SEO | August 13, 2014

Falling Foul of Google: Halifax Bank

The next in the series of “falling foul of Google” we will be looking at how the internet giant managed to break the bank. Here’s a complete case study showing how Google’s algorithm damaged the high street bank Halifax.

What is Halifax?

Halifax is one of the leading high street banks in the UK and is categorically the largest provider of residential mortgages and saving accounts. The bank has been in operation for over 150 years – long before the internet, Google and even the cash register!

What did Halifax do?

A quick look at Halifax’s backlink profile shows that in December 2013 there was a surge in the number of link acquisitions.

It started off slowly with around 4,000 new links each day but this shot up to nearly 40-50k every day for over a month! There was clearly some dodgy business going on here.

However, when visiting the pages that were linking to Halifax, you couldn’t see where the actual links were coming from.

A simple check of the Google Cache reveals all. Here you can clearly see that there is a HTML banner ad that has multiple anchor text links – all followed – that are pointing at a range of different Halifax pages.

What did Google do?

Newton said “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” and in this case it doesn’t just apply to physics!

Google gave a big fat penalty to Halifax for this very obvious infringement of SEO best practice and it had a very significant impact. Just days after this infraction was picked up on there was a very drastic 20% decrease in the bank’s rankings with many continuing to fall.

This penalty saw their most popular keywords like “personal loans”, “savings accounts” and “home loans” disappear into the ether – they don’t feature anywhere in the first 100 results! This was a huge hit on the bank.

What Exactly Did Halifax do Wrong?

Basically, they carried on using black hat SEO techniques from the 90s – posting banner ads with multiple follow links back to various pages on their website. This idea of more links equals better rankings has been kaput since Google’s penguin update back in 2012, yet some companies – like Halifax – are still trying to tackle this avenue.

The ads were on a wide variety of low quality pages that had nothing to do with the bank and therefore are considered spam. By purchasing unnatural links like this, Halifax truly shot themselves in the foot when Google found out what they were doing. In case you didn’t know, the search engine giant doesn’t take kindly to people trying to manipulate their system.

Was it unfair?

Google often likes to make examples of big companies in order to ensure that everyone carries out the best SEO practices as possible. This poor link building actually appears to be the strategy of their SEO agency at the time.

Before Halifax got red-carded by Google, there was some evidence that link removal had started in order to undo this bad practice.

Unfortunately it was too little too late for this to stop Google from issuing a penalty as over 20% of the backlinks to Halifax came from unnatural sites. The clean-up process is in full swing, and Halifax have since slowly but surely climbed back up the rankings.

How to avoid a fate like this?

Staying away from negative SEO doesn’t have to be difficult, although many agencies still try to use some black hat tactics.

At Liberty Marketing, we are completely transparent with the way in which we work, ensuring that you never find yourself on the wrong side of Google. To find out more about how we can help you call us today on 02920 766 467 or email us on info@libertymarketing.co.uk.

Alternatively, get in touch with our SEO team today.

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