Interflora SEO Penalty Analysis 2013

Yesterday evening, well known florist brand Interflora was wiped off the face of the internet.  Well, in search marketing terms anyway…

Searching for the terms [Flowers], [florist], [flower delivery], [flowers online] and hundreds of other related search terms yielded the interflora.co.uk domain in first place – until yesterday afternoon.  Now the website does not even appear for its own brand name:

interflora1

 

A quick dig around on SearchMetrics reveals some interesting other data, here is a list of terms that they ranked for on Feb 14th (irony noted):

Interflora penalty organic search

Today’s picture is a little more bleak for the website however – with almost all their rankings dropping off a cliff, and this is backed up by their visibility chart:

seo visibility for interflora

Interestingly, their SEO team/agency appears to have been fully prepared for such an eventuality, and appear to be out in force to remove any paid links they have acquired.  I get the feeling this is going to take some time to say the least, a cursory glance at their backlink profile reveals that one of the main tools they have been using is sending free product to bloggers – here is a great example I uncovered:

linkbuilding bloggers interflora

The words Interflora and Blog are linked (cleanly)
to the homepage and the blog home respectively.

And a quick browse on social media reveals what the general public think when an SEO in a panic asks for links to be removed:

removing links using twitter

(hat tip to Geir Ellefsen for the twitter discovery)

So its safe to say that their SEO’ers will be having a fun day contacting everywhere they’d bought links from in the past.

All this is interesting, and how they handle any recovery will also be worth noting, its not every day that such a dominant market leader gets SERP-shafted, but a more worrying point for most web marketers out there is just how much the advice has now changed.

It was only two years ago that as an industry we were recommending that we sent products to bloggers in exchange for links, whether that was discretely part of the deal or a pre-requisite is always a grey area and our assumption at the time (and correctly at the time) is that Google simply wouldnt go after things like that.

Well, its 2013 now, and it appears they may well be.

Lets open this up now, what “interesting” links can you find pointing at Interflora, or what other explanation can you find for the penalty?

 

 

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190 thoughts on “Interflora SEO Penalty Analysis 2013”

  1. Very interesting, I especially like the public’s reaction to a link removal request. Although personally I fail to see how Google could identify and penalise a brand for giving out products to reviewers.

    There’s just too many different variations of wording people use when they get products to review so unless this was due to hours of manual searching just to take down Interflora I can’t see how that could be it. It’s not like Google would penalise every review on the web as that would be madness and most major review sites get their products for free so it’s not really fair to expect them to buy every product they review.

    One of my sites is a reviews site that covers products people send in so I may be slightly biased but out of 250 products reviewed I’ve never received a single link removal request so I don’t think there’s a wide scale issue at play in terms of review penalties.

  2. I really don’t get it. Sorry Google, but I’m not following your link building politics anymore. First they said, “don’t exchange links, bad boy!”. So we stopped exchanging, even if our link exchange schemas were useful for our users. But we still needed links, so we started buying. But they said “no, no, you can’t buy them except to ME!”, so we stopped buying. Then we said, hey, I still need those inbound links, let’s get our blogger fellas some present and get a few juicy links! But papa said “I said NO, you can’t have those links!”. But… ouch, I need inbound links! How in the world am I going to get them if I can’t ask for them, buy them or get them in ANY other way?? Isn’t the internet supposed to be all about LINKS?

    I really don’t get it. WTF are we supposed to do, then??? Write some content and expect to rank without a single inbound link??

  3. Mike raises a good point.

    I also think it would be quite hypocritical of Google to take that stance if you consider that they have essentially come out and said “The way to make your business work is to send free products to bloggers in your niche and get them to review them” with their Cambridge satchel advert (who now rank number 1 for the term “satchel”)

    But since when has Google worried about looking hypocritical

  4. It seems to be a huge jump to penalise a global brand in this way based on sending freebies to bloggers, however the fact that they seem to be removing these links does point to this tactic being the cause.

    If this is the case then it is a very loud message from Google that even major brands aren’t immune from punishment for breaking its rules.

  5. Errr. no.

    So they first said nothing, then when we worked out it was links that affected rankings, they came out and said that any linkbuilding scheme with the express intent of manipulating PageRank was expressly forbidden.

    That covers, buying, renting, stealing, hacking, infographic posting and almost any other tactic or strategy that we have relied upon for the last decade.

    << Its ALL blackhat, just some of us are in denial! >>

    🙂

  6. Interesting case study, but I don’t really buy the idea that a penalty has been triggered by Interflora sending gifts to bloggers. I’d be more concerned at pages like this one:
    http://www.prweb.com/releases/2007/04/prweb516328.htm

    As Mike says, most review sites get stuff free. And in the event that Google had decided to drop the axe on this one, wouldn’t the bloggers be penalised for “selling” links for gifts along with Interflora for “buying” them?

    (Incidentally, Interflora would have probably had more success if they had emailed bloggers with a “friendly warning” to say they themselves might get penalised by Google for these links.)

  7. I wouldn’t worry about links… much. Build great content and users will be eager to link to it!


    EDIT: Identity confirmed as NOT MATT CUTTS, by the real Matt Cutts. Therefore avatar removed and FAKE added to the name. THIS IS NOT THE REAL MATT CUTTS

  8. Martin, you think Inter Flora got banned from Google because they sent free flowers to Bloggers? Are you serious?

  9. It seems their valentine campaign triggered that and most probably someone sent a spam report

    From Google guidelines:

    Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; —>or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link

    and thats a sample of what Google thinks its against their guidelines

    https://www.google.com/search?q=%22Interflora+contacted+me%22&oq=%22Interflora+contacted+me%22&aqs=chrome.0.57j61l3.662&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

  10. About 18 months ago (just after I came to see you at OMD) I posted a blog entitled “90% of links are paid links full stop!” and I still stand by that. But I refuse to believe there’s such a thing as a complete white hat SEO/Inbound marketer

    We’re all different shades of grey

  11. I don’t see how sending products out is what has gotten them the link penalty.

    There are plenty of businesses that have been brought up this way. My God Google advertises one from the satchel company on their TV adverts where they openly show a company sending products to a blogger and that blogger making videos about it.

