Google issues paid link warning

By James Riches topicIcon SEO

Search engine responds after Interflora issues

Google engineer Matt Cutts has issued a reminder to webmasters on paid links in the wake of the much-debated rankings demise of Interflora.

While he did not mention Interflora directly in his tweet on the subject or the subsequent Google Blog post, it is clear from the timing of the statement that he was most likely responding to this incident.

"Selling links that pass Pagerank violates our quality guidelines, and Google does take action on such violations," he warned, before detailing the consequences of such actions. These eventually result in a decrease of a site's visible Pagerank, before progressing to a drop in rankings.

Cutts also reiterated what sites can do if they are caught out by Google engaging in the exchange of paid links. He reminded Webmasters that they should either remove the offending links or attach the 'rel=nofollow' attribute, before submitting a reconsideration request which Google will use to consider whether to trust those pages again.

Google has been clamping down on violations of its guidelines recently, revealing it had removed 224 million 'bad ads' from its pages last year.

What did Interflora do wrong?

Interflora's fall caused a real stir among the SEO community, with webmasters rushing to discover the cause of the problem.

The prominent flower retailer saw its rankings plummet at a key point in the year, with Valentine's Day and Mother's Day in quick succession. Despite the company previously enjoying high rankings for many flower-related keywords, many noted that it suddenly failed to appear in those search queries.

Even more puzzling was their absence from SERPs for branded keywords. This led webmasters to delve deeper into the topic in a bid to understand why this had happened.

It transpired Google had notified Interflora that some of its linking habits fell outside Webmaster Guidelines, and it seems as if the offending links were found on a large number of regional (occasionally national) newspaper sites.

Interflora's drop was accompanied by a similar hit for many of these newspaper sites, prompting some analysts to point to the links on those pages as the reason for the issue.

Daniel Nolan, managing director at theEword, said: "Once the reason for its fall was discovered, the Interflora situation merely confirmed what webmasters already knew, namely that those engaging in paid linking strategies will most likely be caught out and punished by Google. This incident should serve as a warning that, no matter how big your brand, you can still be hit if you violate Google's guidelines."