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.

5 Ways to make a Marketing Video on a Budget

I thought long and hard about what I could write for my very first SEO Chicks Post, but this week I have a challenge that needs a solution so thought I would share.

The Scenario

nyan-cat-videoMy client wants to ‘have a go’ at video as they’ve heard all about how ‘video sells more’. However, the management don’t want to commit to a budget unless they know it’s going to work (sounds an awful lot like SEO to me!). My mission should I choose to accept it, is to create a marketing video and put together a video marketing strategy with little or no budget.

I have little or no film-making skills, but I have created videos in the past and I did share an office with a video production company for 6 years so I know how much work goes in to making a something that you’d actually want to share (and how much it can cost). I also saw the reels on the cutting floor where various MD’s had insisted on writing the script and appearing in the video.

The result? An expensive looking 16 minute long video set in the lobby of the corporate headquarters with a truly awful speaker telling you things that make you want to go to sleep #moneywellspent.

The challenges I face:

  • No one at the client company is comfortable behind the camera
  • Currently, there is no camera at the location
  • No one can write a script for toffee
  • I do not have an army of interns or teenagers at home to help win the internet with cat videos

So what am I going to do?

After a few days with my head in my hands, a mind map, and a bottle of gin – I toyed with the idea of re-purposing Nyan Cat with a corporate logo or creating a Lego Gangnam Style (yes I too was devastated to find it had already been done). So with my best ideas out of the running, I set to task looking for ideas for quick wins or software that might help me out.

I was actually pretty impressed with what you can do for free or with a small monthly fee. If you have the ability to also make your own images, the confidence to be the star of your own video and the time to learn some software skills, you really can compete with the pro’s on a small budget. (more…)

A Review of The Link Building Book by Paddy Moogan





Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past week or so, you’ve doubtlessly heard that Paddy Moogan has written a book about Link Building :)

I read Paddy’s book this week and figured I write a review here.

I ought to say by way of a disclaimer that I do work with Paddy at Distilled, however this review is impartial – he’s not asked me to write this; nor have I received any kind of financial inducement to do so.

So, what do you get for your $37?

Over 65,000 words (or 287 pages) of Link Building goodness. The book includes sections on the following:

  • Link building basics
  • The history of link building
  • What you need to know about PageRank
  • The anatomy of a link – what makes a good (and bad) link
  • Planning and executing a link building campaign
  • How to scale link building safely
  • Penalties
  • Building a link building team
  • Outsourcing your link building
  • Making link building happen
  • Social signals and their effect on link building
  • The concept of AuthorRank
  • Link building techniques
  • Link building tools
  • Link building case studies
  • Link building resources
  • Blogs to follow for link building tips
  • People to follow on Twitter for link building
  • Google Webmaster Tools Videos on link building
  • SEO conferences that include link building sessions


Earning Links in “Boring” Sectors

I recently spoke at the UK search conference on a panel about linkbuilding in 2013. Most of the panel (myself included) were much of the opinion that any business can earn its links through the stories it has to tell however an audience member brought up a very valid objection related to industries that might be considered boring, particularly in sectors where an almost exclusive paid linking strategy still prevails. Whilst I can’t suggest that anyone managing a client in such a sector should take a stand and buck the trend (that would have to be a decision taken under one’s own counsel), I know from personal experience that even when your competitors seem to have no other link strategy than a paid one you can still compete in the SERPs with a quality-led marketing strategy rather than a paid-link only strategy. In fact this is a topic that has been addressed many times and in great detail so Imma just leave this one here… with examples from such sectors!

