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Was Expedia targeted by 'negative SEO' campaign?
totalodds




msg:4639701
 9:16 pm on Jan 23, 2014 (gmt 0)

SAN FRANCISCO -- Expedia may have been hit by a "negative SEO" campaign that hammered the travel website's rankings on Google searches, according to an analysis by the firm that uncovered the problems.

Expedia's website lost 25% of its visibility in Google search between Jan. 12 and 19, after Google clamped down on efforts to boost its online traffic through paid links from other sites, third-party search analytics firm Searchmetrics said on Monday.

Expedia shares fell on Tuesday on concern about the impact to its business and the stock was down again on Wednesday.

[usatoday.com ]

 

brotherhood of LAN




msg:4639705
 9:24 pm on Jan 23, 2014 (gmt 0)

mod's note: we try to avoid specific 'outing' of sites but this well known brand is allowable...

Shepherd




msg:4639713
 10:04 pm on Jan 23, 2014 (gmt 0)

Would be nice if they could prove, beyond any doubt, that it was negative seo.

Maybe, just maybe it could be high profile enough to shine some light on other google activities. I'm not sure, is google in the travel space? Does google benefit from Expedia not being listed in the search results? Stay tuned next week for answers to these questions and more...

totalodds




msg:4639717
 10:21 pm on Jan 23, 2014 (gmt 0)

This is affecting their share prices - I feel if Google don't get a hold of this soon and stop being in denial that the fact negative SEO is real they themselves will be suffering a decline in their own share price.

If a webmaster can become manually or algorithmically penalised from building backlinks then it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out how to implement the same link building strategy on a competitor.

Looks like Google's spam team have opened a can of worms by changing their policy. You know the old saying, if it ain't broke don't fix it.

Robert Charlton




msg:4639722
 10:36 pm on Jan 23, 2014 (gmt 0)

From the USA Today article...
Searchmetrics Founder Marcus Tober completed a deeper analysis of the episode on Wednesday and shared the data and his conclusions with USA TODAY.

The main take-away: The techniques used to increase Expedia's search visibility were so clumsy and out-dated - and used in such high volume - that it would be very surprising if the company alone was responsible for the scheme.

Instead, Tober reckons there are three possible reasons for the scheme....

The three suggested possibilities include...
1) outdated SEO legacy links from years ago...
2) a third party company working for Expedia still using such techniques...
3) legacy negative SEO from

I've come across confirmed cases of (1) and (2) above while checking sites of major companies other than Expedia. It is amazing how clumsy some corporate link building can be. The article suggests "it is possible that one one rogue department was responsible". That would get my vote.

I also think that negative seo, #3, is the least likely of the possibilities... but I haven't seen all the examples. "Negative SEO" is the most sensational of the possibilities, though, and has the most potential to sell newspapers.

Worth noting that the links from the USA Today online article are apparently not nofollowed. Maybe this is part of the Expedia recovery effort. ;)

With regard to how things can go awry when a big company outsources, it's worth noting an incident that Google had with one of its own campaigns, back in Jan 2012, albeit it clearly didn't have the kind of manipulative intent or scope that the Expedia examples suggest. That was discussed on WebmasterWorld here...

Google’s Jaw-Dropping Sponsored Post Campaign For Chrome
http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4403085.htm [webmasterworld.com]

The campaign was fluff, the originally noted transgression, and ultimately Google also penalized Chrome for one dofollow link.

aakk9999




msg:4639724
 10:40 pm on Jan 23, 2014 (gmt 0)

I agree with Robert - I think it is much more likely that it is Expedia's link building techniques that caused their traffic loss.

Why I am saying this? Because Negative SEO is usually a quick project. I stand to be corrected, but I have not yet heard a Negative SEO project being a long term project executed by competitors.

On the other hand, one of the site mentioned in the usatoday.com article which had a hidden text link to Expedia had this text link from the moment the blog was created - I checked Wayback Machine. The blog was first indexed in Wayback on 27th November 2011 and the hidden anchor-rich text link was put in the footer in December 2011 already.

This is why I think it is unlikely to be a Negative SEO project - it started too long ago.

