How Blackhat Mummy Bloggers Killed Interflora

There will be no happy Mother’s day at the Interflora office. They’ve just been wiped off the face of the internet (which basically means Google has dropped them for linkspam). And the funny thing is that it’s mainly the fault of the mothers! Or to be more precise – mummy bloggers. Hang on, don’t scream yet, I’ve got a case. I did go a bit cheeky and pulled in their backlink profile from majesticseo.com and opensiteexplorer.org.

Both the Majestic’s “Trust Flow” and OSE’s “MozTrust” proprietary metrics suggest that interflora.co.uk is an authority site. Well, it’s not exactly big news any more, but the truth is that they’re not. And here’s a step-by-step to why.

For this overview I took a sample of Majestic’s link data, which included 4,000+ top backlinks for interflora.co.uk. I removed duplicates and ended up with a list of 830 links, which you can download as a zip file. I mean, why not. It’s not like I could aggravate their situation even more. It was first reported, I think, by Martin MacDonald some 4-5 days ago. Thank you, Martin, for the heads-up!

The worst that could happen has happened to them and it will take a lot of time and effort to recover. In the meantime, maybe this article will help some SEOs to clean up their profile before Matt Cutts comes knocking at their door.

At the first glance, I didn’t see the obvious spam signs like Angela links or Ivana links but there was something so peculiar that made me chuckle and remember another situation when a serious business almost went under because of moms! Yes, almost 10% of the backlink sample of Interflora is made up of the so-called momma-blogs or parenting blogs.

Mum Knows Best

Yes she does but not when it comes to SEO. In fact, I’m sure that women will try to kill me after what I will have written here, but I don’t mind. I have to get it off my chest. Deep breath… apart from the very obvious spun-spam, Mummy Blogs is the worst kind of link source that you could possibly go for because of the lack of editorial control.

The plus-vote is earned by providing a free sample or a product for a review. This is where the Law of Reciprocity comes into play. Since the company has provided an item free of charge, there’s no way the part-time mummy-blogger would write a negative review.

Then the word is spread via parenting forums and now every momma-blogger out there knows that if they manage to attract the attention of PRs and SEOs, they will be sent cool stuff to review and treated to some PayPal money in the process.

Because the PRs are quite keen, they will send the mums all sorts of stuff - from diapers to showerheads. Then add in voucher codes into the mix and try to answer a question – does this look like an authority site? How can you write a quality review about a showerhead if you have no idea of its inner workings and if you haven’t compared at least several dozen of those?

It may well be that it was this particular part of Interflora’s linking profile that triggered the penalty.

This approach is in no way better than the pre-Panda article directories. Because that’s essentially what 98.2% of the parenting blogs are – repositories of articles on various unrelated topics with very little editorial control… and, alas, they all sound more or less like Coleen Nolan… but that’s already beyond the point. Disclaimer: If you are sincerely insulted by this writeup, congratulations, your parenting blog is probably one of the 1.8% good ones. Keep up the good work and read on!

I'll show you how!

I’ll show you how!

A near-penalty experience

You may be wondering about my memories that I mentioned earlier. Yes, I’ve seen another case of links from parenting blogs causing problems for a company. It was last year and I had a chance to look at a backlink profile of a company that had received a GWT warning.

What had happened was that the company had enlisted help from an unscrupulous SEO agency and they’d built a small amount of dodgy review links, including 15 links from parenting blogs. We managed to remove the offending links but another company served by the same agency didn’t remove them, and today they’re lucky if any of their search phrases appear in the Top100.

Instead…

Go for authority links in your niche. If you sell showerheads, get a plumber to put a review on his website but don’t ask a parenting blog to do it because they’re not authority on showers.

Fake EDU Links

There’s no way a florist like Interflora could have attracted 43 educational and government links. Two of them are included with the sample zip file. Have a look and let me know how natural you think they are.

Instead…

But wait, if you’re big and rich and you’re passionate about flowers (which I assume you are since you’re running a business in this niche) there is a legitimate way you could have got really good edu and gov links. That’s if you really want them and if you still believe the old myth that they are the Holy Grail of SEO. Sponsor a study in botany, get a bunch of students on your case study, liaise with the universities and bingo – you get two for one:

  1. Some lovely edu links and,
  2. amazing content for your own website – i.e. a case study that you can then share around, turn into an infographic and gather some super nice links along the way… naturally. Simple? Sure!

Links from Networks

When it comes to using blog networks, Interflora isn’t a massive offender, although I found a couple and if I can, Matt Cutts can too! Look at the pic – this is probably the most severe case I’ve seen: 113,000 MFA sites in one network.

Building Networks

Building networks eh?

Instead…

Here’s a bit of an advice. Get a subscription for WhoRush (it’s only £30-something a month) or any other WHOIS service that gives you reverse lookup functionality. The reverse lookup is your friend because it tells you what other websites your potential link partner owns. If he owns hundreds of MFA sites that are interlinked, why, why would you pursue a link with him???

