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How 16 Companies are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results (2024 Edition)

Written by Glen Allsopp | +552 this month
March 15, 2024

In the Academy Award-nominated Food Inc, filmmaker Robert Kenner reveals how the extensive range of products we see on supermarket shelves is actually controlled by just a handful of companies.

Today I’m going to expand on my research into how the seemingly diverse list of websites in Google search results are often owned by just a few brands, and exactly what you can learn from those brands in question.

I first covered this topic in 2016, resulting in the most successful article I’ve ever published. Seven years later, it was still mentioned weekly in tweets, Facebook groups, and newsletters, prompting a 2023 follow-up read by over 50,000 people.

Many of the leading websites in that initial report are still dominant today, but the companies behind them and how they operate have massively evolved, so today I’m excited to bring you the result of weeks of work and share their exact status right now in 2024.

If you wonder where SEO and publishing content online is heading in the age of AI, there’s probably no one better to track and analyse than the companies whose search engine rankings are worth billions of dollars.

The 16 Companies Google Sends a Combined 3 Billion+ Clicks Per Month

The 16 companies in this report are behind at least 588 individual brands.

Combined, Semrush estimates they pick up around 3.5 billion clicks from Google each month. An average of 5.9 million monthly clicks per site.

This report is not an attempt to track every single brand doing well in Google.

I’m primarily focused on networks with sites in a variety of niches (such as Pets, Tech, Food and Sports) that typically publish English-language content.

Many are incredibly financially successful, in no small part due to the traffic search engines like Google send their way. You’ll likely search for something today where they’ll be on the first page of results.

I think there’s a ton we can learn from them, but first they need an introduction. A graphic seemed like the best fit:

Updated March, 2024. Dozens of sites have been changed since 2023.

This might look overwhelming, and yet it doesn’t come close to the almost 600 sites we’ve analysed for them.

While we track more sites for each brand than they put on their portfolio pages, we may have excluded sites for primarily being written in other languages or if they’re essentially placeholder domains for job openings or similar. You can find more information on the sites and brands we purposefully didn’t include in this supplemental Google Doc.

Combining estimated traffic numbers for each website, we can also rank each brand accordingly.

These numbers will never be perfect but this should give a good idea of their overall size.

While Dothdash Meredith isn’t too far behind Fandom, we only track 14 websites for Fandom, but forty-nine for Dotdash Meredith. Of course, it helps that is by far the most popular domain we track overall.

Speaking of popular domains…

The 20 Biggest Sites They’re Behind, Ranked Ascending by Estimated Monthly Search Traffic

These estimates are provided by Semrush for January of 2024, with overall rankings compared to February of 2023, and only take into account traffic from search engines.

Rank Site Brand Est. Search Traffic Rank Vs ’23
20 Elle Hearst 34.2M ↑ 5
19 GameRant Valnet 34.3M ↓ 29
18 TvGuide Fandom (IMC) 35.7M ↑ 9
17 Parade The Arena Group 36.1M ↑ 4
16 Verywell Health Dotdash Meredith 37.4M ↓ 39
15 IGN Ziff Davis 42.5M ↑ 3
14 Sports Illustrated The Arena Group 43.6M ↓ 40
13 SpeedTest Ziff Davis 44.3M ↑ 8
12 Good Housekeeping Hearst 48.7M ↑ 2
11 Cosmopolitan Hearst 50.7M ↑ 2
10 AllRecipes Dotdash Meredith 73.4M ↓ 1
9 ScreenRant Valnet 78.6M ↓ 4
8 Goal Fandom (IMC) 93M ↓ 2
7 Investopedia Dotdash Meredith 94.9M
6 Dotdash Meredith 99.4M ↓ 2
5 MedicalNewsToday Red Ventures 113.8M ↓ 1
4 WebMD Internet Brands 175.4M
3 Healthline Red Ventures 197.9M
2 MayoClinic Ziff Davis 342M
1 Fandom Fandom (IMC) 606.2M

There are two sites here where people might have differing views on the ownership of: MayoClinic and Goal, and I will explain why later in this report. If you prefer they were excluded (that’s totally fine), the two sites at the top of the table would have been Southern Living from Dotdash Meredith and Cnet from Red Ventures.

Five sites no longer in the top twenty that were in 2023 are Esquire, Collider, WomensHealthMag, USMagazine and Cnet.

Three of the top four sites being in the health space brings back memories of how many people I knew profiting wildly before Google got more serious around YMYL (Your Money Your Life) topics.

Hopefully this gives you a better insight into the huge brands they’re behind.

Just How Dominant They Are in Google’s Search Results: We Have the Data

It should be clear from search traffic estimates alone that these brands are ranking very well for a lot of keyphrases.

If we overlay the relevant parent company onto some high-value queries, it becomes apparent that many Google search results aren’t technically as diverse as they initially seem.

Across the web these 16 companies take up the majority of search results. Note: SERP features were removed for these screenshots (like ‘People Also Ask’), but no organic listings were modified

You may know I regularly update our report looking at who ranks across 10,000 hand-picked affiliate keyphrases.

I revealed that just three companies were behind 36 of the top 100 domains overall. This report also features those three companies: Dotdash Meredith, Hearst, and Future.

I decided it would be interesting to recheck all of those search results to see how often a site owned by one of these 16 companies ranks.

Across 10,000 terms where affiliates are ranking, which cover products in every niche you can think of (home, beauty, tech, automotive, cooking, travel, sports, education and many more), these 16 companies ranked on the first page of 8,574 (or 85%) of them.

That’s not all.

In 1,584 of 10,000 search results they claimed four or more of the first 10 organic rankings.

The most dominant brand was Dotdash Meredith, with its websites appearing in 6,788 search results. It was followed by Hearst (5,144 search results), Future (4,408 search results), and Condé Nast (3,734 search results).

The 16 companies are actually present in fewer search results than last year, but the top four brands are present in more search results than last year.

Correction: After noticing we ran the numbers incorrectly when only a single goliath ranked, we had to increase the number of search results they dominate above.

Our data shows the likes of Reddit and Quora – huge brands in their own right – have picked up many of remaining available spots.

As we recently revealed, Reddit is currently the number one affiliate review domain on the planet, and the most dominant website in Google’s ‘Discussions and forums’ SERP feature.

Still, even with their presence reduced, it’s very easy to find these 16 companies taking over search results. It’s still harder to find them not ranking.

Depending on the vertical, you might see the top few results all taken by a single one of them.

Searching from the US. The ‘People Also Asked’ feature was removed for the screenshot, but no organic results were changed

Towards the end of 2023 I performed our most extensive analysis of search results yet, looking at 250,000 keyphrases where content-focused sites were more likely to rank.

Even as someone reporting on this topic for years, I was surprised by the results: When a content-focused site ranked first across 186,444 Google search results, 86.1% of the time it was owned by a large media brand. A “digital goliath”.

The sixteen companies in this report owned 12 of the top 20 content sites and 7 of the top 10. That’s some real domination across a considerable portion of English-language results.

Now you know who the companies are and how dominant they’ve become, let’s see what we can learn from them.

31 Specific Insights from Tracking Every Aspect of Their Content & Operations

Most of the insights below are from what I can see on the surface of a website or from trawling through interviews and press releases. There’s enough wisdom to share just focusing on that.

I will not reveal anything private or “blackhat” they may be doing, even though I consider large brands and public companies fair game.

