Interflora got penalized only 2 weeks ago, right after Valentine’s day with a huge coverage in the media and also a some-what indirect statement from Google’s Matt Cutts himself about Advertorials also counting as paid links if they pass Page Rank (i.e. do not have NOFOLLOW tags on them).

Now, just this past Sunday, a week before Mother’s day in UK, they are already back for most of their rankings. Many wonder how that recovery was possible so quick and we’ll look at what was changed and what was cleaned up.

More Than Advertorials

As we could see in the Interflora Deep Dive Analysis the 100 or so Advertorials where not the only bad links in the mix, albeit Google specifically “reminded” about paid links in Advertorials being bad as well.

Interflora actually had more than 70% of their links as toxic or suspicious according to Link Detox. So those were actually 1000′s of links that would probably not pass a manual review by the Google spam team.

Link Detox report showing 70% toxic links for Interflora right after their penalty on Feb 22

If you look at some of the examples of Tiered backlink structures (aka Linkwheels) or the huge number of low Power*Trust links compared to the competition you will wonder just like so many others why Interflora actually wasn’t hit before in the Google Penguin updates, as such backlink profiles were clearly those of the losers.

They had a lot of free blogs with simply one page on it, carrying a money keyword like i.e. “roses” to their site or to another simple free blog. That was a common link pyramid tactic implemented with link automation tools.

You will probably also wonder how they got back so fast, just in time for Mother’s Day.

Link Removal & Disavows

Interflora losing rankings even for the brand name indicated a manual penalty by Google.

The manual spam penalty and news around the globe already indicated high level attention at Google, and while Matt Cutts didn’t specifically mention Interflora, the correlation of events seems very plausible.

We also heard about a lot of bloggers being contacted to remove their links to Interflora from various pages, which many of them found a good thing to do. Some said that the guestposts or “paid” posts were low quality content anyway.

This outreach was so big that the whole industry noticed, including Google. Something they probably wanted to happen to make Interflora to an example.

We also saw that advertorial links were quickly removed from regional newspapers already in a first analysis following the penalty.

Most but no all advertorial links that caused damage for Interflora are gone

 

Interflora changed their link profile to contain 10822 links (from 10944, so only minus 122 links) but the number of pages they got the links from increased from 7276 to 7442. This means that actually a couple pages that had two or more links are gone now.

One example is the following very obvious paid blog post, which could still be found in the Google Cache and had 3 links to money pages with money keywords and the Interflora brand in it (a common tactic we call “Compound keyword phrases” that is used to make links pass money keywords  camouflaged in variations with the brand in it as well).

Pretty poor paid blog post

Now while a lot of bad link building examples were shown in the Deep Dive, this is another poor one, and a quick look at the site reveals this pretty spammy sidebar:

Spammy sidebar full of paid links

and in this (broken) contact form:

 

broken contact form on spammy site

So as you can see immediately, this was not a great link either, so good it’s gone.

To answer a typical question that comes up at this point when we look at results of Link Detox – the number of links were not inflated by sitewides, which means no more than 5 links per domain were counted.

This post explains more detail about the reason; but in general – 1000s of subpage links are no valued as much as 1000 domains linking to any site, as was just recently confirmed by Matt Cutts. The inflation of link counts by sitewides is a big flaw in many “backlink checking tools” and often leads to misinterpretations by webmasters.

For more inspiration on which good links Interflora could build now, the post about 101 Links for Interflora gives more ideas for how they could proceed now.

But the problem is, even today the link profile of Interflora shows a lot of suspicious and toxic links in Link Detox. The number of healthy links went up from 2164 to 2207, but still exactly 29.7%.

Interflora only removed 122 links since their penalty. How many were disavowed?

It’s worth nothing that also not all advertorial links were completely removed, but the remaining three will probably be as you read this.