Disclosure is too obvious

Don’t get me wrong. Disclosure is important. All legitimate blogs should disclose their relationships with sponsors but when they start being ridiculous, saying “Send me free stuff to review and I will give you SEO-friendly links” in open text, well, just don’t reach out to a site like that.

Cheeky Grandma

Cheeky Grandma!

Entrecard, NuffNang, Listed here, Listed there

The previous pic provides a good prelude to the next issues. If you want to be a successful SEO, you have to familarise yourself with the badges and banners. What does Entrecard and NuffNang tell you? Not sure? The short translation from Malay language is something like: “don’t approach this blog for links”. LOL!

They are traffic exchange schemes and they exchange the absolutely wrong traffic. If a webmaster has put one of those on his blog, you can be absolutely sure that there are plenty of other SEO issues with this blog. The same goes with almost all the small badges and widgety-thingies.

While we’re on this Grandma-blog, here’s a proof of what I said earlier about reverse lookup. If the SEO-person-expert who approached this Grandma-blog on behalf of Interflora had looked at WhoRush data, in particular the number of domains hosted on the IP, and the postal address of the registrant, he would have realised that getting a link from this blog was a very very bad idea.

Spammy Titles and Overly Promo Lingo

The search engines aren’t stupid these days. They can even detect the sentiment of an article. So, when you guest blog for other sites, try to be useful and natural. There’s no need for titles like: “Benefits of Internet Shopping” and “The Main Boon for Perusing the Online Flower Retailers”.

Instead…

If you decide to outsource your content creation, it’s your choice and I respect it but please outsource it to somebody who has managed to move on, somebody who has managed to rid his thinking from the pre-Panda stereotypes.

Anchor Spam

Here’s the news, if you link to your website from the same guest blog twice, using a spammed anchor text once and a branded anchor for the other link, it is still considered anchor spam.

Instead…

To transfer “relevance” from the guest post to your target page, it’s enough to make sure the guest post is relevant. The most natural way to create content is to tell a client about this new super showerhead model and record your conversation.

Then transcribe it and the resulting article will be a very natural and relevant piece about showerheads. Because when you talk, you don’t do keyword stuffing. Or at least I very much hope you don’t. And then it doesn’t matter a lot what anchor you use to link back. If the content is useful and relevant, it will provide value.

Too many links pointing to the root

On this interflora.co.uk sample, 60% links pointed to the homepage. This is awful! It’s an e-commerce website. With e-commerce websites you don’t build the bulk of the links to the homepage.

Instead…

Identify the best topical resource pages and category pages (assuming your e-commerce website has no issues with navigation, breadcrumbs and duplicate content) and then build highly relevant links to those pages.

Cheeky div banners

So, sidebar links and footer links are bad, right? What do we do? How do we try to trick everyone? Yes! We build a banner that looks like a banner (because this SEO expert at make-money-from-home-and-get-rich-for-stay-at-home-dads.co.cc said that banner sidebar links are ok) but that technically is a div background with a stealthy text link on top. It looks just like a banner, so it should be ok?

Instead…

Just remove them, please! Better remove them now than get slapped by a Google penalty. For the amount of money you’re spending on these links, you could be creating amazing infographics and videos week in week out and earn at least the same number of links legitimately!!!

The ONLY type of a legitimate sidebar text link is when one blogger links to another blogger whose blog he reads frequently. On Interflora’s link profile I noticed several sitewide links or multiple links from the same domain.

Newsletter Advertorials

Allegedly, some British regional newspapers have been taken down along with Interflora for hosting advertorials that pass PageRank. This is early days and I’m still monitoring the rankings of those newspapers. At the moment I can see that one of the UK’s largest celeb (chav) magazine has suffered some ranking drop. I’ll post an update when there’s a clearer picture but the morals of this story is that you should use advertorials to entice the readers into buying your products and not to trick Google.

Spammy Directories

Well, why would you want to submit a florist website to a directory called Domaining.in? That’s a directory of the Indian Domaining industry, right? Well, aparently not.

Instead…

The only reason why you might want to be listed in a directory is that the directory would bring relevant traffic to your website. If you’re selling showerheads, you want to be listed in plumber directories but you certainly don’t want links from Origami directories or “seo-friendly” general directories.

So, where to now?

Do you think it’s possible for Interflora to recover? How many reconsideration requests will it take for them to appear for any results? You will notice looking at the sample zip file that they are actively removing links. I’d like to see their new legitimate link strategy because for a site like Interflora, there are SO many exciting and natural link building opportunities. It’s a pity they didn’t want to go down the natural route in the first place.

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Arvid Linde is an independent SEO consultant, award-winning journalist, MSc in engineering, published author and a technology addict. More info on the about page.
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  • Spook SEO

    It’s true that the main reason why I really want to be listed in a directory because they always bring relevant traffic to my website. That’s really my purpose.

    • http://buzzkeep.com/ kensingtongreen

      Yeah, that’s the only valid reason for wanting a directory listing. The only thing is that there are very few directories that are really used by humans.

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