Chris Thomas

SEO and SEM are too important to stuff-up. The biggest bank got it wrong – but we can all learn from its mistakes. Read on…

SEO and Australia’s biggest bank

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia launched its new website recently. Full marks on the design; it looks good! But if we take a sticky-beak under the bonnet, there are some search engine optimisation basics that have been completely over-looked.

First of all, the home page title tag reads “homepage”. Bit of an oversight there, because potentially the bank’s listing at Google for a search on “commonwealth bank” could change from “Commonwealth Bank of Australia” to read simply, “Homepage”. Yikes! 


Second, it has no meta content description tag, or meta content keywords tag. Unforgivable.

Third, none of the images on the home page have been alt-tagged for usability (and ethical SEO).

Coming up next is the old DMOZ issue! Read this carefully because it could be affecting you too!

Look closely at the following images and compare:

This is the DMOZ listing for the Bank…


Next: Google’s result…


As you can see, Google is using the DMOZ editor description (if your site is listed in DMOZ), replacing the meta content description tag from your own website! Google doesn’t always do it, but if you don’t have a meta description tag (as is the case with the bank at the moment), the DMOZ description is better than nothing!

What the Commonwealth Bank needs to do here is place a command in its header tag that tells Google NOT to use the boring old, un-optimised, DMOZ editor description.

<meta name=”GOOGLEBOT” content=”NOODP”>

DMOZ is the world’s largest human edited (volunteer) directory . You’ve got to be good to get included! Google likes websites listed in DMOZ because they’ve been evaluated for quality by a human (something Google doesn’t do with its spidering technology). Once you’re in, your rankings will improve. But don’t hold your breath; it can take months, or even years to be included once you’ve made your submission.

Finally, a quick look around the site, and none of the pages have had much thought to the most important aspect of search engine optimisation; title tags and meta tags.

To the bank’s credit, there’s pretty good content on most pages, with search engine friendly navigation; the site works fine with javascript and stylesheets turned off.

I’d be optimising the anchor text if given the chance. Often I see juicy links like this:

Home Seeker Approval – that’s a link on the bank’s home loans page. I don’t think there are many people searching for “home seeker approval”. It should be changed to ” Home loan pre approval “.

Of course I couldn’t help myself; (after all, the Commonwealth Bank is struggling for a dollar and, just like you, I’m always happy to help out the underdog), so I sent a note along to the bank with a few suggestions. Here’s an excerpt of the form submission I made on its website.

  • Your home page title tag reads “homepage”. Change it to something like, “Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Home loans, business loans, bank accounts, credit cards, insurance, personal loans” etc, etc.
  • Add meta content/description and keywords tags to the home page.
    Add image alt tags – describe your images for usability and search engine friendliness.
  • Do a site-wide review for keyword popularity – example; on your home page you use the word “super”. In fact “superannuation” is much more popular and is typed in more than 15,000 times a month at Google.
  • All pages need keyword analysis followed by on-page optimisation, with clever but subtle anchor text optimisation for cross linking.

    Hope this helps, Cheers, Chris.

I sent the note on Tuesday 23 October. I wonder how soon it will take to get fixed? Click here to see if they’ve made the changes I’ve suggested have been implemented.

It never ceases to amaze me how much effort businesses put into their website design, usability and content. SEO is often “called in” as an after-thought! Big business often spends huge amounts of cash on a new website, getting them up and hosted, along with hefty monthly maintenance fees too.

It’s astonishing to me how they balk at allocating a small part of their initial (and ongoing) budget to SEO and SEM advice and optimisation. A good SEO provider will always bring ongoing value, long after the web design company has faded into the background.

So to finish, the lesson is this. Before you launch your site, step back and make sure you’ve checked everything off the list and get the whole package right before launch (or indeed, a long business lunch).



Chris Thomas heads Reseo a search engine optimisation company which specialises in setting up and maintaining Google AdWords campaigns, Affiliate Programs and Search Engine Optimisation campaigns for a range of corporate clients.

To read more Chris Thomas blogs, click here.