Now while we see that a mere 122 links were actually removed based on this quick analysis, the questions we cannot answer are:

  • How many links could not be removed and were thus “disabled” using the Google disavow tool?
  • How many links were disavowed because contact information is unavailable or lost (like maybe for free host spam)?

Why these question? The number of “disabled” links is probably a lot higher than 122.

How The Disavow Process Works

Google recommends that a penalized website should try to remove every bad link possible, and disavow the others that could not be removed. Disavowing links works by uploading a simple text file with links that a webmaster wants Google to ignore. They take it as “a strong recommendation” in the next crawls to ignore those links.

This is the interesting part – even if Interflora would have disavowed thousands of shady links in the last week, the recrawl for all those pages could have taken weeks or even months. This is because Google doesn’t give any indication when Disavowed Links are discounted. Also many of those bad links came from pretty weak pages, which are not recrawled very often naturally anyway.

At this point, we come to expect that either:

a)  The recrawl process for Interflora links was really sped up by Google (manually)

b)  The mass of spammy links were already disavowed in the past as part of a Link Risk Management undertaken, which would make a lot of sense

c)   The manual penalty was not only applied but also revoked, and included “forgiveness” for a lot of these other bad links. Matt Cutts himself maybe pushed a button to get the links recrawled faster, so disavowing would work faster.

We can however assume now that in addition to these 122 removed links a lot more were disavowed.

External Link Profile vs. Internal Link Profile

This brings us to the point often overlooked, even in the previous analysis pointing out 70% toxic links for Interflora. The backlink profile that any software can show for a website can only be accurate if we assume that no links were disavowed.

As soon as links were disavowed (and recrawled) Google would probably not count them anymore, and neither should we.

Therefore only Interflora and Google know the answer to above options, and ever link analysis is being diluted by links that Google maybe already has discounted because of disavows many weeks ago.

Using the “Round Trip Disavow” in Link Detox webmasters can allow Link Detox to discount links that were disavowed as well, just like Google does. Thereby one can keep track of its cleanup and disavow process and get a more accurate picture of his backlink profile.

Discounting Disavow Links Too

The file listing all disavowed links can also be uploaded, and to demonstrate that, we’ll do that really quickly by picking 6981 links from really bad sites, virus sites, sites with Page Rank penalties and several more reasons and uploading that into a Link Detox analysis.

Example Disavow File upload to Link Detox

 

By this, we get a picture of only roughly 40% problematic links remaining, which probably comes a lot closer to what Google currently sees. Still a lot, but every website has some problematic links. It’s the ratios between good and bad that matter.

More than 50% links disavowed by Interflora (example)

 

Keep in mind only Interflora and Google know which links were disavowed actually, this should only serve as an example here.

Summary

Given that the outreach to bloggers was done so fast and wide-spread, we can assume that Interflora was well prepared and probably already warned about Unnatural Links a lot earlier. This makes a lot of sense for Interflora and any company depending on Google’s organic traffic. Link risk management is something that came with the Google Penguin updates and the first time that poor links can cause harsh traffic drops and penalties.

We might also assume that:

  • According to this case study on Unnatural Link Warnings and their effect Interflora probably just did not trip the threshold for traffic loss earlier
  • But the warnings probably already led to preparation of outreach lists and previous link removals by Interflora
  • Previous link disavows made a lot of sense, given the links we saw they still have on free blog hosts
  • The ashamed Advertorials were the tip of an iceberg that were pretty much overdone – causing manual intervention
  • Interflora and/or their SEO agency reached out to the Google spam team or Matt Cutts right after the penalty to declare more sins and disavow more bad links, also show action by their immediate reach out
  • Google got the reminder on paid links in Advertorials spread across the world really fast
  • After global press coverage of both the Interflora penalty and the most prominent paid link example penalty since JC Penney, was another successful “PR stunt” as some call it by Google. The timing here is also very similar to the famous JC Penney penalty. That one also hit at a time that meant very bad PR within the SEO industry, but “minimal” impact in terms of their revenue, right after Christmas.

