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Home » Case studies » FULL deep-dive into Unnatural Travel Link Schemes [update +250%] FULL deep-dive into Unnatural Travel Link Schemes [update +250%]

Expedia has been hit hard with a Penalty and lost 25% of its visibility. Even a Negative-SEO attach was suspected. This deep dive by Bartosz Góralewicz looks into the backlink profile of Expedia and reveals tactics they got away with for quite a while. Bartosz walks you through the reasons Expedia experienced such a traffic drop

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The Full 250% Deep-Dive into Unnatural Travel Link Schemes of

Expedia has been hit hard with a Penalty and lost 25% of its visibility. Even a Negative-SEO attack was suspected. This FULL deep dive by Bartosz Góralewicz which now contains 250% more details and content than the preview looks into the backlink profile of Expedia and reveals tactics they got away with for quite a while. Bartosz walks you through the reasons Expedia experienced such a traffic drop.

We look forward to your feedback and always appreciate you sharing the work of our LRT Certified Professionals 😉

- Enjoy & Learn!

Christoph C. Cemper

PS: As usual in our deep-dives, we try to give site owners, customers, and interested SEOs, clues on what to look for and how to use LRT to identify backlink profile risks. We assume Expedia is currently cleaning up a lot of their backlink profile. Therefore, we hope this case study helps them also.


Bonus PDF: Bartosz Góralewicz also put together a "Tutorial on how to process 120M link exports".


Cemperpower trust is lrt power trustCEMPER Power*Trust is now LRT Power*Trust

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.

Expedia - Google Penalty for black hat links?

It all started with a single post of an angry SEO – Nenad at After receiving a manual penalty from Google for 2 small sites (according to his post, one of which had only 3 links, 2 being no-follow). He started pointing out that “big players” could buy low-quality links and get away with it. As his example, he used

The post gained huge popularity in the SEO community, but it looked like Matt focused on AngloRank during that timeframe. tweets nenadseo mattcutts

Exactly one month later, there was a large drop of 25% in Expedia’s visibility in SearchMetrics around Jan 19. searchmetrics

Expedia’s visibility dropped from 773,776 to a low of 551,548 (SearchMetrics visibility metrics).

And actually on Jan 26 we saw another drop of ~5% to 521.568. searchmetrics

In Sistrix, the drop was visible a couple days later due to index refresh intervals. They’ve noticed almost a 20% visibility index drop.

expedia sistrix ranking drop

sistrix visibility index

Expedia’s Google ranking drop in press.

The mainstream press covered this penalty like no other before. Some examples are:

Quick look at the backlinks

What did Expedia do wrong?

Just after some quick research, I’ve found some really suspicious links. First I thought it was a clear negative SEO attack on There were loads of link networks, sponsored low-quality articles, and WordPress Themes with a hidden link to etc.

Soon enough, somebody else found the links too – and suspected a negative SEO campaign as such links are really high risk these days.

was expedia targeted by negative seo

Was it really a negative SEO campaign?

You can find the links mentioned above, by simply googling "Designed by the Expedia Cheapest Flights Team." At the time of writing this case study, there are 3.650 pages indexed in Google with “Cheapest flights” links inserted.

Google search designed by expedia cheapest flights team

By Googling that, you will find WordPress blogs with a “Travel Blogger” theme. Some of them use an old, old SEO “trick” of using black text on a black background (!). Example below.

WordPress blog with links injected

Isn’t that a little bit “last season?” Matt Cutts wrote a post about Hidden links on April 17, 2007 (!). It was so odd that I actually believed that it might be a sneaky, negative SEO attack by their competitors. But when I looked closer at those WordPress blogs with “negative SEO” links, something wasn’t quite right.

I looked closer at the WordPress Theme. It was created in 2011. Why would somebody build negative SEO for 3 years? WordPress theme “Travel Blogger Theme for WordPress” was created March 18, 2011 and from day one it had PHP code to inject into Expedia’s links. injected wordpress theme wordpress theme

OK, somebody might say, that it was a “long running” negative SEO campaign.

However, I found the owners of the site with the WordPress theme for download. It wasn’t too hard. After checking the registrant in, this is what came up:

Domaintools registrant re-directed me to After a quick look around the site, this is what caught my attention: clients

So unless this site is a huge scam, there was not any “negative SEO” attack. Creating a WordPress Theme with a keyword rich footer is not new, it is actually a little bit of 2008 – 2009 SEO. Definitely black hat and definitely outside of any Google Webmaster Guidelines – back then and more than ever today.

