Was Expedia Targeted By Negative SEO?

Jan 24, 2014 • 8:27 am | comments (63) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

expedia logoEarlier this week, Expedia saw a 25% decline in search visibility by Google. Both Google and Expedia gave a no comment on what was going on - so we are left speculating.

A USA Today article cites that negative SEO might have been a factor in Expedia's ranking drop.

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.

I can't imagine that negative SEO would have such a serious impact on a large internet brand like Expedia. Sites as large as Expedia to be hit by negative SEO is almost impossible. Unless the whole thing was staged and it fooled Google, which is possible, but unlikely, I can't imagine that this would be negative SEO.

(1) It would make Google look ridiculous.
(2) It can set Google up for legal worries because it impacted their shareholders.
(3) It would make it possible for any huge site and publicly traded company to be gamed both in search and in the stock market and that is way too scary.

Robert at WebmasterWorld added a funny point:

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

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld.

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01/24/2014 01:50 pm

Ha. No. No, it was not. It was a link network, cmon... The 3 Stages of A Google Penalty 1) It's Google's fault 2) It's a competitor's fault 3) It's Google's fault

Dave Fogel

01/24/2014 01:57 pm

While I feel bad for Expedia, maybe this is the kind of attention needed to bring to light all the problems Google is causing for businesses of all sizes by all their penalties.

Chris Hutchings

01/24/2014 02:02 pm

Have USA today published a joke article? Is it April 1st?

Stuart David

01/24/2014 02:06 pm

That Wordpress theme they released with their anchor text as the creator I thought contributed to it. They have used questionable tactics for years, see what their CEO said about how rules don't really apply to them


01/24/2014 02:07 pm

Free traffic is a privilege, not a right.

Adam Whittles

01/24/2014 02:11 pm

I wouldn't completely rule out the possibility of a negative SEO campaign. I've seen in the past that a negative SEO attack can trigger a closer look at a site's backlink profile from Google. Now, if you look at any large brand's backlink profile closely enough, you are pretty much guaranteed to see some pretty dodgy stuff that can lead to a manual penalty. I'm not saying that this is the case with Expedia (it certainly doesn't look that way) but scarily, it is possible. I've seen this happen to large brands before and would never rule it out.


01/24/2014 02:22 pm

Wouldn't rule out the fact that there was a £20k link spending budget to buy their way to the top...hypothetically speaking :p

Terry Van Horne

01/24/2014 02:50 pm

Actually we were discussing this in the Dojo room and it seems that it is doable if you exploited what they had already done themselves. Say a few moons ago when it was legit they did a bunch of comments on travel forums, blogs and UGC on social sites. Unleash Xrumr and fivver what was not triggering spam penalties previously... now is. The degree of difficulty would be determined by how much they'd done themselves.


01/24/2014 02:56 pm

Google gets its content for free too. It goes both ways.


01/24/2014 02:57 pm

Any scandal where SEO is involved is good for the industry. It shows, what an unhealthy system WWW became because of the Google algo.

Michael Martinez

01/24/2014 03:08 pm

Oh, people played dirty well before Google had any significance in search.


01/24/2014 03:10 pm

People have been talking about Expedia's shady onsite and offsite SEO for years. Looks like they got greedy. Really stupid of them to do a link campaign with all the attention they get already, but even bad PR is good for SEO, so all the "good, natural" links they are getting now will offset any shady backlinks. Just like Rap Genius. So, to Expedia I say, "Well played, sir."


01/24/2014 03:19 pm

Sure, but WWW moved forward anyway. Nowadays I'm not sure about that. In short : When we, WWW users, can't provide paths to other sources of information free, then the whole idea of WWW is ruined. Right now Google controls the paths we share. Scandal described in the article wouldn't take place, if Google wouldn't see link as the signal.


01/24/2014 03:20 pm

I hope it is negative SEO. It needs to affect one of the "big boys" before Google (a) admits is exists (b) does something about it (hint: just ignore spam links, don't penalise).