Assuming everything went fine for Google, all poor links were disavowed or removed by Interflora there was no reason to hurt the user experience of Google clients – their users – anymore. This is very good for Interflora’s business of course as well.

The unfairness that many see is that Interflora gets back so quickly, when smaller websites struggle for months in their cleanup and never seems to get released from the penalty. After all, someone Googling Interflora would expect just that – Interflora, and not a lot of SEOs and Mainstream media writing about their penalty. Unless it’s an SEO Googling

That’s the beauty and power of being a big and important brand. Google just cannot have it in its search for long, otherwise “Google would be broken”, as my mother would call it.

For a smaller brand that’s bad news, as such fast recovery then would not be possible. This means everyone should start with link risk management as described above, today.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Google: SEO | Google: Web Search | Link Week Column | SEO - Search Engine Optimization | SEO: Spamming

Sponsored


About The Author: is a well-known and distinguished expert in SEO and link building and founder of Internet marketing company, CEMPER.COM. Cemper has been developing the SEO and link building toolkit, Link Research Tools.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



SearchCap:

Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  

Share

Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • http://twitter.com/Yakezie Yakezie

    Great example of why the rich and powerful and the branded will always dominate the rest of us. Interflora doesn’t have to “payback” all the money they made while they doing whatever they were doing either.

  • sultan
  • http://www.dailytut.com Robin

    Totally Bril. and thanks for the tools and tips suggestion.

    Robin.

  • Johnny

    Plus, probably the tons of natural citations they got in these couple of weeks because we keep talking about Interflora :)

  • http://www.ikf.co.in/ Steve

    I have a question in mind as the issue was raised very highly and talked everywhere, that’s was the reason to revoke the manual spam action, b’coz I haven’t seen a manual spam penalty recovered this fast.

  • newyorker_1

    As seen from the article, they did’t change much and their link profile is still as toxic as it was. So if anyone thinks they got penalty removed because they changed things, it’s a joke. Penalty was removed on another level, much higher than Matt Cutts is sitting right now. It is unlikely that any site with this number of changes would recover from penalty.

  • Rajesh Magar

    Awesome post. And I am sure many of webmaster must have started thinking on whats the real truth behind Back-link profile Google algorithm follows.

    And answer for this million dollar question somewhere in your article it self.

    1.The inflation of link counts by sitewides is a big flaw in many “backlink checking tools” and often leads to misinterpretations by webmasters. AND

    2.That’s the beauty and power of being a big and important brand. Google just cannot have it in its search for long, otherwise “Google would be broken”.

  • http://twitter.com/BarefootSEO_ piers Ede

    Fantastic post. As you say, the gross unfairness of Google is that, surprise surprise it favours monster brands. By this reckoning, I think companies will start having to do PR, both on an offline, to build themselves as brands purely for the linking benefits! What a world…

  • http://twitter.com/stevejohnston Steve Johnston

    While the analysis is laudable, and very helpful when working with sites that don’t enjoy Interflora’s brand status, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if nowhere near enough work has been done by Interflora to have earned a lifting of any penalty. Particularly with Mother’s Day coming, I reckon the ‘Google’s broken’ problem was sufficient concern for Google to reinstate them.

  • http://twitter.com/sharithurow sharithurow

    Hi-

    A colleague of mine emailed me about this case and asked my opinion. I think this was a “normal” case of spam discovery.

    I normally don’t hold much weight in the disavow tool. But if a client came to me to help them with a possible spam penalty? And if it were a case similar to this one? I’d probably make the effort with the disavow tool.

    Brands get hit with spam penalties probably more than people realize. They just don’t publicize it.

  • http://twitter.com/fergus_blueclaw Fergus Clawson

    A complete farce by Google, a big brand is penalised and then it’s not a few weeks later, an utter contradiction, tell us Google what is Penguin about? Matt Cutts time to step up!