    I don’t particularly see any correlation, I just see an SEO agency panicking and trying to get it up again as soon as they can before their client backs out and they are just getting rid of any links they have created.

  12. Thanks for sharing this Martin. We came across it a few days ago and it is certainly a manual action. What appears to be interesting is that a lot of the traditional ‘signals’ that may have promoted this are not super horrendous (or not as bad as many) so it asks the question why them…?!

    Interestingly they use a lot of ‘local’ ‘doorway-ish’ pages. Could these have been the trigger for a engineer to have a dig?

  13. I think the best takeaway here is the Twitter responses.

    Although after looking above I see the Koozai Mike gt there first. He’s absolutely right. I actually worked for Interflora once upon a time ago, and the outreach was more than reasonable – Nothing to suggest a necessary penalisation that’s for sure.

    We used a similar “tactic” with another brand I used to work on at a different agency, and they have suffered no such penalisation for giving away products to their trusted followers?

    The reaction from bloggers says one thing really, and that’s you cannot moderate the web. Google shouldn’t be moderating things so harshly that a webmaster/brand must be controlling their links so closely. This only leads to an even more unnatural profile? Surely? Why have I not heard this said yet…

    If i begin a random website, and no nothing about SEO, links or otherwise. Should I be made to suffer at the hands of others linking to me? When you start a website, the majority don’t realise they are also inheriting the responsibility to moderate everyone around them! I hate what this industry is becoming.

  14. 100% spot on.

    Our job is the work out the best way of gaining links, and of course as naturally as possible. But we are paid to do that, the content we use is paid for, and then projects as a whole rely on funding (most of the time).

    I don’t see many links that aren’t paid.

    Hang on a second, my latest TV campaign earned me a link, woops… sorry Google, I paid for that advert!

  15. Pretty sure this is more about the splogs than the real blogger reviews.

    The tactic of asking for all links to be removed seems pretty mental and is going to make them rather unliked in the online community.

  16. Why are we all assuming those blogger review links are what caused this? They got hit and they in a panic are asking people to remove links they are not even using googles tool to disavow them they are emailing to get them taken down.

  17. @Gianella The climate is shifting; enter refined inbound marketing tactics. Penalties like this are killer (and Google’s political angle isn’t beyond reproach) but this is an opportunity for us to build links by creating genuine relationships with good, useful content, rather than paying off publishers and bloggers.

    It’s a difficult transition for a lot of people, but it’s doable (if we work hard enough). Ultimately, it’s good for the user because the quality of unpaid links is significantly better than that of paid. You may not get as many links if you build them organically, but Google cares more about quality than quantity.

    If your content is top-tier and has enough outbound links to get attention, the right people will start linking. It just takes time.

  18. Hi Martin, Interflora will get plenty of citations (and links) for this cliff fall of death, so it’s not all doom and gloom + they’ll ramp up the PPC, may be they should use the disavow tool, that will work…. 🙂

  19. Isn’t this exactly the same thing?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0qDrRJT4zE

    They do have a ton of thin/spun location based pages that ranked widely for:

    “florist *location*” even down to really small towns.

    They’ve dropped off the face of the earth for all those searches too.

    I guess if they’re going link clean up within a day though that’s the diagnosed problem.

    Think they got a Webmaster Tools Message?

    And how hard do you think this hits local florists who are part of the network?

  20. I’d say this has more to do with anchor text overoptimisation than product reviews.

    If you look at their top-linked internal pages, there is a lot of non-brand anchor text going on. Such as:

    http://www.opensiteexplorer.org/links?page=1&site=www.interflora.co.uk%2Fcategory%2Froses%2F&sort=page_authority&filter=&source=external&target=page&group=0

    and

    http://www.opensiteexplorer.org/anchors?site=www.interflora.co.uk%2Fcategory%2Fgifts-for-her%2F

    May not be a lot of links in the grand scheme of their link profile, and the actual domain anchor text distribution looks balanced enough, but surely hammering those internal pages with fairly low quality anchors won’t help?

  21. I disagree with the fact that they are removing those links that they are the cause. The wouldn’t know the cause, Google would just ask them to remove links. Maybe it’s just an SEO agency that’s panicking and removing any links they made at the point at which the site dropped?

    I can’t see any correllation here.

  22. I chatted to one of the bloggers and she said she first received a link removal request back in January, so there was obviously an issue Interflora was aware of at least a month ago.

    One of the guys from a SEO linkedin group brought this up today and pointed out some spam blogs with quite a few keyword links.

    It would appear they’ve recently changed SEO provider too (announced on The Drum last week).

    There’s a combo of techniques at play here – looks like they are working to clean up everything, even the white stuff.

  23. yes been monitoring this for a few days now along with a few others I suspect, I actually feel for the company if I am honest as this kind of thing can destroy a business (loads of people lose their jobs etc), lets face it Interflora are known worldwide and a huge brand in the UK too so this is one hell of s @hit storm for them, are they responsible for their own downfall? I suspect we will learn more in the next few days

  24. No… but they have been removed from the serps, and they have a shitload of dodgy links, PR stuff, recently removed footer links from other industry bodies and so on.. But the giving flowers angle away is amusing me the most.

