google SEO penaltyHere’s a cautionary marketing tale from the SEO frontier: When your SEO agency says “we’re going to use all this money to get you ranked in organic search” and the alarm bells don’t go off, you should not be surprised when the next time you see your company name in print it’s accompanied by the words “Google Ban.” 

Interflora UK and more than a handful of regional newspapers have dropped like a rock from Google’s organic search results, following a number of SEO infringements reminiscent of the JCPenney & Overstock search rank scandal of two years back.

Interflora UK, which right now does not even rank for its own name on Google’s search, engaged in a number of deceptive link building practices designed to artificially boost its search rank in preparation for St. Valentine’s Day.

Amongst them were:

  1. Placing anchor text and keyword-laden advertorial in regional UK newspapers with do-follow links (they pass on PageRank and are regarded as a ranking signal in search).
  2. Sending bouquets of flowers to bloggers who then thanked the company and linked back to its site. (This is like paying for links.)
  3. Sending vouchers for flowers to bloggers who then used social media like Twitter and Facebook to thank Interflora and link back to the company.

While all this may seem like clever marketing it’s really a blatant attempt to use money to game Google search. Over the last eighteen months Google has made numerous changes to its algorithm designed to catch such attempts and promote sites that deliver consistent value in their content on the web.

The Interflora push was a gamble entered into by their SEO team and judging by the alacrity to which they responded to the company’s de-ranking from Google search, it sounds like they were ready for it. Cynics will say that the damage had been done. Interflora had risen on Google’s search long enough for it to make a killing on Valentine’s so the ‘lesson’ Google wants to teach here is moot.

Not quite so. Along with Interflora Google has also de-ranked dozens of regional UK newspaper websites that had a hard-earned Pagerank of 5 or 6 and which now are floating at 0. Their placement of advertorial copy they had been paid for that passed PageRank through Do-Follow links compromised their integrity and, in Google’s eyes, their authority.

Interflora UK will probably be back up where it was in a month or two if past history is anything to go by. The UK newspaper sites that effectively sold links, however, may not be so lucky and for them, already struggling to survive and in desperate need of eyeballs, this is a real, self-induced tragedy.