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Interflora Case and Toxic Back Links

The recent Interflora scandal, which saw one of the biggest flower delivery companies online get penalized for dubious back links by Google drew attention to what black-hat and white-hat practices really mean in this field. Interflora was removed by Google from the search results in queries by its own brand name. This happened in mid-February and although no confirmation of Google’s actual reasons behind the penalization was released, there is plenty of data to speculate on, in this case. Let us take a look at some of the bad approaches taken by the British company in building its backlink profile – and then analyze the steps a company can take in removing toxic links from its profile.

  • Paid and/or sponsored advertorials

Many bloggers confirmed receiving gifts from the company, in exchange for posting about their bouquets and delivery services. In the wake of Interflora’s penalization, Matt Cutts from Google rather obliquely explained that advertorial blog posts are counted as paid links. That is, of course, only if they do not bear the NOFOLLOW tag and consequently pass Page Rank.

  • Link automation schemes

Many were surprised to learn that Interflora had stooped to such a cheap, ineffective and clearly black-hat strategy. Similarly, they asked themselves why the company hadn’t been penalized for it before, when Google’s Panda update clearly took a jab at sites using these tactics. In essence, the company had paid for anchors and URLs on very poor quality blogs, which contained little to no content, and would lead back to a money page on Interflora’s website, or to another similar blog. This strategy was implemented through bots, or automated link-building tools.

  • Poor content with compound keyword phrases

Exact match and simple anchors are no longer ‘in’, following Google’s latest updates. This is why many brands are trying to increase their visibility through long-tail or compound phrases. However, Interflora employed this method in very poor quality content, which always linked back to money pages on their website. What’s more, the sites hosting their content were very low quality overall, adding on to the links’ suspiciousness.

Disavowing links

At the moment, most of Interflora’s back link profile still stands the very same way it did before penalization. Some suspect the case was used as an example of sorts by Google and that they tried to alleviate the damage they had caused to the site’s traffic rankings by putting them back in the SERPs right before Mothers’ Day. What remains, in the wake of this debacle, is the reality of a very poorly articulated link profile, which the company must clean up, or risk going bust for real.

In such cases, Google advises webmasters to personally contact the sites which host bad links and ask for their removal. This method clearly has its limitations, which, once reached, leave webmasters with no other solution then Google’s disavowal tool. This works by uploading a text file onto one’s site, effectively asking the search engine to ignore any number of toxic or suspicious links. However, re-crawling that content can take months for Google to complete, which, of course, places the site’s link profile in limbo until the re-crawling is complete.

  1. So, what you’re saying here, among other things, is that exact match compound keywords are no longer ‘a thing’ in guest posting? I’ve worked with clients (as a freelance writer), who still swear by them, but I have come across others who insist on non-optimized keywords… (like ‘click here’, ‘read more’, etc.) I really wish Google would make up its mind already :p

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