Interflora – When Spammy SEO Goes Bad

***The views in this blog post are those of the author and do not represent those of any of the other SEO Chicks***

The story of the Interflora penalty is not one of link building gone wrong, nor is it one of a sudden and unexpected penalty. The story of Interflora is something experienced SEOs are going to reference for years as one sterling reason why aggressive link building strategies should be designed and executed by experienced search professionals, and how short-lived high profile brand penalties are.

My father is a lawyer and he once told me a great many years ago “pigs get fatter – hogs get slaughtered”. I think it was in relation to something else I’m sure since SEO didn’t exist (ya, I’m that old) but it seemed an excellent life lesson and fits many situations. It also fits the situation with Interflora and why they got penalised.

This is *not* a penalty related to the blogger outreach they did which delivered a lot of links of varied anchor text (mostly brand), but advertorials (if one thing is to be blamed). I mean, the link farm, footer links, sidebar links, and other garbage weren’t helping but the blogger links certainly didn’t cause the penalty. In fact removing the only thing that could have helped recovery removed and creating bad blood among bloggers was a terrible decision in my opinion.

I’m quite cross with whoever is the SEO at Interflora or whomever is responsible for their digital marketing. I’m thinking papercuts and lemon juice. I’m talking about the individual who thought buying 150+ advertorials using computer-generated text all in the same month was a good idea. Also, who didn’t talk them out of it? Surely this kind of link building doesn’t happen in isolation – you need to buy *from* someone. Who didn’t check the text? Who didn’t care about the timings? Who the heck allowed this insanity to happen?

There was a lot more than advertorial links going on – there were low quality links as well. There are a lot of links lost recently as well. There are a lot of reasons, including article sites and directories losing their PR and therefore value. Jackie Hole suggests what I think many SEOs agree with – low quality links are likely discounted algorithmically and are not passing any value. I’ve experimented with them to differing effect on different sites for different reasons :-)

Nichola Stott though has a different spin on things. She, like me, believes that Google is relying more on human ‘grasses’.  She says “Since Panda, each significant update has relied on human feedback (be it quality raters, or industry professed “grassing up” via webmaster tools) which has informed the machine-learning algorithm. So I’d completely support your theory that the crap is devalued, reason being aspects of Panguin helped identify the hallmarks of that crap.”

There have been a lot of conversations on forums, groups and at conferences about Google basically scaring the crap out of webmasters and using FUD to force people into giving up any and all activity they had done for any reason. I think that the scared panic removal of the Interflora blogger links smacks of this panic fear. It also will encourage the “grassing up” Nichola talks about and I think is starting to happen a lot more often.

Nichola feels that, based on her experience at Yahoo that Google is likely on its third phase of working on algorithmically penalising or removing value from links. I feel that as a core part of the algorithm from its early days, the value of links will never be fully reduced and so link building will continue. The key is strategic approaches to link building and going back to the old reasons for it – traffic driving.

As part of my job, I’ve been working on planning and part of planning is stepping back from the scene and understanding the higher level business goals. Link building is to push up rank. Pushing up rank is related to getting more traffic. Getting more traffic is about increasing sales or leads. So stepping back we want more leads or sales so instead of mindlessly building links, build relationships with relevant communities, relevant bloggers and journalists for on-going coverage (with or without a link) and improving the on-site conversions and bringing together all different departments of sales, advertising and marketing and ensuring they are all working together.

Link building will never die and SEO will never die but what needs to get stronger is strategy, thoughtfulness and taking a step backwards to see the big picture. I’ve always said: don’t be a dick – buy links wisely.

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5 Responses to “Interflora – When Spammy SEO Goes Bad”

  1. gens` says:

    This was fish in a barrel for Google.

    This was unsophisticated and thoughtless spam executed by people not just with outdated SEO knowledge and techniques, but a complete disregard for the fundamentals.

    They have the luxury of both in-house SEO expertise and external agency resource, and have done for a number of years, a fact that, in light of the above, is quite worrying.

    Where Google’s going to have a real problem is overcoming well-masked private link network, developed by agencies from the ground up for one purpose: to sell links. This is where ‘grassing’ – either through conventional means or the disavow tool – is going to be essential.

  2. IrishWonder says:

    >Papercuts and lemon juice
    Ouch, that’s a terrible mental image you’ve just evoked for me! :)
    But seriously, I don’t have to tell you as you know better than me how it often happens with large clients – there is somebody inhouse thinking they are very smart, and they buy bits and pieces of work from external agencies. Most agencies will just do what they are hired for, with no regard to the bigger picture, and those who would care enough to look at the bigger picture will just get brushed off by the inhouse people. About time independent SEO audits became a standard procedure, that would make things much better for the whole industry and the clients IMHO.

  3. IrishWonder says:

    gens – with TRUE private networks that properly set up it just wouldn’t be possible

  4. Teresa von Illyes says:

    Thanks a lot for this information. I am new to all this SEO stuff and this information has helped me a lot, thanks again.

  5. This should also be a lesson for most companies outsourcing SEO staff. They must pick those seo-providers who are genuinely knowledgeable with everything… including Google’s new algos. Because unfortunately, there are lots of seo providers who are still doing the same old black-hats and automations.:(

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