01/24/2014 03:27 pm

doubt it as it would be simple for G to whitelist all the big boys thus remove any negative SEO threat for anyone big enough, no one cares about the smaller firms that wont make the news...


01/24/2014 04:02 pm

As a website owner, I hope they never just ignore spam links. That just gives spammers the greenlight to spam up the Internet and just hope that some of it sticks.

Michael Martinez

01/24/2014 04:23 pm

"Right now Google controls the paths we share." No, they DON'T. Google doesn't control more than 5-8% of all Web search. A lot of sites have learned to live without Google over the past 3 years. That's worth thinking about.


01/24/2014 04:24 pm

No, Google control Google paths. There are other available. Google is just the most popular because they do such a good job of it.


01/24/2014 05:46 pm

But what if your site was targetted by negative SEO spam links, and Google penalised you?


01/24/2014 05:49 pm

I agree with others that the only way negative SEO "works" is because you already have a shady backlinking past and the spam links raised a manual review for the reviewer to find your shady history. That is the only way IMO negative SEO works.

Chris Tam

01/24/2014 05:53 pm

The links in the article example were not negative SEO. It's years of spammy links that have finally turned around and bit them in the ass. Do a Google query for: "designed by the expedia * team". This shows all the template links that they have built over the past couple years based on the example the article showed us. The source comes from a free template site where the template has been posted since mid 2011. For all we know, there are many other questionable techniques they used.


01/24/2014 06:52 pm

Google will never admit that negative SEO exists because many of Google's own tools are often used in the negative SEO attacks (Appspot proxies, Blogspot blogs, etc.). Anyway, to admit negative SEO exists Google would have to admit their link policy is greatly flawed. I doubt anyone would really try to take down Expedia, but it happens all the time for small mom & pops. Whether people are spamming so they can rank higher or rank someone else lower, link spam will always exist.


01/24/2014 06:57 pm

Those template designers sell sponsored footer links all the time. Whether someone spends $50, $75 or a $100 pointing the link to their site or yours does not matter to them. They'll take the money and put the link there. For those in business for the long-haul, harming their competition might look like a good investment to them.

Nate White

01/24/2014 07:00 pm

"Worth noting that the links from the USA Today online article are apparently not nofollowed. Maybe this is part of the Expedia recovery effort." They don't nofollow links in their other articles so this doesn't look to be anything special for Expedia.


01/24/2014 07:19 pm

So like... all of google except search is down. I guess I'll hang out with you guise for now.


01/24/2014 07:21 pm

However, most of the Mods still censor links dropped by the users and delete them in most cases. Just in case. It means, that users make conversations under the control of the third party. Is this what the web was created for ?

Ashish Ahuja

01/24/2014 07:45 pm

If negative seo was not possible after Penguin then why did google change its answer to the question "Can a competitor harm my ranking?" see here http://www.seroundtable.com/google-can-competitors-harm-me-15210.html Those who still think negative seo is not possible are living in a dream world. But I don't think Expedia was hit because of it, as it was more likely a manual action as there is no report of any update around that time.

Ashish Ahuja

01/24/2014 07:47 pm

WPMu was hit because of the footer links and after a short while were reinstated, I think expedia was hit because of talks going around in seo world regarding how some shady blogs were linking to them which may be their own work.

Ashish Ahuja

01/24/2014 07:49 pm

As a website owner, I hope their algorithm becomes smarter and starts ranking content based on the quality of content itself and give 0 weight to the links

Chris Tam

01/24/2014 07:59 pm

But keep in mind when the links were made. Penguin wasn't even around during 2011. It was the time where comment spam and forum profile links were enough to get you ranking. Negative SEO barely (if at all) existed during that time.


01/24/2014 08:07 pm

If webmaster central is any evidence of the "quality" people want ranked, then I'd say their algorithm is already successful and better at determining "quality" than many webmasters.