I’m just focused on the interesting things I think we can learn from — most of which (as you’ll see) they proudly promote. I won’t get into specific link-building tactics because I’m not the Google police, and don’t think I need to be to make this report valuable.

I genuinely believe these are some of the most interesting brands on the planet to watch – especially if you care about SEO – and we’re pretty lucky they love to give interviews, write investor updates and share news about what they’re working on.

Let’s get going…


Digital Trends Media Group Has Gone Quiet, But They Now Own the Number One Tech News Site in the US

In 2022, Digital Trends Media Group shared seven updates about their business in their ‘Press Room’.

In 2023, they didn’t share any.

Coupled with the fact that some of the brands they feature on the site didn’t publish a single article in 2023 (TheAngle, Toughjobs & Blissmark), it may make you question the future of their business.

Fortunately, their flagship brand Digital Trends is still as popular as ever, and was just awarded the title of the #1 tech news site in the US for 2024, according to third-party media firm Comscore.

The homepage of Digital Trends

Their Editor-in-Chief gave an interview on hitting that goal, making comments like:

Strategy-wise, we are going to stay the course, but throw some fuel on the fire. We’re enjoying the gains from the groundwork of simplification and focus that we laid years ago, and I want to maintain this momentum. I want to be able to go even deeper into the existing topics that we cover, and reach out to that same kind of audience in more places. We want to be available to readers wherever they want to consume our content. So while we will stay true to our roots and expertise in tech topics, I would love to expand on social media, through newsletters, and possibly totally new avenues.

He also touched on AI, but more about how the technology might impact our lives in the future, rather than how it might impact Digital Trends as a brand.

It wouldn’t be Detailed if I didn’t go into more depth on this one, because there are two little aspects of the Digital Trends website I really like.

First of all, I love that they go to the level of detail where specific categories have their own editor.

It’s such a small thing but if you’re passionate about a brand and particularly a specific section of their website, I would imagine this helps build some form of relationship with the site you keep coming back to.

How many websites could you name off the top of your head that do this?

Another touch I like is how they style related posts at the end of an article.

Instead of related articles being a list of link cards, they fade into the beginning of each article, giving you a teaser of what you’re about to read. Once again, it’s a subtle, small thing, but I’ve seen it in use on a few of their sites and I’m a fan.

This screenshot really doesn’t do it justice

This screenshot doesn’t do it justice since there are multiple posts stacked in a row that look like this, rather than a single one.

Finally, I can’t forget to mention I love how much detail they put into their design at times. Just look at the styling of this category:

There’s a list of articles if you scroll past that header. The page almost looks like the introduction to a Netflix show.

Of course, you don’t have to go to these lengths to be successful in Google, but they continue to be one of my favourite brands to monitor.


Two Specific Things Future Are Doing To Grow Affiliate Revenue (Both Were Mentioned on A Recent Earnings Call As Working Well)

If you follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn you’ll know I’ve now read and listened-in on hundreds of earnings calls, particularly from digital-first brands.

I never miss an update from Future, and their latest update was especially interesting, particularly because they highlighted two specific things they’re doing to grow affiliate revenue.

The first is that they started adding “Buy If” and “Don’t Buy If” boxes to their product reviews, and are now rolling these out to more sites.

Here’s an example of how those look:

They previously had a bit more colour to them which I preferred, but they’re still pretty prominent throughout their reviews.

The second thing they mentioned as working well is news surge content, taking the angle of “buy this thing before it’s no longer available”.

It definitely helps that they pick up a lot of traffic that isn’t keyword focused, but they can tie this approach back to terms to rank for as well.

This is the specific example they shared on their earnings call, but you can see they repeat this angle often across most sites in their network.


Affiliate Revenue is Crucial For The Other Brands As Well, So Here’s Some Ways They’re Trying to Stand Out

Anyone who’s searched for a product review has likely seen a site owned by one of these sixteen companies populate their results.

You’re probably aware they write a lot of Best [product] of 2024 content, but you might not be aware of the other ways they promote their affiliate links.

One smart touch from Allure is to show recommended product picks, right in the middle of category pages.

This isn’t something you typically see, yet is used on several sites in the Condé Nast network.

Notice how this is in the middle of a category page and traditionally just a list of links

To reiterate, a standard category page is usually just a list of links, but this one has a prominent affiliate CTA right in the middle of it.

There’s a lot to like about Elite Daily’s design – even if it’s not one you would ever try to replicate yourself – and how they brand their affiliate section is no exception.

I love the “What’s the deal with?” angle and how that is peppered throughout. From its own dedicated page to subtle references to it on every review:

This angle feels so much more trustworthy

Using headlines like “I Tried X and X Happened” also makes the review more memorable and trustworthy than a typical best products list. At least to me.

The Strategist section of Vox Media’s NY Mag also does something unique.

Not only do they quickly show you at a glance how many products are being featured, but there’s a smart sense of urgency tied to how many of those items are currently part of a sale.

I would be curious to know if this tends to increase their conversion rate with people not wanting to miss out on a deal.

Condé Nast’s Glamour magazine does something interesting: They double up their homepage navigation bar and highlight more general product topics.

It’s not typical to see this on a homepage

If I’m honest, I don’t think this looks great and feel it “cheapens” their homepage design, but it must work well.

Another Condé Nast brand, GQ, can use the traffic coming to their site directly and via channels like email and social media to make sales that don’t have a keyword focus.

I thought this angle was quite smart, mainly because it can be (and is) updated every month.

If you spend time clicking around GQ, you’ll see many non-keyword-focus angles like this they regularly update.

There are a few more unique angles I saw which are already in SEO Blueprint, but those are some of the main ones which recently caught my eye.


The Collaboration I Never Saw Happening (But Makes Total Sense): Hearst and Vox Media Are Working Together on Puzzles

In my second quarterly report on the playbook of Digital Goliaths, Detailed Q2, I mentioned how Hearst is taking on other media brands with their puzzle site, Puzzmo.

Hearst is the publisher behind brands like Cosmopolitan and Elle, and they’ve likely seen the success that Puzzles and Crosswords have had for The New York Times, The Independent and The Guardian newspapers.

I had previously reported how around 10 million people each week visit The New York Times website to play games.

I don’t know about you, but those numbers are higher than I would have guessed.

What I hadn’t considered is that Hearst would open up Puzzmo to allow other brands to have their own sections on the site, and I think it’s a brilliant move.

First of all, it stops media goliath competitors from being as likely to build out their own solution. It also grows the brand awareness of Puzzmo as a whole, and builds their relationship with other media brands if that’s ever on their agenda.

One recent new partner of Puzzmo is Polygon, a brand under Vox Media ownership.

Notice the clear Polygon (Vox Media) branding on Puzzmo (Hearst)

I’ve probably taken some liberties with the headline of this section by saying the two companies have partnered up, but Hearst owns the Puzzmo platform, and Vox’s Polygon is heavily promoting its presence there.

The Polygon-branded section of the site was launched with commentary on how they might benefit:

While you can play for free, a subscription to Puzzmo Plus allows a game’s scores to ladder into daily, weekly, and monthly leaderboards so you can compete against friends, family or, perhaps, fellow readers of this very publication.

I presume Vox will get a decent cut of the $40/yr subscription price for anyone who becomes a paid subscriber.

The partnership was only announced in December of 2023 so it will be interesting to see if they’re still pushing it a year from now, and whether any other Vox Media sites follow suit.


