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Home > Blog > Case Studies Part II – The Penguin Double Dip?


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Cheapoair hit by Penguin Twice - a 2nd Deep DiveCheapoair hit by Penguin Twice - a 2nd Deep Dive

We already profiled CheapoAir as a Penguin 2.0 victim last year. Not much changed. It seems nobody responsible for SEO took action to cleanup and please Google's Penguin algorithm until now.

Today we look into a second drop of CheapoAir, which maybe relates to other big penalizations in the travel space like Expedia.

- Enjoy & Learn!
Christoph C. Cemper


Bonus: You can download a PDF version for Easy Offline Reading.

cemper power trust is lrt power trustCEMPER Power*Trust is now LRT PowerTrust

You may still see CEMPER Power*Trust™, CEMPER Power™ and CEMPER Trust™ on some screenshots in this case study.

In 2015, we renamed these metrics to LRT Power*Trust, LRT Power and LRT Trust to reflect the shortname of LinkResearchTools - which is LRT.


In this case study we will analyse why has been hit with another Google visibility drop at the end of January 2014. This will involve comparing February 2014 data with the original deep dive from May 2013 to diagnose what has (or hasn’t) changed in the backlink profile.

We will also explore the version of Cheapoair to determine any similarities between the American and British arms of this brand. Then we will evaluate their respective competitive environments to help us determine if the UK domain is also at risk of a visibility drop, based on what we learn from the preceding analysis.

In May 2013, LinkResearchTools investigated with a deep dive – the site was a major Penguin 2.0 victim. Their organic search visibility dropped significantly and abruptly; looking at the Searchmetrics SEO visibility historical data, we can clearly see the drop is in sync with the Penguin 2.0 release. never recovered the visibility it lost from this drop and what we saw at the end of January 2014 was even more interesting; another massive drop that is even steeper than what we saw with Penguin 2.0 in May 2013. visibility drop 2 yrs

The newest visibility drop appears to be connected to other big brand drops in the travel industry; the drop being another significant and recent loser. It looks like Google is cracking down on big brand sites. So does this mean that didn’t clean up its bad links and was punished again for it? Has continued to build bad links and subsequently suffered another penalty for not ‘learning their lesson’?

The conclusion of the original deep dive suggested that there were likely multiple reasons for this ranking drop.

What was doing wrong in May 2013 to get hit with penguin 2.0?

  • a) had many more money keywords than its competitors.
  • b) had a link profile that seemed unnatural because the distribution of its strong links doesn’t fit into the average distribution seen by its competitors.
  • c) had a high volume of links from de-indexed pages.
  • d) had a high volume of ‘deadly risk’ links that are reported to contain malware and viruses by the DTOX tool.

Why did get hit with a second drop?

To answer this, we need to look deeply into as it looks now in February 2014 - just after its most recent drop. I want to find out if the site is still guilty of the factors mentioned above, or if has tried to clean up their link profile and incurred the new ranking drop for another reason. In order to complete this stage of the analysis, I will be using several reports in the LinkResearchTools suite.

Keyword analysis & selecting relevant competitors for comparative analysis

Let’s look at some of’s target money keywords. We can see that ‘cheap flights’, ‘airline tickets’ and ‘cheap airline tickets’ are all high volume terms that wants to rank for; we can also see that none of these terms currently rank on the first page of the SERPs.

cheapoair top keyword positions

These three terms are all highly significant to - they want to be ranking on the first page for these without a doubt - so let’s check their backlink profile to see if still has a money anchor ratio that’s too high for these terms (as it did in May 2013). To quickly check this, we can use the Quick Backlinks Tool (QBL) - which provides us with a quick list of a domain’s top backlinks.

All we need to do is enter the domain and instruct the QBL tool to examine backlinks pointing to the entire domain. We also want to enable a site-wide link filter of 5 as this will help ensure the results are not skewed.

Quick Backlinks

When we look at the results of the QBL report, we can see immediately from the visual matrix of anchor text density shown below that all 3 keywords are still prominent features in the backlink profile.

Quick Backlinks anchor text matrix

Looking in closer detail we can see that:

  • ‘cheap flights’ comprises 2.1% of’s anchor texts.
  • ‘airline tickets’ comprises 1.9% of’s anchor texts.
  • ‘cheap airline tickets’ comprises 0.7% of’s anchor texts.