Instead I think there are two issues at play here, the first being unreasonable or old-school volume targets that simply don’t reflect what algorithms are rewarding today. Yes you can rank a site (albeit temporarily) for terms like “car insurance” or “roulette” with a paid volume-strategy and that’s because it’s a flipping weighted algorithm and half a million mediocre paid links “weigh” more than five hundred, good-quality earned links, but the former strategy is not future-proof. Google in particular are getting better and better at detecting and dis-incentivising this practise; plus there is always a tipping point at which six hundred, seven hundred, one thousand good-quality earned links will “weigh” more than those competitor volume-links. If you’re (or your client is) in it for the long haul and marketing a credible brand then really why risk a strategy that could a huge chunk of your traffic out of circulation, plus court the kind of negative attention your client could do without?

The second issue at play that I really wanted to address here is the notion that some businesses and sectors are so boring that they have nothing to say and no audience to say it to. I’d like to challenge that notion fundamentally and look at tactics and resources for earning links when everyone around you is paying for theirs.

  1. One man’s meat is another man’s horse burger.

Friend: “How was work today?”

Me: “Awesome. We discovered some odd syntax in a new clients’ robots.txt file that was causing a weird index loop and creating all kind of duplicate content issues in the SERPs.”

Friend: “Kill me now.”

You get the point of course. Just because a business or sector may be dry as a bone to us it is a source of passion to them and their clients. The fact that a business is a business means that there is a customer base; a desire for the product, a problem that is solved a demand that is met. So what if it doesn’t float our boat?

At the same conference we had in fact just heard tell of a perfect example of this, presented by PushOn’s SImon Wharton, who talked us through their award-winning case-study for client Little Greene. Little Greene make paint. Paint; a topic so boring that we use the drying of it as an analogy for the most boring activity imaginable. Yet as Wharton detailed, to Little Greene paint (and the pride that they take in the richness and range of colours produced) is a point of pride and passion for this business. Little Greene make very high quality paint, which is used by premium decorating services, restoration experts and is approved by English Heritage. Check out this video of the making of Little Greene’s most recent advertisement for a great example of a way to make something that could have been quite pedestrian; instead, visually stunning and an engaging vehicle to convey the passion and quality-commitment of Little Greene.

2. Trade Media

So a business or sector may seem boring to us, however in any sector where there is business to be had there is a trade press about it. One of the oft-cited reasons for difficulties in earning links in such sectors is that there is a lack of online media to approach. Whilst it’s certainly true that there might be less noise, fewer independent blogs and less consumer titles focusing on such products and sectors; that’s just life. There is however, always a thriving (albeit relatively small) community of trades media. I therefore invoke rule 34 on the notion that there’s a lack of online media to approach. If there is business of it, then there’s trade media of it.

Here’s a few little gems…

The Grocer - For all your horse-burger needs

Tunnels and Tunnelling International - Ya dig me?

Microwave Engineering Europe – Not microwaves, but microwaves.

Timber Trades Journal – Got wood

Compound Semiconductors – Not Silicon Semiconductors you fool. That’s here.

Cabinet Maker – I shit you not.


3.  Great Content

Even if your business or industry may be seen as boring, or have little direct appeal outside of its’ own eccentric audience that doesn’t mean that exciting, funny and imaginative content idea are off limits to you. There’s many a B2B or “boring” brand that has created a cult or counter-culture following out of good content. Now this point has been done before in great detail by our very own Hannah, over at SEOMoz, so do read her piece on those companies in “boring” niches who are kicking it.

If you can’t be arsed, then I’m sure she won’t mind me paraphrasing one of the best examples featured in that piece, which is that of Readers Sheds. Yes, it is a thing! It is a thing created by Cuprinol. You know that boring company that produce wood-stain? Maybe the product itself is a bit boring, but what about the very wood we stain? Does that not have its’ exciting applications? I wonder if this is quite a “UK” type thing? We are a nation of eccentrics after-all. Aside. As my fellow-blogger Hannah explains “…people are really passionate about their humble sheds and some people’s sheds are pretty damn amazing. With this is mind, to appeal to all the sheddies out there Reader Sheds run an annual competition to find the shed of the year”.

What’s not to get excited about?