If You Haven’t Been to Red Ventures’ Cnet in a While, It Might Be Worth Checking Out (Their Redesign Went Live This Week)

I won’t claim to be a regular reader of Cnet, nor do I have any insights on whether they get their hands on every product they promote.

That said, after spending some time on the Red Ventures brand recently, I was impressed by several elements throughout its site.

As I was about to hit publish on this 2024 report, they went live with a new homepage and look, which was a total coincidence and not why I was writing this section.

Instead, I had actually wanted to show you how they handle all of the different parts of product review pages.

Take a look:

Of course, 48 hours after I put this together, they’ve redesigned the site.

Of course, 48 hours after I put together this graphic, they redesigned their site. The elements annotated above are still there — they just have a darker design.

Not all of these elements are unique to Cnet of course, but they’ve been blended together in a really aesthetic way.

Some are just smart to have, like the call to action that follows you as you scroll. If you’re an SEO Blueprint member, you will have seen me mention some other sites that do this.

Another thing I like about their site is that different content types are styled entirely differently.

A product review, a list of the best banking apps and a report on the features of a new tech product look nothing alike. If you’re a fan of the brand already then there won’t be much that’s new to you, but if it’s not part of your usual online visits, I recommend taking a quick look.


When You Can Rank for Anything, What Keywords Do You Target? Wordle Answers, Among Other Things

It’s an interesting scenario: You have a network of sites with enough authority to stand a good chance of ranking for most topics you cover, so what should you be writing about?

For many of the 16 companies, one obvious choice is the answers to Wordle, the popular game The New York Times acquired in January of 2022.

There are more examples than I put on this screenshot but here’s a few of them that appear on page one and two of Google:

Future alone share daily answers to Wordle on:

  • Tom’s Guide
  • TechRadar
  • PCGamer
  • GamesRadar

And I’m sure many more, but I had to get back to writing this report before scrolling through many more search results.

Before I continue, I want to be clear that I’m not judging these brands for this tactic.

If Ahrefs estimates are even close to accurate, there are 3.5 million searches every month for ‘Wordle today’, and that’s not even including any variants, of which there are many.

People want the answers, and these sites are providing them. It’s probably some of the easiest ad revenue they make, but it seems like a fair deal to me.

As someone who has spent more than half of his life looking at search results, I find this question interesting: What topics should you cover when you can rank for anything (within reason)?

And in specific scenarios like this, should you create a new page each day or update a single page daily? (Hint: Both are prevalent, but one page that gets updated often seems to be the best approach, even if it makes for some confusing comment sections).

If you’re ever in the position of owning or working on sites with such authority in the eyes of Google, it’s worth going through the type of content these brands are publishing because I think a lot of it would surprise you.


Trending Nav Bars Are As Popular As Ever (And Great for Market Research)

One design element common on the brands owned by digital goliaths, but not so much by sites with independent owners, is the trending navigation bar element.

Valnet’s TheGamer has as simple an example as you can imagine, but it’s prominent on every page of their site:

Pocket-lint, another Valnet brand, takes a very similar approach:

Fit&Well from Future implement a similar style, but this time they don’t take positioning away from the standard navigational links like the above examples:

Then there’s a site like Gamespot, where the links aren’t marked as trending but all point to articles that have been updated recently:

Other brands where this kind of bar is in place include:

  • Digital Trends (Digital Trends Media Group)
  • Collider (Valnet)
  • BGR (Penske)
  • Tom’s Guide (Future)
  • PC Mag (Ziff Davis)
  • Digital Spy (Hearst)

If a brand uses it on one of its sites, you can likely find it on many more. For instance, Future has these trending bars on over 30 of their brands.

Trending topics shouldn’t dictate the entirety of your keyword and content research but they can be a great source of inspiration for what you might write next.


How Much Money Is There in Dominating Google? If You’re Ziff Davis, Up to One Billion Dollars A Year

I originally started this “Companies dominating Google” series back in 2016 because I was fascinated by how Google allowed companies to quickly turn one website into multiple and dominate countless search results.

One primary reason I’m still excited to follow them today is because I want to know how well they’re performing from a business perspective, especially in a time when people are a little more fearful about the future of SEO.

As only some of these companies are public we don’t have accurate revenue numbers for all of them, but I can share some insights from what I was able to find.

Keep in mind of course that revenue is not profit, and not every company making a lot of money is thriving.

Here’s an important disclaimer for everything said below: I will source my data and I’ve done the research but please do your own if you’re using these figures to make any decisions (especially as a few of them are public companies). Many of these are estimates.

Here are the most recent numbers I was able to find:

Brand Revenue Notes Source
Bustle Digital Group $136-144M (2023) Adweek
Condé Nast $2Bn (2022) “Up to $2Bn” Axios
Dotdash Meredith $892.5M (2023) Digital media revenue only (not including print) Public filings
Future £788.9M (2023) Public filings
Hearst $12Bn (2022) Axios
Internet Brands $2.16Bn (2022) No citation given Wikipedia
Recurrent $50M (2021) Adweek
Red Ventures $2Bn (2021) NYTimes
The Arena Group $149.8M (2022) Digital revenue only Public filings
Vox Media $600-$650M (2022) Nieman Lab
Ziff Davis $1.07Bn (2023) Digital media revenue only Public filings

Unfortunately, we don’t have any up-to-date estimates for Penske, Accelerate 360, Digital Trends or Valnet. Digital Trends was last reported to be making $30M in revenue with $8-10M in profit, but that was back in 2016.

Ziff Davis, behind brands like IGN, PCMag and RetailMeNot, reported digital media revenue of $1Bn for 2023.

Of course, search traffic is not their only source of website visitors, which is where the ‘up to’ in the headline comes from.

As I say, not all companies will be profitable, but I hope these numbers give you a small sense of how lucrative search traffic can be.


If You Need Some Inspiration for Stylish Internal Linking, I’ve Got You Covered

Internal linking has become an increasingly popular topic in SEO in recent years, which is a little bit strange as it has been a thing since the dawn of websites. How else would people find other pages of your site?

Of course, I get it: As websites get bigger and the topics they cover become more diverse, it can be hard to “keep up” with remembering to both link to past articles and update the links from them.

I don’t view the following examples as replacements for great in-content links, but they can be smart ways to show crawlers and users additional sections of your site.

On certain categories of Digital Trends, where relevant, they have clean links to additional subcategories:

Articles on Hearst’s have an extra navigation bar with clear links to other posts on the site:

If you’re on a PCMag article which has several similar but more specific alternatives, they link to them nicely with a Related bar:

I get that there’s nothing particularly remarkable about each example, but keep in mind that category pages on most sites on the web have nothing more than a list of their latest articles.


Here are the 18 (+1) Dotdash Meredith Brands That Receive “Nearly 100% of Our Investment in Content & Technology”

In their Q3 2023 earnings release, IAC’s Dotdash Meredith revealed there are 19 core brands which drive 80% of their website traffic and receive almost all of their content and technology investments.

Their earnings release mentioned nineteen companies but only listed eighteen, so I contacted their investor support for an update.

The font color in their emails is an interesting choice.

They revealed the missing ‘core’ site from their update was, leaving the following as their complete list of primary brands (in alphabetical order):

  1. AllRecipes
  2. Better Homes & Gardens
  3. Byrdie
  4. EatingWell
  5. Food & Wine
  7. InStyle
  8. Investopedia
  9. Martha Stewart
  11. People
  12. Real Simple
  13. SeriousEats
  14. Southern Living
  15. SimplyRecipes
  16. The Spruce
  17. Travel & Leisure
  18. Verywell Health
  19. Verywell Mind

Interestingly, they referred to sites not in the list above as having “experienced pronounced traffic declines [..] and represent a small (and declining) portion of our revenue”.

