Friday, February 22nd, 2013...7:15 pm

So Who Got Interflora Penalised?

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Since Martin Macdonald broke the news about Interflora’s penalty there have been a lot of discussions and speculations as to what might have caused it. Since Google refuses to comment, each one of all these guesses is as good as the next one  but Bronco’s version about the advertorials in the local news sites seems most plausible. However, I believe this is not the whole picture yet as there’s a large network of sites, too obvious, all tracing back to Interflora:

Notice suspicious similarities in the number of domains with the same ns records, mx records and hostmaster? Further digging reveals a list of sites which, randomly checked, have strikingly similar whois records:

Truth be told, some of the domains do have either private registration or are registered in private persons’ names, but when it all adds up the overall setup is still very sloppy and lazy. Gareth over at SEO Doctor has come up with similar findings that seem to further confirm my understanding of what happened. On the surface, each and every one of these sites has an Interflora logo and links back to the main site. Ask any blackhat whose network has been burnt and they will tell you where a sloppy network setup can lead. Setting a proper secure network for linking purposes is not a job for an amateur.

Anyway, another big question being asked is who was responsible for getting Interflora penalised. Whoever is doing the current “blogger anti-outreach” is surely acting pretty clueless and helps create additional reputation issues but looks like this is some new agency that has been brought in to help fix the situation and probably has nothing to do with the actual reasons for the penalty. Somehow, people have been pointing fingers at Branded3 but (unless those people have any kind of insider information) from the case study on their site it’s not clear whether Branded3 was involved in the company’s SEO campaign at all:

Interflora appointed Branded3 to design and develop a new web-based system to replace their cumbersome and expensive directory of internationally available products.

Upon some googling, I have uncovered the following agencies naming Interflora as their client:

  • Croud – apparently this is the agency responsible for their PPC;
  • Found – the Interflora logo is there but it is not clear what they have been doing for them;
  • SLI Systems – onsite search improvement (the site itself has exactly the same content on their US and UK sites, hmm);
  • Pixel8 – “contacting previously untapped markets” (quite vague, is that the blogger outreach campaign?);
  • adigi – “flash banners, brand engagement, media relations” (advertorials in local papers?);
  • Madhouse – very vague as well.

It is clear that a company targeting a vast market likely employs multiple agencies to do the job. Due to NDAs and obvious issues arising after the penalty we may never find out who stood behind the campaign that failed – or if we do, it might be quite messy. Regardless, SEO has possibly just become more difficult, or so it looks. In any case, SEO is not an activity one can do unless they know exactly what they are doing and where it might lead, and this penalty just makes it more obvious again. Google sets the rules and it will continue slapping companies even if it is just to make a point, and it can be very misleading. More and more often we are seeing these damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t situations and what’s considered safe and “whitehat” today may come back to bite you tomorrow, what with more shadowy setups.

ADDED: I’ve been told that it was a common practice for Interflora to set up sites for their local dealers and at least some of the network sites do look like legitimate dealer sites, however this is still a dodgy setup. This could and should have been done better. Apparently, things like this are likely done inhouse rather than by external agencies – so there, we have one more possible suspect to blame. Another topic to discuss in this regard would be the relationships between brands, their inhouse teams and external agencies – I think I’ll do another post on this.