Quick Backlinks money anchor texts

Quick Backlinks money anchor texts

Compared to the May 2013 ratios for these terms, the ratios have actually declined, but not by much. To save you from looking, here are the May 2013 ratios:

  • ‘cheap flights’ = 2.7% (0.6% higher than it is now in Feb 2014)
  • ‘airline tickets’ = 2.1% (0.2% higher than it is now in Feb 2014)
  • ‘cheap airline tickets’ = 1.3% (0.6% higher than it is now in Feb 2014)

It would appear that has at least tried to remove some of these exact match anchor texts, but perhaps the effort has been too little on their part? As always, the best way to make this call is by analysing the current top competitors - there must be some clue in the competitor data as to why these competitors have not also suffered from the Penguin updates, right? To find out, let’s look closer at the top competitors for the most popular money term – the ‘cheap flights’ keyword. For this closer look we’ll be using the Competitive Landscape Analyzer (CLA).

The top competitors for ‘cheap flights’ can be easily found within the CLA tool. We just need to click the ‘find competing pages’ button and enter in our target term, location and search engine.

Competitive Landscape Analyzer for cheap flights

From the generated list of competing websites, we need to ensure we are analysing actual competitors to obtain the most accurate comparative data; in this case we will remove the number 10 ranked domain, ‘’, from the analysis, as it is not a true competitor.

Competitive Landscape Analyzer for cheap flights

To ensure that we are analysing the maximum amount of domain backlinks, we will also apply the ‘5x Link Boost’ – this will give us a higher volume of backlinks per competitor, making the data more accurate and useful for analysis. For this report I also enabled the ‘5x site-wide filter’ as I do not want to skew the competitor data.

I’m also going to select the ‘Analyse Domain Backlinks’ options as I wish to examine the available backlinks at the root domain level to get the most detailed look possible at these competing domains.

Competitive Landscape Analyzer domain backinks 5x boost

A quick look at the CLA overview gives us our first observation: has a lower Power*Trust than the top 9 competing websites for ‘cheap flights’. However, there are two competitors who also have a Power*Trust of 20, so there is more to the story than that.

Competitive Landscape Analyzer cheap flights overview result

The next stage of the process is to ensure we hit a minimum of 80% keyword classification so that we can make informed decisions from the keyword data. We ideally want a higher % as the higher the classification ratio, the more accurate the data become. However, it becomes increasingly more time-consuming to get classification from 80% to 90% because LinkResearchTools allows us to classify the keywords with the highest volumes first. The process is made as quick and painless as possible by the CLA tool, allowing us to classify keywords in bulk for multiple sites at once. More info on keyword classifications can be found here.

From the data tables shown below, which compare to the top 9 competitors for the keyword term ‘cheap flights’, you can see that the trends are already so clear that an additional classification of 10% of the anchor texts would not change the trends in a significant way. So let’s use this fresh competitor comparison data to go back to the conclusions drawn from the May 2013 drop that I mentioned earlier:

  1. had many more money keywords than its competitors.
  2. had a link profile that seemed unnatural because the distribution of its strong links doesn’t fit into the average distribution seen by its competitors.
  3. had a high volume of links from de-indexed pages.
  4. had a high volume of ‘deadly risk’ links that are reported to contain malware and viruses by the DTOX tool.

We shall go through them one by one to see if these issues are still afflicting the backlink profile.

Does still have more Money keywords than its competitors?

When we consult the CLA report that we just ran, we can see that has significantly higher money AND compound ratios compared to the competitor ratios. This also results in having a significantly smaller brand anchor text ratio compared to its competitors.

Competitive Landscape Analyzer anchor text ratio

These ratios are very similar to what was previously discovered for back in May 2013 after the Penguin 2.0 update (graph shown below for convenience).

Competitive Landscape Analyzer anchor text ratio

Interestingly, we can see that the money ratio has declined quite significantly for over the last 9 months. However, 37% is still a lot higher that the competitor ratio. One can assume that Google still feels this is a too-high ratio – particularly for the travel industry, which has been so heavily spammed and abused in the past.

We can also see that has put some effort into developing their brand link ratio; again, the ratio is far behind the average set by the competition. While the ratio has improved since May 2013, it would appear that it has not changed enough for Google’s liking.

