Halifax Building

How Google Broke the Bank – The Famous Halifax Penalty

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Update: This is the complete case study of the Halifax Google Penalty. We updated it with EXTRA Juicy info and made a cool illustration also!

A breaking news has just reached our eyes and we found it so interesting and exciting that we couldn’t leave our office in a Friday afternoon until we shared this boiling piece of information with you. And before you assume we probably didn’t have any plans for this evening, read the article and we’ll talk after.

Halifax may be one of the best and prosperous cities in the world, but when it comes to the famous UK banking chain Halifax, we cannot say the same thing. At least not anymore. The only thing the city of Halifax and Halifax bank have now in common is that they are both hard to find; first one on the map and the other on Google.

Looks like Google started 2014 with its engine at a maximum revolution, setting the bar high when it comes to penalties, regardless of the size or importance of the site.

The Halifax bank is the UK’s largest provider of residential mortgages and saving accounts, founded about 150 years … before Google existed. Basically, by the time Google was working at its initial public offering, the Halifax bank established one of the first telephone and Internet based banks. And if you’re still not convinced that Halifax’s tradition and reputation has deep roots, you should know that they were founded before the invention of the cash register, electric bulb or Coca Cola.

Thereby, they deserve a front-page case study.

As famous and notorious as they are, their link building strategy might not be very “Google friendly”, as they are facing now high difficulties and big rumbles in the online world. From our analysis, it seems like they’ve been penalized and Google might add an turning point in their impressive history.

The Financial Niche in UK

The financial niche in UK has very interesting characteristics that might need a different article; not on our blog, don’t worry. Without overwhelming you with bank details, that will only give you headaches, allow me to give you a few tips about this niche. Financial competition in the UK isn’t much of a competition in the way that since 2008 until now just five big banks own 85% of market share.

Why is this piece of information so important for us?

Well, it should help us make a clear image about how significant this story is and how big the actors really are. In other words, Halifax is a very big player in the field that lost not only image points but also pounds. Thousand of pounds!

20% Google Halifax Google Drop

Bellow we can see the Halifax visibility history over the past two years. Looking at the following chart we can easily see a dramatically downhill that started at the beginning of February and looks like it it keeps on dropping. Google’s “red card” reflected on Halifax’s online visibility and the bank dropped in ranking about 20%.

As we look at the following chart we can easily see a dramatically downhill that started at the beginning of February and looks like it keeps on dropping.

Halifax Dropped Keywords

Only 20%, one might say; “that’s not such of a big penalty after all”. In fact, it is.

If we analyze the keywords Halifax actually “lost”, you might have a better understanding of why you wouldn’t want to step in Halifax’s shoes right now. As I was saying before about the bank established on the old continent, Halifax is synonymous with loans, saving accounts, online banking. If we take a look at the chart below what do we see?

The core of their business, their top keywords are in a serious downward trend. “Personal loans”, “saving accounts” or “home loans” are not even listed in the first 100 anymore. That’s quite a stab!

The 20% don’t seem to look so negligible any more, don’t you think?

Who is responsible for the drop?

Well, this is an interesting issue to discuss. When a problem appears, we have a natural, almost uncontrollable desire to find the scapegoat.

Who will it be this time? Halifax for not keeping an eye wide open at its online activity? The media agency responsible for Halifax’s online marketing strategies? Google itself for not making plain statements, clear regulations and changing the rules of the game as it goes?

All involved parties reacted differently to this story but the media agency that “took care” of Halifax caught our attention.

If about a year ago they proudly shared their strategy and results they had on Halifax on their blog, now that specific article is not to be found anywhere as it was deleted the day that Halifax probably got the Google penalty.

Since we are technology addicts, we were able to easily find that article using Web Archive.

In the article in question, unbeatable figures were highlighted: natural search visitors volume was with 244% higher than in the previous year, sales percentage increased and was in alignment with visitors increase and, maybe, most important asset, Google market data showed Halifax as most visible street bank for ISA (individual saving accounts) related search.

Fast forward one year later …

Google penalized Halifax for keywords such as ISA and loans. I’ll let you draw the conclusions on who should share the blame; but no matter whom you’ll find responsible for all this, Halifax’s penalty is still on.

How did everything begin?

This is exactly what we wanted to find out and what better way to investigate this story than using the cognitiveSEO tool. In the chart bellow it’s outlined the biggest Spike of new links in Halifax links’ history and, brace yourself, you will see over 460.000 links on about 190 referring domains only. Quite a baffling ratio between links and domains, don’t you think?

To better understand what really happened, we took a fast peek on the last 90 days link acquisition chart and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to notice that in mid of December something happened. While kids put the final touches on their Christmas wish list, Halifax received an earlier “present”, a huge big Spike of new links.

It's Interesting

  • Halifax Regional Municipality ( /ˈhælɨfæks/; commonly Halifax or HRM) is the capital of the province of Nova Scotia, Canada. The Regional Municipality had a population of 390,096 in 2011 Canadian Census and the urban area had a population of 297,943. Halifax is the...

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