  25. From what I can see, they were giving away free products in exchange for links.

    If anybody reads the Google Webmaster Guidelines you will see that giving out free products in exchange for a review containing links is classed as a link scheme. Google have said you shouldn’t do it, so if you DO do it, it’s your lookout.

  26. There’s definitely a correlation between the two, but you’re right to say that you can’t confirm it to be the cause from this action.

    It would be premature to assume this is the cause without any further investigation, especially given the drastic nature of penalising such a massive brand in this way, but I don’t think correlations should be ignored, however unusual, given the unpredictable nature of the beast that is Google.

  27. also lets all stop pretending its enough to “balance your anchor text distribution.” Where did Google say that? If it’s a white hat link, it came about as a result of content naturally attracting links, and you will never have to remove it. If you control the link, its a black hat link. End of story.

    This article is a great example of white hat link-building. You can bet this article earned links for this site. I’m sure Interflora will reappear soon enough. If, as people are saying above, there were spam blogs in there, then its not surprising.

  28. I’m pretty sure Google lost a court battle with Interflora over other brands using PPC to steal flower sales, I think Google is like an Elephant that never forgets and which is now reaping its revenge.

  29. Some really good points throughout the comments, i’ve worked in this sector a few years ago and the approach by IF has always been the same so i’m not too surprised by this. Also wasn’t it Google in a Chrome ad in a crude way says it’s ok to send products for review to bloggers? 🙂

  30. I think a lot of people are reading too much into the fact that flowers were sent to bloggers, there are far more obvious red flags around this site.

    For example, they were using aggressive anchor text as recent as November 2012:

    http://www.thevagabondstudio.com/2012/11/what-do-you-do-for-out-of-towners.html

    There are a huge number of examples of use of dubious quality sites, many are almost certainly in a link network:

    http://www.buybraunshavers.com/find-a-florist-on-your-doorstep/

    There is a big clean up job required and I feel for the people who have to deal with this, especially if they are not the cause of the issue.

  31. Just seems like a really weird kneejerk reaction. There’s a ton of crappy links pointing to that site, why go after people you sent flowers to?! Just wondering if those who did take the link down had to send the flowers back!

  32. Google do say this in their guidelines:

    “Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the buzzing blogger community can be an excellent place to generate interest.”

    I’d be more inclined to think that this is in some way related to the massive number of very targeted local pages that they have. There are 24,900 results for this search:

    https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=site%3Ahttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.interflora.co.uk%2Fflowers-florists-delivery

  33. Well that is quite a drop, thanks for sharing Martin.

    Whilst they are going to have the ride of their lifetime contacting webmasters I still cant understand why someone was building links to interflora.com – which btw also resolves as status 200 when I checked the HTTP header.

    Rather than carpet bomb the internet with requests liek a headless chicken to remove them they ought to plan accordingly. Start by coming clean with Google (lets face it they have been spanked!) make a log of all paid or deemed as paid links in google docs, contact details and notes regarding the arrangement. In such desperate times I would Disavvow them and go for a reconsideration request. provided of course that they did get a notification and that it is indeed links related. Anyways its #justathought

  34. Agree!
    Google has gone crazy! Is it a kinda Frustration!
    Facebook is going to put Google aside so It is getting frustrated.

  35. I have to say at this point that I know quite a few bloggers who posted the interflora links and it wasn’t in return for flowers or products but paid for links from a rather well known SEO company… Totally against Googles t’s and c’s – to be honest the bloggers themselves could jepordise their own pageranks of they don’t remove the links too.

  36. Re: the satchel company advertisement, this was just a form of below the line promotion which went viral. It didn’t have much to do with link building or keywords.

  37. I think it is more than just links from product posts that got them in trouble.

    And they are not the only ones who got hit. InsureAndgo also got hit and haven’t recovered from last 6 months or so.

  38. Hi guys, I have a Majestic Platinum subscription and while I only have a few minutes (right now, I’ll probably come back to dig deeper)I was able to quickly see that the sites that linked to Interflora all linked to plenty of other sites as well (with exact match anchors, etc.) so I wouldn’t be surprised if they got hit too.

    Interflora should have just been content with non-anchor text links and they’d be fine now. The sites that link to them aren’t bad per-se they’re just abused with link like theirs.

    I have a feeling whoever built the links for Interflora had other clients too in similar niches and just kept re-using the same bloggers/sites for all their clients. That’s what got em, I feel.

  39. “I need inbound links! How in the world am I going to get them if I can’t ask for them, buy them or get them in ANY other way?? Isn’t the internet supposed to be all about LINKS?”

    Oh, but there *is* another way. There is still a perfectly good, legal way to get those necessary links. True, it takes longer than buying the links, but it won’t generate any penalties.

    The method?

    Try writing and publishing content that is useful enough that people—consumers, ordinary people, not SEO companies or other online sites desperate for links—actually want to link to. …want to tell their friends about on Facebook. …want to tweet to the world.

  40. As Matt said: the problem is not only the links quality but if I can suggest is to rebuild site and make a good optimization. Few dazs ago I have analzyed florists sites in Poland ans thez all have the same issue as here: artificial texts, bad juicy, wrong 404 page and more …

  41. Great analysis Martin – and a good debate to follow!

    Any guesses on how long their penalty will last?

    What is sad is that this doesn’t just hurt inter flora but all the small florists up and down the country who had nothing to do with SEO or link building.

    And with Mother’s Day just around the corner too :-/

  42. Conspiracy theroy 1:

    Maybe after ranking for #1 on Valentines day – they (Interflora) had no use for the seo agency for a few months and binned them off? Maybe this is the seo agency’s way of getting them back? By showing them how big an influencer they actually are? A community thrashing so to speak?

    Nah, reading too deep there…aren’t I? Maybe Dan Thies Knows?

