If you search Google.co.uk for Interflora you may be surprised to find that they are no longer listed on the Internet. At least, they are no longer listed on Google. Or, maybe it is more accurate to state that they are no longer listed on the first page of Google.co.uk.
Now, you may first assume that Interflora have gone our of business – why else would they vanish* from the Internet? Of course, they are still here. Lets try to explain what happened in a series of bullet points (it is late, bullet points mean less typing).
- Interflora is still on the Internet. Look: www.interflora.co.uk
- Google is not the Internet. They merely list websites / web pages and provide a handy way for us to search for new sites / pages
- Google use some rather complex computer programs to decide where to “rank” pages. Or, to put it another way, the Google search engine algorithm decides which searches you make in the Google should return which results.
- The results returned relate to various factors, such as:
- The quality and originality of a website
- The number of other sites which talk about it
- Its location (in some cases, where a business is located is important)
- Google will penalise a site if:
- It attempts to cheat its way to the top of the Google search listings buy buying popularity. This generally means buying links on websites that are already popular, thus making them look more popular.
- Filling the site with useless content designed only to attract searchers
- Filling the site with content copied from other websites
- Attempting to game the search engines by creating links to itself using popular search keywords
There is obviously a lot more than just that. Oh
*Interflora are still in Google – but only their Awords (paid advertising) listing is there.
N.B. Interflora.co.uk is still indexed in Google – Google has 22,600 of their pages listed.
Now, when we just looked at Interflora.co.uk am error message appeared
This error message may possibly be related to Google dropping them. Although it seems pretty harmless, it could be blocking googlebot, Google’s computer program that examines websites, from looking at the site. Whenever Google is blocked from a site it removes it from the index.
Paid Link Penalty?
However, there are reports on the web that Interflora may have fallen foul of Google’s paid link panalty. Simply put – if Google finds that a website has bought links it will give it a hefty penalty. This penalty will usually result in far more damage than not paying for links at all.
For example, of a website such as Interflora previously appeared as the 3rd or 4th result for a search for “buy flowers online”, and then they bought links to win the extremely lucrative top positiion, the penalty will not simply put them back to the 3rd or 4th position – it will knock them down several pages. Some SEOs (SEO is short for Search Engine Optmiser – a person who specialises in helping websites to rank higher in Google) have said that a paid panalty can drop a site down by 50-100 places (5 to 10 pages).
However, if you run a search for [online flowers] in Google (note, square brackets are used to signify that the search is not using apostrophes as using “” will return results that only show pages which have those words in hat order), Interflora.co.uk does not appear anywhere in the Google index (as at 23.59hrs on 21/02/09). In short – they have been dropped.
Martin Macdonald’s Analysis
Now, Martin Macdonald, a prominent inbound marketing expert (he knows how to rank pages higher in Google) wrote today that:
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.
He examined the situation and reported that Interflora had been “buying links”. However, they appear not to have been exchange links for cash. Martin Macdonalds reports that Interflora have been “sending free product to bloggers“. Google’s guidelines were recently updated to clarify what link buying is, and the clarification was simply that offering any service in exchange for links is now considered link buying. See full post: Interflora SEO Penalty Analysis 2013.
Here is what Google state clearly on their website:
The following are examples of link schemes which can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results:
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.
The important part has been bolded. Exchanging good (e,g, flowers) in exchange for links.
So, Interflora gives flowers to bloggers, bloggers talk about Interflora, Interflora rises in the rankings (until caught).
David Naylor’s Analysis
David Naylor is another professional SEO and has written about the problem on his blog: Interflora – Where have all the flowers gone? He has taken a look at the keywords which Interflora are no longer ranking in Google for. He sees most of Interflora’s main keywords are now appearing on the 4th or 5th page in Google.
“This is when you can identify that manual intervention at Google is in play as specific keywords have been targeted and these are likely to have been overcooked in the link profile, with links that Google aren’t happy with.”
Dave is certain that this is a manual penalty from Google, not as a result of any technical problems or changes to Google’s search algorithm.
Update: Interflora – What Really Happened? by Anthony Shapley
Anthony Shapley has provided an update on David Naylor’s blog. It seems that Interflora bought “advertorials”, i.e. paid newspapers to publish an article that promotes their business. While many, if not all, of the the html links have been removed from the articles now, it is assumed that they all had links direct to Interflora’s website, without having the advert blocking code (nofollow) added.