The last interesting observation to make is that has grown an even larger gap over the competitor average for the compound keyword ratio. On the surface, compound links sound like a great deal – you get to target your keyword but still ‘cover yourself’ by including a brand in the anchor. The fact remains that if an anchor text is designed for SEO benefit, then whether or not the brand name makes an appearance in your anchor is not the primary concern; the link will still appear unnatural to the Google algo / spam team. Let’s take a look at two examples of’s links: the first is a money link and the other is a compound link – both are targeting the term ‘airline tickets’:

a.) Money link []

Money link

b.) Compound link []

Compound link

Clearly neither of these links made their way into these blog lists organically, but will Google view the compound example with more leniency due to the ‘Cheapo air’ mention? That’s a point for argument, I suppose, although I imagine Google would view both of these links in very similar ways – both pages have a high number of outbound links that form lists, the links are not naturally integrated anchor texts, and - in both examples - the money term ‘airline tickets’ is being targeted.

Conclusion: Does still have more money keywords than its competitors?

Yes, it still looks like’s unnaturally high focus on money anchor texts (and possibly compound anchors, too) has been a contributing factor in the 2014 drop.

Does still have a link profile that seems unnatural because the distribution of its strong links doesn’t fit into the average distribution seen by its competitors?

This is another question we can address by using our fresh CLA data. By filtering the results to specifically analyse the Power*Trust of the competitor backlinks VS, we see the following result:

CEMPER Power*Trust vs competitors

There are some interesting conclusions to be drawn from the most recent results (above) when compared to the data for from 9 months ago (below). We can see a significant shift in overall quality. In May 2013, actually looked unnatural due to the comparatively higher ratios of stronger Power*Trust links it had compared to the competition. In February 2014 we see that is now falling behind the competitor average for the Power*Trust brackets where it previously dominated in volume; this has been replaced with a comparatively higher volume of low Power*Trust links instead.

CEMPER Power*Trust vs competitors

The Power*Trust distribution in February 2014 looks significantly different from the Penguin 2.0 version in May 2013. It would appear that has lost a significant number of high Power*Trust links over the last 9 months. I was curious to see if there was any interesting comparison to be made between the Power*Trust strength of’s brand links VS its money and compound links. This is easy to check in the CLA tool as it allows us to filter the Power*Trust data by keyword classification groups. First, let’s look at the money ratios:

CEMPER Power*Trust money links

It looks like has higher ratios of money links across many of the Power*Trust brackets. Let’s see how compounds look:

CEMPER Power*Trust compound links

This higher ratio of Power*Trust is what we’d expect to see – considering has 18% of its backlinks as compound links compared to the competitor average of 5%. Things get interesting when we look at the Power*Trust ratio of the brand links:

CEMPER Power*Trust brand links

We can see that is definitely lacking in powerful brand links. When the trust and strength of each respective anchor classification is broken down in this way, it quickly becomes apparent that they are some key ratio imbalances between and the current top competitors that look quite unnatural.

Conclusion: Does still have a link profile that seems unnatural because the distribution of its strong links doesn’t fit into the average distribution seen by its competitors?

Yes, although the Power*Trust distribution data looks decidedly different than it did 9 months ago. The issue here seems to be too much focus on strong links being used for money and compound anchors at the expense of building enough strong brand links to match competitors.

Does still have a high volume of links from de-indexed pages?

To answer this question, we need to turn our attention to the health of’s backlinks through the DTOX reporting suite. I actually want to see how compares to the top competition in terms of link health, so I am going to use the Competitive Link Detox Tool (CDTOX) which allows me to not only get the health breakdown for, but will also let me compare it against the top competitors similar to the CLA we ran above.

I’ve decided to run the CDTOX as a comparison between and the top 3 ranking competitors for ‘cheap flights’ from the CLA analysis above. All we have to do is enter our own domain and the competitor targets we want to analyse. If required to do so, the CDTOX can automatically create a top-10 list of competitors for a target keyword (similar to the function in the CLA). However, since I already know the top 3, I can just enter them manually.

