Teleflora Linking Scheme – Are You A Victim?

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.

Hope they at least bought you dinner!

Hope they at least bought you dinner!

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.

Even with the extra text, this seems innocent enough ...

So let’s look at the code behind this badge. Remember, it’s the code and structure of the site that search engines see.

Click to see a larger image with more detail

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…

A seemingly innocent info page about the TF network. (click for full sized image)

As you might expect, the link takes us to a page explaining what the TF Network is. Relevant? Sure. Useful? Probably. But innocent? Hardly!

There is a link to TF.com buried in that text! (click for larger image)

What you don’t see at first is that the word “Flowers” in the paragraph is actually a disguised link to TF.com.

Using CSS the link is disguised from humans, but not search engines (click for larger image)

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:

Click for the full size graph

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.

The ridiculous link counts of TF's pop-up page (click for larger image)

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:

  1. The florist isn’t aware of the link
  2. The link is funneled through an optimized link for a high-value term
  3. The link is to a competitor, not just a service provider
If you agree to let your web designer include “Designed by Acme Web Corp” in your footer, that’s your business. It’s not a good policy, but it’s your choice to make. However, when the web provider alters the site at a later date without your knowledge, to promote a competitor above the site owner, that’s an ethical violation I cannot tolerate.
Update 30 September 2011: TF Takes Action – But Is It Enough?
Teleflora Linking Scheme - Are You A Victim? by

Comments

comments

35 thoughts on “Teleflora Linking Scheme – Are You A Victim?

  1. Excellent post. Very comprehensible for all to read and understand. I am so glad I severed my shops relationship with Teleflora recently. Having my own website hosted with possibly the “Best” customer service group that I have ever worked with during my 30 plus years in the computer systems/IT arena is the best move I have made since owning our own florist. Better than 80% of my phone orders are from customers on my site. Not a day goes by where I do not receive positive feedback from a customer calling us because our website separates us from the “others”. We all know who the ‘others” are. So, thank you Ryan for a “great” post and thank you for Strider Inc., a “great” website hosting, design, SEO and more corporation.

  2. Well said sir, very well said… Teleflora should be (but they won’t be) ashamed of using tactics like this. Actually using their members hard earned reputations to divert link juice to Teleflora.com, all the while charging members for the privilege.

  3. And people wonder why I do not belong to a wire service. I have only been in the floral business approximately 6 years but I saw enough in the shops I worked in. Wire services are out to get theirs first, the local florist is simply a necessary evil they must deal with.

  4. As a TF site, you do not have to have that badge embedded on your site. You can ask them to remove it.

    also, thanks for letting me link my site with this post.

    hoping everyone has a successful 4th quarter.

    RickCanale

  5. Pingback: Teleflora Leverages Florist Web Sites for Shady Link Scheme

  6. @RickCanale,

    It’s true that you can remove the badge. However, once you get to the point of having to remove elements of your web site that link to your competition AND were added without your permission, I think the trust has been broken beyond repair.

    The fact that they abused their position to:
    1) their benefit
    2) the florists’ harm
    is just beyond reprehensible.

  7. Best thing I EVER did was dump TF – after 10 yrs I had had enough, they are only in it for THEMSELVES and we are the pawns. Any new shop owner should read up on what will really go on once they are “on the hook”. We cancelled our web site thru them, then cancelled our service – we were suppose to be able to recieve and fill orders for 2 more months since we were in the book . HA HA they shut us down in less than a week. I sent in my “report of orders” that I had filled for that month.. GUESS what ? never went thru or got paid and have no way to retrieve.. my POS system which I was buying thru them is almost paid for so I opted to keep it… well the computer is still trying to send those orders !! ERROR messages on the computer to the tune of 1118494 … that is jaming up my system.. I called when it first happend , only to be told “you are no longer a member ” CLICK… jerks.. and they still want me to pay !!
    well maybe someday……………….. MAYBE.
    We are doing great with our own web site.

  8. It should have been obvious to everyone Teleflora has promoted themselves with all kinds of SEO tricks for several years at the expense of their subscribers. The websites TF furnishes to florists are filled with links and the Teleflora name. Nothing proprietary to the local florist, except on a very miniscule basis. This has been the way of it for several years.

    It is amazing to me how slow the industry has been to really get annoyed by wire service stunts.

    There are still thousands of local florists paying the exorbitant wire service fees and making zip on delivered flower arrangements. Wire services are no longer a friend to the local florists, they are friends to the order gatherers.

    Local florists should terminate their wire services and go to work on promoting their businesses on a local basis. It won’t be easy as taking an order off the wire service, but you will make money. Promoting and advertising your local florist business is hard work, but the rewards will be profitable business when you do fill orders.

  9. You guys need to stop whining about wire services and OGs. They’re all tools for you to use or not to use. Why don’t you use your own marketing dollars to build your own business and website? For years I have listened you whine and you really didn’t help florists much.