“Negative SEO WordPress-Theme”

The WordPress theme changed recently after the ranking drop was noticed. Also, there is one more interesting thing. The day after dropped in rankings, there was a “Travel Blogger” theme update. Some might think it is a coincidence, but let’s see exactly what changed between versions. There is a nice comparison online that reveals the exact changes (removed/changed code is red. New is green).

Let’s see what has changed in version 1.7.

changelog expedia wordpress theme

“Sponsored links” was removed. Now it is a little bit more white hat.

changes wordpress theme travel blogger

changes wordpress theme travel blogger

Footer links:

removed links changes wordpress theme travel blogger

Also, 20 keyword rich links were removed here:

removed links changes wordpress theme travel blogger

Actually now, the word “expedia” is not present in this updated theme at all. So basically, on January 20, 2014, the theme was “wiped” clean from everything that could have brought Expedia into trouble.

Did Expedia only get punished for the WordPress theme link injection?

The answer is simple – NO. There were so many black hat techniques used to get/buy links for

Black hat links used by

Expedia’s Link network 1

Shady auto-generated hotel sites, usually with domain names that are exact matches for the keywords they target. The low quality of those sites might even make it more of a link farm, than a link network.

I’ve noticed that they are removing these links from this network. Some of them disappeared while writing this case study.


expedia risky link network

expedia risky link network

Expedia’s Link network 2

There are many link networks behind In fact, LinkResearchTools makes it so easy to spot them, that I will just reveal two of them and show you how more can be easily found.

Looking at many of the backlinks, I’ve spotted sites, which were clearly part of a network. For example - It is pretty clear to me that it is not a real joke site. Mainly, because there are many jokes with 2 keyword-rich links. One to Wikipedia or some other authority site (the classical “co-citation link”), and a second one to, for example – link network example

How to spot a link network behind using LinkResearchTools?

It is an easy 5 – minute process. All we need is only 1 site linking to that you are sure is in a link network. Now, we just need to take 6 more external links from this site. Now, let’s paste those 7 links into CBLT (the Common Backlinks Tool). common backlink tool to uncover link network

After that we click Run Report common backlink tool to uncover link network

And we get our link network on “display.” I always feel a little bit like Matt Cutts while doing that. common backlink tool to uncover link network 3 common backlink tool to uncover link network 4 common backlink tool to uncover link network 5

After 5 minutes, I found more than 700 domains that we are can be sure, a lot of which are a part of a link network (of course excluding All of that out of only 1 domain.

Examples of sites in this network:

link network

link network

Also, there are some examples of the links that would be definitely out of Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Clearly a paid link or advertorial. Paid links should be no-follow and not pass Page Rank.

directory links

Buying links from “bloggers”, as it was pointed out by NenadSEO, is usually a keyword – rich anchor simply “injected”, even if there is not much logic in it. NenadSEO described that technique in-detail in his post.


Directory submissions

Real spammy, submissions in free or paid online directories. On the screenshot below you can see English description and English keyword-rich anchor in a directory from Argentina. The directory is based on a popular PHP Link Directory. In this case site that is not even fully configured and translated.

directory links

directory links

Links below are not as bad as link networks above, but clearly out of Google’s guidelines.

Press releases should be no-followed.


Looking at the data above, it is pretty clear that is not a case of a negative SEO attack. Most of the actions are run by an agency that they’ve hired or even in-house.

Some of these tactics might have been implemented years ago. As recommended since the launch of Penguin in 2012 it’s crucial that you perform an ongoing link risk management on your backlink profile and even disavow on a cautionary, pro-active basis, which has even been confirmed by Matt Cutts.

Keyword-targeted manual penalty?

After releasing first part of this case study, I started wondering if I missed something. If they have a manual penalty from the Google Search Quality Team, and it is a partial penalty (not like in the Rap Genius case study) then it might be “assigned” to a keyword that dropped in rankings. Let’s investigate a little bit into that.

Below you can see a screenshot of “lost” keywords from Expedia. If there was a manual penalty, then it is definitely connected to the keyword “travel” and “flights”. traffic drop keywords travel and flights

Now let’s look into Sistrix index.

As we can see below, got hit really bad, losing almost 50% visibility. lost almost 60% visibility. flights drop on sistrix cars drop on sistrix

Hypothesis – why did have such a traffic drop?

In my opinion, got a manual penalty for 3 keyword “groups”.

  • Flight
  • Travel
  • Cars

Also I think the penalty was “connected” to Expedia’s WordPress theme. If my hypothesis is right, there are 3 kinds of WordPress themes by Expedia. For Flight, Travel and Cars, the keywords that lost visibility in Google.

