New York Times Continues Paid Link Outing Stories, Looks At Online Flowers Industry

Over the weekend, the New York Times published a story called Trying to Game Google on “Mother’s Day Flowers”. Yet more big companies got outed for buying links, but this time, Google didn’t say the links had helped.

The story covers how top web sites that rank for search terms related to online flowers sales also appear to have purchased links. The names large brands such as Teleflora, FTD, and ProFlowers as doing this.

The reporter sent a list of 6,000 links (apparently paid links, though this isn’t clear) that these companies acquired over a month’s time to Google. Google replied that the links had virtually no impact on the rankings of those sites. No impact to boost or even degrade the rankings of those sites.

Google told the NY Times:

None of the links shared by The New York Times had a significant impact on our rankings, due to automated systems we have in place to assess the relevance of links. As always, we investigate spam reports and take corrective action where appropriate.

Google added in this statement that they do not always penalize for paid links but rather ensure those paid links have little to no effect on the overall rankings.

When the NY Times exposed J.C. Penney for their link schemes earlier this year, J.C. Penney received a harsh manual penalty. But when it comes to hurting these online flower retailers, the week prior to Mother’s Day, Google did not lift a finger – at least not yet.

I personally love the statement from Teleflora saying that its “corporate policy is to not pay for any links that would violate Google’s guidelines:

After closely reviewing the Teleflora links you provided, we believe we are in compliance with Google.”

Oh, so they have a policy to pay for links that do not violate Google’s guidelines? Aren’t all paid links against Google’s guidelines?

For more of our coverage on paid links, paid link penalties and Google even penalizing themselves for links – see our stories below.

Related Stories:

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: SEO | Google: Web Search | Link Building: Paid Links | SEO: Spamming


About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

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  • MikePoller

    I run a tiny little niche market website and I keep receiving emails from folks who want to “purchase a link” on my site. (No, I’ve never done it)

    So how would Google know if I sell a link? What makes a paid link any different than a unpaid link? Last I heard, Google still does not have access to my bank account…

  • Adam Piotrowski

    I don’t think a little one off here and there is anything that they’re looking at or would ever really find. But if that same person contacted and bought from thousands of sites at the same time then it would prob get you on their radar. I look at some of our competitor sites and it’s 100% obvious to me when they buy links.

    Our site’s been around for a decade and has never practiced in link buying so our link graph shows a very natural progression to our current place of around 46K inbound links. When I overlay some of our competitors and I see that all of the sudden they went from 1,200 to 15,000 links in a month it’s a pretty clear sign they were doing something not-so-cleancut. Just checking a few of those backlinks it’s obvious they’re paid links.

    If I can spot that in about 15 minutes at my desk, I doubt it’s too hard for Google to see it. I think the issue is though that they can’t go around manually penalizing everyone. They know when you’re doing this stuff, but want to negate it across the board with algo changes.

    I think this increase in manual penalty press could be part of an effort to get it out there more and try to discourage this practice as much as possible.

    To be fair to them, it’s definitely not an easy job.

  • Alireza Sefati

    I think by buying links that don’t violate Google they mean their affiliate links.

  • Doc Sheldon

    @Alireza – or Adsense ;)

    Personally, I’m tired of these outings, since they’re being perpetrated by people that obviously have barely enough SEO knowledge to make them dangerous. I’m sure it’s uplifting for Dave Segal to think how many hundreds of thousands of people will readily believe whatever he says. But with that credibility comes some responsibility, too.

    Google has its problems, I’ll readily admit, but the task they’re faced with is incredibly difficult. An algorithmic solution is the only feasible way to address this sort of issue, and the fact that none of these flower vendors’ rankings were substantially affected by those links (if, in fact, they were bought) just MIGHT indicate that Google’s algorithm is functioning reasonably well in this instance.

    I’ve got an idea for you, Mr. Segal… how about you stop trying to write about something of which you obviously have little understanding, and I won’t tell my readers (all three of them, mind you!) how evil the NYT is because of the type of “journalism” that’s practiced by the National Enquirer? If you think about it, you may realize it’s an apt analogy.

  • Ash Nallawalla

    Yes, these NYT/WSJ outings are getting boring except for the local SEO “experts” who don’t mind getting a clean link from the article.

    I couldn’t find any way to leave a comment on the NYT site but I’d reminding NYT readers that if they thought about it, a competitor could pay an Indian company to generate thousands of anchor text links to a competitor. The pattern that’s emerging is that large, “reputable” SEO companies are outsourcing link building and they might not know what’s happening at the end of the food chain.

    I don’t monitor florist SERPs but from what I recall, the same bunch of florists have dominated the top rankings for many years.

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