Why Big Brands Bounce Back – Getting Away With Link Spam

Mar 11, 2013 by

Why Big Brands Bounce Back – Getting Away With Link Spam

One of the biggest stories in search over the past couple of weeks has been Interflora’s banishing from Google search results for what must have been seen as link spam. On the 21st of February, the flower website Interflora lost its rankings for not only their target keywords such as [flower delivery], but for their brand name (Interflora) itself. It was immediately clear that Google wasn’t happy about something and it seemed Interflora had taken its aggressive link building tactics one step too far.

Why Were Interflora Penalized?

Anthony Shapley wrote a really good blog post discussing the reasons why Interflora were penalized by Google. Essentially, in the run up to Valentines day, Interflora ran a huge number (more than 100) of advertorials on UK newspaper websites, advertising their services with a bunch of (followed) links to their website. If you’re not aware, an advertorial is an advert in the form of an editorial (not unlike this one here). The reason why Google wouldn’t be too fond of this sort of advertising is that these advertorials are paid for and they contain links which carry PageRank. Google in fact made it very clear that this was behind the Interflora penalty by quickly publishing a blog post reminding us that paid links which carry PageRank is very much against their guidelines. It wasn’t just Interflora hit either; the newspapers in question also saw a reduction in their PageRank. The Independent, for example, saw their PageRank drop from 8 to 4.

Big Brands Bounce Back

Just 11 days after the link spam penalty, Interflora are back in search results. They have convinced the vast majority of the websites who hosted their paid links to remove them (not that they needed convincing), and presumably submitted a reconsideration request. As many SEOs and webmasters will know, this is a very short amount of time for a reconsideration request to have been considered in. This is leading many to accuse Google of giving favourable treatment to Interflora just because they are a big brand. And they are right for thinking that. But is this wrong? Is Google thinking of Interflora’s interests here, or the users of their search engine?

It’s quite clear that many searchers are searching for Interflora, with the keyword tool reporting an average monthly search volume in the UK of 201,000. By excluding Interflora from their search results, they are giving searchers a bad experience. Google wishes for searchers to find what it is they’re looking for or at least provide relevant options and it is therefore in Google’s best interests to get Interflora back in the SERP’s as quickly as possible.

As unfair as it may seem, I think Google are probably making the right decision by lifting this penalty as soon as they did. And it really drives home the point that brand building, particularly online, is an incredibly important part of online marketing, and SEO, in 2013. Big brands get preference by Google, and the perceived strength of your brand is included as a ranking factor.

But it’s a shame that Interflora, as big a name as they are, are getting away with paid link building practices, when many smaller companies are doing their best to build their brand online in the ways that they should be (social media and PR for example).

So what are your opinions on this topic: is it fair that Interflora have bounced back so quickly?

Peter Meinertzhagen is an SEO Consultant working for marketing & design agency mark-making*. Having come into the industry from teaching he's passionate about training, development, and dispelling the myth that SEO has to be complicated. Follow Peter on Google Plus.

1 Comment

  1. Interesting that the Independent’s Pagerank has returned to 8. I wonder if some of the other papers also experienced this; possibly a contributing factor to Interflora’s return in the SERPs. Feels like Google is attempting to send a message!

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