    All I know is – that it’s pretty damn powerful – whatever happened. It’s ripping at the tatty cobwebs and burning the lot

  43. In their place I’d be more concerned about the 5,000-strong network of not very well hidden “sister” sites than asking bloggers to remove links. Now that’s the kind of kneejerk reaction that is only bound to create PR issues.

  44. Here is what I think is going on. The interflora site was slapped with a manual warning of unnatural links. But, when Google does that they don’t tell you exactly which links are unnatural. So, what the site owners are doing is trying to get as many self made links removed as possible, whether they be from giving gifts in return for links or whether they are from anchor texted articles or low quality directories.

    I don’t think that the giving of gifts in exchange for links is what got them penalized. It probably was other things such as spammy articles like this:

    http://www.uniquedailyarticles.com/Art/96657/93/Top-flower-shows-in-the-UK.html

    and directories like this:

    http://www.directoryvault.com/blog/the-10-ppc-network-smackdown/Shopping/Gifts/

    Once you’ve got the manual penalty though, your entire backlink profile is under manual scrutiny. This means that Google’s going to want to see effort made to remove all of the links that were created for SEO purposes.

  45. From what I’ve so far read I have several theories:

    1. Over use (or even going there) with exact match anchor text
    2. Interflora suing Google over Google’s use of Adwords (one for the consipracy theorists)
    3. Over use of Mummy bloggers
    4. Overtly disclosing paid placements at the bottom of the post, no matter how small the font is!! http://momvstheboys.com/tag/flowers/

    I’m sure I can find more if I do more digging!!

  46. Interestingly, they sent me a chocolate hamper for review, but at no point asked for a link. I link to people if and when I think it’s appropriate, but never if I’m actually asked to.

    I got the ‘please remove your links’ email too. I declined. I do wonder if it will affect my own ranking, but that’s more out of curiosity about Google’s ever changing goalposts.

  47. Interflora’s SEO agency have been buying follow links left right and centre for years and lying about the risks of a Google penalty to bloggers.

    The same agency blatently tried to buy follow links from me last week and told me there was no risk at all to my site, naturally I turned them down.

    Interestingly the same agency has been threatening bloggers they bought links from with a DMCA request unless they take them down, despite the fact that most people have wised up and no followed these links.

  48. Don’t abide by Google’s dictate and get screwed. Abide by their dictate and – you’re guessing it now – get screwed anyway.

    Like IrishWonder above, I’d venture to pinpoint the crappy network(s) they (or their SEOs) were relying on as the main culprits here.

    From which we learn again (or should at least…) that the only sustainable approach is maintaining your own network – domains, IP spread, content and all.

    Or, alternatively, hire people who know their stuff (and who can keep mum about it!) to do it for you? Cheap? Certainly not – but in the end far more affordable than having to rectify and cover for this sort of cataclysm.

  49. Hmmm….my guess is that there were no flowers involved and their SEO company had blog owners post that content for a fee. I have a few blogs and I am stunned at how blatant the link sellers still are when approaching a blogger to buy a link. They give up brand name really early on and if there are any other links on your site which of course there are they are blogs which often link to sources for context they want to know if they were paid. Because, you see they dont like to work with bloggers who sell links only to them. They will offer the princely sum of maybe $100 to the unsuspecing blogger to “host their ad” and risk getting their blog canned by Google and given the prices I hear these days for paid link make a handsome profit of thousands of percent. $100 is a lot to a blogger who is just blogging for fun and I am sure they get lots of takers otherwise why keep doing it. Google did not fix the problem with penguin they just make the link sellers much richer.

  50. I completely agree with Mike on this one, sending a product for review is a genuinely good way to get exposure on relevant online forums.

    i think this is very different to buying links and it seems more likely to me that their SEO agency are panic requesting link removal as they are probably under a lot of pressure… especially if they have been buying links the traditional way!

    It would be interesting to see how they recover from this, would make a great case study if they could. also probably a good time for SEO agencies to approach Interflora!

  51. Even a PR like me can look at their anchor text and link profile and see it looks dodgy.

    This comment thread is world class by the way. Comment Thread of the Year at the UK Search Awards should become a new category and this is going to win hands down.

  52. I did face similar issue before but it’s for a small article directory site and Google sent me a warning email about unnatural linking going out from my site…

    I ignored it and my entire site is off the search results since August 2012.

    And the root cause for the unnatural linking is that most of my authors are having their company name/site name pasted within the content and linking it back to their site and on top of that I did not have the NoFollow tag on for these links. I believe this could be the same thing for Interflora.

    I have since removed all these links and attached the NoFollow Tag to all outgoing links and submitted a request in Google Webmaster Tool to re-index my site. So far.. nothing is positive yet.

  53. Hi Scott, do you have a link to the Drum article please? I tried looking and while I found mention of them changing their agency for PPC & Social, I couldn’t find anything about SEO. I’ve heard other people mention that they’re changed SEO agencies though (I’m just curious to know who it is more than anything)!

  54. Incredible!Google has a team dedicated to this and more. Recently there was a team called to confirm data maps.

    Not wanting to incorporate some information they asked for, came to remove the profile from the homepage by us to lose lots of visitors. Increasingly restrictive policy.

  55. Loving the fact your article now ranks above their own website and social profiles for their brand keyword “interflora” 🙂

  56. I think one issue is that these “ordinary people” have got wise to the fact that they hold the power and can ask for things in return, rather than handing out links for free. Be it product, cash or simply becoming an affiliate.

  57. Yes i remember. Looks there might be more surprises the SEO world and the Google Updates is going to throw at us. But, it seems to me that they must have been effected by some negative linkings. Calls for more use of Disavow.