Let’s see if we can prove, that this hypothesis is right by analyzing keyword by keyword.

Flight keyword

It is clearly connected with the WordPress theme links, pointing to, like this one

WordPress theme with cheapest flights links

Let’s take a look at the link.

WordPress theme with cheapest flights links code

“Flights” related keywords got penalized most probably after “discovering” the WordPress theme by Googlers. Expedia’s recent actions seem to confirm this hypothesis.

Travel keyword

Now, let’s find links with “Travel” anchor. If my hypothesis is right, we should find another WordPress theme with “travel” keyword in footer.

How to find only backlinks with a defined anchor?

For that all I need to do is run a Quick Backlinks Tool (QBC). And look for a “travel” keyword.

LinkResearchTools Quick Backlinks 01

LinkResearchTools Quick Backlinks 02

LinkResearchTools Quick Backlinks 03

LinkResearchTools Quick Backlinks 04

Now we can have a look at the links found. Let’s look if there is any pattern that could cause a manual penalty for the “travel” keyword. If you look closely at the screenshot above, there are links with “/Links.html” and “/Resources.html”. If I were a Google employee, those are the first ones I’d look at.

Let’s take a closer look at those links. link link link link link

Looking at the sites above, there is a clear connection between all of them. But I got some mixed feelings about the nature of those links. They're are not “clearly” black hat links. That is why I would like to dig deeper into “travel” and “flight” keywords.

I still want to find a WordPress theme with a “Travel” keyword. Doing it with a site that has more than 130,000,000 backlinks to go through would take me days.

What if the keywords are not there anymore? Let’s remember that this whole story started in December 2013. Expedia is probably reacting to their organic visibility drops, including the bad publicity and dropping stock prices.

I started looking at the “source”. When I opened the site offering the Travel Blogger WordPress theme with Expedia’s links, I didn’t find any links to That got me thinking. They use so many black hat links, why wouldn’t they link to their website from Page Rank™ 4 travel site?

Free travel website theme

As you can see above, there is NO FOOTER. Now let’s take a look at a footer in the screenshot below. It is a screenshot from site in Google's cache. Snapshot of a site from 9th January 2014.

footer google cache travel blogger theme

Free travel website theme

Do you remember the screen with keyword drops? traffic drop keywords travel and flights

Now let’s compare it with their WordPress free theme update.

We have a “Travel” keyword.

changes wordpress theme travel blogger removed links

We found more than 3600 links for “cheapest flights”

Google search designed by expedia cheapest flights team

All we need now is “Cars” keyword.

Cars keyword

This one was actually the hardest one to prove. I was getting close to giving up on my hypothesis.

I’ve decided to start a backlink profile (BLP) only for the sub-page This way I will only get the links to the page that dropped in Google.

LRT Backlink Profiler Cars

Again, as in example above, I search only for links with “cars”, “car rentals” etc. in anchor.

expedia cars search

Now, let’s take a look at one of the links:

expedia wordpress theme with rental cars

expedia wordpress theme with rental cars code

Daily Directory Drop

Look at the address above: and now let’s check it in Sistrix. If my hypothesis is right, should have dropped significantly.

sistrix daily expedia drop

A second “bonus” is that we can now track all the other related WordPress sites.

footprint cars

Now we have a “footprint” of Expedia’s Rental Cars theme. Let’s check if we can find more of them.

Great (not for Expedia though), we got 1160 more links within 0,37 seconds .

footprint cars google

Expedia’s current SEO “situation”

Bingo! My hypothesis was right. In my opinion Expedia’s main problem is and was WordPress themes created for footer links from Travel sites. There are many other factors, but none of those are as serious and as black hat as this one. Also they’ve lost only ~ 20 – 25% organic visibility, what makes me suspect keyword-targeted manual penalty.

It is hard to show a full “spectrum” of Expedia’s linking profile. Not only because the site is so large and complex, as LinkResearchTools really helps in sorting it out, but mostly because most of the links in “their power” are now being removed.

There were many examples that I wanted to expose in this case study, but the links “disappeared” over the weekend, which is a good sign that Expedia is acting on this. Fortunately in many cases, Google Cache was there to help us show some indicators for us researching tough.

Is Expedia changing their SEO strategy?

At the moment of creating this case study, it really looks like there are some drastic changes “in process” at Expedia.

Link Removal

Clearly, there are some changes visible you can see while looking at their SEO strategy and existing links. E.g. MajesticSEO shows a lot of lost links starting from January 12, 2014.

