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The Interflora Penalty for "Paid" links
Gmorgan




msg:4547898
 4:33 pm on Feb 22, 2013 (gmt 0)

Has anyone seen the story doing the rounds today about Interflora?

Their SEO firm had been doing some blogger outreach which focused on giving away flowers in exchange for a review and a link back to the site.

It was working well and is something most SEO/PR firms would consider a great strategy but their very impressive rankings were torn down by a penalty this week.

Looks like they crossed the line into link buying and Google took action.

I don't think all is as it seems but I do think Google is in the wrong if it is for these blog links. This is a solid PR strategy that has stood the test of time, so who are they to say that it's no longer an option? It's not like it was spamming or black-hat, so why not let it be?

 

Sgt_Kickaxe




msg:4548316
 7:15 am on Feb 24, 2013 (gmt 0)

I normally don't side with Google when they take out a company but this time It was pretty blatant and I agree with the decision.

I'm sure Interflora is enjoying the free press tonight anyway, any news is good news as they say.

My question now: Google would not lift a penalty on my site for a year or more, at least, but will they lift this penalty next week for Interflora? Do big companies get special breaks? We're going to find out.

[edited by: tedster at 5:04 am (utc) on Feb 25, 2013]

crobb305




msg:4548332
 12:30 pm on Feb 24, 2013 (gmt 0)

Google would not lift a penalty on my site for a year or more, at least, but will they lift this penalty next week for Interflora? Do big companies get special breaks? We're going to find out.

So true. J.C. Penney got 90 days. Google Chrome got 60 days. There are others. WE get a year or longer (indefinite penalty for the same violation).

Shepherd




msg:4548335
 12:41 pm on Feb 24, 2013 (gmt 0)

I'm hoping for a year penalty, fingers crossed everyday! April 24th, 2013 marked on the calendar as the one year anniversary of getting penguin-slapped to the tune of 60% of our business.

turbocharged




msg:4548352
 2:12 pm on Feb 24, 2013 (gmt 0)

So true. J.C. Penney got 90 days. Google Chrome got 60 days. There are others. WE get a year or longer (indefinite penalty for the same violation).


The length of the penalty is closely related to whether or not the penalized company has a legal department. At least this is my observation when looking over the penalties of large corporations in the past.

Andy Langton




msg:4548359
 2:54 pm on Feb 24, 2013 (gmt 0)

Keep in mind that "time lapse" penalties for link activities are rarer now, since Google have provided a process by which a site can 'undo' activities that Google dislike - i.e. disavow/reconsideration. I've certainly seen other brand-name sites who have been pushed through that process in the UK, so the hope would be that there is no special treatment of this site purely because it is a big name.

aristotle




msg:4548415
 8:34 pm on Feb 24, 2013 (gmt 0)

I'm hoping for a year penalty, fingers crossed everyday! April 24th, 2013 marked on the calendar as the one year anniversary of getting penguin-slapped to the tune of 60% of our business.

Why do you think your site will be set free from Penguin after exactly one calendar year? Do you think that Google is intentionally holding back from doing another penquin update until then, as if Matt Cutts or someone has decided that one year is the right amount of punishment. Somehow this discussion reminds me of a judge giving a prison sentence. Except there was no trial.

seoskunk




msg:4548420
 8:53 pm on Feb 24, 2013 (gmt 0)

Nice of Google to throw us a new fish now and again isn't it.......

Do you think that Google is intentionally holding back from doing another penquin update until then,


Absolutely Google Penguin update is being deliberately held back. Just a power trip to do this.

Somehow this discussion reminds me of a judge giving a prison sentence. Except there was no trial.


Couldn't say it better myself

Shepherd




msg:4548465
 11:36 pm on Feb 24, 2013 (gmt 0)

Why do you think your site will be set free from Penguin after exactly one calendar year?


I said I was hoping for, I try not to think anything when it comes to what google does with it's algo/penalties.

tedster




msg:4548535
 5:08 am on Feb 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

...holding back from doing another penquin update until then, as if Matt Cutts or someone has decided that one year is the right amount of punishment.

