Small Businesses vs. Industry Giants: Uncovering SEO Bias in Search Rankings

Small Businesses vs. Industry Giants: Uncovering SEO Bias in Search Rankings

Delve into a comprehensive study comparing the SEO performance of small businesses and industry giants to determine if size truly matters in search engine rankings. Discover the factors that influence search outcomes in this intriguing analysis.

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The voices criticizing Google for killing small sites are shouting louder.

Cases such as HouseFresh or Retro Dodo have attracted a great deal of attention and presented strong arguments. Hardcore updates and the increasing divide between SEOs, publishers, and Google only fuel the fire.

The most unpredictable market in the world isn't Brazil, Russia, or China. It's actually Google search. No other platform undergoes as many changes in requirements. In the past 3 years alone, Google has introduced 8 Core updates, 19 major updates, and 75-150 minor updates. The company mentions thousands of improvements each year.

Is Google really struggling under the pressure of the web becoming more commercialized? Some say that Google is bypassing middlemen such as affiliates and publishers and driving traffic straight to software vendors and ecommerce brands. But is there evidence to back up these claims?

As the saying goes, “In God we trust, all others must bring data.”

An illustration of two warriors in combat.

An illustration of two warriors in combat.

Image Credit: Lyna ™

Does Google Give Big Sites An Unfair SEO Advantage?

After examining websites that experienced significant changes in SEO traffic in the past year, I looked into whether larger sites have an advantage in SEO rankings.

In summary, Google does appear to favor larger websites when it comes to growth in SEO traffic. However, this advantage is likely influenced by other factors rather than simply the size of the site.


To analyze the top 1,000 sites that experienced the biggest changes in visibility in the past year, I used data from Sistrix. Instead of focusing on the absolute numbers, I looked at the relative changes to account for the size of each site. To ensure accuracy, I only included sites with a minimum SEO visibility of one in the list of winners, filtering out any spam or irrelevant data.

Then, I cross-referenced the sites with backlinks and traffic data from Ahrefs to run correlations against factors like site traffic or backlinks.


Sites with higher visibility rankings have shown a significant increase in SEO visibility in the past year.

On the other hand, websites that experienced a decrease in visibility did not show any correlation between the magnitude of their loss and their SEO visibility. This suggests that larger websites are more likely to achieve success in SEO.

Bar chart showing SEO Advantage and Average Change percentiles over the last 12 months.

Bar chart showing SEO Advantage and Average Change percentiles over the last 12 months.

Sites in higher percentiles (= more SEO visibility) see stronger growth (Image Credit: Kevin Indig)

But don't forget, new websites still have the potential to become popular. It may be more challenging now compared to five or ten years ago, but it can still happen.

The main reasons why large websites often receive more organic traffic are:

One factor to consider is how Google considers ranking signals. Larger websites typically have more authority, giving them the ability to rank for a wider range of terms and increase their visibility as long as they can maintain high-quality content, avoid scalability problems, and consistently meet user needs.

Authority, as we see it, is built on backlinks, the quality of content, and the strength of the brand.

Google is aware and making changes. The link between SEO visibility and the number of linking domains is significant. In May 2023, the correlation was higher at 0.81 compared to May 2024 at 0.62. Websites that experienced a decrease in organic traffic had lower correlations at 0.39 in May 2023 and 0.41 in May 2024.

Sites that have achieved organic visibility may have more backlinks, but the importance of backlink volume seems to have decreased in the past year. While backlink volume still plays a role, its influence is diminishing. It's important to note that the quantity and quality of backlinks are not the same.

Another factor contributing to the increase in organic traffic for larger sites is Google's Hidden Gem update. This update gives priority to online communities, and its impact can be clearly seen in the data.

High at the top of the winner list, you find online communities like:



Steam Community.

Stack Exchange.

Ask Ubuntu.

I have observed a significant increase in the popularity of SaaS vendor communities such as HubSpot, Shopify, and Zapier. Additionally, there are smaller online communities that have also experienced notable growth in the past year.

On the other hand, the list of those who have seen a decrease in traffic mainly includes publishers and ecommerce websites. Interestingly, both large and small publishers have witnessed a decline in organic traffic from traditional search engine results.

Examples of big publishers: (-62.3%). (-58.6%). (-40.3%). (-40.1%). (-32.8%).

Examples of small publishers: (-79%). (-70.6%). (-58.5%). (-46.5%). (-38.4%).

Publishers depend heavily on traffic from platforms such as Top Stories, Google News, and Google Discover, even though this is not shown in the data.

Well-known websites like or have experienced a drop in SEO traffic due to Parasite SEO tactics. Other sites like or have also been affected, although the extent of Google's efforts to improve search engine results pages (SERPs) remains uncertain.

Two-thirds of the winning sites were SaaS companies, ecommerce companies, education companies, or online communities, experiencing gains ranging from 63% to 83%.

On the other hand, over 50% of the losing sites were publishers or ecommerce sites, facing losses between -45% and -53% in SEO visibility.

It’s a lot harder to succeed in ecommerce and publisher SEO as almost twice as many ecommerce and five times as many publishers lost SEO visibility than gained.

Bar chart illustrating the number of big sites by vertical that gained or lost SEO visibility.

Bar chart illustrating the number of big sites by vertical that gained or lost SEO visibility.

Image Credit: Kevin Indig

The top 5 loser sites with the highest SEO visibility in May 2023 are: (-35.5%). (-61.5%). (-43.6%). (-40.3%).

I checked the website and saw a decrease of 59.7% in its performance.

When looking at country code top-level domains (ccTLDs), I didn't notice any clear trend. Most of the websites on the winner list had .com ccTLDs, accounting for 75%. There were 65 sites with .edu, 39 with .gov, and 94 with .org.


Of course, the biggest limitation of the analysis is that sites could have gained or lost traffic due to SEO campaigns, technical issues, or domain migrations.

The second limitation is the small sample set of 2,000 sites. Even though the analysis looks at the peak of the iceberg, the web might hold millions of sites.

Open Questions

When we talk about "big" sites, there are various ways to interpret the term. It could refer to a high amount of traffic, being owned by a large company, or generating significant revenue. In this analysis, I specifically looked at organic traffic as a measurement of a site's size.

It would be intriguing to explore how some of the largest companies perform in terms of SEO. One interesting reference point could be Glen Allsopp's examination of how major publishing houses dominate the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Another question that arises is when Google rewards big sites. Is it during algorithm updates or continuously over time? Having an answer to this question would provide us with a better understanding of how Google operates.

In my analysis of the data, it seems that what has made big sites successful is often what enables them to sustain their growth. When a site is able to maintain the right quality of content and provide a good user experience, it is more likely to experience continuous growth compared to sites that have reached a plateau or seen a decline in traffic.

I don't believe that Google intentionally targets specific niches or aims to eliminate small websites. Instead, it seems that the outcomes are a result of algorithmic decisions. However, this doesn't mean that Google is completely free from responsibility.

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

Editor's P/S:

The article delves into the complex and evolving relationship between Google and website performance in search engine rankings. It highlights the perception that Google favors larger websites, citing cases where smaller sites have experienced significant declines in organic traffic. Through data analysis, the article suggests that while larger sites do tend to have an advantage in SEO rankings, this is likely due to factors beyond their size, such as authority and content quality.

The article raises important questions about Google's algorithmic decisions and their impact on the digital landscape. It suggests that Google's focus on relevance, user experience, and authority may unintentionally create challenges for smaller websites to compete effectively. While Google maintains its commitment to providing fair and unbiased search results, the article encourages ongoing scrutiny and discussion to ensure a healthy and diverse online ecosystem.