  58. ‘our job is to work out the best way of gaining links’

    erm, pretty sure your job is to work out how to make your client more money through unpaid search. the tools you use are entire up to you

  59. It seems to be only a UK penalty. I live in France and was looking for such a penalty for the french interflora’s website. I think it’s localised to the UK because of the blog posts, but they don’t buy links in France. Do you think a website can be worldwide penalized ?

  60. Granted, the example put forward in this article was probably the worst Martin could find, but some people seem to be missing the fact that it seems to have been written by an 8 year old. Martin made a quick reference to the fact it contains two clean anchors, but surely that coupled with the quality of it, is the main cause for concern – not the fact it is a review post? I work for an ‘experience day’ specialist, and I regularly send bloggers and journos out to review our experiences…

    But the fact is, their posts are interesting and contain detailed accounts of their time, not just a quick “ thanks blablabla.com (anchor) this (anchor) was amazing. Seeeya.”

  61. Granted, the example put forward in this article was probably the worst Martin could find, but some people seem to be missing the fact that it seems to have been written by an 8 year old. Martin made a quick reference to the fact it contains two clean anchors, but surely that coupled with the quality of it, is the main cause for concern – not the fact it is a review post? I work for an ‘experience day’ specialist, and I regularly send bloggers and journos out to review our experiences…

    But the fact is, their posts are interesting and contain detailed accounts of their time, not just a quick “ thanks blablabla.com (anchor) this (anchor) was amazing. Seeeya.”

  62. It seems to me that they’re now forced to remove anything ‘questionable’ which means removing some of the higher quality stuff they’ve built too.

    A quick 5 minute look in ahrefs clearly shows link networks with sites even overtly advertising paid links and boasting about the size of their ‘network’.

  63. In the end of the day Google do not want you gaining links in anyway period!

    They don’t support SEO, they like to make out they do but in reality they hate us

    The only SEO they want you doing is making your site as friendly as possible for the Googlebot to crawl

    They say they care about their users and delivering the best results – Have you seen the state of their results over the last 12 months, on top of this they are drastically changing SERPs every month, so if their results are soo good whats this constant refinement

    Google are struggling these days, pre penguin the SERPs were a lot cleaner, so what if people were link building unnaturally at least they were taking care of their sites and looking after them and taking time to promote them, I admit there were a few poor sites in there but comparing the SERPs over a 12 month period Google have gone backwards

  64. It’s an interesting point.

    A year or so ago we allowed a few agencies to pitch for our account – and what I found REALLY interesting was that all of them, apart from one, said that they would need budget for link buying. These were some major SEO agencies whose staff are often presenting at conferences, etc.

    We ended up picking the one that didn’t ask for a budget for links – and are now ranking for some great terms with the knowledge that we haven’t cut corners to get there.

    All that being said though – we have a very viral brand so it’s easier for us than it may be for others.

  65. I think they have more going on than just their questionable link building methods. Look at the content at the foot of their pages UNDERNEATH their footer! It’s not there for visitors that’s for sure.

  66. I can’t see how Google could automate a penalty based on blogger review outreach. The buying of links from all of the other low quality sites might have put them on the radar of Google but you have to think that it’s a combination of lots of bad linking over time, not just the recent activity.

  67. Ibrar and Seda, why do you not do your finger pointing on your own blogs? Or apply to work for Google instead?

  68. Agree, free gifts for bloggers is just PR really. They’ve been buying links from sites known to sell links, crappy duplicate content etc. Spreading the word about your product with free gifts won’t be the cause, they’re just panicking.

  69. I think it is the blatant inclusion of the word interflora linked to the website. Should have been a little more savvy

  70. As a previous Analytics Director for a well known comparison engine who took a heckuva beating during the Panda update. I’ll tell you that the stress that comes from a change of Google methodology is not child’s play. Google has become a poster child (IMHO) of evil blackhat tactics themselves.

    Soon after Panda, our own crawlers and SEO analysis showed Google Product links featuring in the top ranked parts of the first page, where previously they were below the fold. We then decided to monitor and test different ways that our content and backlink policy would increase rank of different types of pages. Bearing in mind all this content was either paid for or at least “partnered”, there isn’t such a thing called good free content. I agree with what Jim says below that 90% of links and content really is paid for. I now work for a company that is a market leader in native content advertising. I’m sure at some point, Google will come after us.

    Google’s old mantra of Don’t be Evil is long gone… thank you MBAs.

  71. The question is, how long will this last?

    If the SEO agency took them down with negative SEO or baclink removal (a heck of a lot of work) then surely Interflora will go public or sue them?

    I can’t see any NDA covering “leave us and we’ll bend you over”.

    If it was Google you have to ask is it too heavy handed and dare I say, bullying?

    Of course if Google really has shaken them down at least you can say no company is too big and the Google stick will spank you regardless.

  72. And Katherine, what if you sell grey pencils or beige cardigans, try writing that type of content and getting that shared

  73. Oh, and they have links with optimized anchor texts in forums, blog comments, link directories, press releases websites, so, the profile looks pretty spammy, the bloggers’ reviews are only one drop in a glass of water…

  74. Wish I could show you a photo of what arrived for me in the post yesterday. I am a blogger. It’s a £50 voucher from Interflora. #bargepole springs to mind.

  75. As said in the article this isn’t algorithmic. If it’s a manual slap then it’s a scare tactic, seems unlikely at this point that Google can roll this out in the next Penguin. For the average SEOer I wouldn’t think there’s much to worry about.

  76. Chrissie. So they have sent you a voucher, that’s sweet of them. Have they scripted you in anyway? Have they asked for a link in return for the voucher? Sensationalism runs rife in times like this.

    If for example, Interflora have sent you a voucher, then, if you are that way inclined, you are entitled to blog about it. It is your choice to link them up, right?