Penguin demotions may feel like punishment, but technically they are not the same as penalties - they are algorithm adjustments for sites that rank more for SEO efforts than quality and trust. There's no time-release from Penguin.

idolw




msg:4548660
 3:04 pm on Feb 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

I'm hoping for a year penalty, fingers crossed everyday! April 24th, 2013 marked on the calendar as the one year anniversary of getting penguin-slapped to the tune of 60% of our business.


Penguin is not penalty, I am afraid. Links to your site simply lost their power. I would not count on "recovery"

incrediBILL




msg:4548717
 4:55 pm on Feb 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

Cases like this point out why Google has monopoly issues because if you do anything other than buy AdWords you get a penalty. It's a simple marketing campaign and prior to the pious link overlord telling us we can no longer link to each other because they rule the internet, this was marketing 101. Google is NOT the internet, they are just a search engine, and all the people feeding them via AdWords and further encouraging this bad behavior are part of the problem.

Andy Langton




msg:4548726
 5:14 pm on Feb 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

It's a simple marketing campaign


If this was the case, I wouldn't disagree with you. But we're actually talking about clumsy insertion of keywords into content that is buried within newspapers websites to avoid people seeing it.

Feel free to browse any of the articles by the mysterious author "adfeatures":

[google.co.uk...]

If you land on a post without spurious anchor text links, that's because they're currently being removed.

netmeg




msg:4548741
 5:40 pm on Feb 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

Yea, I don't see this one as a simple marketing campaign.

superclown2




msg:4548778
 7:28 pm on Feb 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

Interflora's top or near top of a lot of relevant paid searches here in the UK right now .........

EvilSaint




msg:4548878
 4:08 am on Feb 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

@Superclown2, I guess we can safely deduce that ranking losses and Google penalties are inversely proportional to the amount of money spent on Adwords

We shouldn't forget that Google is still in the business of making money ;)

The bigger the brand, the more money they can milk out of them because of the panic going through the marketing departments regarding the impacts to the bottom line...

<rant>
Yes, Google handed down the penalty because Interflora was in the wrong...but the move doesn't come without substantial benefits for Google. That's what frustrates me I guess...
</rant>

something to think about...Google = do no evil?

I checked G UK from an Australian IP and a search for the brand name returns no matching result for the website...

denisl




msg:4548912
 8:48 am on Feb 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

Cases like this point out why Google has monopoly issues because if you do anything other than buy AdWords you get a penalty



Is this really true? Or more correct to say that you cant get link juice from other options (and should be no follow), otherwise G will see it as manipulation.

Do you get link juice from Adwords?

Marketing Guy




msg:4548926
 9:36 am on Feb 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

It wasn't just the paid links (and to be fair it could have been because there were LOADS of them with *very* specific anchor text) - they have 20k+ pages of rubbish content - basically the same page targeting every town / city location in the UK.

And they've known this was coming for a while - they started trying to take down their links over a month ago, which is why some bloggers got dragged into this.

What they were doing was large scale manipulation for a long time. Still banned in the UK FYI.

The newspapers that were PR0'd were part of a handful of newspaper groups (there were 2 Scottish newspaper groups that had their entire network PR0'd, probably accounting for 80-90% of the local press in Scotland). These were huge link networks who were selling "advertorials" purely for SEO purposes (and also one of the networks had over 100k+ pages of spam content targeting local terms on it's primary domain - a broadsheet newspaper - up until a year ago).

A hell of a lot of spam, on a large scale, leveraging "authority" sites. A penalty was long overdue.

Although it's worth noting that newspaper's revenue models have suffered over the past decade (and Adsense isn't exactly a high return), so it's no wonder they looked at other methods of making money.

This is the same industry that hacked the phone of a murdered kid - not exactly a high standard of ethics.

markd




msg:4548968
 2:14 pm on Feb 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

Very useful post Marketing Guy.

Am I right in saying that it was the sheer volume and content/structure of these pages which made things obvious to the Great Google?

