Yesterday was Mother's Day, but the flower companies that cash in on special occasions apparently weren't just delivering flowers to mom.
According to the New York Times, Teleflora, FTD, 1800Flowers and ProFlowers were busy delivering paid links to Google in an effort to boost their rankings.
As the New York Times details, "all four [companies] have links on websites that are riddled with paid links, many of which include phrases like “mothers day flowers,” “mothers day arrangements” and “cheap mothers day flowers.” Anyone who clicks on those backlinks, as they are known, gets sent to the floral retailer who paid for them".
The goal, of course, is not to generate clicks from these links themselves; the goal of paid links is to boost Google rankings.
Some of the 6,000 links the New York Times sent to Google fit the typical profile of a paid link:
Several appear on RickeyPearce.com, which until Friday featured a stock photo of a goateed man in a blue shirt — it is an image found all over the Internet — and a bunch of blandly written entries on topics like mortgages, car leasing and insurance, all of which contain links to corporate sponsors. An entry in March titled “Finding the Best Mothers Day Gifts Online” contained three links to Teleflora’s web site.
So what does Google think of this? Interestingly, Google told the New York Times 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".
The New York Times questions this, based on an analysis by Searchmetrics, which found that Teleflora's ranking appears to have increased following its link buying campaign.
This notwithstanding, Google's statement is particularly strange given that company has recently penalized a number of major retailers when their paid link shenanigans were exposed. Here, Google is apparently content leaving it to the algorithm, despite the fact that one website owner who has a "mothers day flowers" link to FTD on her homepage admitted to the New York Times that she's being paid $30/month for the link.
This once again calls into question Google's enforcement of its guidelines. Even if Google's algorithm is capable of filtering out 'bad' links without manual intervention, it seems that not all violators are treated equally.
Just when it appeared that Google was serious about sending a message that major companies are not above its guidelines, it now sends a message, intentionally or not, that that's not always the case.