4. Buzz the Brand 

Another way of approaching so-called “boring” products is to look at building a buzz around the brand itself. Ask yourself, five years ago could you ever have imagined anyone expressing excitement about the arrival of a new order of business cards? No. Me neither, but then along came Moo. Moo have created a vibrant brand that offers a great buying experience and customer service, so that the product itself is almost immaterial. Honestly, if you don’t believe me, do a twitter search for [thanks+moo] or [excited+moo] and see for yourself.

Remember people, these are business cards… business cards

Moo Cards Twitter
















5. Take it to the Bridge Human Conclusion

This is a tip that I picked up from PR supremo Claire Thompson of WavesPR. When faced with a product that’s very dull, or has no complete application in and of itself (such as concrete) Claire advocates taking the product to its’ human-conclusion.

As an example imagine a business that makes thermostatic controls. That’s not exciting, right? But what if you talk to your clients and find out where these integrated components end up? What if it turns out that their biggest customer manufactures incubators for premature infants? Then you’ve got a story like “Thermo Controllers Help Save 5000 Premature Babies in Contract to Supply Medi-Systems Ltd.”

If your client manufactures a product that’s part of a chain, talk to them about where their products end up. What’s the real world application? It’s a marketing approach that’s worked very well for companies like Intel. So very few of us would ever need to consider or touch a Xeon Processor, yet we know through the extensive multi-platform marketing efforts of Intel, that their products help our devices work. And we’re very attached to our various devices in an emotional (as well as functional) way.


I’d like to suggest that there’s really no such thing as a truly boring product, business or niche and that with a little thought and creativity we can devise stories and campaigns that can resonate with a waiting audience (Little Greene) or can gain a broad cult following (Cuprinol/Readers Sheds) or can excite and reinvigorate a once non-product (Moo Cards). The stories and campaigns we devise need to be positioned and marketed so that they attract and earn the links, citations and brand awareness that we’re looking to achieve for our clients. Really, I don’t think there’s any excuse for sticking to a link strategy that relies purely on paid links because there’s no other way. It’s just about creating and teasing that story out!

Welcome to the SEO Chicks Jackie Hole

The SEO Chicks have got an exciting addition; the lovely Jackie Hole! In fact, we don’t really know why she wasn’t already an SEO Chick from before. How did that happen, she sure “feels” like one of us.

VikingIf you have been to any conference the past 2 years you MUST have seen Jackie, she has basically been to pretty much every conference in Search for the past couple of years. A travelling SEO if you will. I believe the Icelandic have adopted her after several RIMC conferences, she must be an honorary Viking  by now (surely). See pic to left. Jackie runs her own SEO & PPC consulting business and has over 8 years experience in search, working for several agencies in the UK. As most SEOs she had a “former life” where she was a chef and a musician, naturally ending up in search via the passion to figure out what the heck the search engines are up to. Jackie is also a State of Search blogger and editor and a very good writer. Hence we convinced her to join the SEO Chicks, by twisting her arm, shoulder and anything else needing twisting. She obliged happily which in itself is a testament to her insanity, which we like.

Jackie, welcome to the SEO Chicks! If you are not already following Jackie on Twitter and Google +, please do so. Hmm, that sounds a bit like a threat.

How To Better Crowdsource Your Next Post

Crowdsourcing interests me for many reasons, not the least of which is that it’s a great way to get multiple people to promote content (yes, I’m always thinking about that.) Some of my favorite evergreen content pieces have been crowdsourced and I’ve noticed that when I search to see what’s recently been said about specific topics, those pieces still appear at the top of the SERPs.


With that in mind, I thought I’d ask a few SEOs to fill out a quick survey, with the questions being listed below:

1. What are your thoughts on crowdsourced pieces? Does it make you think that the author is being slack and taking a shortcut by asking everyone else’s opinions, or do you think that it adds more value to what could be a one-sided post?