    If it is a case of ‘we will give you XYZ but you must link to us’ then that is a different story.

    But think for a moment, how can Google be 100% sure you have been recompensed for your link?

    Well, you could make that very clear in your post, many do, bringing trouble to both poster and instigator. Stupid in my opinion. Advertising watchdogs and Google are scaring people into making poor decisions.

    But if i were to wow you by sending an unsolicited gift through the post, then it is your right to give me a link, should you wish to.

    The question is how can Google differentiate incentivised links from natural?

    It can’t, unless it is explicitly mentioned in the post.

    ‘Sponsored Post’ is one such marker of guilt, there are others.

    Bloggers should NOT be hoodwinked into no-following every link they give on merit, it’s ridiculous.

    There are too many scare tactics put out there by Google to try and control what is a perfectly smart bit of brand promotion, attracting new customers by sending products, solicited or unsolicited. Offline marketers have done this for many many years.

    If you are to be recompensed for it, then keep that to yourself, you are entitled to earn a living after all.

    Be smart, that’s all it takes.

  77. I don’t think Interflora were penalised because of the way they were using guest blogs. Google penalises negative patterns, which this SEO tactic is not. Any SEO tactic which is used excessively will have a negative impact. It’s the fact that every blog directed towards the homepage. A natural link profile is one that links to deeper pages too.

  78. I guess is not only the trash links the cause of the Interflora’s problem.

    I think the cause could be other not only links (can you see here in Spanish trucoseo.com/la-brusca-caida-seo-interflora-co-uk/)

    The duplicate content could be this factor.

    Interflora has two subdomains where duplicate content, 14.500 or more pages, at http://www-lon.interflora.co.uk and at http://www-uol.interflora.co.uk

    What those subdomains are? what are they mean?

    I check same pages, same content, same url, and identical meta.

    Someone send a spam report about this? It was about spam links? Was Penguin?

    The duplicate content could be other cause too.

    Great article and greets from spain!

  79. Very interesting case which closely mirrors another I have come across while working with one of our rmoov clients.

    I’ll be interested to have a chat with Tim and Martin about it in Leeds. I’ve noticed that there seem to be a couple of notable differences in the effects felt from this specific type of penalty when compared with others.

    It strikes me the more Google makes these little shifts in what does or doesn’t qualify as paid links (that ought to be nofollowed), the more gains it makes in crawl efficiency.

  80. Regarding the part of “two years ago we were recommending this and thought Google wouldn’t go after it” – I think it’s very important for every SEO to heed the advice (in this specific case almost sounding like a prophecy) from Will Critchlow at one of their Distilled conferences – if you can find a way to build links that’s simple, easy and highly scale-able and then you go and apply it with passion – Google will eventually take it away.

  81. It’s moments like this when you really wonder what direction SEO is going in.. Having looked at comments and related stories it does seem like they’ve used some pretty terrible tactics elsewhere, not just the bloggers.

    Anything is black hat if you A) overuse it or B) the same anchor text/link is used.

    Having said that, it looks like we’re all wearing some kind of black hat, it’s just how dark it is.

  82. Hey Martin

    thanks for starting this discussion.

    Please find my findings and thoughts in
    my (pretty lenghty 20 pager post)

    Interflora Link Penalty deep dive analysis
    and read more about

    Cheap advertorials
    Tiered blog network links
    Simple paid blog post
    Page Rank penalties
    Mediocre or just plain stupid setup link networks
    Oldschool directory links
    More and more bad stuff to be found
    How Interflora is doomed now
    how YOU feel now

    http://www.linkresearchtools.com/case-studies/interflora-penalty/

    Cheers from Vienna,
    Christoph

    PS: no pay with a tweets etc

  83. WAKE UP people, Interflora is owned by United Online and United Online is on the receiving end of so many lawsuits for their business practices that this SEO fiasco (bribing people for backlinks) should not surprise you.

    United Online’s every company is sued for privacy breaches and for charging people on free services or for tricking people into signing up for Gold memberships and then refusing to refund.

    Classmates.com, MemoryLane.com, NetZero.com = All United Online and lawsuits have hit them all, repeatedly. Google it. This is not an innocent mistake by any means, this company has a LONG track history of being shady. You can only reach support if you pay by the minute on some of their services, lol.

  84. Bribing people for backlinks is still paying, flowers or cash – both the same. Good job Google.

  85. Free flowers or cash, both are a reward for posting and links were specifically requested so this is cut and dry, it’s against Google policy. I applaud Google for having the nerve to follow through on Interflora where they have followed through on many a smaller site too.

  86. Another fantastic news for all bloggers who’ve worked regularly to make their blogs on the top of Google naturally. Anyway, I never depends on paid text links. 🙂

  87. Thats right Martin,it will be a good and interesting session on link removals. Its getting tough and companies have to start investing and integrating -content,social, user experience and seo together instead of just buying links to be number one. Its not just about links anymore,Google have best PHD’s in the world not easy to just manipulate, have to add some value instead spamming the internet.

  88. @Salvatore. The visibility chart is Searchmetrics way of calculating a website’s performance based on ranking position and search volumes for that specific keyword.

  89. I agree, the article does not show full link profile. There might be other much worse links then from bloggers.

    I would not stop building relationships with bloggers because of that.

  90. I agree, Katherine. That’s why content matters. Paid SEO has to work hand in hand with social communications, which needs creativity, not just a focus on links. Genuine reviews help drive interest in a product or brand and in turn drive purchases, whereas bloggers who devalue their own writing with paid links and bland writing will do nothing to engage and encourage people to buy, no matter how many links they include.

    As for beige cardigans, Gus? I bet I could! A fashion spread on the beauty of beige, worn by ‘nerdy’ looking actors like Ben Whishaw. Just need to get the creative thinking cap on….

