The New York Times: Self-Appointed SEO Police?

Police Car and Siren


In February 2011, I wrote a post about how The New York Times exposed J.C. Penney's paid links scheme to improve its Google organic search rankings.  Search engine optimization (SEO) experts refer to this gaming of Google rankings as "black hat SEO" practices.  Google defines these practices in its Webmaster Central General Guidelines.  And, Google looks unfavorably on these practices and describes them as:


The New York Times Reveals Major Florist Brands Paid for Links

Another Linking Scheme Exposed.  The New York Times article, Trying to Game Google on Mother's Day Flowers,' says these major florist companies participated in linking buying schemes to improve their organic search rankings during the week of 2011 Mother's Day:

  • Teleflora
  • FTD
  • ProFlowers

Teleflora's Organic Search Rankings Rose from 7th to 4th.  According to the article, Searchmetrics, a seller of analytics software, conducted research showing Teleflora boosted its ranking for the search term "mothers day flowers" which translated into a significant increase in visitors per day to its website.

Teleflora's Site Traffic Per Day Improved 43% Increase.  In March 2010, Teleflora received 20,000 to 25,000 visitors per day.  The week of May 2nd – May 6th, 2011, the number of visitors improved to roughly 35,000 visitors per day.

Searchmetrics believes Teleflora started its link buying in February 2011.  The New York Times quotes Searchmetrics CEO, Horst Joepen: "There is a possible correlation between the backlinks and the increased visibility of the site.  But, without more research there is no way to be sure."

Floral Companies' Responses to Inquiries from The New York Times

Makes Me Wonder.  Here are direct quotes from the article regarding the floral companies' respective responses:

* ProFlowers: "Did not respond to requests for comment."

* "A spokeswoman said the company would not discuss the links."

* FTD: "An FTD representative said that the vast majority of its links were on Web Sites owned by FTD, adding 'If any of our practices to have moved outside of Google's guidelines, we will certainly address them."

* Teleflora: "Corporate policy is not to pay for any links that would violate Google's guidelines.  After closely reviewing the Teleflora links you provided, we believe are in compliance with Google."

Did Google Punish These Firms For Their Alleged Paid Links? 

The Top 5 Organic Search Results for "mothers day flowers."  As of Sunday morning, May 15th, the page-one Google search results for "mothers day flowers" are:


Mothers Day Flowers Google Search

Look at Organic Search Result #10.  It's the May 6th, New York Times article exposing the alleged paid links scheme for these companies.  I'm surprised this story ranks below Google's organic search results for Teleflora, FTD,, and ProFlowers.

Even though the article lands on Google's front page, you'd think the search results for the aforementioned firms would rank in pages where you can't find them (i.e., pages 6 through 10).

Mother Day Flowers Google Search 2


Why Isn't Google Penalizing These Firms?  The New York Times sent Google representatives a list of 6,000 links to the floral companies that were built in the last month.  Jake Hubert, a Google spokesman, replied with the following statement:

"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.  As always, we investigate spam reports and take corrective action where appropriate."

Apparently, Google doesn't feel like it has to take any action in this particular case.  And, I find their lack of action and consistency perplexing.    Here are two other blogs commenting on the New York Times piece:


Is Google Thumbing Its Nose at The New York Times?  The placement of the New York Times article as organic search result Number 10 with the offending firms ranking at slots 1, 2, 4, and 5 appears more than coincidental.  

Along with the issued company statement, the article's current placement appears to be Google's way of saying, "Whatever."

Or, maybe they're dealing with more important priorities.  And, those priorities rhyme with "How to Address the Facebook Threat."  


Photo Credit by davidsonscott15 Via Flickr

15 thoughts on “The New York Times: Self-Appointed SEO Police?

  1. What nice and professional article you have held, really you have impressed me. Here are two of the best blogs I’ve read on search engine optimization. Preety self-Appointed seo police blog. I respect your comment from my bottom of heart. Thanks

  2. @Belle Austine: Many thanks for your great comment.
    I agree it’s a shame that people / organizations try to buy and game their way to better search rankings. But, there are still many credible SEO companies who discourage black hat SEO practices.
    David Meerman Scott says it best in his book, The New Rules of Marketing & PR: Your blog is your best SEO.
    That’s why blogs are great at driving search engine authority (i.e., people linking to you) and search engine relevance (i.e., hits by keywords).

  3. I agree with you Belle. I don’t think it’s fair for businesses that adhere to white hat techniques. I am still not sure how Google is treating paid links with the Panda update.

  4. Noel, thank you for stopping by and commenting. You’re right that these types of practices are unfair to companies who play by the rules. It will be interesting to see how Google monitors and takes action on these practices in the future.

  5. This is an amazing topic. Paid links are illegal in the eyes of Google. Anyone that has been proven to buy links are instantly penalized by the search engine.

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