Robert Charlton




msg:4639725
 10:44 pm on Jan 23, 2014 (gmt 0)

I should add to my comments above that the word "rogue" might be putting lipstick on a pig. It could easily have been unspoken company policy.

totalodds




msg:4639735
 10:59 pm on Jan 23, 2014 (gmt 0)

I agree, I don't think Expedia was taken down by Negative SEO. What this article highlights and brings to the main stream media is that Negative SEO is here and it's real.

I don't believe it's being implemented on an industrial scale as of yet, but soon in the not so near future it will be.

EditorialGuy




msg:4639742
 11:49 pm on Jan 23, 2014 (gmt 0)

Both Search Engine Land and Skift (the travel-industry news site) cited a well-researched blog post from a month ago that showed examples of questionable embedded links to Expedia. (Things like "cheap car rentals" anchor text in a blog post about smartphones.)

If this was "negative SEO," someone invested a lot of money and trouble in the campaign.

londrum




msg:4639745
 12:11 am on Jan 24, 2014 (gmt 0)

Did expedia suddenly become a worse site, after finding these links? Nope. It's still exactly the same as it was before christmas.

The way they rank sites is all messed up. They focus on things that should just be ignored. Joe public doesnt care that theyve got some dodgy backlinks, because he never sees them. All he knows is that one of the biggest travel sites around has disappeared from the serps for no apparent reason

randle




msg:4639749
 1:26 am on Jan 24, 2014 (gmt 0)

A high powered 2,000,000 page site? Your going to need a pretty big gun to bring that elephant down 25%.

Negative SEO? Anythings possible I guess, but its like the detective who is investigating a murder. Sure, maybe the guy was killed by some super secret spy agency, but before he goes off to interrogate the CIA, might be worth chatting with the people a lot closer to home. Like he was cheating on his wife, and she beaned him over the head with a frying pan one night when he stumbled home late smelling of perfume.

Google just didn't like something Expedia was doing with their site, and they got the frying pan treatment.

Of course a good conspiracy theory sounds a lot more interesting, and makes a better story for all involved.

austtr




msg:4639751
 1:34 am on Jan 24, 2014 (gmt 0)

It would not surprise me if some of Expedia's problems might be a lot closer to home than negative SEO by some malicious third party.

A few months ago I did some in-depth analysis of dominating authority sites in the travel sector, trying to determine if there were any common denominators. The research covered a handful of generic search terms across the world's major cities... not totally exhaustive, but enough for the results to be believable.

I found a common denominator all right... if you wanted to see how to totally ignore Google Guidelines with total impunity, then look no further than a few Expedia pages. I was amazed how the most elementary, high school level spam was alive and well throughout their html code. The keyword stuffing through the meta tags, headers, alt and title tags and general page content had to be seen to be believed.

Now conventional wisdom says we can ignore all that, Google has it covered, it doesn't work any more etc etc. But when a major player is so obviously prepared to flout the guidelines that everyone else is expected to follow, and to deliberately incorporate these elements throughout boilerplate page templates, then maybe Google has just had a gutful.

But if some form of action has originated from Google, I'd be genuinely surprised to see such a really, really BIG Adwords buyer being targeted.

[Added] SEO agencies claiming that Expedia was their client, have been contacting me for years wanting to buy link placements. So maybe obvious link buying might be an issue, although I suspect Google would have known about this for some time. It's hardly been a secret.

EditorialGuy




msg:4639961
 6:44 pm on Jan 24, 2014 (gmt 0)

But if some form of action has originated from Google, I'd be genuinely surprised to see such a really, really BIG Adwords buyer being targeted.


Why not? It isn't as though Expedia could move its search ads to Bing or Yandex in the same way it could move its print ads from the Telegraph to the Times or its TV spots from NBC to CBS.

Google is the 800-pound gorilla in the search space, and Expedia needs the ape more than the ape needs Expedia.

austtr




msg:4639964
 6:59 pm on Jan 24, 2014 (gmt 0)

Expedia needs the ape more than the ape needs Expedia


Aaahhh... But Expedia is a hotel aggregator and is one of the sources, probably the primary one, of hotel data that populates Google Hotels, so you could say they have a business relationship.

Apart from the obvious comment about not biting hands that feed you, it would be unusual in the world of multi-national business for a company to cause financial harm to a partner.

