Thousands of Florists Are Unwittingly Contributing To TF.com’s SEO Efforts
In the world of internet marketing, links are the currency that powers the economy of search and user behaviour. Consider:
- Links enable users to move from one page to the next, be it from page to page on the same site, or from one site to another
- Long before there were search engines, there were directories that linked to web sites, and there were “web rings” that linked sites together based on common themes
- Links are the primary metric in the original PageRank formula developed by the founders of Google
- Links are still the single most influential factor in determining a site’s search engine ranking – so much so that Google has waged a very public multi-year war on paid linking schemes because of the effect on their algorithms
Links on the internet are viewed as an endorsement or a referral. Just as you might suggest a product, resource or other business to a person in a conversation, links are how you express online that something is worth the attention of your audience.
As in real life, links carry different weight based on the person making the recommendation, their authority, and relevance of the subject matter. If Gregor Lersch told the attendees of a design show that the new book by John Doe, AIFD is the most inspiring thing he’s ever read we could expect that book to start flying off the shelves pretty quickly. Search engines try to replicate this social graph by identifying and quantifying the authority of the source of each link on the internet based on their position relative to all other web sites and within niche subject matters. Someone could, for example, have a web site that is low in authority relative to the majority of the internet, yet still be the world leader in cross-breeding dianthus varieties.
The authority (also called “weight” or sometimes “link juice”) that any page has is determined by the pages linking to it. Think of links as pipes of various widths delivering water to and from each page of your web site. The “water pressure” that you have to use on that page is determined by the combined water pressure of the pipes coming to you. That pressure is then divided amongst the pages that you link out to.
So why the long explanation? Because I want you to understand the importance of links before moving on to the subject of today’s post: Teleflora’s (relatively) new scheme in siphoning the link authority from their members’ web sites and passing it through a keyword optimized link designed to help Teleflora.com‘s search ranking.
That’s right … if you have a Teleflora web site, your pocket is being picked right now, with the express and sole purpose of having Teleflora.com outrank you. It’s like a Nascar driver pushing the guy in front of him toward the finish line … except it’s nearly 12,000 florists pushing Teleflora to the top of the Google results.
Every site hosted by Teleflora bears a badge on each page declaring the member to by a “Proud Member of the Teleflora Network”. While the level of pride is open for debate, it’s outside the realm of this article. What’s interesting is what happens when you hover over, then click on the badge. As you can see below, hovering over the image reveals some optimized text Teleflora has inserted for the benefit of search engines… note the inclusion of the word “flowers” in the text that appears.
So let’s look at the code behind this badge. Remember, it’s the code and structure of the site that search engines see.
The code reveals that the badge is a link to a page on TF.com. Interestingly, we see the ALT text for the image and the title text of the link have the extra word “flowers” included. So, let’s see where that link takes us…
As you might expect, the link takes us to a page explaining what the TF Network is. Relevant? Sure. Useful? Probably. But innocent? Hardly!
What you don’t see at first is that the word “Flowers” in the paragraph is actually a disguised link to TF.com.
Why would Teleflora take this approach?
Teleflora has consistently under-performed against their competitors like FTD.com and ProFlowers.com when it comes to SEO. After years of getting their virtual behinds handed to them by their peers – and facing real danger of having From You Flowers actually pass them in online market share – it’s no wonder TF’s SEO team opted for some desperate measures.
The results of this effort are quite tangible, as shown in this graph outlining their link acquisition:
You can see a clear trend of large-scale increases in their link counts as the links from TF Florist sites are discovered. The end result is that the pop-up info page has exponentially more links than even TF’s home page.
So where does that leave us?
The Good News – Their SEO Still Sucks
Ya, I said it.
Firstly, even with this artificial boost their link profile isn’t as strong as FTD.com’s. They are still stronger than any florist web site, and the sheer weight of their links will give them some boost, but it’s like putting a Formula 1 car in the hands of a driving-school drop-out: The pure power of the vehicle can get you somewhere, but the lack of skill means they’ll never win a race. And you can always count on some kind of crash.
Secondly, this linking scheme could have been implemented in a much more effective manner, but I won’t go into the details on how … after all, we don’t want to help them fix it.
The Bad News – Florists Still Lose
By linking to a competitor, florists are effectively endorsing the competitor ahead of themselves from every page on their site. When you link to someone else with a keyword relevant to your business, you are in essence endorsing them as a higher authority on that subject matter.
Further, every page on the florists’ web sites are losing a portion of their link juice to a 3rd party site instead of directing that authority into their own pages. It’s like springing a small leak in every pipe in your house: your water pressure suffers, and you’re likely to have a surprise in your foundation after a while.
One More Thing
Web sites having a footer link to the host or designer of the site is as old as the world-wide web itself. While we have a strict policy against this behaviour with our florist web sites, I understand it’s a fairly common practice. I don’t like it – but lots of people do it.
What’s different in this case is:
- The florist isn’t aware of the link
- The link is funneled through an optimized link for a high-value term
- The link is to a competitor, not just a service provider