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Getting a top organic ranking in Google can drive a huge amount of customers to a website, resulting in large profits.

Break the rules and this traffic stream can be turned off overnight.

Recently, GoCompare.com, a large car insurance comparison site that most of us see in TV adverts every day, was apparently hit by a penalty moving them from number 1 to page 7 for the search term "car insurance".

Google has yet to comment on the story but most search experts agree that the site appears to have been given a penalty for buying links, a tactic against the Google guidelines.

Normally a site being penalised in Google isn't major news (it happens every day) but in this case Hitwise has done some research into the effects of the penalty and offered some interesting statistics.

Apparently before the sudden drop in rankings, 1 in 6 visitors to GoCompare.com found the site by searching for "car insurance".

Afterwards the traffic dropped 87%.

Traffic to Confused.com has increased a staggering 77% in recent weeks as it gained the number 1 ranking.


Published 14 February, 2008 by Patrick Altoft

55 more posts from this author

Comments (13)

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mike ashworth

This is a great piece of research. It reinforces the message to clients about not using "black hat" tactics that many snake oil SEO's might advise. Great search because it shows the drop in traffic to your site for keywords you were using and also that those same keywords now result in that traffic going to one of your competitors instead. powerful data.

Mike Ashworth
Business Coaching and Consultancy
Brighton and Hove, Sussex, UK

about 9 years ago


Kaya PPC, Internet Marketing Manager at Optimised Media

It looks to me like this was a hand made correction to the rankings. I really cant see how Google is going to stop "paid links". In essence there should be no difference between a paid and a normal link. The only way they could be able to map the linking of sites that buy and those that trade links and reduce the value of links from unrelated sites.

Internet Marketing

about 9 years ago



I think Google does have a) the know-how to detect and stop paid links and b) the will to invest in doing more of it. I would have thought Google can easily crawl into paid link networks (i.e. sites providing and receiving them) and identify member sites. Paid links are, at the end of the day, a superficial attempt to 'beat' the Google algorithm. Matt Cutts, head of Web Spam at Google shares his thoughts on this topic at http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/google-hell/. The www.mysolitaire.com story makes interesting reading.

about 9 years ago



Why should Web site owners be forced by Google into not selling links on their Web sites?

Why should Google be able to dictate to Webmasters how they link to other sites?

Why does Google expect everyone else on the Web to have an interest in mainting the sanctity of its search results?

Thanks to Pagerank and its algorithms, Google created a demand for links.

Who appointed Google as the arbiter of what Webmasters can and can't sell.

Laughably, they even go as far as to say "You can sell links and have paid-for blog posts, but any links should be marked as no-follow so as not to affect the algorithm."

What if Webmasters made every single link a nofollow?

Would Webmasters get begging e-mails from Google: "Please reinstate your links! We're worthless without them!"

Of course, we all rely on Google for traffic so much that none of us is going to do anything to rock the boat.

Graywolf's SEO Blog is great reading for anyone who wants a more Google-sceptic view of the Web. www.wolf-howl.com


about 9 years ago


Internet Splash

By the way, the link in the article to Hitwise doesn't work. It gives a "Trackback pings must use HTTP POST" error (at least, for me). Think it should link to http://weblogs.hitwise.com/robin-goad/2008/02/google_blacklists_gocompare.html instead.

about 9 years ago


Richard Maven, Writer at Econsultancy

Thanks Internet Splash, have sorted that out.

about 9 years ago



This shows up the uselessness of google and other searches. If I want car insurance, I want a directory of all the (main) players and all their costs. The only way to do this currently is by profit-driven comparison engines who only show affiliate sites and keep the real data hidden or hard to compare.

Many basic things should be so much easier to search. If I want car insurance I don't want 2 million pages returned, +99.99% if which is irrelevant.

about 9 years ago


Jill Culbertson

I also think that this is a great piece of research and something that all site owners should keep in mind.

In this case I don't think that the emphasis is necessarily on the traditional 'paid links' strategy, whereby you naturally acquire links ONE AT A TIME over a longer period of time. Whether paid for or not, if you grow your links organically, then you are not likely to be penalised.

I think what is more likely, is that in this case the links were acquired all at once over a short period of time, by any one of these 'black hat' agencies who will sell you X amount of links to 'guarantee greater optimisation'. The problem with this is that one day you have 2 incoming links- the next you have 200! Not 'organic' in any sense of the word!

Avoiding these 'quick tricks' and sticking with doing things how they should be done (albeit a hard slog) and you should avoid falling fowl of a similar fate.

about 9 years ago


Robin Goad

Hi there - we've just punlshed an update to this story using Hitwise data - it seems like the recovery process is long and slow...

Robin Goad, Research Director, Hitwise

almost 9 years ago


Richard Dlow

Ooops...quite a few months from this post, and Gocompare still haven't clawed that ranking back. It's intresting that they are ranking with their homepage rather than their targeted and i would imagine highly link built page for car insurance. I guess when you get slapped with a penatly like that you have to work hard to regain some lost google trust. That market its hugely competative  with full time SEO's and agencies working on just a small number of golden egg search terms. Good luck to them!

about 8 years ago



It would appear that they have slipped again.

Perhaps a little premature but this morning I've noticed what looks like a strong Google penalty.

Like I say, perhaps a little premature to draw this conclusion but they aren't even ranking on their brand terms!

What have they done now? I'll be keeping on eye on this, but it does seem that they have been penalised by Google again.

almost 8 years ago


Insurance Blog

Go Compare have done it again - they don't appear anywhere for their own name!

<a href="http://www.insiders-view.co.uk/gocompare-banned-again/00465">GoCompare have indeed been banned from Google again!</a>

almost 8 years ago


John Scott

Google is quite happy to sell its own paid links through Adword though it seems to want everyone else to avoid such commerciality.

over 7 years ago

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