Presumably this means brands like TreeHugger, The Balance, and Lifewire.


As a Reminder, Your Headline Can Be a Lot More Personal Than Your Title Tag, and Digital Goliaths Know This Better Than Anyone

I have to be careful with what I’m about to say because I understand you can “break the rules” when you have as much authority as the brands we’re covering.

That, and I don’t want you to start messing around with title tags for well-ranking pages or on pages that don’t need any help.

Still, what I’m about to share seems far more common on authority sites than niche sites, so I wanted to show how Goliaths change their headlines to be far more personal than their title tags.

As a perfect example, Vox Media’s The Cut has an enticing title tag for search engine results and a more personal headline atop its article.

Our free SEO extension, which recently passed 250,000 weekly users (thank you!) is responsible for that title tag screenshot

Some more examples I came across during this research include:

<TITLE> The 11 Best Brow Gels of 2024
<H1> 11 Brow Gels That Are Tester-Approved for Touchable, Long-Lasting Wear
<TITLE> 61 Best Gifts for Teen Boys | The Strategist
<H1> The Best Last-Minute Gifts for Teenage Boys, According to Teenage Boys
<TITLE> The 15 Best Wireless Earbuds of 2024 — Bluetooth Earphone Reviews
<H1> The 15 Best Wireless Earbuds, According to 500+ Hours of Testing
<TITLE> 14 Best Acne Treatments Recommended by a Dermatologist – 2024
<H1> The Best Acne Treatments and Products for All Types of Breakouts
<TITLE> 16 Best Bed Sheets of 2024, Tested & Reviewed
<H1> The Best Sheets, According to Bedding Experts

Finally, Google is known to rewrite titles quite dramatically these days so there’s no guarantee that your more enticing title tag will be chosen over your headline.

Most examples I come across get their title tag selected but it isn’t always the case.


Sites Owned By Digital Goliaths Still Make a Lot of Mistakes (Not a Critique, But Rather a Reality Check). Here’s 15 of Them…

I don’t think there’s a website I currently advise, including my own, which is technically “perfect” (though we certainly strive to get most of the way there).

When you’re working on large sites, continue to produce a lot of content and have multiple people with access to make changes, mistakes happen, things get overlooked, or potential upsides come second to budget.

In the 2023 edition of this report, I highlighted how some of the most popular health websites on the internet had footer links to an external website which was shut down. They were fixed days after the report went live despite being in place for months.

I will keep the following examples simple as I’m not trying to make them look bad, and I wanted to show issues that most people reading this could find within minutes of looking at the sites. To be respectful, I passed some of these on directly before hitting publish on the article.

Hopefully that’s all cleared up.

1 Some articles on WebMD have canonicals pointing to their staging website.

Update: Fixed after this article went live ✅

Here’s a specific example.

To check this at scale you could use a tool like ScreamingFrog, and you can use our own Detailed SEO Extension (yes, I’m biased) to check things on a page-by-page basis.

As promised, I let them know about this otherwise I feel a bit weird mentioning it:

I did the same for examples below where I could find an email address to notify.

2 A Red Ventures brand, Greatist, has homepage links to pages which result in server errors.

For instance, as I write this, they’re currently linking to /skin-conditions which gives the following message:

3 Hearst’s Popular Mechanics brand still has articles with Latin placeholder text in place.

4 When Byrdie takes down an article, they don’t have the most enticing error message for users.

Here’s an example from an article they took down about protein powders.

This was recently a page on the best protein powders for women

Their 404 pages look fine, so the way they’re currently removing articles (which result in 410 status codes) must be a different process.

5 Older articles on Hearst’s don’t have any title tags.

In all fairness, this appears to happen to articles written almost a decade ago. I imagine they got overlooked in the various redesigns and site restructuring over the years.

6 GQ have a sitewide footer link to their RSS feed which doesn’t actually let you subscribe to their RSS feed.

Update: Fixed after this article went live ✅

Instead, the link results in a 500 server error.

It’s such a simple thing, but how many regular readers are they potentially losing because of this?

A lot of their article category links take you to straight 404 pages as well, but I don’t want to hone in on one site too much so that’s all I’ll say.

7 Every single author bio on Future’s Games Radar is linked to with a double slash, meaning they each canonicalise elsewhere.

It’s not a big deal, of course, but it’s not something they would have done intentionally.

8 The Arena Group’s Parade Pets has a sitewide link to their Hamsters page but calls it Hampsters (hey, I did tell you these were just for fun to show Goliath isn’t perfect).

Update: Fixed after this article went live ✅

What’s slightly odd is that I ran multiple spell checkers on the page and not one of them brought this up.

9 ZDNet’s sitemap canonicalises through a redirect, and links don’t update, so they all mention previous years.

Not only does their sitemap canonicalise elsewhere, but the canonical link is also a redirect.

What’s more, unlike most websites where even text-based sitemaps are updated automatically, this may have been set up manually because links use years like ‘2022’. In contrast, the articles they’re referencing have already been updated for 2024.

10 Valnet’s CBR reports on the world’s most creative industry, yet has the least creative sitewide opt-in.

Personally, I would spend time trialling lots of different variations to make this more enticing. Just consider how many millions of times it’s being seen each month and what even a tiny increase in conversion rate could do for the size of their audience.

11 The canonical tags for pagination on Condé Nast’s Self brand are missing a slash.

Update: Fixed after this article went live ✅

I’m sure Google is still following these just fine, but it is the kind of thing a very quick site crawl would detect in minutes.

12 Some fonts don’t appear to be loading properly on WebMD’s Symptoms subdomain, meaning sponsored content looks…odd.

I believe it may be because they’re incorrectly referencing two of them in their source code:

It’s not a huge problem – their pages and articles are still readable – but the fonts that aren’t loading correctly mean the styling of this section doesn’t match the rest of their brand.

And of course, like the rest of us, most generally have common issues like:

  • 13 Sitewide / homepage links which have to go through redirects
  • 14 Heavily promoting best product guides still focused on previous years like 2022
  • 15 Key internal links which often canonicalise elsewhere (like adding or removing a trailing slash)

When I highlighted some issues in last year’s report, they were fixed very quickly, so I’m curious if that will happen again here.

As I say, this was just for “fun” and a reminder that Goliath isn’t some perfect operation without things to improve.


One Affiliate Article, Three Hearst Websites. When You Have Multiple Brands, You Can Share a Single Story Across Them.

If you aren’t solely reliant on traffic from search engines, it seems pretty smart to me that if you are going to review a product with an affiliate link, to put that review on multiple sites.

That’s precisely what Digital Goliath Hearst have done in the example below, and do for a lot of non-review content as well.

Hearst isn’t alone in this approach.

We can also see two brands from Condé Nast doing the same thing:

Two Condé Nast brands with the same article from the same author

I’ve also seen examples from Red Ventures, where their brands Greatist and will share the same content.

If you’re wondering how they handle these from a technical SEO point of view, then all the examples I’ve come across canonicalise to a single version.

So in the first example where Popular Mechanics, House Beautiful and Country Living publish the same story, the latter two sites have canonical tags pointing to Popular Mechanics.