Ingo Bousa

01/24/2014 09:24 pm

This post should probably have ended after "so we are left speculating." But sadly the fact is that IF you have a shady undiscovered past AND a competitor spikes you on top of this with 'clever bad links' [over a reasonable time, not just a shed-load of really shitty links in one blast] the Google algo has no means of distinguishing your ongoing whitehattish link building work with great content and brand anchor text only from 'clever bad link' building i.e. on medium/low quality sites with do-follow exact match anchors. Possible outcome: You'll get caught in the algo because of these new clever bad links from your competitor, get a GWT warning and then, for your 1st re-consideration request the algo will do another proper check [there is no manual checking up to this point in my book] and then you suddenly have to remove EVERY exact match anchor text link that you have acquired from the beginning of your web-life to get that penalty lifted; even from sites that were considered perfectly ok before. Google wants to hurt you, so the message sticks: "Don't ever even think about link building again." If you are a massive brand, the new links that you'll acquire because of the outing and the PR blast around it will somehow counter to some extend your lost links but nearly all of these new links will have brand anchors and will either go to the home page or a blog page with the 'we have been spanked' announcement; so you'll still lose all these nice and legit anchor text links to your money landing pages. All in all probably more loss than win. If you are not a massive brand you can just go home and cry in your pillow because you probably lose more than just the shady links. Our agency blog was just mentioned in a list of three bad link examples for one of our webdesign clients who had a negative 1st reply to a re-consideration request. A different SEO agency is handling their stuff and they obviously didn't include that link in their initial link removal list. Why did Google flag it up? Is it on a crap site? Nope. Was it paid for? Nope. Was it given by merit? Yes. So what's the problem with it? It's an exact match do-follow anchor text link. That's enough for the algo to flag it up. And now it gets removed - like all the other exact match anchor text links that exist, even if they have been given by merit. Just to make sure that Big Brother Google will be totally happy when they'll deal with the next re-inclusion request. Google created the monster with the introduction of no-follow and the fact that they didn't just said "OK, this link building was pre-2011 and this is now. From now on we'll judge new links different. The shit is now hitting the fans because Google judges websites' link building back-catalogue instead of just ignoring it and taking ranking power from it. Instead of clear rules we now have a scary landscape that no-one really understands and that is maybe open to abuse. The introduction of the disavow tool was another genius move to collect data and build a massive inventory of 'probably shady' sites. Has your site been disavowed more than x times [legit or not]? You're on the list and will most probably get a visit from the link building checker bot as well. Google doesn't REALLY know what a good or a shit link is. They take a wild guess. Like most SEOs including me ; ) Touché! Sorry, I'm rambling.

Durant Imboden

01/25/2014 01:26 am

You feel bad for Expedia, and you're blaming Google? Seems to me that you've got things backwards. Expedia, not Google, is the bad guy here.

Dave Fogel

01/25/2014 01:28 am

I guess that depends on the facts - which we do not know.


01/25/2014 01:33 am

have you been to expedia? The site sucks. It looks like 5 year old put it together. Footer links galore.


01/25/2014 12:46 pm

Google don't penalize the site....


01/25/2014 02:56 pm

footer links


01/25/2014 02:57 pm

negative SEO... possible...


01/25/2014 05:39 pm

Yes, I hope you are right. What you say makes sense, but I don't think it's been proved.

Nick Ker

01/25/2014 08:12 pm

What hasn't been proven is that Negative SEO would work on anything other than a site that already has spammy links. Most, maybe even all, of those scary stories you read about negative SEO are usually terribly inaccurate, and are often just someone looking for someone to blame for problems they created for themselves. Nobody wants to admit they screwed up and the negative seo boogieman is an easy scapegoat. Even this Expedia story turns out to be their own bad practices: http://www.linkresearchtools.com/case-studies/expedia-google-unnatural-link-penalty/

Nick Ker

01/26/2014 06:57 pm

Why feel bad for Expedia? They were clearly violating Google's webmaster guidelines and trying to deceive potential customers by doing so. Google's penalties are only causing problems for those who chose not to follow the rules, or chose to be unaware that such rules exist.

