Latest to bear the brunt of Google’s Webspam team is ‘Interflora the UK flower giant’. And the punishment Google has meted out to Interflora is nothing short of harsh. Google has pulled down Interflora’s SERP ranking. Interflora website doesn’t rank on first page of Google for generic terms of its industry like ‘’flower’, ‘flower delivery’ etc. Moreover currently the website is not ranking on first page of Google for its own brand name. All this ranking loss is a sizable hit for this Flower giant.

So what exactly did Interflora do, to earn the ire of Google. Notwithstanding Google’s no comments stand ; fellow SEO sleuths got on the work of unearthing what went on behind the scenes.

The most common theory doing rounds is that of ‘Paid Advertorials with unnatural links’ being the reason Interflora was penalized by Google. This theory is being supported as well as written off by equal number of people. Let’s use this opportunity understand what exactly are ‘Paid Advertorials with unnatural links’. This penalty is an important learning opportunity for all those companies looking to get SEO and online media campaign for their website.

So what went wrong here???

Interflora is a flower giant, and ‘Valentine’s Day’ is one of the busiest time for the flower business. As with any company, about a month before the actual day, Interflora must have started aggressive promotional activities to gain customer eyeballs and grab business over competitors.

Amongst the various other strategies they might have adopted. One that is speculated to have backfired for them was ‘Paid Advertorial, with unnatural links’.

Understanding Advertorial: 

For those of us who are not sure what advertorials exactly are; here’s a helpful definition from the ‘Merriam –Webster Dictionary’

advertorials  plural of ad·ver·to·ri·al

Noun
A newspaper or magazine advertisement giving information about a product in the style of an editorial or objective journalistic article.

In simple terms. Advertorial is amalgamation of an Advertisement and Editorial. Research has shown that people give more credibility to editorial content than advertisement. And this gave rise to Advertorials. Advertorial look something like this.

Advetorial

Of course these placements come at a price. After all you are trying to mimic editorial content. Nothing wrong there. Many companies used paid advertorials as a way to promote their product/service. Such paid advertorials are a part of print as well as online media.

Typically in online media such advertorials carry a link of the company that owns the product/service that is being advertised. That’s to help the customer reach out to the product/service if they find it to be interesting/useful.

This link has to formatted correctly. Or it can lead to disastrous results such as the one Interflora ended up with.

Understanding Unnatural links:

To understand these links better lets understand a few basic facts about links. Every link that flows from your page to an external website not only connects the two websites; but also acts as a passage for your website’s link juice to flow over to the external website.

Link juice flow

Your website’s link juice is what helps your website develop its authority, page rank and ranking on Google search.

Without the link juice your website, would soon lose its page rank, ranking and most importantly its place on Google SERP.

So when you place a link of external website on your website, you are passing on your precious link juice to the external website, without even being aware of the same and thus draining your website of its power. In order to protect your website from this power drain whilst still linking out to an external website. You need to use a ‘rel=nofollow’ tag. This tag acts like a barrier which stops the flow of your link juice to external website while still maintaining the link.

Link juice flow with rel="nofollow"

This creates for healthy linking practice, which is in line with Google guidelines and constitutes as a natural link. Thus ensuring that your website doesn’t get any rap from Google either.

Without correct formatting, your website will keep weakening from the link juice drain to external websites.

loss of Link juice

Now that we have cleared the concept of link juice and its flow, let’s see how the paid advertorials might have gone wrong for Interflora.

Back to Interflora:

Interflora had contacted a bunch of UK news websites to feature its advertorial, which also carried a link of the Interflora’s website. This is known for a fact, as Interflora’s Advertorials have been featured on many news website. However following the controversy some of these websites, have taken down these advertorials. While some other continue to keep them in place.

Example

The theory of ‘Paid Advertorials with Unnatural links’ works out as following:

When placing the Advertorials on their website, along with Interflora’s link in the same, going against the healthy linking practice; these news websites did not apply the barrier to their link juice flow. This resulted in their link juices flowing over to the Interflora website. This helped boost the quantity of link juice that Interflora had. Thus helping Interflora rank higher on Google SERP’s and boost up its Pagerank, by unnatural means.

As these unnatural links, were draining the link juice of these news website, their willingness to go forth with such links, must have come at some cost. If this theory is to hold good, it’s safe to assume that Interflora must have paid sizeable amount of money to these news website to leave the link juice flow on.

This makes the playing field biased in terms of Interflora. This extra link juice with relevant anchor text; would have helped Interflora website improve its position on Google SERP and thus outbid its competitors, who might have been working with natural link building practices. This must have helped Interflora corner a sizable proportion of Valentine’s Day sales.

Smart move. But not in line with Google guidelines. If this assumption of ‘Paid Advertorials with Unnatural links is right’ then if and when Google must have discovered this little secret of Interflora and its news website buddies it must have gone berserk.  As neither Google nor Interflora, has made any official statement about this penalty and its causes, we are working on hypothetical basis here.

However this is for sure that Interflora as well as many of UK’s news website were upto something that violated Google’s guidelines, which got them such hard rap from Google.

Not only Interflora is the one to suffer in this carnage. Google has deftly handed out punishment to a bunch of UK’s new website as well. Many websites have lost their ranking completely. Websites, with Pagerank as high as 6, have been brought down to Pagerank 0 by Google.

That’s a deadly blow, considering that with 0 page rank these websites will get pushed behind in SERP’s drastically, and this will result in lower viewers reaching them, which in turn will affect their advertisers, who might start pulling out. This ultimately hitting the revenue generation of these websites.

So what exactly did the News Websites, or Interflora do, we don’t know for sure. Its all speculation unless confirmed by either of the involved parties, but this is a point in case for all website owners to make sure that when doing any sorts of Online promotional activity or Link building exercise make sure you adhere to all Google guidelines diligently. And in case you plan to hire an external agency for these activities make sure that you and your agency are on the same page and you are kept in loop about all the activities the agency undertakes to promote your website in Google and other search engines.