Did Google Penalize Halifax?

Feb 18, 2014 • 8:40 am | comments (24) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Halifax LogoOver the past couple weeks there has been a lot of people reporting large brands being penalized by Google and the question has come up if search sites should cover these penalties or not.

Our policy, if the search community is talking about it in a public forum, we will likely cover it.

That being said, Halifax is one of the brands in question about being penalized by Google. But truth is, I am not sure if they really saw a penalty by Google. Compared to Expedia's possible penalty, where the search visibility is pretty significantly reported by Search Metrics and SEM Rush, Halifax doesn't really show the same thing.

Link Research Tools uncovered a lot of unnatural linking, suggesting they did get penalized for an unnatural link penalty. But let's take a look at the visibility drop.

Search Metrics has their rankings all over the place:

halifax searchmetrics

Looking at the chart, depending on when you set your start date, it can be a seasonal drop or a penalty. It is hard to make heads or tails of this chart to say that Halifax indeed has a penalty. They do rank for their name and rank for a lot of bank related queries in Google UK.

SEM Rush shows the site is steady:

halifax semrush

A WebmasterWorld thread has a lot of discussion around this brand and if they have a penalty or not. One member asks the obvious question:

Do you think it is ok for LinkResearchTools to accuse another company of being penalized when that company has not been formally accused by Google, in the context of promotional exploitation?

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld.

Update: So if you look at the UK metrics at Search Metrics there is a visible drop but can you trust these metrics? SEM Rush UK shows no change.

UK Search Metrics Halifax

Previous story: Google's Dynamic Search Menu Really Bugs Searchers


Nicolas Chevallier

02/18/2014 01:57 pm

Sistrix shows also a drop between 2014-01-27 and now (-28,3%) for Halifax.

Spam Cutts

02/18/2014 01:58 pm

I think is Google looked into just about any company, large or small they will find links that are unnatural. From the BBC to banks, everyone has done it and its about time all companies were punished not just the little ones. So if G is now going after everyone regardless of brands/size I give them props!

Webmaster Sun

02/18/2014 02:22 pm

Thanks for sharing!

Christoph C. Cemper

02/18/2014 02:59 pm

Hey Barry what you are showing is the US traffic, you need to switch Searchmetrics to UK to see the drop, just as pictured in our case-study. And no, Link Research Tools does not track keywords, as suggested in the WMW post. For more details I suggest to go thru the detailled 59 page analysis of the problems and impact of the penalty. Best, Christoph

Barry Schwartz

02/18/2014 03:04 pm

True, but even then, the November 28th and February 13th numbers aren’t far off. http://suite.searchmetrics.com/en/research/domains/organic?acc=0&url=halifax.co.uk&cc=GB

Christoph C. Cemper

02/18/2014 03:08 pm

here's the real traffic chart

Christoph C. Cemper

02/18/2014 03:35 pm

If you use the paid version or look at the Sistrix graph you see better that it's fluctuations there around Nov28, probably a server glitch or similar... seeing that for a lot of sites now and then .. .and hey -it's still 78k to 71k

Barry Schwartz

02/18/2014 03:37 pm

I did update the post to reflect your comment.

Christoph C. Cemper

02/18/2014 03:48 pm

Thanks Barry. Interesting point about SEMrush - it looks like they only show a measure for January, while the drop happened in February, and that's probably the reason we don't see it... they show a "live data" Feb-18, but it ends January? http://www.semrush.com/uk/info/halifax.co.uk?db=uk

Christoph C. Cemper

02/18/2014 03:50 pm

Oh sorry, found the chart you showed now. You are right, their results look VERY steady. TOO stead IMHO

Stuart David

02/18/2014 04:33 pm

They come up for tons of searches for me still, real competitive keywords as well


02/18/2014 05:15 pm

Hi Barry, Jumping in. I also published a case study on the Halifax penalty (in case you did not see it yet) http://cognitiveseo.com/blog/3674/how-google-broke-the-bank-the-famous-halifax-penalty/ What I wanted to highlight was the fact that they lost rankings on some high traffic keywords, fact which represents the actual drop in visibility. Here are some of those keywords http://cognitiveseo.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/halifax-lost-ranks.jpg "Loans" "savers" "isa" related etc. These all for the UK ranking. Also another thing which would indicate a penalty is the way the company that implemented their SEO, a while ago, deleted their post, where they practically outlined ... the strategy they applied ... which was not so "Google Friendly". ( more info in the case study) Also look at the unnatural spike in Lost Links that started in Early february immediately after the traffic loss. I would say that it is a really really small change that this was not a penalty taking in consideration everything outlined here. Regards, Razvan

Bartosz Góralewicz

02/18/2014 06:42 pm

If you read my case study step by step - actually looser keywords fit to the ones in widgets. Also cleanup started days before Sistrix or Searchmetrics reported the drop. I am 100% sure that Halifax was penalized by Google. SearchMetrics AND Sistrix shows that with no doubt. Also - if you look at SEMRush - it is clearly wrong. Halifax had a HUGE traffic growth within last year or so, SEMrush's chart looks flat.