Competitive Link Detox

Let’s look at the results. Since we ran a CDTOX report, we need to do some filtering before we can see the specific slice of data we require for

When we consult the explanation page for the DTOX rules, we get a quick overview of the different aspects the DTOX tool is looking at. In this instance, we want to analyse if has retained a high volume of links from de-indexed pages. We can see from the DTOX rules above that we will be looking for links with a ‘TOX 1’ status.

So let’s set up our filter. First, we want to reveal the ‘To URL’ column, which is hidden by default; we need to enable this to allow us to filter our results to see links pointing to and not its competitors.

Competitive Link Detox to URL column

Now we type in ‘Cheapo’ into the ‘To URL’ column – applying this filter will capture all links going to pages. The next stage of the slice creation involves applying a filter to the ‘Rules’ column – we only want to select ‘TOX 1’ to ensure we are filtering the CDTOX results by all ‘TOX 1’ links currently linking to a page.

Competitive Link Detox filter for TOX1

Now that we have created the relevant slice, we can see there are a total of 58 links with the ‘TOX 1’ status (i.e. - they are links from pages that are no longer indexed by Google).

Competitive Link Detox filter for TOX1

When we compare this to the DTOX data for in May 2013 (snapshot below for convenience), we can see that it has considerably fewer de-indexed backlinks now than it did 9 months ago.

Conclusion: Does still have a high volume of links from de-indexed pages?

It’s feasible to draw the conclusion that the volume of de-indexed links was not a primary factor in the Jan 2014 ranking drop. It is possible that the remaining 58 de-indexed links contributed to the decline; however, I do not feel this to be likely considering how small the ‘TOX 1’ ratio is when compared to the vastness of’s backlink profile.

Competitive Link Detox filter for TOX1

Does still have a high volume of ‘deadly risk’ links that are reported to contain malware and viruses by the DTOX tool?

To answer this, we can use the same CDTOX data we just produced a moment ago. We simply apply a different filter to create the specific slice of data we need, we keep our ‘Cheapo’ filter, remove the ‘TOX 1’ filter, and instead replace it with a filter for ‘Deadly’ in the Risk column:

Competitive Link Detox filtering for deadly links

This data slice shows us there are 754 links to that are ‘deadly risk’, and these have been filtered from 21,452 total links - which is approximately 3.5% of’s backlink profile. While this may not seem like a particularly high ratio, the sheer volume of deadly risk links could be the issue, regardless of the ratio compared to the rest of the backlinks.

Conclusion: Does still have a high volume of ‘deadly risk’ links that are reported to contain malware and viruses by the DTOX tool?

Yes, it certainly looks like deadly risk links could be a contributing factor to the January 2014 drop. However, we need to go deeper into the competitive DTOX data to compare’s DTOX metrics against the competitor average. So let’s do that now.

How does the DTOX compare against the competitor average?

I wanted to go a little deeper into the competitor DTOX data, primarily because the Competitor DTOX Tool wasn’t operational at the time of the first deep dive in May 2013. I am really curious to see what the comparison shows. In order to do this we again consult the CDTOX I ran previously, only now we can look holistically at the whole report instead of creating slices that only analysed itself. One of the first graphics we see in the report is usually one of the most telling: the Average Link Detox Risk comparison. We can see that is showing a slightly higher average risk. However, is still considered to be ‘moderate risk’, just like the competitor average.

CDTOX Average Link Detox Risk

Looking deeper into the comparison between and the top ‘cheap flights’ competitors, we see that the health profiles are actually very similar. is actually coming out ahead with a slightly higher ratio of healthy links compared to the competitor average. When we look at the breakdown of the different risk levels, we do not see any largely significant differences; has a slightly higher ratio of ‘Moderate risk’ links and a slightly smaller ratio of ‘Very low’ and ‘Low’ risk links. However, I do not see the massive trend difference that makes it a certainty that these discrepancies in the ratios are a potential cause for the January 2014 drop.

CDTOX Average ratios for supsicious, toxic, healthy links

CDTOX risk ratio comparison

I want to go one final step deeper again into the CDTOX tool and look at the comparison between the actual DTOX rules to see if there are any significant differences in the ratios between and the competitor average:

CDTOX comparison by rules

When we look at the data above, we see that the most significant difference in ratios is for ‘SUSP 31’. Let’s see what this rule means:

Link Detox SUSP 31

This is another red flag pointing to anchor text ratios as being the standout culprit of this drop. At the DTOX level, this significantly higher ratio of ‘suspicious anchor text placement’ is the only real standout difference between and the competitor average. We can also see that has a slightly higher ratio for ‘SUSP 20’ links, which are ‘High Risk score associated with URL’. However, the difference in ratios is nowhere near as significant as the ‘SUSP 31’ data.

