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Google dishes out penalties to UK regional newspapers

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013 by verticalleap

NewspapersIt’s been a little under two weeks since Interflora.co.uk lots its rankings in a dramatic post-Valentine’s Day exclusion. Now, the site is appearing within the Google search results again.

The SEO community buzzed with tweets and blog posts on the subject, as there was much speculation at the time over what caused the penalty. It was quickly identified that Interflora had two areas of very questionable link building happening: firstly, its acquisition of paid links via regional newspaper advertorials and secondly, its use of bloggers to write about their products and brand in return for gifts (a less black-and-white method).

As it transpired, the newspaper advertorials seemed to be the real undoing of Interflora.

Back in the rankings

It looks like the SEO folks at Interflora.co.uk managed to remove the links quite quickly from the regional newspaper sites and file a re-inclusion request. Google is normally quite good at getting a site back in the index if the offender manages to undo whatever SEO misdemeanor they have done – especially for first-time offenders.

In Interflora’s case, it would have been quite easy to have the newspapers to remove their paid links, as they were not built in massive quantity and I guess as a paying customer, you have a little more pressure to apply. I am doubtful that using the Google Disavow tool would have worked; it seems this penalty was lifted a little too quickly for that to work in any case.

So, Interflora is back in the rankings again; whether the site is going to rank as strongly is a little doubtful in the short term, though. Also, I think it is a candidate for a Google Panda algorithmic penalty, due to the number of low-quality pages on the site, see my blog on this a few weeks back – Interflora and their bloomin bad SEO!

What about the Newspapers?

Now I have only given you one side of the story here. There has not been much talk about the placement of the paid links themselves. From the blog by Anthony Shapley, we can see that the paid advertorial links were created across a group of regional newspaper sites owned by Johnston Press plc. For their part in this saga, the offending websites have had their Google Page Rank removed by Google. This is a fairly typical move by Google when a link-selling violation has occurred. Buying and selling links is against Google Guidelines, so when this is discovered by Google, it takes away the commodity that has been sold – that is, this notion of site authority that many SEO people still seem to be fixated on.

Whether the employees at Johnson Press have been as naïve as the SEO people at Interflora remains unknown, but they will need to remove all paid links from their group of newspaper sites that pass page rank. They’ll then have to file a re-inclusion request with details of all the paid links they have removed and – due to the scale of it – they will probably need to promise not to do it again!

This will of course present another headache for the ailing newspaper group, as it has seen its share price tumble over recent years due to the decline in print advertising revenues. It will now have to consider more innovative and Google-compliant ways of monetizing its sites to replace this further loss of revenue – not to mention make up for the likely drop in traffic and rankings after the Interflora debacle.

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