Interflora Learns The Hard Way NOT To Buy Links

March 1, 2013

Social Media, SEO

Interflora Learns The Hard Way Not To Buy Links

Lately one of the world’s most famous flower retailers, Interflora have been all over the news – and not really for the right reasons. Earlier last week there were signs that Interflora had fallen from Google’s grace. By the end of the week it was apparent that Google had dropped Interflora from its top listings. For all of the main search terms that Interflora previously ranked number 1 for, they were dropped down to the fourth or fifth pages in Google.

What Went Wrong?

So, what did go wrong? Well, some top SEO’s looked at the problem. First, Martin Macdonald reported that Interflora had been giving out flowers to bloggers in exchange for reviews. They had certainly contacted some bloggers to request that they remove the links. This seemed a little harsh, but it is indeed against Google’s search quality guidelines.

However, the following day we learned from David Naylor’s blog that that the real problem may have been Interflora’s pre-Valentine’s Day promotion. They had bought many advertorials in newspapers all over the UK, and it seems that in many of the online versions of these newspapers there were links to Interflora – and these links passed Google PageRank.

Now, at the moment all we know is that:

  • Interflora has lost almost all their rankings. It does not even rank for its brand name.
  • Interflora / their marketing department have been contacting bloggers to request the removal of links. Some SEO specialists commented that they may be removing the wrong links though!
  • The online newspapers have mostly all removed the links already.
  • The online newspapers have also experienced a fall in Google PageRank since the incident.

Such a dramatic penalty is certainly manual intervention from Google. They have obviously investigated Interflora and its link building practices and found that they have been buying links.

Here’s Matt Cutt’s (head of webspam at Google) view on the topic:

Did Interflora Know?

The big question is, should Interflora have know better?

All the articles were labelled as an ‘advertorial’. Is it up to the advertiser to specify that links are “no followed” to prevent PageRank passing from the publisher site to the advertiser site? It could have been an error on the part of the publishers – maybe they have not read Google’s guidelines?

It will be interesting to see if Interflora recovers. Many analysts say that they will. The speed at which they have had all their bought links removed is astounding! One of the benefits of working with mainstream media and newspapers is that they will act fast for a client, unlike smaller and part-time web masters who publish a few articles a week in between other jobs.

Interflora have certainly learned a valuable lesson during these last few weeks: If you buy advertorials make sure those links are set to nofollow!

Interflora Discussion On Twitter

Here are some selected tweets about Interflora’s online problems:

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About Jon Wade

Jon Wade first reported this story on Essex Portal after hearing that some Essex florists were experiencing an increase in online orders this week. Investigations led him to discover that the cause of the problem was that Google was punishing Interflora for breaching their policy guidelines.

View all posts by Jon Wade

8 Responses to “Interflora Learns The Hard Way NOT To Buy Links”

  1. KrisOlin Says:

    Jon, this is unreal! I can’t believe how it’s possible that an established company such as Interflora, who have been around for ages, makes this kind of a huge mistake! Shame on their marketing, web and SEO guys!

    …they probably don’t have an SEO guy 🙂

    Great post, mate!


  2. John Garrett Says:

    Ouch! So painful. To not even rank for your own brand?? Yikes!

    I wonder how long they’re going to be in the penalty box, and I really wonder what they amount of lost revenue will tally up to. The accounting department will probably be crying when they get to the bottom of the ledger.

    It just goes to show how dominant Google still is. Even though I use Bing more these days personally, I never hear a client freak out about their Bing ranking or about being dropped from Bing or Yahoo, or even see stories like these about another search engine penalizing a site.


    • KrisOlin Says:

      I agree, JG! Google is slowly but surely becoming the “All Powerful Mighty Web Entity”. Somehow I get flash backs from Orwell’s 1984!


  3. Jon Wade Says:

    It is shocking isn’t it? Today I was watching a Youtube video and the video advert at the start was Interflora. I actually watched it all – I never do this! It was a good advert, and shows them to be a great company.

    The Interflora discussion on Twitter links above are interesting – one is about a story from 2010 when Interflora was suing Google for allowing competitors to rank their adverts for “Interflora”. When a company is losing out on visitors due to advertiser using other brand names (now in breach of Adwords policy I think) it is no surprise they went to great efforts to win in SEO.

    I still cannot help thinking that part of the problem was that the newspapers did not add nofollow to the link. Newspapers tend to have a policy of not linking at all, but maybe if an editor is asked by a large company they will do that. Maybe the editor did not know about Google’s policy on paid links? Who knows!


    • KrisOlin Says:

      Jon, what do you think, isn’t all this Google worship getting a bit too much? People think that the big G is the only thing that matters on the web, but I just ran a search on BING here in Australia and “Interflora” got the same, normal results as usual. What gives, I must ask?


    • KrisOlin Says:

      Jon, what do you think, isn’t all this Google worship getting a bit too much? People think that the big G is the only thing that matters on the web, but I just ran a search on BING here in Australia and “Interflora” got the same, normal results as usual. What gives, I must ask?


  4. Stan Faryna Says:

    The online ecosystem is a savage space where everything counts if it is a competitive advantage. Until it doesn’t. I suspect, however, that Google’s actions against Interflora is an arbitrary and malicious exception. We all know that Interflora’s relationship with Google has been problematic for some time and people are right to wonder if Google’s powers have become more dictatorial and arbitrary than the service-oriented editorial process that Google claims to be their mission. On the other hand, examples must be made – now and then. Google must champion it’s charade of “journalistic” integrity. And Interflora’s investment in black hat SEO has likely brought returns that exceed this temporary hiccup.

    Recently on my blog:

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    • KrisOlin Says:

      Stan, I can tell you one thing, Google isn’t the nice, cool company we used to think any more. For instance, last year they shut down my AdWords account just because I was presenting 5 ways why Facebook Ads are better that Google Ads. A little bit of comparative advertising that has been used for ages throughout the history of advertising. Bang, shut down, not even a warning! Now, is that protectionism to the max. or what?!

      In the Interflora case though I think they were pretty much on the right track. If everyone were allowed on page one who can afford to buy enough links, the search results would lose their meaning, and Google it’s (relative) reliability.


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