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Children’s Furniture Company closes down, in the wake of Google’s Penguin update

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Online retailer the Children’s Furniture Company is closing down – after it lost its position on Google‘s natural search rankings in the wake of an update at the search engine.

The Children’s Furniture Company website was founded in 2002 by Sarah and Charles Codrington and after more than a decade in business it had, until this spring, been appearing high on the Google natural search listings. That was important because while around 50% of custom for its own designs of children’s furniture came from repeat business, new customers largely came via Google’s natural search listings.

In its best years the Brixton-based business had turned over £0.5m and had appeared in national newspapers and magazines from The Sun and The Observer to Homes & Gardens and Marie Claire. Recession came, but the company was weathering the storm, helped by the high search rankings it enjoyed on its key search terms. Natural search on Google was by far the most effective of a range of marketing techniques, which included PPC on Google and advertising in a variety of media as well as PR. But following Google’s Penguin update, which took place towards the end of April this year, all that changed.

Sarah Codrington said: “We were page one on bunk beds, page two on children’s beds up to the beginning of May – then we just started to plummet. I think we’re on about page 20 now.”

The Penguin update was aimed at rewarding high quality websites and downranking websites that used so-called ‘black hat’ SEO techniques, such as link farming or keyword stuffing. But the practical effect on the Children’s Furniture Company was a sudden fall in the number of website hits from Google. The company had been enjoying between 450 and 500 hits a day – but suddenly that fell to less than 100.

Following advice, Sarah Codrington went back and looked at the links on her website and found around 2,000 external links that she says were put in place by a company that it employed to work on SEO some years ago. Because it was impossible to get rid of the links, the Children’s Furniture Company would have had to start again, rebuilding the website and working to regain its previous high-ranking positions on Google, a job that was likely to take months.

“If we had been bigger and had had three years of fantastic trading and knew the recession was going to end tomorrow we wouldn’t have made the decision we made,” said Codrington. She added: “We were literally in the position of having to buy a lot more stock and we both thought it’s just not worth it. Without being sure that we could get back to where we were in any reasonable space of time, you can’t hang about for three to four months not selling. And the reality was we’d have had to build a new website.”

The Children’s Furniture Company database has now been passed to and over the course of this summer the company is now selling off its remaining stock. Charles Codrington, who oversaw design and manufacturing, continues to act as an agent for companies looking to manufacture in Romania, where its own furniture was made, while Sarah is considering her next move.

In the wake of these events Codrington says she’s thought about whether she should have outsourced the SEO work, given how crucial it has proved to be to the business. But the answer remains the same.

“When you’re running a business you can’t do it all yourself,” she said. “It’s the obvious thing to buy in a specialism. If you know what you’re doing [SEO] is not that hard, but to learn it while running a business and dealing with the production, design, delivery, sales, everything you do, you think that’s one thing I can get someone else to do. I don’t think I would have done anything different.”

When we contacted Google to ask for a comment, they referred us to this page for information on the reason for the update. There it says: “While we can’t divulge specific signals because we don’t want to give people a way to game our search results and worsen the experience for users, our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics.”

Update: The Children’s Furniture Company has now relaunched under new ownership.

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