Maybe Google is sending a message to the seemingly protected authority sites that they also need to get their houses in order.

netmeg




msg:4639975
 7:15 pm on Jan 24, 2014 (gmt 0)

I don't think it's negative SEO because I think negative SEO (while sure, it exists) is blamed for a lot more than is warranted. Can I prove it? No. But my common sense tells me that most of us aren't worth the effort, and most of us are in denial about the overall quality of our sites.

But if some form of action has originated from Google, I'd be genuinely surprised to see such a really, really BIG Adwords buyer being targeted.


They've done it before. If they gave them a pass because of AdWords spend it would be a lot more obvious than it is and would raise a lot more howl than it does.

They focus on things that should just be ignored.


Google is not interested in ignoring. Google is interested in discouraging, and if that doesn't work, penalizing the behavior. To some degree, I can see why, a lot of this crap must use up even their ginormous resources, and if they just ignored it, even more people would just say what the hell, why not give it a try.

But regardless, it is what it is.

aristotle




msg:4639988
 8:16 pm on Jan 24, 2014 (gmt 0)

So does this mean that for many years, until very recently, Google's algorithm erroneously gave Expedia higher rankings and more traffic than it deserves?

EditorialGuy




msg:4640000
 9:23 pm on Jan 24, 2014 (gmt 0)

Apart from the obvious comment about not biting hands that feed you, it would be unusual in the world of multi-national business for a company to cause financial harm to a partner.


In the media world (where Google hangs its corporate hat), there's nothing new about the editorial side of a media company going after an advertiser or business partner. It's called the "Chinese wall" principle.

nomis5




msg:4640016
 11:18 pm on Jan 24, 2014 (gmt 0)

This thread alone means that Expedia are in trouble in the short to medium term. Whatever the reason for their downgrade in G you can be sure of this, G will not restore their rankings in the short term.

Once G have done something like this they will 100% refuse to back down however wrong or right they are.

londrum




msg:4640017
 11:41 pm on Jan 24, 2014 (gmt 0)

Seems like a dumb move by google though... Its lousy timing. Theyve got that whole european thing going on at the moment, and they choose now to show how much of a negative effect they can have on a big business

Expedia is a competitor of google remember, because google are entering into the travel affiliate business. The europeans will be looking at this and will dig their heels in even more

Whitey




msg:4640019
 12:01 am on Jan 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

Whatever the reason for their downgrade in G you can be sure of this, G will not restore their rankings in the short term.

Google often does reverse high brand profile visibility penalties quite quickly. Without doubt Expedia will want to rectify this and Google will listen.

It's not the same playing field for all websites given the scale of activity across the web. Google may take the view that Expedia would rank if these tactics had not occurred, purely because of it's brand profile, and after some brief remedial work, reverse the penalty.

I doubt if negative SEO was involved, even if the article tries to frame it that way.

3zero




msg:4640029
 4:09 am on Jan 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

Nah its wasn't targeted by negative seo otherwise the links would have been coming from asian #*$! sites.

Sounds like they got penalised from there own seo efforts. I am sure it will be removed double quick though as this seems to happen for major brands.

FranticFish




msg:4640050
 7:21 am on Jan 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

Having looked at the links cited in the article by Marcus Tober, were these are the best evidence he could produce of negative SEO?

Both sites had been around for years.

The first, a Vietnamese travel site, was registered in 2002 and then reskinned with a sponsored template a little over 2 years ago. As aak9999 says, you can check it out in the WMB.

The other was registered at least 1 year before 2011 as the WHOIS shows an update that year. The sponsored footer link is now gone. Do people engaged in negative SEO comply with requests to remove links from sites they control?

I'll admit I've not done a negative SEO campaign analysis, but I have read and performed my own intensive link data analyses on big SEO agency link spam and this is EXACTLY what it looks like to me.

This smells to me of some sort of damage limitations exercise by Expedia themselves to try to spread some positive PR.

"We were victims! It wasn't us, and even if it was it was some rogue SEO team that we didn't authorise."

nomis5




msg:4640089
 3:03 pm on Jan 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

Looking at the Expedia share price over the past couple of months, yes there is a small dip over the past few days but nothing astonishing by any stretch of the imagination. They seem to have had far bigger falls, several times, over the past three years. It's really just business as usual.