2. What factors do you take into consideration when deciding which people you’ll ask to contribute?

3. What causes YOU to contribute to a crowdsourced post request?

4. What would cause you to immediately reject the chance to contribute?

5. What’s your favorite crowdsourced post and why?

For my people of interest, I grabbed a quick list of SEO contacts that I trust and took a small random selection of them to email. Since I love crowdsourced pieces (both contributing to and consuming) I thought I’d get a quick overview of how others feel about them. The results were exactly what I was hoping for.

44.4% of respondents love crowdsourced pieces. No one hates them or thinks the author is just being a slack ass (I was honestly worried about that one.) 55.6% think they add value to what would have been a one-sided piece.

What makes a person decide whom to ask: 100% said that they’d ask people who are subject matter experts. Only one person said they’d ask a person just because he or she participated before.

What causes you to accept the offer to participate: 76.9% said that they’d do it if the person asking was nice. Only 15.4% said they’d do it just for the link. 46.2% said they’d accept if the subject matter was interesting, 30.8% said they’d do it if the subject matter was controversial, and 46.2% said they’d do it if the topic had not been covered to death. 23.1% also said they’d do it if they had nothing else to do. (I like those guys. Boredom is a great motivator.)

What would cause you to say no immediately: 58.3% said they’d decline if the person asking “is an idiot.” Good. That’s my main reason for declining. 25% said they’d decline if they didn’t know the person asking, and the same amount said they’d decline if the subject had been covered to death recently. 16.7% said they’d decline if there were either typos in the email and 33.3% said they’d decline if the person addressed them by the wrong name. I’d add my two cents into those two reasons myself.

Favorite crowdsourced posts: got multiple votes also got multiple votes (I’d add my vote here as well)

The interesting bit about the favorites though? Most people didn’t remember one or didn’t have the link to hand. What does that say?    Obviously bias will be a factor and all of those three posts mentioned contained responses from my survey respondents. We may pay closer attention when we’re a part of something, no?

My absolute favorite crowdsourced piece is Rae Hoffman-Dolan’s annual Link Building With The Experts series. As a link builder, it’s awesome to read what everyone has to say each year, as these are serious experts and I am humbled to have been included this past year. As I said, I also added my vote to Jon Cooper’s piece (and I’ve used it in a presentation as well) because it’s massive, it’s fascinating, and it is full of responses from people that I respect the hell out of. Alessio’s music piece was fantastic because it was DIFFERENT, and because I’m obsessed with music. The chance to see what everyone else listens to was quite cool even though Bill Sebald did list “Cherry Pie” by Warrant and I find that almost completely unacceptable. Sean’s interview piece was incredibly well done (like all his stuff) and quirky. Gaz’s post was mentioned for the reason “because of the sheer scale of it.” As you can see, these posts have something in common: they’re different from all the other stuff out there. They include both industry “names” and people who aren’t as well-known (yet.)

So based on this how can you better do crowdsourced posts?

1. Be nice, as people are more likely to respond to you if you’re not an asshole or an idiot.

2. Make your topic interesting/controversial/not-totally-overdone.

3. If you’ve never interacted with someone, don’t expect them to immediately rush to participate. I’m not saying that you should only ask your friends of course, but generally speaking, if your first interaction is “hey can you do something for me?” it’s not going to go well.

4. Make sure you’re addressing the correct recipient or you could do what I did, which is lump them all into “People of Interest” which, thank God, didn’t seem to offend anyone. Check for typos. I might answer some questions for a post about the best rarebit but not about the best rabbit. Well…I might answer that one too actually. It’s Blazer Taco, MY rabbit.

Blazer Taco, rabbit of destruction

5. Time it so that you’re asking people when there’s not a lot going on. For example, if Google has just unleashed another crippling algorithmic update and people are crying online, don’t send them an email asking if they want to answer 10 questions about their favorite Moz post from last year. Actually don’t ever write a post asking that question.

Thanks to everyone who contributed. I’m not sure who you all are as I can’t see who responds, but thanks.