Conclusion: How does the DTOX compare against the competitor average?

On the surface, there is not much of a difference at all between and the competitor average. Upon deeper analysis, the only significant difference is that has a significantly higher ratio of links that have suspicious anchor text placements. January 2014 drop conclusion.

We can draw several conclusions from our February 2014 analysis for the January drop:

  •’s high money anchor ratio is likely to be a contributing factor.
  •’s unnaturally high compound anchors are likely a part of the problem, too.
  •’s brand links fall behind competitors in Power*Trust, which may be a contributing factor to the drop.
  •’s ratio of de-indexed links doesn’t appear to be a primary contributing factor to the drop.
  •’s ratio of deadly risk links is very similar to the competitor average on the surface. But, their significantly higher ratio of ‘SUSP 31’ links confirms that the heart of’s problems lies with their anchor text ratios and the suspicious nature of how their anchor texts have been placed in backlinks.

Is at risk, too?

So, now the other question arises, ‘Is the UK version of the brand ( at risk of a similar penguin double dip?’ The Searchmetrics chart below shows us that was hit around the same time as the .com domain in May 2013 by Penguin 2.0, which suggests that the UK domain was punished for the same reasons as the US domain as they both suffered their visibility drops from the same Google update.

Looking at the most recent visibility for, we can see it hasn’t been preforming particularly well since the Penguin 2.0 drop. However, we have not yet seen the significant flat-line that the .com domain suffered. Is this due to the domain doing something different from its American brother? Or is it perhaps that Google have rolled out the travel-site-killer update on before applying it to their UK search engine? Let’s look comparatively at and to see what differences and similarities we can find. In particular, I want to see if the UK domain is raising the same red flags as the US domain. 2yr rankings showing drop

What common backlinks do the US and UK domains share? - CBLT report

So what links do the .com and domains share with each other? To find out, let’s use the Common Backlinks Tool (CBLT). I will run the report in ‘quick mode’ to get an initial idea of how much overlap there is between these two domains before digging deeper.

Common Backlinks Tool Quick Analysis report

When consulting the finished report, we can see that there are a total of 37 domains shared between the US and UK domains.

Common Backlinks and

This is not a high number of shared linking domains - at least not for Our QBL analysis earlier showed us that the US domain has over 10,000 referring root domains.

What common backlinks do the US and UK domains share? - QBL report

I decided to run a QBL report on the UK domain to establish how many referring root domains has, as well as draw some comparison to overall Power*Trust out of curiosity. The comparison below shows that the UK domain is by far the weaker domain in terms of overall Power*Trust. is also significantly smaller in terms of overall linking domains, coming in just shy of 800. for comparison to US for comparison to UK

Approximately 4.5% of’s domains are being shared with the US domain. Now let’s look at link quality. The CBLT allows us to see a breakdown of the domains that both sites share:

Common Backlinks CEMPER Power*Trust link quality

It looks like these are pretty good, strong domains to be getting links from. Let’s take a look at the country source of these common links; this is another handy feature the CBLT provides for us, which becomes particularly useful when comparing a UK and US domain:

Common Backlinks CEMPER Source Country

Interesting result: almost half of these common links are coming from US websites. I suspect that perhaps Fareportal - the brand behind Cheapoair - is sharing some of its strongest links between its UK and US branches to allow both sites to benefit from the strong domain. When we look at some of the strongest common links, this is confirmed: Fareportal is promoting its US, UK and Canadian brands of Cheapoair on the same page (as well as 2 more sites they own). In some of these examples, the pages are actually sharing 100% duplicate content. Take these two links for example:

Common Backlinks example

Common Backlinks example

While duplicate content on any page is not what we would consider best practice, the Power*Trust of the domains (48 and 42 respectively), as well as the fact that the content is focused on the large parent business, means that links like this are not a risk to the Cheapoair sites.

However, when we look at some of the other common linking domains that are shared between the US and UK sites, the results are slightly more troubling. Let’s look at, a domain that both Cheapoair sites currently have a backlink from.