  91. Apologies if this has already been mentioned but did interflora.co.uk “noindex,nofollow” their homepage after the problems occurred then?

  92. Fingers crossed this won’t have a negative knock on effect to all the hard working florists out there.

    I’ve witnessed first hand how poorly Interflora treat their members and increasingly nickel and dime them so I simply cannot muster up any sympathy for them. Karma’s a bitch.

    On the SEO front I wonder how many other websites are now on red alert.

  93. Branded 3 were merrily buying links for much of last year. The brass neck in offering a paid for link removal service shows why this industry has such a bad name.

  94. All Google has done by removing Interflora is damage the independent florists that Interflora send orders too! Less orders getting through to real local florists, Google has just fed the postal flower companies that put flowers in a box more sales directly affecting the independent sector!! Bloody charming right before Mothers Day when all local florists need as much help as they can get from their relay provider at such a crucial trading period. I’m nothing to do with Interflora but you would have thought Google would have spoken to them, warned them, instead they cut them off 2 weeks before Mother’s Day in the UK.

    BANG OUT OF ORDER GOOGLE.

  95. I say screw Google. When Google sent me the email last year about “bad links” to my website, I simply did the contrary… I build MORE OF THEM and now my site ranks again. How stupid is that? MY PageRank dropped from PR3 to PR0, but I’m back on page 1 for my search terms with more of the same links and who cares about PR anyway? PR is just Google’s way of ranking pages and has little to do with where your page comes up in the search results.

    Google’s algorithm is as glitchy as Matt Cutts talks straight.

  96. Interflora were buying targeted keyword links into their site and this is why they have been penalised. Blogger reviews with “interflora” and “blog” were not the cause. It was desperate to ask bloggers using these links to remove their posts. Had they used “mothers day flowers” or similar keyword heavy links within their review then perhaps it would be justified.

    As someone who sends products to bloggers for review and makes no stipulations as to the links (if any) they would like to include within their review, I do not think that this can be frowned upon.

  97. Safe to state that other syndication faciliators like PR Web will be on G’s radar?

    Though PR Web states that they do not spray them with any aid from software and that it is picked up by papers according to the merit of the piece, I strongly doubt that.

    Any light on this?

  98. Or write about something else. Just because you sell beige cardigans doesn’t mean you have to write about them to get attention, traffic, links, and social shares. You don’t have to write at all, but you have to do something worthy of attention and traffic. Yes, that’s hard. Too bad. If you want links and traffic, don’t suck. If you do suck, or even if you are mediocre, you won’t rank, or at least not for long. Now if you want to be in the top 10 rankings you have to actually be one of the 10 best results. Deal with it.

    And yes, there are lots of exceptions that you can point out over the roughly 700 million websites out there but by and large, all the link acquisition tricks that are relatively easy (compared to actually earning them) are to make up for simply not being the best in your industry.

    Long term SEO success = build your site right + make great things (content or products) + tell people about it. If you aren’t good at all 3, you probably won’t rank well.

  99. This just seems, in my opinion, to have been a reaction by the agency / SEO who handle the campaign.

    They are rapidly trying to remove all kinds of links, most of which have not even probably contributed to this penalty.

    Saying that though, I find the whole penalty for a company name really bizarre, especially as Google wants to deliver the correct results, so you would think they would still rank for their own brand name.

    I can understand all the other phrases, but to ditch them for their own company name just seems to be over zealous control tactics.

    Will be interesting to see how quickly they return to their rankings after a penalty like this, as most smaller firms would take months, if at all.

  100. Well it looks like they were very heavy handed in their activity in the lead up to Valentines, especially in the use of advertorials as well as blog incentives.

    I cannot be convinced that this is activity they would conduct directly and one would assume it was indeed the strategy of their SEO agency.

    I have seen all the comments above referencing link profiling but you know if you link profiled many a large brand that is selling online they would have a history of similar activity.

    To me this is not what they did in the past, it is what they engaged in this year and density will be a factor as will quality. Google made an example but Google has pushed big brands in such a way that many of them have got away with this sort of activity for a long time.

    The inbalance is that many a smaller business website has been sent to the dustbin for much much less, it is time Google relaxed the big brand bonus and levelled the playing field.

  101. Google is our master, sorry to anyone who doesn’t like that but it’s true. Google own the market share, our customers are on Google and we want to make money from Google. I don’t think that sending bloggers flowers to review was the bad thing, its the manipulation of the anchor text, if someone reviews something they should be allowed to add the anchor text or whatever link back they want without an seo going ‘excuse me can you just link back from the word ‘blog’ or ‘flowers’ that’s the dodgy bit. You got nothing to hide you don’t remove links, simple. Bloggers are used because they can get your brand out to potential customers so why are SEO’s still not utilizing this opportunity well! Yes it’s online marketing but it’s not all about SEO, if people know your brand they wont search for flowers or roses, they’ll search for you!

    I don’t think the problem is people don’t know how SEO works. i think it’s the fact that everyone has forgotten how marketing works!

    Plus with Interflora it’s all the site wides and the 150+ advertorials they had that caused this.

  102. FAIL: Once again Google reminds us that it will punish its search customers with poor results in order to punish a website!

    A search for interflora now results in me finding vouchercodes! Well done Google!!!! I am looking for a website and you send me somewhere else. Idiots!

  103. having looked into it briefly I don’t believe the offering of free gifts to bloggers would result in a penalty. It is common practice for businesses to give away samples / free products in return for coverage.

    Looking at their anchor text their are an awful lot of non branded links for terms like flowers, florist, roses etc the volume of these compared to branded links could be the reason.

