It’s safe to say that in terms of SEO and manual penalties, 2014 is definitely proving to be an interesting year. A few weeks ago I blogged about Expedia’s massive manual penalty from the Big G – and this week it looks like yet another brand has been caught out for using less than white-hat link building techniques. I am of course talking about Halifax.

News first broke of Halifax’s suspected penalty last week (as far as I know Martin McDonald was the first to break the news here) and from the looks of it, Google were pretty brutal with their penalty. According to Search Metrics, Halifax lost an enormous amount of visibility in the organic results for some pretty valuable ‘money’ (in this case, quite literally!) terms like ‘savings accounts’, ‘loans’ and ‘best isa’.

Since then the internet has been awash with rumours of exactly what the bank (or rather their SEO teams) have been up to – and just like with the Expedia penalty, it’s Link Research Tools and Bartosz Góralewicz in particular that have come up with the answer.

In his post, Bartosz takes us through exactly which link building crimes Halifax’s SEO team have committed to catch Google’s attention – and just like the Expedia analysis, it’s a pretty detailed but lengthy read. With that in mind, I thought I’d take you through a quick whistle-stop tour of Halifax’s past link building activities to highlight just what you shouldn’t be doing in terms of link building and SEO in 2014.


1. Keyword-heavy Anchor Texts In Widgets:

From the looks of it, Halifax were into embedding keyword heavy anchor text links into widgets which they then distributed to external and partner sites – and in a big way. The Link Research Tools post shows Halifax had been busy posting widgets embedded with keyword heavy phrases like “view all our savings accounts” – all of which were do-followed. The aforementioned post also shows a screenshot of all the available widgets for Halifax and Lloyds Banking Group – which even references each widget’s keywords. D’oh!

2: Low Quality Directories/Guest Blogs:

Just like Expedia, it looks like Halifax had a shed-load of low quality directories in its backlink profile which probably date back to the pre-Penguin days – but interestingly, they also had a lot of low quality guest blogs listed in their profile – all of which linked back to Halifax with some pretty keyword heavy anchor text. And yep, you guessed it – they were all do-follow links, in spite of Matt Cutts urging us to no-follow links in guest blogs recently.

3. Large-Scale Infographic Submissions:

In addition to guest blogging, it also looks like Halifax’s SEO team has been busy pushing out a large number of infographics over the last year or so – all of which had some lovely juicy keyword heavy links embedded in the text posted either directly before or directly after the infographic itself. Nice.

4. Link Networks/Partner Site Interlinking:

Bartosz’s post shows that in addition to embedding widgets on external sites, Halifax had also been busy embedding link boxes with – yep, you guessed it, keyword heavy anchor texts – on a number of suspect link networks – most notably the Yakezie network – which also happened to host some of the Halifax’s guest blog submissions too. Not only that, but it looks like Halifax was also benefiting from sitewide links for keyword terms from a large number of its partner sites.

5. Massive Influx Of New Links In December:

Martin McDonald points out in his post that Halifax’s link profile shows a substantial influx of new links in December 2013 – up from around 4K a day to a whopping 40-50K per day. The links in question? According to Martin McDonald, it looks like it all comes back to those good old widgets. With a sudden massive influx like this, it’s no wonder they caught Google’s eye.

So there you go; five quite blatantly black-hat link building techniques that Halifax’s SEO team were employing at every opportunity, despite the substantial risk this activity obviously carried. With that in mind, it’s no wonder they were slapped with a penalty… but just like the Expedia penalty, how long it remains in place remains to be seen.

As ever, I’m keen to hear what you guys think on this subject. Have you found any more dodgy techniques Halifax were using? And why do you think Halifax got hit now? Leave me a comment or tweet me – @amy_edwards88.