  10. @domineaux, agreed – on hand this isn’t new.

    On the other hand, this was a more recent – and very sneakily implemented – change (as highlighted in the link acquisition graph) specifically and clearly designed to help TF.com rank for “flowers”.

    The implementation w/o permission from florists and channeling through an intentionally hidden “flowers” link put this on a new level of yuck.

  11. All the opinions that were blindly anti-OG and anti-wire service without giving florists real and useful alternatives. Sorry I have may have over reacted. I didn’t mean everyone on these lists.

  12. Pingback: TF Link Scheme Update - Florist SEO Blog — Florist SEO Blog

  13. Wow, Ryan…Good on you for catching that.

    As an SEO expert myself with experience in the floral industry, I am going to have to agree that it is pretty sketchy…at best. I can’t even imagine the implications when you take into account well optimized florist sites and localization. Like you I will avoid giving any additional analysis and potential scenarios since it might give them some ideas.

    If I were a florist, I would hurry up and remove the badge from my site. Hopefully enough of you do this before soon to minimize it’s affect.

    You are right that it is more likely to hurt local florists then make Teleflora more competitive with the major floral retailers. It’s a little disturbing but it seems like the wire service model often involves both hands in florist’s pockets.

  14. I always appreciate useful info that gives florists alternatives to build better websites, better SEO, buy flowers cheaper, better drop ship service, process credit cards cheaper etc etc as alternative to wire services. Without these useful alternatives and a serious discussion about the cost of marketing per order, anti OG and anti wire service comments don’t really help florists.

  15. @Hur, Wouldn’t you agree that Jim, David, Chris & Domineaux each advocated your position of investing in your own business?

    I agree with the general principle that complaint without solution is generally not useful – but I think we need to consider the context of an article outlining deceptive practices by a service provider, done under the name of the florist who is their customer. Some outrage is probably warranted.

  16. We used to have a flower shop and it failed. That’s why I always admire guys like David, Rick etc who can actually make money selling retail flowers.

  17. If I am following your explanation correctly, then could independent florists raise their page ranking by linking to a central listing of florists by zipcodes that also links back to their own page?

  18. It should be clarified –

    There is no way you can have a Teleflora site that doesn’t promote TF.

    The flower arrangements on TF furnished sites have Teleflora in the names of arrangments, and as I best recall there are several hundred with Teleflora naming conventions in the repository of flower arrangements that are in the shopping cart sites provided by TF.

    Teleflora has a site they call http://www.savetheflorist.com. Google the name savetheflorist and look at all the Teleflora links. TF is like a Judas goat, taking anyone that follows to the packer. LOL

    Every florist that reads this needs to blow of the WS, and concentrate on promoting their own business locally. Spend those wire service subcriber dollars on your business in your area. It will pay off.

  19. Jamie – get on the web and look for directories. There are a co-zillion of them. Register on everyone you can find under flowers and florists.

    We pay one relay service, “Flowershopnetwork”. We don’t get alot of business from them, but we always make money on the orders.

  20. Even I could understand your post. The response from Jimmy Moore interested me even more. The one thing that has keep me tied to the wire service is the technology. It sounds like you
    can offer comparable sites. Please contact me!

  21. Pingback: GoDaddy Linking Scheme - Florist SEO Blog — Florist SEO Blog

  22. Local florists always complains about wire services. Teleflora ogives them beautiful seo optimized web site and orders. If they dont want internet orders that ‘s an another story. How they expected to be found by a customer who wants to send flowers to another state.

    so far i did not see any custom web site for local florist because they have free teleflora web site.. Very ungrateful and cheap people…

    • @atil,

      I’m afraid I can’t agree with your assessment of TF web sites, nor with your opinion that florists are ungrateful and cheap.

      The TF sites aren’t terrible – but they aren’t spectacular, either. And they certainly are not cheap! The costs are approximately $100/mo + $4 / order. It’s hard to correlate those costs with “cheap” clientele. TF doesn’t “give” anything, and neither does any other vendor. They are paid to provide a service.

      Many florists have custom sites, and that number is growing daily.

  23. I bit on the promises of TF rep Jay Remniak Aug of 2010, all the lies and promises he made just cost me alot of money… thought I was getting into making the big bucks with the Dove system but NOT… and now being sued for 15.000.00 never did get a check from them. what should I do?

  24. WOW, blackhat tactics at its best. Hopefully with the Penguin update, those link exchanging schemes are over. Google is sanctioning pages that feed themselves on setting up reciprocal links like this.

  25. Pingback: FTD Follows TF's Example in Siphoning Pagerank - Florist SEO Blog by Florist 2.0

  26. It’s great that you point out stuff like this when it happens because there are many out there that have no idea of these practices. It’s great to have someone on this side of the barricade that keeps helping people (in this case florists) get a better idea of how some are trying to benefit on their account.

    Teleflora is not the only company that does this. Not by far! There are so many others in other industries that are doing this.

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