Has Expedia been whacked with an unnatural links penalty?

Has Expedia been whacked with an unnatural links penalty?
Amy Edwards is an experienced blogger, content strategist and SEO. She's currently working as an SEO Manager for digital jobs board Bubble Jobs.

By Amy@BubbleJobs

Apart from a few guest blogging comments from Matt Cutts and an actual apology from Google (yes, really!) over the Google Maps/hotel listing fiasco, things have been a quiet in the SEO industry as of late… but that all changed yesterday with an announcement that one of the biggest names in the travel industry may have been whacked with a pretty hefty unnatural links penalty.

An article on Search Engine Land states that Expedia seems to have lost around 25% of its search visibility according to Search Metrics. A graph in the article shows that the travel brand’s traffic has plunged dramatically and data from Search Metrics shows Expedia has experienced massive declines for some of its most competitive keywords such as ‘hotels’, ‘airline tickets’ and ‘car rentals’. Ouch!

The reason for the spectacular fall from grace? It seems the travel brand has been indulging in some pretty suspect link building activities over the years – some of which may have included paid linking schemes, which Google has consistently warned against.

penaltyUnsurprisingly, the penalty came just a few weeks after a blog on neandseo.com shone a spotlight on Expedia’s dodgy link building practices, which then in turn sparked a lively debate on Hacker News.

The debate seemed to include examples of link building emails sent on behalf of Expedia which clearly showed the brand were happy to exchange money in return for backlinks from external sites.

Now, while the majority of SEOs welcome a penalty like this for such a major brand, it’s fair to say some questions have been raised.

Firstly, why didn’t Google notice this and penalise them themselves independently, rather than reacting when someone pointed it out to them? Having a bit of deja vu? That’s because a similar thing happened to Rap Genius just a few weeks ago…

So, why hadn’t Google penalised Expedia before now? Well, the neandseo.com blog I mentioned earlier points out that the answer could lie in PPC. According to an inforgraphic included in the email, Expedia spends an estimated $28.9 million a year on Google Adwords, making them a nice little client for the Big G. Now, I’m not agreeing that this is necessarily how Expedia managed to avoid a penalty for so long… but it’s definitely interesting to note.

The second question that has been raised is how long is this penalty going to last? As the majority of SEOs working in the industry will already know, Google likes to make an example out of penalising major brands that have been caught red-handed before quietly revoking the penalty just days later.

Famous examples include Interflora whose penalty rather luckily arrived just after Valentine’s Day last year and lasted just 11 days – and Rap Genius whose penalty lasted just 10 days.

Needless to say, this process is seen as unfair and ridiculous – and should Expedia manage to skip back to the top of the SERPs in a matter of days, it’s surely only going to add fuel to the fire of Googles apparent favouritism and special treatment of big brands.

I’m definitely keen to hear your thoughts on this one. Do you think it’s fair that Google only reacts and punishes major brands when they’re publicly outed – and do you think this is going to continue to be the case? And how long do you think the Expedia penalty might last for?

Leave me a comment below or tweet me – @amy_edwards88.

The post Has Expedia Been Whacked With An Unnatural Links Penalty? appeared first on Bubble Jobs Blog | Bubble Jobs.

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