Interflora suffers SEO setback as Mother’s Day approaches
News last week that Interflora, the popular online florist, had been kicked into the long grass by Google for breaching the search engine’s rules, or Webmaster Guidelines as it calls them, has triggered a fair bit of talk across the search engine optimisation (SEO) and marketing community.
The high profile ‘SEO penalty’, or penalisation of Interflora by Google, is the latest reminder that even the biggest brands are not immune to Google’s views on what constitutes manipulation of its search results.
A large number of advertorials on regional newspaper websites around the UK were found to have the wrong kind of links to the Interflora site.
Crucially, these links ‘passed PageRank‘ to Interflora. This means they were boosting Interflora’s position on Google. There are different types of links, but links within advertorials that are paid for (in this case by Interflora) should not pass PageRank.
As a result, Google took action and penalised the florist. Due to the penalty, Interflora does not show up on Google, for the vast majority of its search terms. This is likely to be only a temporary punishment but it shows the danger to brands of ‘black hat‘, or dubious, SEO techniques intended to help sites get to the top of Google (where companies get the most exposure to customers). The newspapers in question were also penalised.
All in all, it amounts to a marketing disaster for Interflora, especially with Mother’s Day approaching fast.
At the time of writing on Monday, Interflora was beginning to crop up for certain ‘keywords’ relating to flowers and floral gifts but the highest it got was Page 2 of Google. In the highly competitive world that Interflora operates in, this is effectively nowhere to be seen.
Google, as ever, won’t comment on the story directly but has issued a statement reiterating its rules. Reading in between the lines, this statement is likely to have been targeted at Interflora. The statement, from Matt Cutts, Google’s Distinguished Engineer and Head of Webspam, included the following:
“Google has said for years that selling links that pass PageRank violates our quality guidelines. We continue to reiterate that guidance periodically to help remind site owners and webmasters [website owners] of that policy. 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.”
In some respects, Interflora has been lucky that this SEO penalty was applied after Valentine’s Day, which is clearly one of the biggest dates for the florist. Despite this, with Mother’s Day approaching, this penalty will be a major setback to Interflora’s sales. It could cost it millions, as recovering from penalties like this can take months.
Google has used shock and awe tactics to enforce its guidelines in the past. Taking manual action against big brands is certainly a powerful way of relaying its message and examples include penalties against BMW and Go Compare.
It’s unlikely we’ll ever know the full story of what happened with Interflora but what we do know is that someone, somewhere might be answering a lot of questions right now. Mother’s Day is a fortnight away but for Interflora it will almost certainly be a Mother’s Day to forget.Tagged in: flower delivery, google, interflora, SEO, webmaster guidelines
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