Tooltip Author Bio’s (With a Smart Addition) Are Used By At Least Three of the Brands

Including detailed author bios in your content will not magically improve your website’s rankings, but it is generally a good idea for readers to know who is giving them advice.

There are also indirect benefits, such as people feeling more connected to your brand and tending to link to people they like.

Content-focused sites, owned by media companies and independent webmasters alike, have made significant changes in recent years to make their article authors more prominent.

An interesting trend I’ve followed from large publications is that author bios, at least in summary form, are starting to show just by hovering over an author’s name.

For a good example we can look at, one of the most popular brands in the Dotdash Meredith family.

To clarify, the difference from a typical author bio is that you don’t have to click through to another page to learn more about who’s behind what you’re reading.

There’s a smart addition to this, which you may have spotted: They also include a call to action for the brand’s editorial guidelines , which I think is a nice touch.

PCMag, a Ziff Davis brand, have implemented something very similar:

Other sites where this hover effect is present include RollingStone, Byrdie,, VeryWellFit and more.

As a bonus tip, I’m quite a big fan of mini author bios within an actual article as well.

Vox Media’s The Verge implements this quite nicely on their individual articles:

Another Vox Media brand, NYMag, has implemented something similar:

I prefer the mini author bios at the start of an article over the author tooltip boxes, but you could technically implement both.


Here’s How Reliant They Are On Search Traffic (Based on Checking 200 Sites)

In Future’s full year 2023 earnings call they revealed that search traffic was 58% of their overall traffic, compared to 72% three years ago. They’re happy about this decrease as they want to diversify platform risk.

Dotdash Meredith CEO Neil Vogel stated in a February 2024 interview that they’re probably the least reliant publisher when it comes to search traffic, but it is still hugely important for them.

I ran the numbers in Similarweb to get an idea of just how reliant these brands are on the traffic source they’re dominating.

I checked 20 sites from each and averaged out the estimates.

The least reliant – at least based on the twenty sites we checked for them – was Vox Media, with organic search traffic estimated to make up 45.4% of their visitors.

Across our small sample size, Hearst was the most reliant, with organic search accounting for 71.8% of visitors.

While estimates will never be perfect, Future’s admission of a 58% reliance on search traffic is pretty close to the 61% we’ve shown here from third-party tools.

Remember that I didn’t check every site from every brand, and third-party tools like Similarweb will never be perfect, so think of these as a rough estimate.


If I Write This Report Again in 2025, Digital Trends and Recurrent Probably Won’t Be In It

In 2016, when I first published this report, I wrote about companies like Purch and Dennis Publishing.

Both were acquired by Future in 2018 and 2021 respectively, which is how brands like Tom’s Guide, Tom’s Hardware, IT Pro and Kiplinger came to be owned by the public company.

In 2025, the companies I may no longer write about here include Digital Trends Media Group and Recurrent Ventures (and possibly Bustle Digital Group), but not because I have insights on someone acquiring them.

I would omit DTMG primarily because they no longer fit my philosophy of what it takes to be featured here: You should own a lot of content sites in lots of different niches, so you truly dominate a lot of Google’s search results.

It’s why I don’t include a brand like ReedPop, which has a lot of successful sites but is very focused on gaming and entertainment and not much else.

With that said, as I was working on this report I noticed DTMG started publishing content on sites they haven’t updated for over eighteen months.

I honestly didn’t expect them to come back, but it’s notable they’ve started up again. Perhaps even more notable is that they don’t assign any other names to most of the new content.

It has been a while since Digital Trends Media Group updated some of their sites

Due to the numbers they’re currently pulling in, they won’t be here next year unless they revive the traffic to some of those brands or launch new ones.

As a note important enough to make purple, I should make it clear I have no private insights on DTMG and their current business success (and revealed in the first point in this report they now own the number one tech site in the US). I’m simply reporting on whether they will fit our criteria for coverage here – many big, successful brands don’t – and it’s not at all a slight on their operations.

Recurrent is in a similar situation: They now have too few sites dominating search results – at least according to the third-party metrics we use for this report – and it doesn’t look like that will turn around.

Thanks to excellent reporting from Mark Stenberg at Adweek (paywall), we know that one of the brands we previously reported on—Field & Stream—is no longer owned by them.

Couple this with new ownership for their other titles, like MEL Magazine and Saveur, and they’re just not dominating search results like they were in the past.

While things looked positive in 2021, with various outlets reporting they generated around $15M in EBITDA, they’ve recently gone through another round of layoffs and named their third CEO in just three years.

They’re still behind some sites worth following, like PopPhoto, Popular Science, Dwell and Bob Vila, but right now that’s not enough for them to stay in this report next year.

The most likely to replace one of them is Bauer Media Group, but I’ll wait to see how things stand 12 months from now before making that decision.


Product Review SERPs Are Changing, And That Has to Be a Concern for All of Them

2023 was a turbulent year for search engine results pages—perhaps the most turbulent since I started writing about SEO over a decade ago.

Not only do digital publishers have to be ready for the potential emergence of AI in search results, but the standard product review search results—which provide a great source of revenue for them—have also massively changed.

Standard ‘best [product] queries are now littered with filters that take even more attention away from the top results. That’s just in the US for now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets rolled out further soon.

The recent filtering options have changed product review search results massively

I don’t like page structure at all as a user, but that’s possibly my SEO bias kicking in.

Last year we ran four separate crawls on 10,000 product review search results and made a clear statement: Sites like Reddit and Quora are dominating more than ever before.

I’m fortunate that we were early to this reporting so have the numbers to back it up.

While companies like Ziff Davis appear to be confident that AI in search results might benefit them, if the following example becomes the norm, we’ll be looking at a very different playing field in the near future.

Thanks to Richard from RedCardinal for this screenshot (used with permission)

My recent deep-dive into Google’s increasingly prominent ‘Discussions and forums’ SERP feature showed it was present in 77% of product review search results I looked at.

While both Future and Ziff Davis have forums in the top 100 overall, Reddit and Quora dominate the results. So much so they have 3X the presence of every other forum in the feature…combined.

I can’t ignore that many of these companies have diversified into other fields. Ziff Davis, for example, has software and event businesses that aren’t beholden to algorithm updates.

We also can’t forget that these publishers have offline print-based magazines as well. I don’t think that’s what they want to rely on when their focus has been so much on the shift to digital, but we can’t ignore that they exist.

Still, I’m obsessed with tracking this space, and everything signals these search results are crucial to them.

I don’t think Popular Science’s editor-in-chief wants to put this kind of content front and centre on its homepage.

We can question it, but this kind of content typically funds more relevant research and insights

While I don’t have private insights on every brand, affiliate revenue for Future (Tom’s Guide, Marie Claire, etc.) came in at £268.9M for their full year 2023 report. That’s 34% of their total earnings.

Similarly, in their Q3 2023 earnings call, they clarified that they will be investing even more money into reviews and shopping guides for 2024. You would only do that if it were important to your business.

Then there’s Dotdash Meredith, who has hundreds of full-time staff working on their product reviews and “50 to 60 test kitchens” around the US. Again, I think it’s fair to say you wouldn’t invest so much into this if you weren’t seeing (or expecting to see) a great return on your investment.

If they have any concerns for the future, changing product review search results has to be one of them.


Dotdash Meredith Are Still Bold About Their Social Proof (And I’m Still a Big Fan)

In the countless audits I do of other sites, whether that’s service businesses, SaaS companies or product review brands, I often comment that I feel social proof is lacking.

Most common is that social proof is everywhere throughout a homepage, then never to be found again on the rest of a site (which doesn’t make sense on businesses trying to grow with SEO, where lots of pages will receive entry traffic).

Lack of social proof can’t be said of the homepage of Dotdash Meredith brands, who present their reach in style.

The homepage of Southern Living not only shows an impressive annual readership but a surprising number of book sales as well.

The more modern shows off how many experts advise on their mass of articles.

Home resource The Spruce not only shows off how many readers they have and how many products have been tested, but if you look in the top-right of the following screenshot, you’ll also see how many followers they have on specific social media platforms.

While their sites all tend to follow the same pattern, the social proof on All Recipes bucks the trend slightly.

It’s far more compact than other sites in their network but still does a clear job of helping you give them a chance to stick around if it’s your first visit to the brand.

When I highlighted this in the 2023 version of this report, I noticed quite a few popular niche sites follow suit. Honestly, I think this can look good on any site as long as it fits your design language.


With Over 45 Million Pages of Content, Is Still The Most Popular Domain We Track

Just like in 2023, our 2024 analysis has shown that Fandom is the most popular domain in our research when it comes to picking up search traffic (at least according to third-party estimates).

The founder of Fandom is someone you might be familiar with: Jimmy Wales, who also founded Wikipedia.

Fandom is set up in a similar manner, where people can create and edit discussions on their favourite games, movies, TV shows, and more.

According to their own Media Kit, their network stats are as follows:

  • Giant Bomb: 729K monthly uniques
  • metacritic: 6M monthly uniques & 31M monthly pageviews
  • Gamespot: 9M monthly uniques & 38M monthly pageviews
  • TV Guide: 14M monthly uniques & 75M monthly pageviews
  • Fandom: 350M monthly uniques

They also state their store, Fanatical, has over 3 million monthly customers and sold over 100M game guides.

The current ownership in Fandom is more complex than I would like for someone reporting on them. The site was acquired by Integrated Media Co in 2018 for around $200M, which is backed by private equity firm TPG.

TPG also own a majority stake in, which is why we view them as part of the Fandom network, though I understand someone might not agree with that connection.

Their network is so large that they can shut down sites without leaving any remnants of its past in place. Football game-focused Futhead was estimated to reach over one million visitors each month before they shut it down in 2023.

There aren’t many companies that could let a brand close so easily without leaving it in place to collect some ad revenue or selling it to a “rival”.

How much search traffic they pick up is undoubtedly linked to the huge volume of content hosted on their many subdomains.

Similarweb estimates they’re reliant on this search traffic, with around 73% of visitors coming from organic search and 22% coming to the site directly.


I Forgot How Every Website Used to Use Polls Until I Kept Seeing Them Across the Valnet Network

Looking through Valnet websites again for this year’s report, I was reminded that almost every website I used to visit a decade ago appeared to have a poll on it in some form.

I also remember religiously adding them to my own sites. I wonder where or why that changed, but they’re definitely less common than they used to be.

Here’s a sample of the type of polls Valnet are currently running on their sites:

They’re such a simple way to get feedback on your space, encourage users to interact with the page or just give them insights (‘View Results’) into what other people think.

‘Discuss This Poll’ is a pretty smart call to action, and the one currently live on GameRant has over 1,200 votes, so they do get used.

Granted, Valnet don’t use these on every site, and every site that runs them doesn’t show them continuously, but they definitely caught my eye when putting this report together.

I get that this might be a weird thing to comment on, but their omission from the wider internet—outside of social media platforms—is pretty apparent.


They’re Responsible for Some of the Boldest, Original Website Designs Online

If you’ve been through SEO Blueprint or seen my commentary on websites in the past, you’ll know how a website looks is really important to me.

Perhaps even more so as the years have gone by.

What I love about some of the “big 16” is that despite them having a lot of key qualities to succeed in search (tons of links, experience, great writers, advertiser relationships to monetise their traffic), they can still be quite bold when it comes to website design.

ZDNet, owned by Red Ventures, is one of my favourite examples.

The colour scheme, site structure and headers on individual articles aren’t what you would typically find around the web.

I dislike how The Verge reports on the world of SEO (and particularly some of their comments on Twitter) but it would be wrong of me not to include their radical redesign here – especially when we have some insights on how well it’s working.

Vox Media’s redesign of the brand caused a stir, and it’s not a style I would go with myself, but it appears to be working.

An Adweek exclusive from Mark Stenberg (paywall) saw loyal readers – defined by people who visit the site at least five times per month – increase by 62%.

Bustle Digital Groups The Zoe Report also has one of the more radical designs you’ll find on the internet.

Again, this isn’t to say I like it, but they do so many things in a unique way it’s hard not to get some inspiration for your own projects.

There are aspects of another BDG brand, Elite Daily, which stand out.

The trending news section of their homepage is no exception. I can’t get the design across properly in a screenshot (and a GIF would slow down this page), but the horizontal scrolling effect they have in place is another unique touch.

Last but not least is Lonely Planet, a Red Ventures brand.

Their homepage header section feels overwhelming to me but I can’t deny they have a lot of unique features throughout.

I know these overall designs and specific design elements they implement won’t be for everyone – and I wouldn’t model many of them myself – but you have to admire brands not playing it safe when it’s so easy for them to do so.

#22’s Move to May Have Been a Smart One, Even if It Doesn’t Appear to Be Paying Off

In September of 2022, Parade, a flagship brand from The Arena Group, started redirecting its pet-related content to a new domain at

It quickly started reaching hundreds of thousands of visitors per month from search traffic alone.

Things didn’t keep going up from there though, at least not according to Ahrefs, with current search traffic levels around half of their previous highs.

Perhaps more interesting is that they appear to be culling a lot of content previously posted there:

ParadePets has seen a considerable decline in pages on the site, according to Ahrefs

The main domain however has one of the more stable and impressive traffic graphs of sites I’ve looked at recently.

Ahrefs estimates Google sends them around 22.5 million clicks each month, which is almost as high as at any point in the last five years.

I won’t get into a debate on whether you should be careful about branching out from your “main niche” when it comes to SEO, but their pet category was undoubtedly the one I felt fit into their brand the least.


Hearst’s ‘Save Article’ Feature is Still in Place and Probably Drives a Lot of New Email Subscriptions

Visit an article on and you might be greeted with the prompt to Save it for later, with a tooltip letting you know the feature is new.

I actually pointed out this feature in last year’s report, so it’s at least a testament to how well it’s working if it’s still in place a year later.

I’m surprised I haven’t noticed other brands copy this, since it seems like a smart way to collect the email addresses of your site’s visitors.

What you’ll see on if you try to save an article

It’s in place on other Hearst sites like Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Delish and Country Living, but didn’t make its way to all brands like Autoweek and Car and Driver.

I have no idea if they’re doing this, but what could be really smart is targeting the emails you send people based on the types of articles they’re saving to their accounts.

If someone is saving articles about being an industry professional while another is simply a consumer, you could tailor completely different messages to send them.


Internet Brands: 80+ Sites But Primarily Dominating Health-Related Search Results

During my research for this report, it was far easier to find people talking about an Internet Brands company, WebMD, than Internet Brands itself.

Owned by investment firm KKR, Internet Brands is behind some of the biggest health sites online.

A sample of them, with traffic estimates from Ahrefs, are:

  • – 115M monthly visitors from search
  • – 9.2M monthly visitors from search
  • – 4.6M monthly visitors from search
  • – 8.4M monthly visitors from search

It’s not uncommon to search for any kind of generic medication and find them taking up multiple search results.

