Gocompare penalised or a Linkbait Conspiracy?

Twitter and the blogosphere have been awash with stories today about Gocompare.com being penalised by Google, with the popular comparison site seeing massive drops in rankings for their own brand term. Wild speculation across the internet suggests that a widely publicised ‘Webmaster Guideline Breaking’ linking strategy could be to blame, or simply an indexing issue with the new website which reportedly went live during the week.


Gocompare appearing at position 57 and 58 for their own brand term.

Hypothetically speaking, it might be possible that something somewhat more unexpected is going on – I would put forward the suggestion that this is a calculated move, to dupe the Search Marketing community into generating more high-quality inbound links that any number of unethical link-building practises could do in a 24 hour period. It doesn’t take much of a scandal in this industry to get bloggers shouting, twitter users tweeting and site owners posting this kind of ‘news’.

As Gocompare were rolling out a new website, it would be fair to expect that they would certainly take SEO into account. It would be a very unwise move to roll out a new website with poor META data and other SEO elements overlooked. The Meta Title for the cached homepage at Google from the 19th of this month (and the one which is feeding the current display META in the Google SERPS) is:>> GOCOMPARE.COM – OFFICIAL SITE <<, which leads me to the suggestion that Gocompare could have initially used sub-standard Meta information on the new site on purpose – I mean, seriously, who uses <<  >> or “official site” in their Meta Title on the homepage today? Obviously the site wasn’t in its ‘complete’ form, so Google has indexed the site mid-update.

The next step for Gocompare was simply to resolve the META situation (which they have done, if you look at the site today), adjust the site H1 (I’m not sure how ‘products’ or ‘services’ can seriously be a main keyword target for their site? – but that’s another matter completely) and worst case scenario, submit an updated sitemap and make a re-inclusion request to Google. Voila – more inbound links from the SEM community, including E-consultancy and other high-profile sites than they can shake a stick at.

Even if Gocompare didn’t make a deliberate move to get preliminary META tags indexed, it is wholly possible that someone close to the site propagated the “we’ve been penalised” rumours to stir up brand buzz – we often see sites bounce up and down the SERPS when a new site goes live, before Google has had the time to react accordingly.

For an industry that relies so heavily on PPC as a revenue source, using a new site launch as an opportunity to stir up the easily-overexcited Online Marketing blogosphere could in fact be the smartest move that Gocompare could have made – They must have learned from the first time they were reportedly penalised by Google not to get caught out again and used their past experience to make the most of the social media machine. Or, it could be that they’ve been misbehaving in some other way, and really got banned by Google?  Maybe Google’s Search guru, Matt Cutts, will make a comment on the situation and put all the speculation to rest.

So, has it worked? Well – in the past 24 hours, Google has indexed 312 further mentions of the brand name, many of which will include links to the new site. I would imagine that most content around the topic hasn’t even been picked up yet, so we’re in to see a huge increase over the next few hours and the coming days. This number is only going to spiral as the story hits Google News, as it is aggregated and spread around blogs and sites worldwide.