02/18/2014 08:48 pm

SEMRush's data can be very unreliable anyway.


02/18/2014 09:02 pm

Offtopic, pardon ) @rustybrick:disqus Well, I have to admit, that your personal blog is more helpful, than SearchEngineLand. At least it's up to date and you try (sometimes)). 99% of SEL publications are done with one purpose - to promote brand or person. They try to make articles look like meaningful, but promotion is promotion. One can't hide it, even pretending to be authority in everything - search engines, marketing, journalism - world wide web authority ) Very poor impression ( Now I see, why only marketers are there.

Gaurav Srivastava

02/19/2014 05:31 am

Right Bro!! It is the most frequently updated SEO blog available on web about every big & small changes related SEO industry. Fantastic Job @rustybrick:disqus !!


02/19/2014 11:48 am

yes, google. ban all, peoples need to search your "search engine" only to see and click on ads. Very high quality google displaying very low quality ads & preselected no-ads websites, ha ha.

Aman Sareen

02/19/2014 12:31 pm

Google is Going Crazy , alert for internet black magician

Oleg Shchegolev

02/19/2014 12:33 pm

I am very sorry to see that SEMrush is being accused of having the unreliable data in this case. I'll try to explain why we're showing such graph. If you take a look at http://semrush.com/uk/info/halifax.co.uk+(by+organic) you will see that in the last two weeks Halifax lost almost half of its keywords. We also as SearchMetrics see that Halifax.co.uk got a penalty from Google However, in our opinion, at the moment, it doesn’t affect its traffic in search engines, since it is getting most of its traffic from queries that have Halifax brand in them. Nothing changed according to this parameter. In our opinion it is incorrect to compare a graph on search traffic from SEMrush and the search visibility graph from Searchmetrics, since the data from those graphs is counted through different algorithms. I think that we will add search visibility metrics to our service in the nearest future to avoid misunderstandings like this from now on.

Robert Fisher

02/19/2014 01:28 pm

Oleg, I don't think SEMrush was being accused of anything, but you make a very cogent point: the way this was laid out, the data could be misconstrued. I've used your product and it is reliable. Like any other SaaS, people find things they like and don't, but I never have found it unreliable. Now, you say here that SEMrush and SearchMetrics see that Halifax.co.uk got a penalty from Google; I say there may be a corellary, but I don't see a penalty. I see data, I would need to see proof that there is a penalty before I would say that. Best,

Olga Andrienko

02/19/2014 01:45 pm

@bartosz_g_ralewicz:disqus @scholarships4singlemothers:disqus The graph that's been shown and the one taken from Searchmetrics show different data and are counted with different algorythms. number of organic keywords has certainly decreased, but the branded keywords that bring in the most of the traffic, remained. this you can see on organic traffic graph, that Oleg, SEMrush CEO, attached to his comment in this discussion board :)

Martin Woods

02/19/2014 04:28 pm

I'm not going to comment on the topical debate about if it's OK to comment on brands who may have received a penalty (or not). I've seen a lot of Google penalties over the years (a lot more recently with Penguin) and all I'm going to say is that using Search Metrics with broad sets of keywords to identify a penalty is extremely unreliable in my opinion. I'm not saying that the data, or the analysis for that matter is correct, or incorrect, as I have a lot of respect for the people crunching the numbers. I use Search Metrics frequently, but for the purpose of other people reading these posts who may have a penalty the only real way of knowing is using Analytics data & Google Webmaster Tools. The only type of penalty that I'd say it's fairly accurate to identify using Search Metrics is a site-wide manual action, as opposed to the more common partial match. (see the top notification in this Google Webmaster Tools screenshot)

Krystian Szastok

02/25/2014 02:12 pm

I saw Halifax in UK drop on tons of rankings so I agree they have been penalised.

Matthew Pont

03/24/2014 02:52 pm

A client just got asked to make a link to Halifax 'nofollow' - so they must have got penalised.

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