The result was that Google felt that this was designed to cheat the search engines, and so they penalised Interflora heavily.
What is a surprise is that many of the websites which published the articles have experienced a large PageRank reduction. PageRank is Google’s system of rating the popularity of a page / website. The PageRank displayed may not indicate a fall in visitors to these sites though.
Here is a screen shot of some of Interflora’s advertorials in the Google index:
But is this fair?
It could be argued that Interflora has been doing nothing different than it has always done – traditional marketing has always involved gifts. Whether it be lunches, golf days, hampers, wine, chocolates or whatever, companies have always entertained and spent money on their clients and people who are able to help market the business.
Should a company such as Interflora be penalised for doing this? I guess the bug questions are:
- Did Interflora request a link back in exchange for the flowers?
- Did the specific the keyword text to use?
- Did the Bloggers understand what they were being used for – are they to blame to (maybe their sites were also penalised).
- Did Interflora know it was in breach of Google guidelines?
- Does Interflora really care?
While Interflora may generate a lot of sales from keyword searches, they probably get a lot of sales via their brand name, Interflora. And although Google have dropped them, people will still find the brand that they trust.
Link Removals – To Recover from the Google Penalty
Interflora are already working to reverse the penalty. One Tweeter, Sarah (@amilliondresses) said on Twitter today:
“So now Interflora have asked me to remove all links from my post included the one to their homepage ….”11.56AM, Feb 21, 2013.
It seems that their SEO team / person is working hard to remove all indications that they have attempted to game the search engines.
Reading Sarah’s latest Tweets, it appears that she may have also been negatively affected. She Tweeted;
” I don’t think I know how to do anything else! Feels strange to have my photo all over the Interflora story :-/” (10pm, 21/02/11)
She asked a fellow Tweeter:
” I was gifted some flowers for review but wasn’t paid for links.”
She naturally linked (why wouldn’t she link to the company?) after reviewing the flowers, for free. I guess once this was OK, now it is not.
However, in an earlier Tweet she actually said:
“I didn’t remove mine, it was marked as no follow & required for the integrity of the post.”
Now, if a link is marked as nofollow (a piece of code that reads rel=”nofollow” is added) Google will know to ignore it when ranking websites. It is a way of informing Googlebot that the link was “bought” by some means or another, and to ignore it.
Of course, although everyone is now talking about Sarah (amilliondresses) it may be that the link on her website was never a problem! But, if other bloggers did not add nofollow then Google are in their rights, in accordance with their rules, to take action.
What To Do?
Well, Google do now offer Webmasters the option of “disavowing” their links, meaning that if a website owner (webmaster) is aware that a link may have been purchased or obtained with the intent to improve their search engine positions, they can request that Google ignores those links. It is a way of coming clean with Google, a way to say “hey, sorry, I bought these links, I am sorry, please do not banish me forever”.
Some SEOs have reported success with using this tool. But you have to know which links Google does not like, and which it does. And only Google really knows that.
Interflora In Essex:
It is important at this stage to remind our younger readers that Interflora is not short for Internet Flora, but International Flora. They were around before the Internet!
A Google search for Interflora in Essex also shows many florists that are Interflora franchises and also many Interflora pages for specific towns in Essex. Essex, you can still send flowers!
They have several shops in Essex – before the Internet we would walk into a shop, pick some flowers from a catalogue, and provide the name and address of the person we wanted to send the flowers to, and pay cash!
Inteflora was founded in 1920 by Joe Dobson of Glasgow and Carl Englemann in Saffron Walden, Essex.
There are many Interflora franchises around Essex, such as:
- STEPHENS FLORIST in Rayleigh – 01268 743446
- FLEUR DE LEYS FLORIST in Billericay – 01277 650100
- BELHUS FLOWER CENTRE in South Ockendon – 01708 852 092
- CASCADE FLORISTS (R F Willson) in Brentwood – 01277 220751
- ETERNAL BLOOM in Chelmsford – 01245 255579
- and many more.
Note, at the moment all of these websites are showing the same script error message. There is certainly something amiss with the Interflora websites. The problem may not be paid links at all. The SEO experts may be wrong, the problem could be an error in the website code.