  104. I wonder if this has any connection…

    Today Interflora, the self-professed ‘flower experts’ are delighted with a European court ruling that agreed their trade mark has indeed been infringed by Marks and Spencer, via a Pay Per Click advertisement on Google’s Adwords platform.

  105. I am a florist with over 25 years of experience in the flower industry, including 13 years of experience as an Interflora member pre-incorporation and 1 year after incorporation. Obviously this situation is very interesting to me as it could have a big effect on our industry especially over the looming Mother’s Day period. Reading this and some of the other comments and articles about it I’ve found it a little frustrating that no one seems to have much of an idea how the Interflora system works and why they so vigourously pursue order gathering in this way. I thought those curios might find my post on a florist forum of interest. You can read it here http://www.floristnews.co.uk/flower-chat-public/23979-how-does-interflora-work.html
    I’d like to get the message across to our consumer while this iron is hot how much better off they are to deal directly with a local florist in the area they want flowers delivered to rather than using a middleman such as Interflora. Dealing direct with a bricks and mortar florists, especially those that display the Interflora branding as they are generally tried and tested, will get you a far better quality and value for money product than placing your order through either what is know in the trade as an ‘order gatherer’ or ‘relay provider’.
    This is an excellent directory of real florists http://www.goodfloristguide.com. If you can’t find a florist listed there for the area you want to send to give them a call, they will happily give you details of a reputable florist that can help you. The directory is produced by people who really care about quality and service and whilst they do not charge for a listing they do have personal knowledge of all of the recommended florists shown on it.
    I hope that helps explain things from a florists perspective 🙂

  106. Carole, you hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately, for too long copywriting for SEO has been done by SEO practitioners, entry-level digital marketers or amateur copywriters hired to write content for link baiting purposes. Since when would you have a person with little-to-no formal creative writing training or experience create your brand’s copy or content? Never, unless of course it’s for SEO. The content produced typically isn’t very deep and isn’t overly useful for the reader. I’m not saying this happens 100% of the time, but it happens MOST of the time.

    If you want to create great content that also is helpful for SEO, leave the content development to the talented and trained creative professionals. As an SEO professional, be part of the content strategy and development process, provide SEO guidance so the content is optimized and then let the creative professionals work their magic.

    I’ve been practicing SEO for over 15 years. As SEO professionals we have to realize change is inevitable and that “fair” is a word found only in the dictionary. Be honest with your clients up-front, don’t make guarantees your can’t back, add value to your clients and most importantly don’t put them at risk.

  107. Well the penalty was short lived as Interflora are back in time for Mothers Day, it is always interesting to see how the large corporates that spend lots of money with Google seem to come back so quickly after a hand edit. Most of their keywords are reinstated in their visibility and page 1 again for ‘Flowers’.

    I think that there is no way they could of undone the rules breaches in such a short time and certainly the advertorials can’t just be deleted either.

    Secondly the newspapers that lost their PR will no longer be passing any benefit to Interflora so again it is interesting that they have regained their profile whilst not having to wait for the lost PR power to be replaced by new links from releasing engaging content and link bait (how it should be done).

    Circumventing the system is a mandate of large brands and the frustration of smaller brands that lose everything for ever is that they do not have to play by the same rules. The paltry punishment placed on Interflora for what is a massive and flagrant pattern of rule butchery shows that search landscape is really influenced by the value of the adwords spend.

  108. Yep, Interflora is back so all this is pure speculation. Perhaps there was no penalty but some other kind of site errors that were fixed (not likely but you never know) Or yes perhaps they are given preferential treatment, but that is speculation is well.

  109. Ok well maybe there is some evidence that it’s possible related to aggressive advertorial campaign and not blog reviews
    http://www.davidnaylor.co.uk/interflora-what-really-happened.html

    If that is the case, how long would it take for you and I to get ranking back? 3 months, 6 months?

    I think I speak for all when I say google’s monopoly on search is a growing concern! Increasingly small business has zero chance at visibility in organic search and at same time has to compete with big PPC budgets of corporations.

    Google search becoming the equivalent of many us cities for some markets – big corporations in a strip mall forcing mom and pop stores to close shop.

  110. I wonder how big income generated Google by PPC from Interflora since their absence in SERPS.

    It looks like they shooting to different pages to show that the adwords its the only safe and right way.

    Hopefully social media are getting stronger day by day.

    Regards

  111. I’m with you, Katherine.

    Bob, if you’re not up to the task, you haven’t tried hard enough. Here are a couple of shareable ideas off the top of my head:

    – Pinnable fashion posts with photos of different ways to style your cardigan

    – Contest: What’s the most creative way to wear your beloved beige cardigan?

    – Checklist of school supplies to pack for your dorm / new job, including your star grey pencils

    – Contest: Sketch the best artwork with your trusty grey pencils.

  112. I am afraid I have to disagree with you Martin. We were their client and also paid the cost! I am sure Tim Grice has tons of experience in removing links as he put his clients in that mess in the first place.

  113. I have to say that was one of the first things that came to my mind when I read this thread. How much has their adwords budget increased by since this happened?

  114. I couldn’t agree more. This is something that I as well as many others (I would imagine) have thought for a long time. There is no way a smaller company (or brand) would have come back from something like that so quickly.

  115. I wonder how much damage it has done to their business since it came back from its big rankings drop…

  116. I do not write a great deal of comments, but i did a few searching and wound
    up here Interflora SEO Penalty Analysis 2013 – Martin MacDonald.

    And I actually do have 2 questions for you if you usually do not mind.
    Is it just me or does it appear like a few of these responses look like
    left by brain dead people? 😛 And, if you are writing on other online sites, I would
    like to follow everything fresh you have to post.
    Would you list of the complete urls of all your shared pages like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

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