As it’s been pointed out on every SEO blog going, Interflora got smacked with a penalty by Google on the 20th February 2013. They lost rankings for all key terms and even plummeted to the second page for their own brand name…eeek!

Luckily for them it happened after Valentine’s Day. A part of me thinks Google may have done this on purpose. Hitting them before Valentine’s would have been very harsh indeed. With Mother’s Day in the UK coming up soon, on 10th March, I wonder if the search engine giant’s compassion will extent to this and they allow rankings to return? I guess only time will tell.

Interflora exact match links

But what caused the Interflora penalty?

There has been lots of speculation abound, discussing whether it could have been sentiment analysis or the overuse of PR product giveaways, however I think people are reading far too much into it.

After just 5 minutes of looking around there link profile, I’m fairly confident I found the culprit; Old school exact match anchor text. The whole site is riddled with it!

I picked three pages that I assumed would have been targeted by their SEO team (Valentine’s Day Flowers, Flower Delivery London and Roses) and had a quick flick through the links to them; I found really appalling anchor text everywhere.

We’re talking 72% of all links to the Valentine’s Day Flowers page using exact match anchor text, 74% of the links to the Flower Delivery London page and 70% of the links to the Roses page. Crazy numbers!

There may have also been other issues that compounded the decision to penalizes the site, things like weak spun pages to capture local traffic (they have a landing page for each postcode in all major UK cities for goodness sake!?), but I can’t see how it can have been anything other than their horribly spammy link profile that ultimately pulled the trigger.

I didn’t dig into whether these links have been recently built or if they’re a legacy thing, but either way, they’re most defiantly not good news for Interflora.

Having now lifted two manual Google penalties in recent weeks for clients, I can only sympathise with them over the pain and hard work that they will now have to endure in order to resolve the issue.

Good luck guys!

Update – 8:30pm 22/02/2012

Matt Cutts has just posted an article entitled “A reminder about selling links that pass PageRank” on Webmaster Central., which is clearly in response to all the noise made about the Interflora penalisation. While it never actually mentions Interflora directly, it sure hints at one of the main causes to their SEO penalty; paid advertorials on press sites. Whether undertaken by their SEO agency or by a media buying agency, it appears they bought loads of these advertorials in a big push prior to Valentine’s Day. All of the advertorials have links in them and all are very obviously there to game rankings.