Update: While Google hasn't named Interflora, the company seems to have confirmed the situation with an out of the blue post about paid links on Google's Webmaster Central blog today. There's nothing new. It's just Matt Cutts reminding everybody that Google "takes this issue very seriously". Here's a sample:
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.
It appears that Interflora, a major flower-seller in the UK, has been hit by manual action from Google, after participating in link buying from newspaper sites.
Anthony Shapley at Dave Naylor's blog has the breakdown of what he believes to have happened, as the site no longer ranks for keywords it used to, including its own name. He shares a table of over 50 newspapers sites who had their PageRank reduced after Inteflora made a big advertising push ahead of Valentine's Day.
Search Engine Land shares the following statement fro Google:
We typically don’t comment on whether we’ve taken corrective webspam action regarding specific companies.
As Barry Schwartz at that blog notes, Google has commented on similar stories in the past, like when they related to JC Penney's, Forbes, and Overstock.
Shapley says he is confident in his explanation, but Interflora has not commented, and if Google won't, we may not see an official word on this, but rest assured, if Google catches you doing paid links they will punish you.
At least Interflora will get some new brand recognition out of the whole thing. It seems unlikely that they won't make their way back into the rankings after a while. Google managed to get its Chrome landing page back in the rankings after penalizing it.