So aside from negative SEO or not question, it would seem that those with the money don't actually believe there has been a large fall in Expedia's presence in the G serps.

Possibly the article is a storm in a teacup just used to fill out space in the press.

aristotle




msg:4640351
 10:22 pm on Jan 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

londrum wrote:
Did expedia suddenly become a worse site, after finding these links? Nope. It's still exactly the same as it was before christmas.

Excellent point. If the Expedia site hasn't changed significantly, then why did Google's algorithm abruptly lower its rankings and reduce its traffic?

Has the algorithm been giving Expedia too much traffic for all these years and didn't correct its mistake until recently? If so, why didn't it correct the mistake sooner?

martinibuster




msg:4640361
 12:05 am on Jan 27, 2014 (gmt 0)

...why didn't it correct the mistake sooner?


Could be intel gleaned from link disavowal reports filed by others whose links sit on the same pages with Expedia. Or else Google finally acted on competitor complaints. Competitors have been known to do that.

Whitey




msg:4643782
 11:52 pm on Feb 9, 2014 (gmt 0)

The following is a discussion citing Expediafs Martin MacDonald from a Linkdex report called gTravel 360:

Certainly from an Expedia affiliate perspective, we know that for above 50% of all of the bookings that we receive, the consumerfs journey starts at Google. When you consider that is likely also to be true for other segments of the market such as meta search, or direct bookings, we can reasonably state that Google already have something of a monopoly in Europe.

The impact of any penalty resulting in a 25 percent loss (or more) of organic traffic should manifest at some point in Expedia booking and revenue losses. So far that hasnft happened. [searchengineland.com...]

I found this interesting. 50% of business for affiliates comes from organic traffic [ I presume ]. Given that thin content and fierce competition likely means that sites were strongly linked and subject to Panda / Penguin, the impact would likely have been far greater, previously. Somehow, I doubt if Expedia's bottom line would be affected. As the article indicates, there would have been compensation by ramping up paid channels, such as Google Advertising. Ultimately, this is what Google wants - more revenue.

When you drop a large player in the SERP's the ads spend across channels will likely increase, a lot falling in as Google's nest egg.

When you drop a non brand / small player, they are less likely to have the funds to activate paid advertising. Google would know that , even if the direct link between revenue and organic is strongly denied by Google's organic spokespeople, and most leading SEO's. But indirectly there is a big link - we all know or suspect it.

What would happen if one day, all brands were effected with an update in the SERP's? Google revenue ? Interesting.

scooterdude




msg:4643788
 12:48 am on Feb 10, 2014 (gmt 0)

I may be stating the obvious, but taking a look at what expedia does, was clumsy link building or negative SEO really required to cause a reduction in their visibility on the great G.

Its mildly amusing to see how seriously everyone takes a supposed G link related penalty

To you the independent www webmaster, Expedia is not you, and I seriously doubt that G leaves the rankings of sites like expedia to the random minutiae of interlocking algos, and the level of quality monitor that determine your sites rankings.

Nice thought though, we are all the same as expedia beneath the boot of,, :)

EditorialGuy




msg:4643797
 3:00 am on Feb 10, 2014 (gmt 0)

The impact of any penalty resulting in a 25 percent loss (or more) of organic traffic should manifest at some point in Expedia booking and revenue losses. So far that hasnft happened.


The penalty (assuming that there was one) occurred recently, and we won't see the financial impact--if any--until 1Q 2014 results are in.

Shepherd




msg:4643859
 11:06 am on Feb 10, 2014 (gmt 0)

When you drop a non brand / small player, they are less likely to have the funds to activate paid advertising.


When a quality destination option is removed from the serps, the searcher has fewer quality organic options to chose from and may be more inclined to click on an advertisement option.

EditorialGuy




msg:4643863
 12:25 pm on Feb 10, 2014 (gmt 0)

When a quality destination option is removed from the serps, the searcher has fewer quality organic options to chose from and may be more inclined to click on an advertisement option.


Or the searcher may simply be more inclined to click on a different organic option. IMHO, that's a more likely scenario.

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