If you put IB’s Medscape into the Ahrefs competitors tool, the site it reveals they share the most top rankings with is their own RXList.

They’re dominant, and we track 80+ more sites for them.

As I’ll repeat at the end of this report, I have no problem with brands ranking multiple sites for the same queries. A site shouldn’t lose rankings just because it’s acquired and if it’s truly the best search result, then great.

I’m rather just trying to show the state of what’s out there and give a sense of how dominant some of these companies are.


The Product Review Content on Sports Illustrated Doesn’t Appear to Be Doing Well (And, Sadly, They’re Seeing Mass Layoffs)

2023 was a turbulent year for The Arena Group’s Sports Illustrated.

Not only did they get caught using fake AI-generated authors, but they found themselves firing their CEO in the process.

On top of that, third-party tools like Ahrefs seemingly show that the ‘best product’ review content that was previously ranking so well for them isn’t looking so hot in 2024.

Typically I would never report on something like this as these are third-party estimates, don’t include traffic from the likes of Google Discover, and I don’t want to worry anyone who might work at their companies.

I don’t believe my reporting could impact this in any way in all honesty, as mass layoffs have already came about at the start of the year.

The difference between Sports Illustrated and other sites in this report is that they outsource a lot of their review content to another company, Pillar4 Media.

It’s not only on SportsIllustrated where Pillar4 Media help out, but other Arena Group brands like Men’s Journal as well.

Of course, this is not a criticism of Pillar4 Media in any way. I haven’t dived into the quality of their reviews and sites can perform poorly outside of the content they’re publishing.

Still, I believe it is my duty that when I report on a traffic source so many people want to grow, I should note that those already benefiting from it aren’t always getting the financial results you might expect.


It Can Take Six People to Write an Article for Valnet’s Movie Web (And It’s Not That Uncommon)

One advantage media goliaths have over individual publishers is that when you’re already generating a lot of revenue, you can invest that back into writers, designers and developers to help cement your position and grow it further.

On the content side, it was interesting to continue to see how many authors might get assigned to a particular article.

One of the more extreme examples was in an article on Valnet’s Movie Web, where six authors were involved.

I won’t claim to know how this article was created, but there is a scenario that makes perfect sense: Multiple writers were each asked to cover some movies that made them cry.

That said, it’s not out of the ordinary elsewhere.

The same story on Hearst’s Elle brand has four authors who put it together.

The four authors behind a single article on

Similarly, three authors contributed to Parade’s guide on how to decorate your cupcakes:

Of course, it doesn’t happen on every article and as you might suspect, it’s far more common for an article to have a single author.

Still, if you spend time on any of the big brands in this report then you’ll likely see something similar pretty quickly. And that’s not even touching on the people who then fact-check and review each article.


Twelve of Future’s ~232 Brands Account for 50% of Their Revenue. They’re Also Investing an Additional £8M in News, Reviews & Shopping Guides for 2024-26

In an earnings call to announce its results for 2023, Future Plc revealed that just twelve of its 200+ brands account for 50% of their revenue.

They didn’t reveal all twelve, but my understanding is that three of them are Tom’s Guide, Livingetc and GoCompare. GoCompare is huge in the UK for comparing insurance companies, where you’ll regularly find their ads on TV and radio.

Future also revealed that Livingetc grew traffic by 100% in 2023.

One of Future’s 12 brands that bring in 50% of revenue, Livingetc

Seventy of their brands account for 30% of revenue, which includes the likes of and business industry news brand, SmartBrief.

If I had to guess, other sites among the top twelve include Marie Claire, Games Radar, PC Gamer, and Homes & Gardens.

Revealed on the same earnings call they have plans to invest an additional £8M next year in news, reviews and shopping guides, adding 150 people to their editorial team.

The new hires will be spread out across text and video.

There may be some specifics I’m missing but I can’t help think reviews and shopping guides will essentially have the same focus: Increased affiliate revenue.


Dotdash Meredith Merged Three Sites Into One, Going from ~9 Million Combined Monthly Visitors to 2.8M. But…

…that’s not to say it wasn’t the right decision to make.

Around September of 2022, when Parade was implementing its own site moves, the SEO team at Dotdash Meredith started combining three of their big brands into one., and merged their content and redirected to a new domain at

Before the move, their combined search traffic independently was around ~9 million monthly visitors. Now, redirected to a single domain, they’re pulling in “just” 2.8 million monthly visitors today.

On the surface, that’s a pretty significant loss.

The reality is that search traffic to all three previous sites appeared to be on the decline and may have reached this much lower number on their own.

TheBalanceCareers, estimated to be picking up around 14 million monthly visitors from Google in 2019, was down to around 5.8 million before the redirect.

You can’t discredit that it probably now requires fewer people to run these properties, and Dotdash Meredith probably didn’t have huge plans for them as they’re not part of the 19 sites they now consider their “core” brands.


Future Use the Same Design on 30+ Sites. Now I Suspect They’re Due for an Overhaul

In the 2023 edition of this report, I shared the following graphic to highlight how 30+ of Future Plc’s websites look almost identical, except for the colour scheme they use and (of course) the content they host.

One site of theirs has kind of bucked the trend since, and that’s TechRadar.

The site was given a new homepage to bring it into a more modern era, with elements of social proof and “relationship building” I think their sites were lacking.

TechRadar was given a design refresh in 2023. You can see how it looked previously in the screenshot above this one.

Articles are generally formatted in the same way, despite a more modernised navigation bar.

I can’t help but feel that 2024 will see this rollout expand to more Future sites and to be honest, I think even Techradar still has a way to go.

While an improvement, in my opinion they’re behind lots of sites like Digital Trends and PCMag in the looks department.

Design is subjective, of course, but as they’ve already started making changes to their flagship brand, I would expect more to follow.


Sign-In to Continue: A Recent Addition to Valnet Websites is A Free Variation on a Play by Condé Nast and Vox Media

It’s important to me that when I put these reports together, I don’t just look at the data and analytics side of things but actually spend time on the websites I’m covering.

Because of this, I noticed when clicking around many of them that it felt like I was being asked to pay for (or sign up for) content far more frequently than ever before.

For instance, when clicking around tech site Pocket-lint, which Valnet acquired in 2022, I was greeted by this message:

Clicking around another Valnet-owned site, Collider, I was quickly met with the same notice.

I don’t recall ever seeing this before, so I did some research to try and understand if it’s a new thing, and that appears to be the case.

Of course, I have no problem if Valnet wants to do this with their brands. Content isn’t free, and it’s up to them if they want to risk alienating an audience.

They’re also not alone.

Clicking around Vox Media’s Curbed, I’m also limited by how many articles I can read. The difference this time is that I’m being asked to pay $50 per year to keep reading.

WIRED, a Condé Nast publication, treated me with a similar message.

Condé Nast’s WIRED limiting my reading

I should add that, smartly, WIRED doesn’t limit the number of ‘best product’ articles you can read.

Again, I have no issues with this. I understand the value of quality journalism, and these sites have to make money somehow. I just don’t remember it being so prevalent before.

Is it a smart play to get more email subscribers or a reaction to failing to monetise their audience as well as they would like? In the case of Valnet, we’ll know in a few months by seeing whether it’s still in place.


The Exact Niches They’re Primarily Publishing Content In

For the 500+ websites we track for these brands, we looked at the most popular categories in which they publish content.