First, the US site – we can see a classic example of a low quality link using a money anchor:

Common Backlinks example money anchor

Now, looking at the UK site, we can see that the same thing is happening: money anchors are being used on a low quality page with little value to a search user - not a good sign:

Common Backlinks example money anchor

CLA report for for ‘cheap flights’

Seeing these signs of the same questionable money link building tactics has prompted me to dive deeper into the domain. I now propose to do an analysis of the top UK competitors for the same keyword (‘cheap flights’) using the same process that we just used for the US domain.

Let’s see how the UK domain looks when compared to the top UK competitors for this term. The first step will be to conduct another CLA. We go through the same process as the previous CLA for the US domains, only this time, when we select ‘find competing pages’, we make sure to select as our relevant search engine to generate the correct competitors.

Competitive Landscape Analyzer

Competitive Landscape Analyzer

Now that our list of competitors has been generated, we choose the following options:

  • ‘Analyse Domain Backlinks’ (because we want to examine the top domains, not just one specific page of the competitor sites.)
  • ‘5x Link Boost’ (to ensure we’re generating the maximum number of links to work with in our analysis.)
  • ‘Skip sitewide links after 5 links found per domain’ (so as not to skew our results.)

These are the same settings we used in the CLA for the US competitors - we keep the settings identical for a better comparison between the UK and US sectors.

The next step is to classify the keywords in the CLA into one of the keyword brackets as we did for the US domains. Our minimum target is 80% keyword classification to ensure a good level of data accuracy.

Anchor ratio comparison of UK competitors

Now that classification has been completed, we can ask the same questions of that we did of, ‘What’s the situation with their anchor text ratios compared to the top competitor average? Are’s anchors likely to cause them trouble if the recent Google action that is resulting in ranking drops for American travel sites spreads to the UK?’

A quick glance at the CLA results below shows us that the results don’t look good. There’s a huge disparity between and the competitor average. On average, the competitors have around two-thirds of their backlinks dedicated to brand anchor texts and less than 10% to money anchors. It’s clear that has been much more preoccupied with money and compound links instead of brand links. These results are similar to ratios for the US Cheapoair that we explored above (which were 37% money links and 18% compound links for your reference). In both cases, the Cheapoair domains look significantly different compared to their respective local competitors.

Competitive Landscape Analyzer Keyword comparison

Power*Trust comparison of UK competitors

Let’s see how’s backlinks compare to competitors in terms of overall Power*Trust ratio. The ratios below suggest that the majority of the links are coming from weak webpages. This high ratio of low Power*Trust links results in the Power*Trust ratios being skewed across the board for We can see they are significantly lagging behind the competitor average in all the brackets between 2 and 35. This is particularly concerning when we remember that almost half of’s backlinks are either money or compound, which means a lot of these money keyword-focused backlinks are going to be poor quality. This is more dangerous than if these links were brand-focused instead (if we are to take heed of Google’s supposed bias towards this link type).

Competitive Landscape CEMPER Power*Trust comparison

Money keyword ratios of’s backlinks

Okay, so it’s clear that the UK Cheapoair site is looking unnatural when compared to the local competitive landscape. It’s also clear that both the UK and US Cheapoair sites share a lot of similarities in their anchor text ratios. However, I’d like to revisit the QBL report I ran earlier when I was comparing the UK and US domains. Specifically, I want to look at the volumes has of specific money keywords and then compare these to the US domain. Here’s what we find:

money keyword ratios backlinks

For, the QBL report tells us:

  • ‘cheap flights’ = 2.9% of BLP (39 links)
  • ‘airline tickets’ = 3.1% of BLP (42 links)
  • ‘cheap airline tickets’ = 0% of BLP (0 links were found with this anchor text)

For, the QBL report tells us:

  • ‘cheap flights’ = 2.1% of BLP (133 links)
  • ‘airline tickets’ = 1.9% of BLP (121 links)
  • ‘cheap airline tickets’ = 0.7% of BLP (47 links)

The question of volume is an interesting one. Will’s comparatively smaller volume of money links mean that it escapes the wrath that the US domain suffered? It looks as though Google’s attention has been directed towards big brand names with sites that have huge backlink profiles. Halifax Bank and Expedia are two big brands that have recently been explored in separate LRT deep dives, and each were revealed to have huge backlink profiles.

