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Did Google Spank Expedia For Operating A Paid Links Scheme With Bloggers?

@denschaal

Jan 21, 2014 8:30 am

Skift Take

These are explosive allegations that Expedia is involved in a paid links scheme with travel bloggers and that frenemy Google retaliated. Stay tuned for more fireworks.

— Dennis Schaal

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 / Search Metrics

Search Metrics shows that Expedia.com's SEO visibility is on a downhill run, particularly in the last week. / Search Metrics


Following charges from the blogosphere, Search Engine Land is giving credence to reports that Google has penalized Expedia.com for a “possible paid links” scheme, and that Expedia’s visibility in search results consequently has taken a roughly 25% hit.

Expedia trades on Nasdaq, which was closed for the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday yesterday, but Seeking Alpha reports that its shares were down 5.9% this morning in pre-market trading.

The allegations about a paid links plot seem to have originated last month from Nenad SEO, which provides SEO services and seems to have been drumming up some business. The allegation is that Expedia is “using large-scale guest posting services for the sake of ranking higher” in Google search results for keywords like “cheap flights,” “car rental” and “get cheap tickets.”

For example, Nenad SEO points to the following blog post (screenshot below), which describes how having a fully charged smartphone is one of the 10 best travel gadgets to bring on vacation. But, magically within the post, it just so happens to mention that a traveler “can download an app to get cheap tickets.” And, guess what? The words “cheap tickets” link to Expedia.com even though the subject of the post has little or nothing to do with Expedia.

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 10.16.08 PM

This in itself doesn’t prove much, but Nenad SEO claims that Expedia.com is operating a paid link scheme of this type on a grand scale. If true, the Google SEO gremlins assuredly wouldn’t be happy with such an alleged attempt to outsmart the SEO Gods.

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 2.01.23 PMSearch Metrics produced a chart showing how Expedia.com’s SEO visibility has plummeted, particularly in the last week.

Search Metrics further argues that Expedia’s rankings for keywords ranging from “flights” and “hotels” to “cars” and “vacation packages” have plunged in recent days.

This would be further evidence that Google has come down hard on Expedia, one of Google’s big AdWords customers.

We can’t say definitively whether Expedia has indeed been operating a paid links scheme, whether another entity has been carrying the torch for Expedia, or whether something else entirely has taken place.

There is no doubt that Expedia is currently investigating the matter, and that conversations with frenemy Google to either gather more information about what’s going on, or to negotiate a way out, if necessary, either are happening or are imminent, that’s our understanding.

A Google spokesperson didn’t shed much light on the topic, saying “We typically don’t comment on specific companies regarding search rankings.”

Expedia didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

But what is clear at this point is that these allegations would really touch a nerve at Expedia, which in the last couple of years has embraced the the travel blogging community.

Expedia has signed on prominent travel bloggers, who contribute to Expedia’s Viewfinder Travel Blog, actively promote Expedia in social media, and get compensated in the form of “travel and other costs” in exchange for their writing.

Stay tuned for additional developments.

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