We have scientific clients who may publish new research, or who take genuine advertorial on their latest development on science websites to promote their business. By 'genuine' I mean that it contains useful information to their community - even if it is (and must be) substantially the same content as this kind of info has to be accurate. Will they get hit if these advertorials, press releases etc. appear at roughtly the same time on a range of science sites linking back to the clients site?

If so, then I think this represents the genuine concern of those who are legitimately trying to market their businesses online and get put into the same pot as others who seem to be clearly trying to manipulate Google on an industrial scale.

martinibuster




msg:4548973
 2:20 pm on Feb 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

genuine concern of those who are legitimately trying to market their businesses online


No-follow tag on the link. Ask for it by name. Easy-peasy. In discussions with their sales people tell them you want a no-follow on the link. It's easy to accomodate. If something can negatively affect you then it makes sense to take steps to avoid it. Not a big deal.

Will they get hit if these advertorials, press releases etc.


Advertorials and press releases are different. A press release is published by an organization that made an independent editorial decision to publish it. There is no problem with a press release. An advertorial is the product of an agreement between two parties, with money or other consideration exchanged. The two should not be lumped together because they are very different situations.

Andy Langton




msg:4548976
 2:48 pm on Feb 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

In addition, if you don't ask for specific anchor text, you won't get it, and this substantially reduces any risk you may have. Personally, I doubt Interflora would have had any ranking problems were it not for anchor text.

markd




msg:4548994
 3:32 pm on Feb 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

Guys - so should 'no follow' be requested for ALL kinds of online marketing, just in case Google takes against it?

Is there not a threshold or rule of thumb (obviously not published) for judging where a no follow might be wise, against the genuine advantages of having incoming links from a good quality source, using good quality content from the company marketing their business? I'm thinking this may be looking at the site offering the advertorial, how extensively (and meaningfully) it will be used in the site. For example, will the advertorial serve and inform the site users etc. I'm looking for some kind of indicators for this activity where I may unwittingly cross Google's line.

If not, it does seem that if you do have the audacity to try to promote your business online you have to mitigate against Google from the outset?

martinibuster




msg:4549000
 3:49 pm on Feb 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

For example, will the advertorial serve and inform the site users etc.


Don't mean to put words into your mouth, but it sounds like you are trying to justify a paid link on the grounds that it is useful. A paid link is a paid link, regardless if it is useful or not. It's not a "win-win" situation where you get your link, the publisher gets a good article, and the readers get useful content. It's a paid link. You can dress it up and call it a win-win situation for everybody but it's still a paid link.

It is a false argument that it's restricting our freedom to practice marketing in the manner we see fit. Google is not the Internet. We are free to engage in any lawful form of marketing we wish.

However, this is WebmasterWorld's Google Forum and we are discussing a site that lost their Google rankings. In the context of this discussion being about Google rankings, if you are buying paid links and your Google rankings matter, then put a no-follow on it. It's as simple as that. Not difficult to understand. If your Google rankings don't matter then do whatever you want. It's as simple as that.

Unless you want to have your cake and rank it as well. If so, then just say it outright, you want your paid link and want to rank with it as well. Yes, it's good content, yes it's a win-win situation, and say what you really want to say that yes, you want Google to rank it because it's good (paid) content.

A few years back there was venture capital backed company that told its publshers and clients that they were in the business of matching quality publishers with quality advertisers, and boasted on their website that the links would help their client's search rankings. They justified the scenario based on quality. This is the same rationalization made by extreme reciprocal linkers many years ago. This win-win line of thinking is not new, it is very old. Some well known SEO marketers say the same thing about forum spam, that it's a win-win situation if you're answering a question by adding a link to your site that answers the OP. Anytime someone tells you that a link scheme is a win-win situation and throws in the word quality, be wary.

FranticFish




msg:4549052
 5:39 pm on Feb 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

Those who are concerned by what Google has done, or consider it unfair in some way, would be well advised to search for some of the blog posts that analyse Interflora's IBLs in depth.

They have persistently stepped way over the publicly stated guidelines. No grey area.