Nick Ker

01/26/2014 07:01 pm

Facts are relatively easy to find. But won't find them coming from the mouth of a "guilty" party, most of the time. http://www.linkresearchtools.com/case-studies/expedia-google-unnatural-link-penalty/

Durant Imboden

01/26/2014 10:05 pm

That's quite an analysis. Thanks for posting the link.


01/26/2014 10:18 pm

google not care about modern reality, negative seo affecting lot of sites (if they not whitelisted in google database). Also google overoptimization filter is NEGATIVE SEO ITSELF. It not because of natural/unnatural links, it because google not care about content quality (quality article easily can have more than 3 keywords in text). Google penalizing all NATURAL content, it show ONLY unnatural content created for google.

Guy Hadas

01/27/2014 10:06 am

I am just wondering how can Google separate the "negative SEO" and the Site SEO? I mean, if someone really wants to make a site disappear from the results and have another site instead of it, he will take the time, and make it look as if the the webmaster itself is trying to rank faster and doing some stuff in the wrong way. Actually it happened to me, in Israel. with a site that I've built and managed for as long as it exists and after ranking well, it just dropped. Looking in the WMT showed me that many links were added from Russian site, sex site and gambling sites directly to my homepage. So I am trying to understand what actually help Google understand who is trying to hurt the site and who is trying to help the site?


01/27/2014 12:27 pm

google not care. At current time they want to increase "commercialization of google", and tank all commercial (not google sites) except for brands & whitelisted sites. So now they are pure commercial search engine with pure Only OWN (and whitelisted) commercial search results. It not a good old google search engine anymore, now it just a ....

Gary Lee

01/31/2014 07:16 am

I posted exactly this in the original post about Expedia the other day. You are 100% correct. Negative SEO is not possible in the sense that Google describes it but expedited manual penalties are sure as hell very real. If you have done anything wrong in the past and someone builds on that, your screwed and for most sites the recovery time is so long that you will likely go out of business.

Gary Lee

01/31/2014 07:20 am

Negative SEO is NOT possible, expedited penalties are possible! Stop using the words Google wants to hear. Negative SEO requires that you had not created a single bad link in your history. For almost everyone that is simply not true.

Gary Lee

01/31/2014 07:20 am

Troll! Go back to your Google forum!

Gary Lee

01/31/2014 07:23 am

If webmaster central is any evidence of knowledgeable TC's we are all doomed!

Ashish Ahuja

01/31/2014 07:25 am

your theory is based on the assumption that Google knows who created the link to any site on the internet i.e. if you are creating a backlink on third party site not in control of google, still google knows the person who created the link and the relationship between that person and the site to which the link is made.

Gary Lee

01/31/2014 07:26 am

Based on the amount of spammy links they have it should take them around 1 year or 2 penguin refresh/updates to recover. I am doubtful Google will treat them the same as they treat other small business.

Gary Lee

01/31/2014 07:35 am

What! either you have not be around very long or you simply missed everything what happened over the years. Google was the cause of this! Their complete disregard for dealing with spam sites and made for adsense sites led to crappy SERPS that had so many people gaming the system that Expedia was paying them fortunes in affiliate money as they had no chance to rank well and beat the crap that Google refused to acknowledge was there. As a result they were left in a situation where they had to play the same game as everyone else. The chrun and burn sites disappeared a long time ago and the remnents of that war are still evident on the big brand that stuck around after it. Expedia would never have had to do this if Google got their act together in the first place and had a proactive spam team that dealt with each request efficiently and not waiting for them to patch it into the next algo update that took them 6 months. By that time a new tactic was out and they were nowhere closer to sorting out the problem! this same problem exists today and will continue until Google admits it is understaffed to manage the problem and invests heavily in timely spam checks. When Churn and Burn are no longer able to function, that will be the time when brands can relax and start to focus on clever marketing. The SERPS are a total mess and full of trash and right now with Expedia missing from them they are EVEN WORSE OFF. Its a big brand that does a good service and the public should not be punished for it by not being exposed to their brand. Google your decision makers are pathetic. Spends some damn money hire some staff and fix this crap!

