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February 20, 2014

Did Bad SEO Practices Land Expedia in Hot Water?

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Photo Credit: cooldesign via freedigitalphotos.net

Think bad SEO can’t take down the big dogs? Expedia proved recently this is not the case. Whether the corporate entity fell victim to a negative SEO campaign, or had one too many interns managing their marketing efforts, Expedia got hit where it hurts the most: their stock price.

After being penalized by Google back in January, Expedia watched its search rankings plunge over 20 percent, almost overnight. Shortly thereafter, stock prices dropped nearly 4.3 percent. The cause for the decrease seems to lie in black hat SEO. Either that, or someone really wanted to hurt the travel giant in a full-fledged negative campaign.

Don’t Cross Google

Expedia’s crime appears to lie in the practice of link purchases. Nenad, an SEO firm, called out the company late last year for the spammy practice.

What’s so horrible about paying folks to link to your content? To Google, plenty, and since they control search algorithms, it should matter to businesses large and small too. Paid links not only give an unfair advantage to companies with large marketing budgets, they also falsely increase rankings. Google does everything it can to base rankings on content quality and search relevancy, and black hat tactics like paid links work to counteract that mission.

Is Expedia Guilty, or Victim of a Takedown?

Shortly after the story broke, several outlets, like USA Today stepped forward with the theory that Expedia may have been the target of a negative SEO campaign. It is conceivable, although unlikely, that an Expedia competitor spent ample time and energy to purchase these links themselves.

More likely, however, is that Expedia has simply not been keeping close tabs on their SEO endeavors. It’s a gigantic entity, with SEO teams and vendors managing various divisions and company departments. The most likely scenario is that Expedia either engaged in these black hat tactics in the distant past, but failed to clean up the evidence in light of Google’s crackdown, or they have errant employees or partners that simply don’t obey the rules.

This alone is a crucial lesson provided by the Expedia debacle; if you trust your SEO to an employee or vendor, make sure they are diligent about practicing white hat strategies; it’s just too perilous these days to get on Google’s bad side. One adherence to questionable methods can eradicate your entire SEO campaign.

What is the Best SEO Strategy?

Black hat SEO is tempting for a reason; if left unnoticed, it works. But Google has shown time and time again that they’re watching how others are trying to buy their way to higher rankings, and with each mysterious algorithm release, folks are feeling the pain.

It can take months, even years, to undo the damage of SEO errors like those at Expedia. SERPs can take months to create, and a single algorithm update can wipe out every ounce of effort. If you’re dabbling in paid links and similar strategies, you’re likely to eventually see a drastic decrease in your rankings. Ignorance is obviously not an excuse either; just ask Expedia.

Instead, focus on current white hat SEO trends and ensure your strategy has long-term success potential. If link building is a priority, do so organically, not by buying the prestige. And as we hear so often, the secret to great SEO is great content. If you build stellar, informative, and interesting content, you won’t have to pay folks to link to you – they’ll want to do so for the benefit of their readers. That’s a fool-proof strategy.

How to Know if Negative SEO is Hurting Your Business

Even well-meaning marketers make bad SEO choices; the key is to know how to look for signs that your campaigns are floundering. Here are some key methods:

  1. Use a tool like Moz’s Open Site Explorer to keep tabs on newly discovered links to your site. If anything spammy or suspect appears, send a link removal request immediately.
  2. Google Webmaster Tools is essential for spying SEO issues of all kinds. In fact, if you’ve spotted a suspect link, you can disavow it, which tells Google you aren’t associated with that link partner.
  3. Apps like Link Research Tools feature a ‘detox’ option that analyzes backlinks, supplying a base score that indicates the potential they have to hurt your site’s rankings.

Basically, you’re watching for a volume of links that are unsolicited and appear to be spam-related. If you see a large quantity, you may be under attack. These are truly unusual; what’s more likely is unearthing a few low-authority sites with links that you are better off without. Regardless, it’s a good idea to stand watch; SEO rankings are marketing gold, after all.

With regards to Expedia, they have a long road to haul in executing their SEO damage control. Since their blunders most likely point to an internal issue, they likely need to rethink their entire SEO strategy, and related partners. The lessons they reflect for all of us are clear: be very wary of black hat tactics, and instead focus on high-quality content and a myriad of white hat methods. There’s no doubt Google is watching, and trying to skirt the system is simply not worth the risk.

What other lessons have you learned from Expedia’s mistakes?


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Conscious online marketer, web executive, and multi-faceted writer Tina Courtney has been creating and fostering online innovations since 1996. Tina has assisted many clients in maximizing online production and marketing efforts, and is a staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney and JDate, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, influencer marketing, community management, lead generation, and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, and accomplished life coach.  Learn more on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+.

4 Responses to “Did Bad SEO Practices Land Expedia in Hot Water?

    avatar Jordan says:

    For better and sustain SEO always follow the Guideline of Google. As recently we saw that as same as Eexpedia “Halifax” is one of the brands that also penalized by Google but not sure if they really saw a penalty by Google.

    avatar Ferry says:

    Indeed, using white SEO techniques would be made, as this seems favored by Google and also avoid from things seem to drop in rankings in the search engines

    On a positive note, it’s good to see that “Big Companies” like Expedia are not immune to being penalized for going against Google’s guidelines. The question I have is… how many other big companies are doing exactly the same thing but just haven’t been caught yet. In reality it all comes down to getting any type of edge in the world of business.

    avatar Sean Allan says:

    If you were Expedia – why would you even bother with black hat link buying.

    Good to see Google not crushing the little guy for a change.

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