We used Similarweb as a starting point for this data but as they were wrong on a few occasions we made some tweaks to improve accuracy.

Here’s the list:

  • 🎨 Arts & Entertainment: 62
  • 🏥 Health: 61 sites
  • 🖥 Computers & Tech: 61 sites
  • 📰 News & Media: 60 sites
  • ⛳️ Sports: 59 sites
  • 😎 Lifestyle: 42 sites
  • 🏡 Home & Garden: 35 sites
  • 🚘 Vehicles & Automotive: 33 sites
  • 🍔 Food & Drink: 28 sites
  • 🗂 Business & Consumer Services: 21 sites
  • 💰 Finance: 20 sites
  • 🕹 Gaming: 18 sites
  • 👨‍⚖️ Law & Government: 17 sites

Sites under the Arts & Entertainment category cover movies, music, celebrity gossip, and similar topics.

Other categories associated with sites include the likes of Jobs, Pets, Science, Travel, and Hobbies.

A Bonus for Making It This Far: The Niches They Aren’t Dominating

While at least one of 16 companies’ websites was present in 85% of the 10,000 product-review keyphrases we checked, that still leaves 15% of keyphrases where they didn’t rank at all.

Not forgetting in the 8,547 search results where they were present, they never took all ten organic listings.

Admittedly, Reddit and Quora have taken over many of those spots in the past year, but independent websites can and do still rank well.

Before I dive into the niches they’re not as dominant in, I want to give a disclaimer of sorts.

If you want to go and compete with the digital goliaths in Google then please don’t let this report stop you. If you want to create the next big tech / sports / health site and you have a real passion for that, then you have my full backing.

I know it’s meta to say this but I proudly write about topics (link building, keyword research, etc) where hugely profitable companies, who have teams of writers and designers, are covering the same thing. A few of them are publicly listed with multiple popular brands.

If someone told me that to stand any chance of attracting an audience from search I had to niche down and only cover link building, or only cover site speed, that would be pretty depressing.

These 16 companies, and those like them, don’t rank in every niche. Don’t always grow their sites. Don’t always take over the top results.

There will always be opportunities available if a bigger slice of the pie is your aim.

And if it’s your goal, who knows…you might be the next independent site they look to acquire.

Because I was primarily looking at the same keywords as 2023, a lot of my findings for 2024 are the same (though we’ve done much bigger SERP analyses since then).

First of all, I know this isn’t a revelation but these 16 companies are less likely to target lower volume keyphrases, such as in the affiliate space where you can change your query modifier from ‘best’ to something like ‘lightest’, ‘recommended’, ‘most reliable’ and so on.

If Google are rewarding title tags and content focus with a less-popular modifier then Hearst, Dotdash Meredith and Future are less likely to be your competition.

Because they know they can rank for the general terms that get a lot more volume, that tends to be what they target.

Secondly, there are countless specific sports, industries and hobbies they don’t cover all that well.

Fishing. Fish keeping. Motorbike riding. Tennis. Sewing. Audiophiles (far beyond the ‘best headphones’ kind of query). Snowboarding. RC racing. Board games. Off-roading. Books. Coffee. Survival equipment. Horse riding. Hiking. Beard care.

There are lots more, but I think you get the idea.

If it’s not a broad top-level niche category like Sports or Tech, they don’t seem to have as much interest in building out a site to cover it. And often, at least for many of the search results I’ve looked at, Google likes to rank very specific sites that don’t stray too far out of their space.

As I say, don’t avoid niches that you want to go for just because they’re operating in them. There can’t be many topics left where there aren’t some hugely authoritative sites ranking. Just keep in mind if there’s a ton of traffic and money to be made serving a particular industry, because they have a chance to rank, they’re probably trying to.

Here’s My Current Take On This Situation, And How to Get Our Next (Free) Report on the SEO Playbook of Digital Goliaths

There are two obvious ways to look at this report.

The first is to find it so demoralising that so few companies have such a strong hold on Google search results that it ultimately deters your own SEO-focused ventures.

The second is that you can find it motivating to see what’s possible and whether there are any insights from big brands you can use on your own projects.

I admit I have some bias, primarily because I write about SEO, consult for other companies and I’ve put years of work into our private training (SEO Blueprint 3 is launching this year). I’ve been doing SEO for over a decade and it would be depressing if I truly believed that the opportunity to rank new websites (and make serious money from those rankings) has disappeared.

I can certainly see why this report might not make SEO look the most promising venture, and please trust that I know how frustrating it is when objectively worse content outranks your own, just because it’s on a domain with much more “authority”.

A few readers are thinking about Forbes right now. You didn’t see this.

In all honesty though I don’t think too much has changed in the eight years since I first published this report. Quite a few big sites have switched brands, but the sites competing are mostly the same.

Independent publications, affiliate sites and eCommerce stores started after my first report have gone on to make life-changing sums of money.

There are always people who can compete, and in 2024 we’re still tracking and advising countless independent sites that are massively growing their search traffic.

When I first shared my findings in 2016, most people had no idea that just a few brands controlled a lot of Google search results. I think that’s slowly creeping into webmasters’ common knowledge, so it won’t ever be the revelation it was.

Back then I was a lot more surprised by how Google just let them redirect different sections of individual sites to brand-new domains and completely take over niches.

Nothing surprises me anymore in search, so now I’m less concerned with how much they might be linking their own sites to each other and more focused on seeing if there’s anything I can learn from their actions along the way.

With ever-changing search results and advancements in AI that may impact SEO, in 2023 I started writing quarterly reports to actively document the SEO playbook of these digital goliaths and the results they’re getting. Q3, with more insights than any other report, will go live this month (100% free). Please join our newsletter – opt-ins are below this article and on our homepage – to make sure you don’t miss it.

I’m biased, but if you want more actionable advice for your specific situation, check out the SEO Blueprint waiting list as well. We’re launching SEO Blueprint 3 this year for the first time ever, with new insights based specifically on what is happening in the world of search right now.

Detailed Q3 is coming this month (free), joined shortly after by SEO Blueprint 3

We’ve updated the training for more than four years now, and this year’s updates will be some of our best yet.

Concepts we shared years ago are still picking up attention, and we have a brand new playbook to reveal in 2024.

I’m a big fan of both Matt and Shawna so these were amazing to read. Superpixels is one part of our training from 2022 (updated for 2024) that is more relevant than ever. A brand new framework is coming to SEO Blueprint 3 this year.

I don’t make any kind of promises or guarantees — we’re simply entirely focused on finding unique angles to do what people already know works (like link building, keyword research, creating content that gets people talking, building amazing brands and more).

Finally, you can hopefully see I put my all into these reports to make them as valuable as possible, for as many people as possible. Sharing this on social media would be much appreciated (I try to ‘Like’ or comment on everything I notice across social media).

We’ve turned off comments here due to an influx of AI-generated replies, but you can discuss this article on Twitter (X), LinkedIn and Facebook — these are actual thread links.

Thank you so much for being here. I don’t take it lightly.

– Glen

Written by Glen Allsopp, the founder of Detailed. You may know me as 'ViperChill' if you've been in internet marketing for a while. Detailed is a small bootstrapped team behind the Detailed SEO Extension for Chrome & Firefox (250,000 weekly users), trying to share some of the best SEO insights on the internet. Clicking the heart tells us what you enjoy reading. Social sharing is appreciated (and always noticed). You can also follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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