Marketing Guy




msg:4549056
 5:49 pm on Feb 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

Am I right in saying that it was the sheer volume and content/structure of these pages which made things obvious to the Great Google?


In the context of the marketplace, it could be argued that Interflora was the primary flower related brand in the UK. So ranking the main site for local terms makes sense - those were relevant results regardless of the techniques used to achieve them.

What's likely is that this stuff has been on Google's radar for years - I would imagine there would have been loads of spam reports from local competitors.

Purely speculation, but I would guess that Google has ignored the spam until recently because the result returned was still relevant. It's more the tactics used that have drawn scrutiny and probably just got to the point that they warranted action (more businesses using them and the newspaper networks were doing spammy stuff themselves).

It's an unusual case as Interflora don't really have a major national competitor and are a strong offline brand.

What I find interesting in this case is that it's just an example of particularly bad SEO implementation. The business is a franchise, so the parent company will pass on leads to local franchisees. That's a huge network of local businesses - but none were leveraged online (presumably so the parent company can control the sales leads), which left the "SEO need" to create content at the local level (every location they serve). This in turn creates the need for more aggressive link building (dull content isn't linkworthy, and more of it requires more PR to rank). That was just the wrong approach IMO.

The whole site should have been setup differently, which would have largely removed the need for hardcore link building in lieu of traditional marketing, but that would have probably required much more significant management buy-in (and if what you are doing, works, why change it?).

Something we'll probably never know, but it would be interesting to find out how Interflora could have performed organically without such aggressive tactics, given they were such a strong brand. I reckon their brand equity alone could have easily secured local rankings without the need for link building - couple that with strong PR, social media and good content creation and they could have hit their top level generic rankings quite easily too. With none of the risk that copious amounts of exact match anchor text links brings...

Marketing Guy




msg:4549060
 5:51 pm on Feb 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

I mean seriously, this looks like it was written by a bot. In 2002.

Florists in London can tailor flower arrangements that will add a personal touch to any occasion. When you choose to have flowers in London sent via Interflora, one of our professional flower shops will be on hand to cater to your creative needs, ensuring a swift and reliable service for flower delivery London that you can bank on. Send flowers to London and you will be utilising a florist in London, meaning your flowers will be delivered looking fresh and stunning.


Really awful SEO, propped up on dodgy links and carried along by brand strength.

Whitey




msg:4549214
 9:47 pm on Feb 26, 2013 (gmt 0)


Please be wary if someone approaches you and wants to pay you for links or "advertorial" pages on your site that pass PageRank. Selling links (or entire advertorial pages with embedded links) that pass PageRank violates our quality guidelines, and Google does take action on such violations. The consequences for a linkselling site start with losing trust in Google's search results, as well as reduction of the site's visible PageRank in the Google Toolbar. The consequences can also include lower rankings for that site in Google's search results. .........

..... We do take this issue very seriously, so we recommend you avoid selling (and buying) links that pass PageRank in order to prevent loss of trust, lower PageRank in the Google Toolbar, lower rankings, or in an extreme case, removal from Google's search results.
[googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.co.uk...]

There are business' out there that put their trust in SEO marketing companies and have no clue about the consequences of their actions.

But I am amazed that the culture amongst those that do know is more about how close they can push Google's limits without getting found out. There's commentary from some very prominent site owners and SEO consultants surrounding these issues out there and it's well read, that supports this.

Did Interflora's SEO company warn their clients of the guideline infringements?

Did the UK newspapers know they ran a big risk selling links? It's not the first newspaper group to get penalized around the globe or loose trust and it's not just recent. Why on earth do it - the revenue stream is desperately small for large business' like this [ even if they do make losses ].

Did the executives directing and paying the bills advise their bosses of the risk?

This type of penalization is nothing new. It's been going on for years, at least 7 years or more.

The problem is the competitive culture of the SEO industry which takes risks and spins the truth, and with Google who are not consistent in how they police links or communicate what works and what doesn't in terms of ranking. It's a vicious cycle of deceit and brinkmanship - welcome to the jungle. But you'd better respect the lion.