CDTOX of and the top UK competitors for ‘cheap flights’

As with our analysis of the US competitors, we shall now examine the top 3 competitors for ‘cheap flights’ in the UK search engine. We are using the top 3 competitors that were found for us automatically from the CLA above.

Competitive Landscape Analyzer cheap flights

Looking on the surface at the Average Detox Risk, we can see looks to be considerably higher risk than the competitor average (and is also considerably higher risk than the US Cheapoair domain was in the US CDTOX).

Competitive Landscape Analyzer average link detox risk

Let’s look deeper at some specific ratio comparisons. Below, we can see that almost a third of the BLP is Toxic and more than double the competitor average. Similarly, their ratio of healthy links is far behind the competitor average. When we look closer at the breakdown of Link Detox Risks by volume (second chart below), it is clear that - in terms of overall link volume - is far behind the competitor average link volume, except in Deadly risk links where the difference in volume is not all that different.

Competitive Link Detox link ratios

Competitive Link Detox link ratios

When we look deeper into the CDTOX comparison between the various DTOX rules, we notice something interesting: has an almost identical number of ‘SUSP 31’ links compared to the competitor average ratio. You may recall from earlier in this case study that ‘SUSP 31’ refers to…you guessed it…suspicious anchor texts!

The fact that has the same volume of ‘SUSP 31’ links as the competitor average (despite having a considerably smaller volume of overall links), suggests that the link building practice of has been comparatively more suspicious in terms of anchor text placement than what the top competitors have been doing to build backlink profiles.

Competitive Link Detox rules

The other important note to make in the CDTOX Rule comparison is that also has a very similar number of ‘SUSP 15’ links, which refers to ‘Link Directory Links’. When we combine link directory links with suspicious anchor text placement, we end up with links like the one shown below:

link source: money link directory example

Directory listings for camping, criminal attorneys and cheap air tickets all offering do-follow money anchor texts. conclusion

From what we saw in the analysis, we can make a fairly safe assumption that the ranking drop was significantly affected by the site having too many money and compound orientated anchor texts which have been used in suspicious ways on low quality websites.

Looking at the data for, we can draw many of the same conclusions:

  •’s high money link ratio is a potential penalty hazard.
  •’s unnaturally high compound link ratio is likely a potential penalty hazard, too.
  •’s ratio of Toxic risk links is significantly higher than the competitor average (unlike However, both the UK and US domains display a higher ratio of ‘SUSP 31’ links than the competitor average, which suggests that’s volume of suspicious anchor text links is also a potential penalty hazard.

The questions that remain to be answered, which are beyond the scope of this analysis, are as follows:

  • Will’s comparatively small size compared to the big brands excuse it from suffering a flat-line like
  • Will Google turn its attention to the UK travel website industry and take a closer look at the big brands at the top of the SERPs?
  • Will there be another drop? And, if so, who will it be?

Closing thoughts on what actions can take to begin recovering from this drop, and what can do to pre-emptively stop a visibility flat-line happening to them, too.

The best available next actions are similar for both the US and UK domains. These sites need to:

  1. Disavow and manually remove the high-risk links in their BLPs that are pushing over-targeted keyword terms on low quality pages. Using Link Detox Boost after a few weeks would be the natural next step in this process to maximize the chance of the disavow file being noticed by Google. The disavowal process is more than likely already something is working on, but we have no way of knowing this for sure as their disavow list is something private between themselves and Google.
  2. Focus their future strategy on producing fresh, new content designed to engage their customers and promote their brand by supplying valuable and relevant information to Search engine users.
  3. Emphasize developing fresh brand-focused links on high Power*Trust domains which will help to address the distinct lack of brand-centred, high trust links both sites suffer from.

This case study was written by Scott Todd, Head of Analytics at, and proud user of LinkResearchTools and Link Detox.

A word from Christoph C. Cemper

Certified LRT ProfessionalOur newest Certified LRT Professional, Scott Todd conducted and wrote this analysis.

Scott displays his skills completing an SEO link audit on a second drop in search engine visibility of CheapoAir. I am thrilled by the detail and structure he accomplished in his case study. Therefore, I'm happy to publish Scott Todd's research on our site.

