Halifax Bank – Partial Penalty by Google (Graphs, Charts & Widgets)
Several sources have analysed the extent of what exactly Halifax has been up to in terms of SEO, with Link Research Tools having done by far the most impressive detective work so far:
I recommend giving that a read. But I’ll be giving a summary essentially of why they’ve been penalised in this article.
Last year, I noticed that Halifax were using these sort of widgets that were really like advertisement banners that promoted certain product categories on Halifax’s website. They contained keyword-rich anchor text that targeted specific areas of their website with “Cash ISA” and “Loans Calculator” being two examples. I wondered to myself and the team that I work on, how are they getting away with this? Are they just far too large to penalise? Are Google not aware of this? What gives? I mean large brands have been penalised before.
It turns out that they aren’t too big and according to the data that I’ve got they first received the penalisation last month on the 30th of January. You’ll be able to see this here in the small sample of keywords that I’ve put together and that I am tracking with SE Ranking:
Here’s an interesting graph that visually represents the fall of keyword rankings for Halifax.co.uk:
As you can see, first page keywords have tanked. I mentioned on a forum I browse called SEO Chat that this has given me a small heart attack. I’m okay now, and can accept that a graph like this can exist and will likely continue to exist going forward for other brands that practice similar SEO methods.
So, what exactly has caused this to happen?
Widgets. The mass use of widgets filled with rich anchor text that has given them a sharp rise over their competitors in the SERPs – not anymore I suppose.
Take a look at this fine example:
They’d essentially be embedded onto sidebars of high authority blogs. This sort of handy work gave them the edge when it came to major finance related categories. The only category that I can see right now that they have not been penalised for is mortgages. They still reign supreme with high value keywords such as “mortgages” and “mortgage calculator”.
Where can I find these widgets?
- “see if our personal loans could be the answer”
- “are you making the most of your ISA allowance. Halifax”
There’s even a case study setup that shows that Halifax’s visibility increased for “Cash ISAs” by 244%, as can be seen below. Obviously this method worked and I can tell you that it worked for a bloody long time. I suppose Google have just caught onto it.
The result of using widgets
- Natural search visibility increased significantly driving a big uplift in ISA related visitor volumes
- Natural search visitor volumes climbed steadily and were 244% higher than in the previous year’s quarter
- Halifax reported their best ever month for natural search traffic in March 2012; 207% higher than the March 2011 volume
- Sales percentage increase year on year was in alignment with visitor increases and we actually improved conversion rates for the initial quarter
- Hitwise and Google market data show Halifax as most visible high street bank for ISA related searches
- Source (Way Back Machine)
This particular case study was for a widget that actually had a purpose, rather than the widgets they’ve been penalised for that were purely advertorial pieces that were applied to other websites at a cost. Additionally, a lot of these widgets (and perhaps for the remaining that are still up) were on the homepage only; however I did notice a few that were site-wide, which is something that Link Research Tools has picked up on.
With that said, they’ve already started cleaning up. I suppose they would have been the first to have known about this on the 30th which is why it has only just been brought up now. The fact they’ve acted quickly on this might prove useful when they eventually get around to submitting a reconsideration request to Google. I’ll be posting a follow up if I see any changes.