Risking the wrath of Google is never a good idea: just ask Interflora – who were recently caught out using dodgy SEO tactics. Overnight the online florist disappeared from Google’s search results for all their major search terms. With all this taking place just a couple of weeks before Mothering Sunday, it was expected to be a very costly blunder, but now, just a fortnight on from their initial disappearance, Interflora is back at the top of the rankings. So the question everyone is asking is: how has Interflora pulled off this comeback?
If you missed our last Interflora post, take a look here.
Sending a message
Interflora’s slip up and subsequent recovery isn’t the first time a big company has made a swift return to the rankings after a penalty for unethical SEO tactics. What’s different with Interflora is that Google haven’t revealed exactly what they did wrong, although they did release a statement reminding users about paid link schemes.
Google’s search engine rankings are mostly worked out automatically by rewarding user-friendly websites with better visibility, but they also apply manual penalties. Changes have been made to their algorithms over the past year to crack down on poor quality content and links, so it could be possible that Interflora were slipping down the rankings naturally. However, the fact they weren’t even appearing for branded keyword searches suggests a manual penalty had been dealt out.
It turns out Interflora had been paying for advertorials which contained links that passed PageRank to their website, which isn’t permitted under Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. The severity and timing of the ban suggested to SEO experts that Google were using the florist as a scapegoat to send a message about what is and isn’t allowed, which makes their sudden return all the more surprising.
How to come back from the dead
Somehow I don’t think sending Matt Cutts a bouquet of flowers would have been enough to get them out of trouble, so Interflora must have jumped straight into action to remove the offending links. They probably knew the penalty was coming before it took effect because their advertorial links were all quickly removed. There is also evidence on Twitter showing they had been talking to their blogging community from an early stage, asking for links to be taken down and even entire articles to be deleted. Google’s guidelines also prohibit companies sending gifts in exchange for link building, but it appears Interflora were doing this too.
Google likes to see sites working hard to get rid of all these toxic links, but inevitably removing every single link is tricky and takes time. At this point Interflora probably used Google’s disavow tool, which allows you to select a list of links you don’t want to be considered for the assessment of your site. However, Interflora were using spammy links on a huge scale, and the recrawl process that is part of using disavow usually takes weeks or months to complete. The speed with which Interflora shot back to the top of the search rankings suggests this process may have been manually sped up by someone at Google, possibly due the influence only a big brand like Interflora may possess.
The moral of this whole episode is that Google don’t like being made to look stupid. Use ethical SEO strategies and play by the rules and you’ll be fine. You might even be able to get away with morally grey tactics if they are used sparingly. But if you do something blatantly against the rules, Google won’t be happy. Interflora likely bounced back because they’re a well known international brand. Smaller businesses might not be so lucky.
If you’re worried that you might have dodgy links pointing at your site, or about the questionable conduct of a past SEO company you’ve worked with, why not give KPI a call. Our digital marketing team have a wealth of experience at providing SEO, PPC, and social media expertise to a diverse client range, and will be happy to talk through these concerns with you.