Interflora Google Penalty, Advertorials & SEO Content Marketing

yellow-penalty-flagThe well-covered Interflora Google penalty was lifted as of March 3 with many of the major rankings returning.

Google has declined to comment on what specifically happened, which is out of character given that they generally make a big splash with public penalties such as JCPenney, BuildMyRank, and others.

What is known is that Interflora was missing even from branded search queries for 11 days.

Google has also recently reiterated their policy on paid links, expanding their definition to include “entire advertorial pages with embedded links that pass PageRank.”

These statements seem connected to the Interflora penalty as several British newspaper sites hosted advertorial pages with dofollow links for the flower company. It is also rumored that Interflora was giving gifts to bloggers in return for links.

What is an Advertorial?

An advertorial is an advertisement in the form of an editorial. Dating back to 1946, advertorials were at the center of controversy long before the Internet.

Print media originally introduced advertorial content as a method for boosting revenues. The ensuing ethical debate tended to center on the issue of disclosure as many felt that readers were mislead into thinking advertorials were unbiased (which they are not). Similar discussions have followed with television’s infamous paid programming format.

Google would like online advertorials to be disclosed to spiders in the form of nofollow links. This logic seems reasonable if one views Google in the same light as the general public – needing protection from overly commercial agendas. But they are not the same. Google is a for-profit corporation and that is a material difference.

The issue becomes more murky when you think of undisclosed product placements in high-profile movies or television programs such as "American Idol". Watchers of "American Idol" know that a branded cup of Coca-Cola is constantly present on stage. This was obviously the result of Coca-Cola sponsorship, but it wasn't disclosed in any obvious way to viewers and is generally accepted.

Advertorials Are NOT Content Marketing

Regardless of the ethics or personal opinion of online advertorials, it is critical to recognize that advertorials are not content marketing.

Advertorials are advertisements at their core. They highlight, promote and endorse a product or company, and often contain facts that are severely slanted toward the positive.

Content marketing, by contrast, seeks to enrich, educate and fulfill readers without any particular commercial agenda within the content. This is usually accomplished through information, technical training, current events, humor, controversy, politics, or art.

It's easy to confuse the motives for engaging in content marketing (which are often commercial) with the act of inappropriately pushing a commercial message within content. This difference is paramount, and is at the heart of the current online advertorial debate.

Google has long maintained that earning links through high-quality, non-commercial, content is the “right” way. Nothing in the recent Interflora penalty or advertorial statement suggests otherwise.

Image Credit: Ed Yourdon/Flickr

About the author

Adam Stetzer, Ph.D. is President and Co-Founder at HubShout, a leading SEO Reseller and SEM software and services provider. He holds a Doctorate in Industrial Psychology from Purdue University and has over 15 years experience in the Information Technology fields building enterprise software for Fortune 100 clients such as General Electric, Coca Cola, Pepsi, AT&T, Verizon, Nissan Motors and ChevronTexaco. He is a serial entrepreneur, but believes that owner passion and organic growth are the secrets to his start-up success. Dr Stetzer has been building software in the SEO space for the last 5 years. He lives and works in Rochester, NY.