Anything that manipulates results is off limits. I'd think the majority of the internet would be at risk as demonstrated partially by Penguin and Panda. This tactic was just grossly obvious.

"Brands are the solution, not the problem," Mr. Schmidt said. "Brands are how you sort out the cesspool."

No wonder Eric Schmidt in 2007 referred to his own product as a cesspool of results and Google needs brands [webmasterworld.com...]

Whitey




msg:4549248
 11:14 pm on Feb 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

@Marketing Guy - btw I'm with you on those observations.

I wonder if Google will lift any manual action when or if Interflora cleans things up. I've not heard or seen how the JCPenney.com debacle ended up after it's manual penalty and subsequent clean up.

netmeg




msg:4549250
 11:20 pm on Feb 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

I've not heard or seen how the JCPenney.com debacle ended up after it's manual penalty and subsequent clean up.


I believe they made at least a partial recovery, but they've made so many awful missteps with their entire branding effort that it may not have done them much good.

aristotle




msg:4549264
 12:29 am on Feb 27, 2013 (gmt 0)


"Brands are the solution, not the problem," Mr. Schmidt said. "Brands are how you sort out the cesspool."

Do those brands include Interflora, J.C.Penny, Overstock, 1800Flowers, GourmetGiftBaskets. GoCompare, or Forbes Magazine? And do they include newspapers that sell links?

Schmidt's statement seems to inply that Google gave up trying to identify real quality and fell back on brands as the only solution they were capable of coming up with.

Whitey




msg:4549296
 2:48 am on Feb 27, 2013 (gmt 0)

Do those brands include Interflora, J.C.Penny, Overstock, 1800Flowers, GourmetGiftBaskets. GoCompare, or Forbes Magazine? And do they include newspapers that sell links?

@aristotle - i think so, yes, but there are limits to tolerance, so no.

Although i don't know all the examples you refer to and how strong their brands are in the US, Google is appearing to set some discretional limits on what it seems to accept in the "brand club". If Interflora became successful, every man and his dog would be buying advertorials from this newspaper group. And Google needs to nip this in the bud. I'm aware of actions against some newspaper groups over 7 years ago.

Anything spiking in traffic, increased linking, receiving spam complaints etc etc - it's all feeding either the algo or editorial reviews. Editorial decisions like this don't come lightly i suspect.

Schmidt's statement seems to inply that Google gave up trying to identify real quality and fell back on brands as the only solution they were capable of coming up with

As I see it there are brand signals that currently dominate as a lenghtly interim step. Against this there are generalised algo's introduced and being ramped up, per Penguin for link related activity above a certain point, and Panda to encourage quality UI/content. The last 2 will surely be increased in emphasis, as more sites meet branding standards.

Eric Schmidt seems to be communicating the power of association through wishlists like G+ etc will slowly become part of this. We'll see.

I suspect that the reason few, if any sites have broken Panda is because it's difficult when your income resource is broken to re invest confidently , the bar seems set high in terms of $$ related branding activity and Google is strategically in no rush as it puts the internet into "buckets" of trust at the high end. And Google really couldn't care about sites that don't adequately compete with brands, such as affiliates unless they do something really special.

Against this you have editorial intervention via monitoring for gross excess' such as Interflora and JCPenny . It might be slow, it might at times not be fair, but I think Eric Schmidt would see his comments as a consistent intention even today alongside current actions and commercial plans.

Search engines are going to be less of a revenue force as diversification into devices limits the listings sought and forces players like Google to come up with ideas that combat the lack of listing space.

Maybe Interflora would be better to improve investment in a flower app and successfully sell that idea offline. Then by association and reputation it will win some of it's trust back.

tedster




msg:4549305
 3:34 am on Feb 27, 2013 (gmt 0)

Schmidt's statement seems to inply that Google gave up trying to identify real quality and fell back on brands as the only solution they were capable of coming up with.

Schmidt's comment about brands came in 2007 and Panda 1.0 was released in 2011 - Google's first serious attempt to measure "quality" via an algorithm.

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