Our goal is to provide our user community and clients with quality service and knowledge. Our Certified LRT Professionals are key to achieving this goal.

I look forward to his future work, and recommend Scott Todd to work with you, whenever you get the opportunity!

Certified LRT Professional Scott Todd



Head of Analytics at Kurve
Scott is the Head of Analytics at the London based digital marketing agency 'Kurve' where has been working since 2012. He likes to think of himself as a digital detective and fearless explorer of the internet Wild West (yee-haw!)

Latest posts by ScottTodd (see all)


  1. @lnkresearchtool on March 4, 2014 at 6:35 pm Part II – The Penguin Double Dip?

  2. @PageRankSEO on March 4, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    Cheapoair Part II – The Penguin Double Dip? /by @kurve_digital via @lnkresearchtool #google #penguin

  3. Colin on March 4, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    Hello Scott, great article but curious to know why you believe the travel sector was specifically targeted ?
    Also when you say the smaller sites might escape is that because you believe these are manual penalties and their application does not scale


    • Scott Todd on March 6, 2014 at 5:21 am

      Thanks for your kind words Colin! In response to your question; I feel like it’s worth reiterating my thoughts in the case study that it “looks like Google is cracking down on big brand sites”. We know has been penalized recently too, but it’s hard to say if Google’s attention has been specifically directed at the travel niche, or if it’s simply the case that Cheapoair and Expedia are two big brands that have displayed a history of bad link building and would be punished regardless of what their niche is.

      Having said that, the frequency between the Cheapoair and Expedia visibility drops does suggest that Google was / is looking at the travel niche holistically (the visibility drops for both sites happened within a week of one another in January 2014). We saw receive their first penalty back in May 2013 so Google have obviously been aware of the prevalent spam and poor quality link tactics that have been helping to boost travel sites for a long time now. It feels to me like Google have done another ‘deep dive’ of their own into a niche they know historically is ripe territory for manipulated links. It would be interesting to look broader across the visibility of many more travel sites during the early 2014 period to see what else has been shaken up to better gauge if this is niche specific action or just big brand action.

      Regarding smaller sites escaping – I believe that a smaller volume of backlinks will make it harder for sites of this size to compete at that highest level in the first place (for example is already at the bottom of the second SERP for “cheap flights”). The small sites won’t escape algorithmic judgement when you consider how comparatively easy it is for Google to assign ranking position to a small site compared to a big one, if only for the significantly shorter time it takes them to crawl and value a small site’s backlinks. When you move into the huge backlink profiles I feel that’s when it becomes easier to ‘mask’ link manipulation because it gets diluted in the overall volume of links. LRT spotted some obvious shortcomings in the anchor text profile, so there’s no doubt Google saw this too at the algorithm level, although I wouldn’t be surprised if the penalty itself is manual – as this guarantees that recovery is only possible via exhaustively detailed disavow and removal of manipulated links; which is their best chance at cleaning up the travel niche which has been abused for so long.

      • Colin on March 6, 2014 at 6:17 pm

        Thanks for the reply Scott. I do a lot of work in one of the travel sectors (UK) but its only at a county level so way below these websites. We saw algorithmic penalties about 2 to 3 years ago but since then its been quieter and some of the penalised sites recovered Autumn 2013.
        Personally i find it difficult to believe that there is not a “human” check on some of these big sites. Maybe the algorithm suggests the penalty and then it is approved.

        Thats what I would do anyway.

        I find it very interesting to think that the computational power to crack some of these larger spam sites might preclude it being applied to smaller ones.
        Time will tell i guess.

  4. @seo_mediabase on March 6, 2014 at 6:57 pm Part II – The Penguin Double Dip? via @cemper

  5. @MBSeoService on March 6, 2014 at 8:28 pm Part II – The Penguin Double Dip? via @cemper

  6. @seonational on March 8, 2014 at 1:02 am

    Checkout Cheapoair’s double @Google #penguinPenalty algorithm hit.

  7. @Mark_Garwell on March 8, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    Cheapoair hit by Google penalty

  8. @kurve_digital on October 14, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    RT @PageRankSEO: Cheapoair Part II – The Penguin Double Dip? /by @kurve_digital via @lnkresearchtool #google #penguin

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