Who’s in Control? Companies Dominating Google Search Results

The Illusion of Choice: Online Edition

Imagine you’re at your favourite supermarket, walking through the cosmetic items row, and you see hundreds of different brands of body lotions.

So many options, right?

But then, something strikes you – despite the variations in packaging and flavours, most of these lotions actually belong to a handful of big companies, such as Hindustan Unilever or P&G. They’ve just packaged their product in different ways to cater to a diverse range of tastes.

In the realm of online search, it’s eerily similar. Have you ever wondered about the companies dominating Google search results?

You might be surprised to learn that less than 20 companies control a major chunk of the web’s content. They own a variety of websites across a broad spectrum, from health to tech, from sports to food.

Unveiling the 16 Companies Dominating Google Search Results

So, how many companies are we talking about? The number is 16. These 16 companies are the puppeteers controlling at least 562 different brands that show up in your daily Google search results.

According to Semrush, a platform that offers online visibility management and content marketing SaaS, these companies together command a whopping 3.7 billion clicks from Google each month. That’s an average of 6.5 million monthly clicks for each site under their umbrella.

List of those 16 Giants

  • Gawker Media
    • Formerly Blogwire, Inc
    • Notable properties: Gizmodo, Lifehacker, Jezebel
  • Vox Media
    • In February 2023, Penske Media Corporation became the largest shareholder in Vox Media.
    • Notable properties: The Verge, SB Nation, Eater
  • Future plc
    • Independent Company
    • Notable properties: TechRadar, GamesRadar, PC Gamer
  • Evolve Media
    • Independent Company
    • Notable properties: CraveOnline, GameRevolution
  • Time Inc.
    • Acquired by Meredith Corporation in 2018, In December 2021, Meredith was acquired by IAC’s Dotdash and became Dotdash Meredith
    • Notable properties: Time, People, Fortune (under the ownership of Meredith)
  • CBS (Paramount Global)
    • In 2019 through the merger of Viacom and CBS, It’s under Paramount Global.
  • Meredith Corporation
    • Notable properties: People, Better Homes and Gardens, Allrecipes
    • Time Inc is actually a part of Meredith Corporation
  • Dennis Publishing
    • Acquired by Exponent Private Equity in 2018
    • Notable properties: The Week, Auto Express, PC Pro
  • Jacobs Media Group (JAC)
    • Notable properties: Not clear from the information provided
  • Ziff Davis
    • Subsidiary of J2 Global
    • Notable properties: Mashable, PCMag, IGN
  • Verizon
    • Notable properties: Yahoo, AOL, TechCrunch (under the brand Verizon Media, which was sold to Apollo Global Management and renamed Yahoo in 2021)
  • Purch (now known as Future US, Inc., a subsidiary of Future plc)
    • Notable properties: Tom’s Guide, Top Ten Reviews, Live Science
  • Conde Nast
    • Subsidiary of Advance Publications
    • Notable properties: Vogue, The New Yorker, Wired
  • DG (Possibly Digital Guide)
    • Notable properties: Not clear from the information provided
  • Scripps Networks Interactive
    • Acquired by Discovery, Inc. in 2018
    • Notable properties: HGTV, Food Network, Travel Channel
  • Hearst Communications
    • Independent Company
    • Notable properties: Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Elle

This phenomenon was first identified in 2016 by Glen Allsopp, who pointed out how these companies, renowned in their industries, leverage their online authority and the reputation of their popular brands to help new brands rank well on Google and generate traffic.

Digging Deeper: CBS Interactive

CBS Interactive, a division of Paramount Global, is a global leader in digital content and a key player in the world of online media.

In India they have a strategic partnership with Network18 Group—a subsidiary of Reliance Industries. Their recent launch in India is Jio Cinemas. Something which is considered as an OTT Predator.

CBS’ diverse collection of websites cater to a broad audience, offering content ranging from entertainment and sports to tech reviews and music lyrics. Here are some of the main websites under CBS Interactive, along with their global ranking, indicating their popularity among internet users:

The All-encompassing Net under CBS

  • CNET.com – Ranked 182 globally, CNET is a leading tech news and reviews website, offering advice on a range of tech products from smartphones to home appliances.
  • GameFAQs.com – With a global rank of 310, GameFAQs provides users with game guides, FAQs, reviews, and discussion forums for video games.
  • Gamespot.com – Ranked 808 globally, Gamespot is a hub for gaming news, reviews, previews, and videos for leading gaming platforms.
  • Last.fm – Ranked 965 in the world, Last.fm is a music discovery service that provides personalized recommendations based on the music users listen to.
  • MetroLyrics.com – Holding a global rank of 1,590, MetroLyrics is a lyrics-dedicated website, featuring over 1 million songs from around 16,000 artists.
  • Metacritic.com – Ranked 1,762, Metacritic aggregates reviews and provides scores for movies, TV shows, video games, and music albums.
  • CBS.com – CBS’s official website, ranked 1,846 globally, offers access to CBS programming, including full episodes of popular CBS shows.
  • 247Sports.com – With a global rank of 2,304, 247Sports offers in-depth coverage of various sports, including news, scores, and recruiting information.
  • ZDNet.com – Ranked 2,779, ZDNet delivers 24/7 news coverage and analysis on the latest tech and business trends.
  • TV.com – TV.com, ranked 2,863, is a resource for TV show episode guides, reviews, video clips, and discussion forums.
  • TechRepublic.com – Holding a global rank of 3,266, TechRepublic helps IT decision-makers identify technologies and strategies to empower workers and streamline business processes.
  • Chowhound.com – Ranked 5,825 globally, Chowhound is a community of food lovers sharing their food discoveries and experiences.
  • Comicvine.com – With a global rank of 16,765, Comicvine is a source for comic news, reviews, and a database of comic characters.
  • Download.com – Download.com, ranked 252,479, is a platform for users to discover, download, and manage software in a safe and trusted environment.
  • CollegeSportsLive.com – With a global ranking of 600,516, CollegeSportsLive is a streaming service that offers broadcasts of college sports events.