Nick Ker

01/31/2014 03:59 pm

That's a pretty childish view. Choices have consequences. Just because everyone is doing something, or just because you have the ability to do something, doesn't mean you should. If competitors are doing something wrong, and you feel you have to do it to compete - the decision to take that risk is on you, not the entity that may not have done all they could to prevent you from doing it. It is like jumping off of a cliff because even though there was a sign saying that it was dangerous and you know the consequences, there was no fence to stop you from doing it; and then blaming the people who put up the warning sign. I don't see how Expedia was forced to do anything. They should have known the rules years ago, but maybe they didn't. If they didn't know by now that what they were doing was against Google's guidelines, they must have a total nitwit heading up their marketing team.

Nick Ker

01/31/2014 04:07 pm

I would think they changed the wording because it isn't entirely impossible, just extremely unlikely. Wake us all up from this "dream world" and give an example of a site that was brought down by "negative SEO" and didn't already have enough spam links to be worthy of a penalty. Otherwise, you are just spreading more misinformation and irrational fear. Sure, you'll find plenty of scary sounding headlines, but when you actually read the details of all of those negative SEO "case studies", it always turns out that there were plenty of spammy links in the past, or some issue other than an alleged attack.

Christoph C. Cemper

01/31/2014 04:37 pm

No it was not negative SEO. You might be interested in our full backlink deep dive here by your more most recent Certified LRT Professional Bart http://www.linkresearchtools.com/case-studies/expedia-google-unnatural-link-penalty It was certainly a lot more than a few bought links, and no negative SEO actually a lot of various SEO tactics that used to work in the past, but simply don’t anymore Looking fw to your feedback Have a great one Best, Christoph

Ashish Ahuja

01/31/2014 04:38 pm

If you read the wordings carefully, even earlier they had the words "almost nothing" instead of impossible so that was taken care of in the earlier statement also "There is almost nothing a competitor can do". If a site already had some bad links or bad things with the site which was able to be magnified by somebody doing negative seo, don't you think that becomes a negative seo strategy then. See what kind of bad links a site has and just make more of it and maybe google will smack the site. The problems with negative seo is that it becomes very subjective depending on from what angle you see it, because no website is squeaky clean onsite and offsite and nobody can know who made which link, we can only guess. one example you can have a look here https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!searchin/webmasters/resumecompanion/webmasters/mN-A73vm32U/3psekpVQWtwJ. The rankings dipped not due to links created or earned by the webmaster but was russian porn links etc. created with the intention to negative seo the website. The website already had links from Forbes, Business Insider, Washington Post etc. and ranking no1 for its terms, do you think the webmaster will go and create porn links to its site. Now, you may say that it had panda issues etc. before the penalty, but the end results was that the rankings did drop for this webmaster and negative seo links were a part of it.

Nick Ker

01/31/2014 04:59 pm

I guess you did not understand the part of my comment about the site not already having some issues. The site in that forum complaint had plenty of them - content and link issues. Sure, there is the possibility that the so-called attack got the attention of manual reviewers or some part of the algorithm, but that is like when the police catch a murderer because he drove through a stop light. Maybe YOU can only guess who made a link, but Google has a lot of smart people and processing power. Determining these things is part of what they do. You mention porn links and other things that the webmaster would not be likely to do. What makes you think Google penalized the site for that and not all of the other things that were wrong? Do you seriously believe Google can't tell when something is "out of character" for a site and choose to ignore it? I don't think Google is that dumb, and here's why: For over a year, various parties have been pointing all kinds of nasty spam links at my own site. Many were from ridiculous porn or casino sites, but many were also from sites that are typical within the realm of SEO and online marketing sites. Guess what happened. http://kercommunications.com/seo/negative-seo-reality-check/ As for linkspam based negative SEO working on a site that already did some things wrong that would deserve a penalty - what's your point? If the site already broke the rules before someone else made it worse, why should a site like that get a free pass?


