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A bunch of shrivelled roses

Interflora looking a bit wilted this week

We’ve received quite a few questions from bloggers about “The Interflora Situation”, so here’s our clarification, with general suggestions for bloggers who don’t want to lose their reputations.

In case you missed it, last week Google penalised Interflora and regional newspaper networks – decimating their rank status – because (ahead of Valentine’s Day) Interflora bought around 150 advertorials from various regional newspaper networks. They all contained links to the Interflora site, riding rough-shod over Google’s long-standing official quality guidelines re. selling links that pass PageRank.

There’s nothing wrong with disclosed advertorials in themselves (providing they’re not terribly boring) as long as they don’t contain a followable link to the sponsor’s website – which every one of these posts did.

What’s more, they were all published within a couple of networks of associated sites, so they were really easy to identify.

The combo of announcing “this is an advertorial” + the followable link + all being within the same network = a crackling neon sign that blinked “POLICY VIOLATION!” to Google’s detective robots, which (SEO industry’s best guess, since Google’s algorithm is not in public domain) work by looking for such combinations.

Once a few advertorials were detected, they all went down. The entire newspaper network’s ranking has now flatlined. Interflora’s paid Google ads are still up, so they are accessible, but they’ve dropped out of the actual search results.

It’s important to note here that Google’s quality guidelines on paid links have not altered for about 10 years. Interflora were just especially aggressive, and it’s possible that they had already been warned against this type of behaviour.

However, as a blogger, it’s always worth being sure that:

  • You’re not signed up to any cross-linking rings 
  • Nobody’s selling your site as part of a link-scheme network – with or without your permission. We have been approached by “middlemen” claiming to represent bloggers we’re already friends with. When we’ve spoken to those friendly bloggers, they have no knowledge of this “representation”. You should be wary of accepting “guest content” willy-nilly without knowing where it’s coming from. Also remember that joining a link network increases the risk of being penalised, since you only need one site on the network to be found, and you all go down together.
  • Everything you publish, whether you write it yourself, feature guest posts, interviews with your blogging buddies, anything you pay people to write for you when you’re on holiday, or whatever, is 
    • relevant to your blog’s themes
    • really good quality; we suggest that you don’t publish anything you wouldn’t be happy to put your own name to
    • unique – it adds something of value to the web that you can’t find in a hundred other places already
  • All link-outs are relevant to their context. They provide further reading on a topic that’s too complex for a single post (or already covered very nicely elsewhere), or a useful resource for your reader, or a funny picture that concisely illustrates whatever you’re trying to communicate
  • You don’t link to the same URL lots of times across your blog. Wikipedia is probably alright and of course you’ll have favourites, but repeatedly linking to the one place looks odd. Even if you’re not being paid to do it, it might be time to broaden your horizons!
  • Your footers and comments are not full of non-contextual external links
  • Your content doesn’t contain the terms “advertorial”, “paid post” or “sponsored post” in context with an external followable link.

The primary key here really is quality and relevancy. Don’t run a blog full of rubbish and hope to keep making a living from it. Make sure your content is written by you or someone you trust, and that’s it’s all relevant to your blog’s themes and focus.

Google’s advice: “Before making any single decision, you should ask yourself: ‘Is this going to be beneficial for my page’s visitors?.. We wholeheartedly agree with this statement.


7 comments on “What does this “Interflora crisis” mean for bloggers?

  1. Really interesting as I know a number of bloggers have been worried. I love my little blog and love working on campaigns so we do need to know what we have signed up for.

    • Suzie Saw on said:

      Thanks Emma – glad it’s useful. So many of you and your peers’ blogs are clearly labours of love…&, I suspect, sweat, tears, maybe occasional swears… I imagine you must feel very protective about them?

  2. Cole @ FourJandals.com on said:

    Solid advice as usual. Interesting that Interflora got punished so severely but I am sure that I have seen them in trouble in the past regarding selling links… Not sure if I made that up or if that actually happened though haha.

  3. Big D. on said:

    Google doesn’t want people to be able to buy or sell adverts from anyone except themselves. They are basically trying to scare people into only paying for Adsense clicks, instead of investing in any other forms of advertising. Similiarly they want bloggers and media to host google ads (ie. give 75% of our advertising revenue to them) instead of selling any other form of advertisement.

    In other words Google want to be the only advertiser on the web, or at best to have a very healthy share in every advertisement.

    A dangerous monopoly based on the fact that there search results are mildly better than the others.

    And for a company who claims that they want to show people the best search results there’s a big hypocrisy in that they are very happy to stick anyone who pays above those results in a box so lightly coloured that most people don’t even realise these top listed links are adverts any more.

  4. Tyrhone on said:

    Thanks for the heads up, good tips on making sure a post is natural and worth reading. Those peeps pretending to represent bloggers get my goat in a big way.

  5. Jim O'Donnell @ Around the World in Eighty Years on said:

    Thanks for this post and for sending along the link. Very interesting. I wonder….if Google removing Interflora from search results has a significant impact on their income, wouldnt Interflora have possible grounds of a lawsuit? I mean, it is not against the law to pay for links, right? So if Google suddenly took (what seems to me) a fairly aribtrary swing at Interflora and it knocked thier business in any serious way, couldnt there be grounds for legal action? I wonder if this has been explored. I think that given Google’s dominate and nearlty-monopolistic power over internet searches there will have to be some pushback.

    • Ralph du Plessis on said:

      Hi Jim. You have a valid and widely felt opinion, but what it comes down to is it’s Google’s search engine and their rules have always been very clear. It’s just unfortunate that they hold such a monopoly.

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