If you want to read more about other companies in detail and want to know about their subsidiaries, click here.

How These Companies Dominate Google’s Search Results

Let’s say you want to buy a laptop. You are searching for a 15 inch laptop.

I hope I don’t have to explain much now.

You can do your own research for better understanding. For example, when you search for the parent company of Tom’s Guide, you will get the following result:

Look at the details about Future Plc and the platforms they owned
Look at the details about Future Plc and the platforms they owned

How These Companies Dominate Various Niches

These 16 companies do not limit themselves to a specific niche. Their influence spreads across home, beauty, tech, automotive, cooking, travel, sports, education, and many more.

A report revealed that across 10,000 terms where affiliates are ranking, which cover products in every niche you can think of, these 16 companies ranked on the first page of 8,421 (or 84%) of them. They even claimed five or more of the first 10 organic rankings in 3,999 of 10,000 search results.

This level of dominance is unprecedented and shows the extent of their control over Google’s search results​

Evolution of Digital Dominance: Survival of the Fittest

If you’re wondering whether this state of affairs has been constant, the answer is no. The digital landscape, like any other, evolves over time. Many of the leading websites from a 2016 report are still dominant today, but the companies behind them and how they operate have massively evolved.

For instance, only seven or six of the sixteen companies from the original report are still on the list. Future acquired companies like Purch and Dennis Publishing, and now Fandom and Red Ventures own the biggest sites of CBS. CBS is under Paramount Global. This suggests that to stay dominant, these companies not only have to maintain their own strength but also keep an eye out for potential threats and opportunities in the landscape, much like animals in the wild​.

  • Gawker Media was acquired by Univision in 2017.
    • In 2017, Univision acquired Gawker Media for $135 million. The acquisition stirred controversy as Univision, a Spanish-language media company, took over Gawker Media, renowned for its provocative and often contentious content.
  • Time Inc. was acquired by Meredith Corporation in 2018.
    • Time Inc. was acquired by Meredith Corporation in 2018 for $1.84 billion. The acquisition created a media giant with a portfolio of magazines, websites, and television networks.
  • Dennis Publishing was acquired by Exponent Private Equity in 2018.
    • Dennis Publishing was acquired by Exponent Private Equity in 2018 for $300 million. The acquisition gave Exponent control of a number of well-known brands, including The Week, PC Gamer, and MoneyWeek.
  • Scripps Networks Interactive was acquired by Discovery, Inc. in 2018.
    • Scripps Networks Interactive was acquired by Discovery, Inc. in 2018 for $14.6 billion. The acquisition created a media powerhouse with a portfolio of networks that includes HGTV, Food Network, and TLC.
  • 2 companies are now under the ownership of a larger company:
    • Vox Media is now majority-owned by Penske Media Corporation.
    • Meredith Corporation is now a part of Dotdash Meredith, which was formed when Meredith Corporation was acquired by IAC’s Dotdash in 2021.

This is more dangerous for consumers like you and me. It’s getting more condensed.

Impact on Competition and Individual Decision Making

When such a small group of companies dominates search results, it inevitably impacts competition. Other businesses, particularly small and medium-sized ones, find it challenging to compete with these behemoths.

These dominant companies have established their authority over time and built a substantial online presence, making it difficult for others to rank well in search results.

Moreover, this dominance also influences individual decision-making. When we conduct a Google search, we usually trust and click on the top results, often oblivious to the fact that a small group of companies own the diverse list of websites that appear. This limits the information and options available to us, subtly influencing our decisions and preferences.

Some of the biggest sites these companies are behind, as of May 2023, include MayoClinic (376.7M monthly visitors, owned by Ziff Davis), Healthline (249.1M monthly visitors, owned by Red Ventures), WebMD (223.1M monthly visitors, owned by Internet Brands), and Fandom (753.4M monthly visitors, owned by Fandom)​.

So, next time you read about the side effects of a medicine, there are high chances that all that information is coming from the same source.

This dominance of Google’s search results by a handful of companies raises questions about the diversity and competition on the internet. While these companies are successful and offer quality content, the concentration.

Dear growth marketers and SEO executives, wake up and do more research on niches; otherwise, you may not get heard.

For more marketing insights click here.

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