Ian Holsman writes: You’re assuming a lot here Chris. Banks are large organisations. Even if your email managed to get to the right person, and he fixed up the page, it would take weeks for the change to show up due to how large development shops work.

Chris replies: Seriously, this is a two minute fix. They can simply grab the suitable header content from the old site, bang it in and re-upload! I’d be firing my ‘development shop’ if they couldn’t get this done pronto.

Gimmster writes: Google chooses which of three possible pieces of information to display in the search results based on which of the three best matches the search query. The three possibilities are the META Description, the DMOZ description, and a “page snippet” which consists of one or two related (but not neccessarily connected) pieces of text from anywhere on the page.

The NOODP tag can be used to force Google to not display the DMOZ description, but you are still taking a crap shoot on which of the other two will be displayed.

Unless the DMOZ description is innaccurate (use the update listing on the category page in DMOZ to update it) or it is something that you believe will not make the searcher click on the search result, I don’t think you should just blanket remove the DMOZ description from the possibilities presented to the searcher.

MIcrosoft has some research regarding the influence on search clickthroughs of presentational features in search results: the title, snippet and URL,  with the conclusion: “The findings of our study suggest that relatively simple caption features such as the presence of all terms, query terms, the readability of the snippet, and the length of the URL shown in the caption, can significantly influence users’ web search behaviour.” Make of it what you will.

Chris replies: Thanks Gimmster. You’re right on all counts of course. No offence was meant to the hard working DMOZ editors, I do appreciate that it is a volunteer organisation and the back-log of sites wanting to be included must be enormous. It’s just that the DMOZ editor descriptions are often pretty “dry”.

Making a request for a change to the title and/or description can take ages, and there’s no guarantee that the changes you request will be implemented. In the case of the Commonwealth Bank, the DMOZ title is also inserted – that’s the first time I’ve ever seen this happen. It has worrying implications for us SEO people, especially if Google decides to replace the title tag in our websites! Can you confirm this has actually happened in this case? Or am I mistaken?

Pete writes: Interesting. When you type ‘bank’ into Google you get a weird result. Commonwealth Bank #1. AMAZING! Number one? Could it be that the extremely unpredictable and complex Google algorithm simply ignores the keyword, description and title tags that were so popular during the late 90s internet SEO techniques on wonderful search engines such as Altavista and Excite? Surely not… META TAGS are what is needed in SEO. Not the context relativity nor the site architecture, and definitely not page naming conventions, a monstrous amount of content and detailed site maps I wonder… what is SEO coming too 🙁

Chris replies: Hi Pete. I believe the answer to your question/comment lies in anchor-text of links pointing to the CommBank website. A little known secret of SEO is how important keywords in links (or anchor-text) are to Google’s algorithm. Google doesn’t really trust your content, it’s much more interested in what other people say about your website. One of the ways it does this is by analysing the keywords people use in anchor-text when linking to you. If you type into Google’s search bar “allinanchor:bank” without the quotation marks, you’ll see the CommBank comes up first. That’s because the Commonwealth Bank has the most other links pointing to it with the word “bank” somewhere in the anchor text. Time and time again I see a strong ranking correllation between anchor text popularity (allinanchor:key phrase) and a straight search on “key phrase”. Hope that makes sense.


Louise writes:  Amazing, it still hasn’t changed. I’d be betting it’s changed by Monday after they read this article. Although I guess that depends on how fast the media monitoring works!

Chris replies: Hi Louise. Thanks for commenting! Go media monitors! Actually, further to the DMOZ issue, I just realised, Google seem to be using the DMOZ title tag as well, and ignoring CommBanks title tag “Homepage”.  I’ve never seen THAT happen before! You learn a new thing every day in this game.


Sandy Naidu writes: Amazing!!!! A bank of this reputation couldn’t get the basics of SEO right. I mean the title tag is one of the basics. At the time of writing my comment (28 Oct) they still hadn’t corrected it. As for the title tag goes ANZ, Westpac and NAB are not doing any better either. NAB is using its name in the title tag – I think using company name as the first phrase in title tag is a waste of space. Excellent investigation Chris!!!



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