Wake Up SEO

The fact that there have been so many plausible theories put out about why Interflora got penalised says a lot about how far over the line they’d gone with their SEO recently.

We had @searchmartin‘s theory about Interflora overdoing the guest post / blogger outreach thing.  A bunch of bloggers getting free stuff in exchange for links.  Naughty.

We also had Anthony Shapley at Bronco post on Dave Naylor’s blog about the very naughty and extremely obvious network of interflora advertorial links from a bunch of newspaper websites. Tut tut.

Irish wonder picked up on the fact that Interflora appeared to be using their own network of sites to inflate links.  Oh dear.

There have also been rumblings about the frankly ludicrous number of pages on the Interflora website optimised for terms like “location+flowers”.  They have about 1800 partners in the UK, but felt the need to have around 25,000 almost identical pages covering flower delivery in pretty much every conceivable neighbourhood in the country. D’oh.

Of course, given the recent Google update about advertorials by Matt Cutts, we can make a pretty good guess which of the different  theories is most likely.

On the surface, the common factor in these putative reasons for Interflora having their arses handed to them is that they were done to excess:  Too many blogs; too many advertorials; too many websites in a network; too many pages.

This wasn’t a cheap piece of spam.  I had a guy from the same advertorial network as we see in the Interflora link profile offering me 200 advertorials across his network for £80 each.  The 150 placements in the purported network would have cost ~£12,000.  Wissam linked from Martin MacDonald’s blog to a set of search results with 41 blogs linking to Interflora and including the text “So Interflora contacted me…” .  That’s probably the tip of the iceberg.  Let’s assume that Interflora’s agency managed to get around 100 bloggers on board, and gave them the equivalent of a £25 bunch of flowers.  That’s £2.5K

IrishWonder found references to around 5k domains owned by a holding company that were part of the Interflora back link network.  Ignoring the hosting costs of those and picking a figure of £5 per domain for annual registration out of my arse, that suggests about £25K for owning the domains.

Our running total for link building so far is £39,500 without taking into account the time and effort needed to write content for advertorials, negotiate with bloggers, do the admin on domains, and do all of the other important SEO stuff.  It’s probably around the same again.

Interflora then have probably paid around £80K to get themselves up to number 1 for flowers before getting bent over and taking the punishment.  During Feburary there are probably about a quarter of a million searches for the term “flowers” – please correct me below…  Interflora probably cleaned up around 30% CTR from that because they’re a well known brand, and probably converted at about 5%, with a decent average order value of around £25 you get: £1.9 million.  Nice…

Except, Interflora don’t earn that.  Local florists take a slice for making up the bunches and delivering them and here are costs of doing business – staff, raw materials, computers, office space, stuff like that.   And marketing.

And this is the point.

All of the stuff that Interflora (or their seo agency*) were doing was expensive, but it wasn’t as expensive as it would have been to do things properly.

Rather than creating fantastic content and working with journalists to earn a place on authority news sites, Interflora bought their way in.

Rather than do something amazing for all of their customers in the hope that some might say something nice, they faked it.

Rather than create great content on their site, they auto-generated a fucktonne of crappy pages to target keywords that no-one searches for.

Rather than be the kind of business that attracts links naturally,they build a shit load of crappy websites, and pretended that they were popular.

Interflora spent a tonne of cash on pretending to be popular.  And disappointingly, no-one really talked about that.

I loved working in SEO.  I love the community, the people, and the thrill, but to be honest, the schadenfreude at Interflora disappoints me.  As does the “there but for the grace of god” sentiment.

It disappoints me that we’ve allowed ourselves to prostitute ourselves to clients who want to take shortcuts to success.  Who want to pretend to be popular when they’re not, who want to hide that they’re shit, or treat customers like scum, or commit fraud.

There is no such thing as an ethical SEO.  Because no-one working in SEO is even prepared to be honest with themselves.


I work for an agency.  This is my opinion.  Not theirs.



* You have no idea how tempted I was to put a keyword rich link in here…



7 replies on “Wake Up SEO”

  1. Actually, the only “ethical” SEOs (not that I personally give a toss about such moralistic, essentially religious if not downright metaphysical values…) are those black hats who aren’t shy about calling themselves “search engine spammers”. Provided they’ve actually pointed out to their usually clueless clients the risks involved.

    Beyond that, it’s a risk assessment decision. So if you happen to invest a hundred grand to rake in five hundred, it’s a fairly straightforward business decision.

    You may not like SEOs “prostituting” themselves to corps with such a business policy – but as you know very well, not everyone in the industry will agree. Because as an SEO, I don’t believe it’s my task (or even my right) to be judgemental about the way other people choose to run their business (apart from the obvious exception concerning criminal activities). I’m busy enough as is taking care of my own business and if others feel obliged to be judgemental about me because of that, they are cordially invited to keep it to themselves.

    I agree with your take on all the schadenfreude being spawned, albeit for entirely different reasons: here’s a business that invested some serious money into a venture and fell on its arse in the process. This, I’m afraid, can (and properly will sooner or later) to the best of us – the whiter-than-white included.

    1. Hi Ralph

      You’re right about ethics and honesty. My feeling is that a lot within the industry are less than honest with themselves and their clients about the risk that even a relatively conservative strategy can entail – especially when the goal posts are moved mid way through the game.


    1. Hi Nathalie

      I believe that they’ve done work for them, but it’s not 100% clear whether any one specific agency is to blame (or not), so I’ve not mentioned them in the article.


  2. I have to agree with Fantomaster here. And not only because he’s, like, an all powerful wizard.

    The search landscape is what it is. It’s not my job to help Google, a multi-billion dollar corporation, keep their SERPs clean. The original Google team became stupidly rich by being better than anyone else at doing that. It’s their problem, and it’s one they are paid very, very well to try and handle.

    My job is to assess the real search landscape (Not the one in the Webmaster Guidelines) and then provide a SEO strategy that’ll achieve the clients objectives within that landscape. The only ethics involved are whether I was honest with the client or not.

    I’ve seen plenty of pitches from White-hat agencies where they swear they can rank for keywords using 20 guest posts a month in verticals that are full of spammy, churn and burn style sites. That is every bit as dishonest and unethical as a black-hatter not letting a client know the risks of their strategy. If the industry were to acknowledge that truth, the majority would have to take a long hard look in the mirror.

  3. Very insightful and a humourous look at the way everyone has gone up in arms about the Interflora penalties. I knew it was bull when people were saying “amg itz cus dey gief out products 2 bloggers” because frankly, those are natural links and the risk is not worth the reward. Risk free products going out with nothing coming back? Lets say 1 in 4 recipients make a link – those links have cost a lot of money for decent value, yet high risk and probably not worth the juice.

    I think the local sites they’ve tasked [SOMEONE] to contact and create blogs to resulted in the manual penalty. It’d probably be a good idea for agencies to say “whoa – no” sometimes.

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