Interflora’s Google Penalty – What, Why and How

During the past week, you’re likely to have seen plenty of discussion in the SEO community regarding international flower delivery company, Interflora. No, SEOs aren’t laying out their plans for Valentine’s/Mother’s day, it’s because they have been heavily punished by Google, and near enough removed from the rankings.

The chatter and speculation started after Martin MacDonald posted this regarding Interflora’s sudden plummet from the search engines, or as he described it, “wiped from the face of the internet”.

Interflora were ranked very highly in flower/florist related search terms, such as ‘UK Flower Delivery’, and have plummeted in all of them. They’ve even fallen from the first page in a search for their own brand name, which epitomises how badly they’ve been affected. So, this begs the question, what happened?

Interflora Traffic
Bit grim, isn’t it?

There have been plenty of theories regarding why Interflora have been placed in Google’s bad books (for the time being, at least), but the catalyst would have to be their recent advertorials. This, as you could probably work out, is an advertisement in the form of an editorial. In Interflora’s case, a paid link in order to pass through PageRank.

In the build up to what I’d imagine to be the key point of a florist’s year, Valentine’s/Mother’s day, it seems that Interflora were a tad aggressive with their link building in this respect.
Anthony Shapley was the one to reveal this, as his post here explained how Interflora placed an approximated 150 advertorials on newspaper websites all throughout the UK.
Now, this is the most viable reason for Interflora’s de-indexing, seeing as the newspaper’s websites which hosted Interflora’s advertorials all received a massive drop in page rank.

PageRank Drop

On top of this, on the 22nd (a day after Martin Macdonald’s post), this post was put up on the Google Webmaster blog by Matt Cutts, reminding people about paid links that pass page rank, and that it’s, well, rather frowned upon…

“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.”

Whilst the punishment may seem harsh in some people’s eyes, this seems like Google are using Interflora and these newspapers as an example, also showing that both the buyer and seller of these paid links can and will be punished in this situation.

This isn’t the first time that a big-name brand has taken a hit from Google – one that springs to mind is J.C. Penney. They received a massive penalty after it was discovered that the majority of their links built to secure top ranking keywords were built via spamming, as they created a link network created to manipulate Google.
As well as J.C. Penney, companies such as Forbes (selling links for PageRank) and Overstock (exchanging discounts for links) have also received punishment.

Something else which has been noticed is that Interflora’s SEO team seem to be contacting webmasters whose blogs link to their site in order to remove them, as seen here:

This shows that Interflora’s SEO team look like they’re trying to distance themselves from any possibly damaging links during their recovery process.

On that topic, recovering from something like this would obviously be quite a pain, but there are certainly ways to go about it. If you’re looking for some inspiration regarding this, iAquire’s story is certainly worth a look. They were also punished by Google due to their links, and this post details what they’ve done in order to get back in to the rankings.
In regards to cleaning up your link profile, which is a key component in the recovery process, I’ve thrown together a post over at Guest Blog Genius regarding this topic, giving a full guide on what you can do to tidy up your link profile.

Liam McCarthy

SEO Engineer at Wow Internet
Liam is an SEO Engineer at Wow Internet. He joined the team in the summer of 2012 and works on a range of clients' search engine optimisation within the search marketing team.

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