  • Durant Imboden

    Google’s quick backtracking sends a pretty clear message: “If you’re a big enough brand, you needn’t worry about more than a token wrist-slap.” Won’t this just make it harder for advocates of white-hat SEO to prevail when the head of marketing at Megacorp, Inc. says “Why don’t we buy some links and ‘sponsored posts’?”

    A better solution might have been to bring Interflora back into the fold for “interflora” but not for search terms like “flowers,” or “flower delivery,” “mother’s day flowers,” and so on. Users have a right to expect Interflora in the search results for “interflora,” but are they really being hurt if a search on “flowers” or “flower delivery” yields other reasonable alternatives?

  • http://www.seo-starnberg.de/ Florian

    True, a penalty is only effective in terms of deterrence if it hits in the pocket. The irony: The links they got naturally because of the attention this penalty caused probably are worth more than the spammy stuff that was removed or disavowed.

  • Yousee

    Only Rich and Big Brands can bounce back from penalization within no time. It is like next to impossible for small players. Google is in the process of minting money

  • http://www.nathanseo.co.uk/ Nathan Khan

    Google’s not a search engine, its a business

  • deborah638

    until I looked at the paycheck saying $8440, I have faith …that…my friends brother woz trully bringing in money part time from there new laptop.. there friends cousin has been doing this for only 7 months and recently repaid the morgage on their mini mansion and bought themselves a Renault 4. go to, jump15.comCHECK IT OUT

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    “That’s the beauty and power of being a big and important brand.
    Google just cannot have it in its search for long, otherwise “Google would be broken””

    I think your mother makes a solid point. A big brand can carry you through an even bigger mess fairly quickly simply because of the power of that brand. Google can’t really afford to “dump” the big players for long because even the average searcher with no real knowledge (or interest) in SEO would start to wonder where they had gone.

  • Lakisha Caudle

    up to I saw the draft 4 $6389, I didnt believe that my cousin was like actualie taking home money part time from their computer.. there friend brother haz done this for less than sixteen months and recently cleared the debts on their house and got themselves a Maserati. this is where I went, jump15.comCHECK IT OUT

  • http://www.facebook.com/fionn.downhill Fionn Downhill

    Absolutely, Great load of new organic links for them and Google is laughing as the SEO community like headless chickens has done all its PR and messaging for them. Now the little guy once again is terrifed. Its garbage to say they changed enough in time to come back this quickly. Complete utter rubbish there’s nothing here to analyze a publicity stunt by Google with a willing audience ready to spread its message like wildfire. I know the little guys who really had no idea what their SEO company was doing are still gone after a year. I hear from them every day but they have no funds to pay us to help them as they have been wiped out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fionn.downhill Fionn Downhill

    Right how did this happen. Can we get some information on this so we can help the little guys who were put out of buisness by Penguin they would gladly do whatever it takes just tell us Google if it works for Interflora why not littleflowershop on the corner.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/fionn.downhill Fionn Downhill

    Shari, no disavow tool here too quick

  • http://www.facebook.com/fionn.downhill Fionn Downhill

    Christoph, I love your tools use them all the time but I think analyzing the data in this case is pointless. There is no lesson to be learned except that if you are big enough Google will only slap your wrists. Oh and that SEO community does a great job of spreading Google’s message for them.

  • jrwl

    Dear Christoph C. Cemper,
    Recentely we have developed a new scrape software which is fully functional,fast and free. Free Proxies of IP.Now we are carring out public testing and inviting you to do it together.Please give us more comments.Welcome to experience and we will develop more software and service soon.It’s fortunate if we can get support from you.
    Download Link:http://www.xboter.com/download/Scrape%20Sonic%20v1.0%20%E4%B8%AD%E6%96%87%E7%89%88.rar
    E-mail:support@xboter.com
    http://www.xboter.com

 

Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest

 
 

Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States

Europe

Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech


Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!

 


 

Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide