on May 12, 2011
A few months ago, we wrote about how during the run up to the 2010 holiday season the retailer J.C. Penney manipulated Google search results for phrases like “dresses” or “area rugs” by paying for links on sites that were completely unrelated to dresses or area rugs. Paying for links is in violation of Google’s policies and once this was discovered, Google used manual readjustments to drastically lower the company’s search rankings for the keyword phrases inquestion.
This risk has not stopped others from mimicking the techniques used by J.C. Penney, however. On May 6, the New York Times ran another article about companies using paid links to elevate their search positions. The article presents much evidence that four of the country’s largest flower sellers, 1800Flowers.com, Teleflora, FTD and ProFlowers, are paying for backlinks related to phrases like “mothers day bouquets” or “mothers day flowers.” While all the companies in question deny this, there are links to all four of them on numerous websites that have nothing to do with flowers or Mother’s Day, such as myindianrecipes.net, jonathanduffy.net and rickeypearce.com. The NYT also spoke with at least one blogger who told them that FTD paid her for a link from her site.
Because Google uses links as proxy for the popularity of websites, these paid links make the websites of the flower sellers appear more popular than they actually are. The flower companies benefit from this popularity because it means Google returns their sites higher up in search results. Such an increase in search position can correlate to a vast increase in traffic, which translates into sales for the flower vendors. For example, Searchmetrics reports that Teleflora’s ranking climbed from number 7 to number 4 for the phrase “mothers day flowers” after they began their link buying campaign in February and it is estimated that their traffic rose to 35,000 visitors a day from 20,000-25,000 a day at this time last year.
When it published the article, the NYT also shared the approximately 6,000 links that it had uncovered in the course of researching it with Google. While Google has not said whether it has plans to manually demote any of the named companies, as it did to J.C. Penney, it did state that “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.” Translation: the flower vendors attempted to manipulate Google’s algorithm, but failed for the most part due to checks without Google’s systems.
it remains to be seen what will happen to these flower companies; however, at Collaboration 133, we always recommend to our clients that they avoid all practices that could even remotely be interpreted as in violation of Google’s policies due to the risk of manual demotion. It goes without saying that we also never engage in such techniques ourselves as we promote the websites of our clients. We focus on ethical SEO methods, such as keyword analysis, content generation and optimization, and organic back-link building that will improve the ranking of our clients’ websites without risking punishment by Google for policy violations.