01/31/2014 09:48 pm

That was one of the WORST attempts at blaming negative SEO that I have seen yet! Panda issues, link problems dating way back. I think you are really one of those bulk link builders who now blame negative SEO when your tactics fail. What most of those negative SEO articles are trying to do, is provide an excuse for link spammers who claim to be good at SEO. When your clients call and ask what happened, you can say "it must be one of your competitors who put all of those links on sites like http://www.genital-herpes-simplex.com/" "100% White Hat SEO", you are not, despite what your spam links say. But you probably are "Best SEO Company in Deli".

Gary Lee

01/31/2014 10:04 pm

Google goes back to the times where links were only beneficial or simply ignored as a timeline to check history of bad links created. The assumption there is that you would not have created exact match anchor links in a directory for someone elses site? Almost everyone engaged in some sort of bad linking practice in the past and this can be used by unscrupulous people to trigger a penalty.

Gary Lee

01/31/2014 10:26 pm

What a stupid comment! "It is like jumping off of a cliff because even though there was a sign saying that it was dangerous" It is so unrelated it does not even make sense. There must be a positive reason to perform the act for your example to make sense. Here is an example for you that makes more sense. Some people illegally smoke medical marijuana knowing that if they get caught they will go to jail but if they do not take it they will likely die or remain in a debilitating state due to their medical conditions. Any reasonable size retail brand who did not participate in some form of known bad linking practices is not around today to talk about it. In most cases it was do or die. this came about because of poor decision making and response from Google. Much like how marijuana is now being legalized around the world because the initial decision to ban it was based on poor decision making. As a result people criminalized for it will be released from jail. So should sites that participated in the past but show a clear indication of not performing continued black hat TOS violations. You are very naive in your comments. You DONT see "how Expedia was forced to do anything" because you are on the outside looking in. A one way perspective is not helping you to understand what transpired over the years. You would be of a very different opinion if you had been in most businesses shoes over the last 8 years. "They should have known the rules years ago" They did and they were stupid rules. Point is that yes they knew they were doing wrong but would not be here today in the same capacity without having done it. Their mistake was they will suffer the consequences of not going back over their previous link building in an attempt to clean it up before a penalty caught up with them.

Nick Ker

01/31/2014 11:01 pm

Rant all you want, but someone at Expedia made the decision to ignore those rules. I know you didn't understand the jumping off a cliff analogy, but that is what you are claiming they did. They did something that was warned against, but they did it anyway "because everybody else was doing it". You insist that they had to continue their link spam practices up until this week because everyone else did it up until a few years ago. Most 5 year olds could tell you that excuse doesn't cut it. You are almost getting the bigger picture when you say they screwed up by not cleaning up. They screwed up by continuing to do those old spammy practices. Check out Link Research Tools' analysis of it, since facts are a much better way to form an opinion than your own emotionally charged beliefs. Once it became absolutely clear that Google wasn't kidding about enforcing those rules, what kind of numbskull would keep on breaking the rules?

Ashish Ahuja

02/01/2014 06:22 am

lol what made you think I was the seo for that website (edit: I meant for the site mentioned in negative seo example above), I have never done seo for that site. you can keep on and researching my site and you will find many other glaring stuff. I generally do lots of seo experiments and tests with my website itself to understand about the effects of various things in seo. btw, if you see my earlier comments, I am not in favor of negative seo or doing negative seo to a website, but whether negative seo is possible is another issue.

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