media companies attain more first-place Google rankings compared to independent webmasters for content-focused keywords. His hypothesis was that media giants would dominate based on factors like brand recognition, ability to acquire links at scale, in-house content teams, and acquisition of competitors.

To test this, Allsopp analyzed the first 10 organic listings for 250,000 English-language informational keywords related to reviews, recommendations, and advice. He categorized each ranking domain as either owned by a media company or independent webmaster.

The Key Finding: Media Giants Dominate Rankings

Allsopp’s main finding was that media-owned domains took a whopping 86.1% of first-place rankings out of 186,444 search results analyzed. Independent sites only held 13.9% of top spots.

At first glance, this massive gap supports Allsopp’s hypothesis that media giants dominate content SERPs. However, I believe the picture is more nuanced as I’ll explore below.

My Analysis of the Data & Methodology

While Allsopp’s core finding appears compelling, as an investigative reporter I wanted to take a deeper look at his data sample, categorization, ranking methodology, and potential biases. Here are some key observations:

  • Sample Size: 250,000 keywords is a large dataset, but still small relative to Google’s total search volume. The results may not represent the full SERP landscape.
  • Categorization: Allsopp manually determined whether sites were owned by media companies or independents based on a private database. This process could introduce some human error.
  • Ranking Method: Sites earned points for each ranking position (10 for #1, 9 for #2, etc). This favors sites ranking higher over those with more total rankings.
  • Independents Definition: Allsopp classified sites like NerdWallet as media-owned rather than independent. Other experts may disagree on such borderline cases.

Based on my analysis, I believe the 86.1% headline statistic overstates the dominance of media-owned sites to some degree. However, their significant advantage in first-place rankings is still apparent in the data.

Unique Factors Favoring Media Companies

Allsopp suggests media dominance is largely owed to having more content assets and brand recognition. However, I identified other unique advantages that likely bolster their rankings:

  • Talent Acquisition: Media firms can attract top writing talent by offering full-time positions with benefits. Many independent site owners rely on freelancers.
  • Reader Loyalty: Media brands often have loyal readership built up over decades via newspapers, magazines, etc. Independents must start from scratch.
  • Production Values: Media sites invest heavily in design, imagery, videos, and other production values that improve user experience.
  • Industry Connections: Media companies have deep ties to industries they cover via sponsorships and insider access. This can influence coverage.
  • Expert Reach: Large in-house marketing teams allow media brands to gain links at scale from major sites and influencers.

In summary, media giants have structural advantages in reputation, content quality, and ability to acquire links. This extends beyond just having “more content” as Allsopp concludes. The playing field is not entirely even.

Hope for Independent Webmasters

Despite advantages for media firms, Allsopp’s data reveals a more optimistic picture for independents than the 86.1% headline implies:

  • They operated 54% of the top 5,000 sites ranked. The distribution is more even outside the very top.
  • Independents ranked alone for 3,226 keywords screened. Media brands didn’t dominate every niche.
  • The #1 independent site (MindBodyGreen) ranked 49th overall. Several others ranked competitively.
  • Even mid-sized independent sites generated impressive search traffic. They don’t need huge content catalogs.

So while media conglomerates currently hold the top spots, there is still room for independents to compete and thrive in niches ignored by the giants. Producing high-quality content as a solo webmaster or small team can lead to great SEO success.

My Key Takeaways

In conclusion, Allsopp’s large-scale content SERP analysis provides a compelling starting point to understand organic search rankings. While media companies achieve a lopsided portion of first-place results, a deeper analysis reveals a more nuanced competitive landscape with opportunities for independent publishers. As search algorithms and new technologies like AI evolve, the balance of power could continue to shift.


Original article by Glen Allsopp: The State of Content SERPs: A 250,000 Keyword Analysis