Interflora have seen their .co.uk site's page-ranking take a dive, with search terms that used to bring the company to the number one spot - such as Interflora, Flowers and Flower Delivery - now showing the website no higher than page three on Google. Not great seeing as the best place to hide a dead body is on page two.
Image from MartinMacdonald.net
It is believed that the flower delivery company has been punished for using black hat SEO tactics of unnatural link-building by buying links from bloggers and local newspapers. This led to the company asking bloggers to remove the links, which did not go down too well with some.
This was followed up by a warning from Google engineer Matt Cutts, who stressed that any paid-for-content that pass PageRank is against Google's T&C's, which will lead to punishments similar to the one imposed on Interflora.
Please be wary if someone approaches you and wants to pay you for links or "advertorial" pages on your site that pass PageRank. Selling links (or entire advertorial pages with embedded links) that pass PageRank violates our quality guidelines, and Google does take action on such violations. The consequences for a linkselling site start with losing trust in Google's search results, as well as reduction of the site's visible PageRank in the Google Toolbar. The consequences can also include lower rankings for that site in Google's search results.
Is this fair? Surely your PageRank is something you have worked hard for by producing quality content and building an audience. Selling the odd space for a link here and there is a good way to make money to support your website.
Well, no. The fact is, as Adam Timworth points out, according to Google a link is a vote. It is not something you own which you can then sell. The reason your PageRank is so good is that you have something people have thought well enough to reference on their own website.
This warning should not go unnoticed. Black hat SEO techniques may bring about more desirable results quicker, but eventually Google will either change the rules or catch you out, which could lead you to be hanging out with Interflora. Not a good look.