This could be a crawling issue also, but most likely Expedia is already on a cleanup-spree for weeks.

I don’t know how quick they are reacting, but after spending many hours looking at their backlinks and changes, I think, they’ve started a cleanup around 12th January 2014. Before this date, most of the links, that they had a full control of, were still visible. After 12th, most links started disappearing.

With site this big and this many links, link profile cleanup could take months, but I guess Google will not “hold” the penalty for too long. Recent cases such as Rap Genius did show us, that everything goes quicker with big brands.

Below you can see their link removal with up to almost 40,000 links per day.

WordPress blog with links injected

Changes in a WordPress theme they’ve created are really going to impact their link profile. As soon as WordPress owners update their theme, links are going to disappear.

The WordPress “link strategy” might also backfire in this case. Many of the sites using this theme seem to be abandoned. Removing the links from them might be difficult. Expedia will of course disavow them, but we all know, that the showing effects and effort is crucial to lifting a penalty.

If you use the “TravelBlogger” theme, you can be almost sure that your site which helped Expedia’s visibility for years may now “land” in an disavow file with “domain:” in front of it.

On-Page changes

I am not going to get in-detail into their on-page changes, I just want to mention some of the things I’ve noticed.

The agency working for site left many minor “bugs” that they are now fixing. A couple days ago, was linking out to a staging site with do-follow links. It seems to be fixed now, but you can still see the links in Google Cache (I don’t think they are cloaking, it just looks like it was not indexed and cached yet). This for example is a cached page - This for example is a cached page -

on page results

Also, there are staging sites left by the agency “on display” with links pointing to them.

on page results for expedia

And the “real” one:

on page results for expedia

I checked the IP for the staging site. It is on Expedia’s server. That is a 100% proof that the agency responsible for the WordPress theme is officially working for Expedia.

on page results for expedia

Expedia’s link profile

What I covered above, was more of an “investigation” than a real look at Expedia’s link profile. I must say that after checking all the stuff “manually”, I cannot wait to see how it looks when looking at the whole link profile.

After what I saw above, I wouldn’t expect the DTOX to be “bad”.

OK, let’s run it then.

Have in mind that we are only running a small, representative % of links here. Full DTOX of 120,000,000 we got would take a long time to process and even longer to analyze. We even had problems with processing 120,000,000 links on a regular PC.

Competitive research

We all know that travel, hotels and flights are not a “clean” niches. Let’s see how Expedia looks compared with the competition.

Competitive Landscape Analysis

CLA (Competitive Landscape Analysis) for “cheap flights” top 10.

competitive landscape analysis for expedia

competitive landscape analyzer for expedia

find competing pages for expedia

competitive landscape analyzer for expedia 4

competitive research report for cheap flights

Now, let’s take a look at 11 domains we got listed below.

Farecompare and Momondo got a score of 12 LRT Power*Trust™ which is really low for such a competitive niche. It is definitely a factor worth looking into in these companies.

Expedia has a LRT Power*Trust™ score of 35 with LRT Trust™ higher than LRT Power™ so I wouldn’t look for any problems here and focus on further increase of those numbers.

Tripadvisor is a clear winner with LRT Power*Trust™ of 63, and a really high LRT Trust™ of 9 (!). If I were creating a new SEO strategy for Expedia, or even mentioned before Farecompare and Momondo, I’d definitely take a closer look Tripadvisor’s backlinks and strategy.

domain compare for cheap flights

Let’s take a look at a comparison by LRT Power*Trust™. Even a quick look shows that Expedia doesn’t “fit” into average score from top10.

Why would Expedia have such a “spike” in that area? I can only guess, that it is connected with a linking strategy mentioned earlier. I am suspecting, that the spike is caused by links from WordPress theme with injected links. But at any rate, it sticks out and looks a bit unnatural.

metric comparison by CEMPER Power*Trust

Let’s move forward to LRT Trust™ metric. We got a dangerous factor here, worth looking into. If we look at the chart, it’s quite obvious that Expedia “stands out” with Trust metrics much higher than competition’s average in range between 8 and 12.

competitive landscape for cheap flights

The problem I would try to solve here is with the many sites with 0 Trust. Expedia has 31% sites with no trust metrics, when competition average is 16%. That is almost 200% more. It is definitely a factor worth fixing in future by Expedia’s SEO team. Sites with 0 trust are usually new, or really low quality. This is definitely the worst “area” of the chart to have this much more links than competition. Sites with 200% weaker or lower quality links than average can definitely raise flag in Google, which we obviously don’t want.

Now there is one more interesting thing I found in this CLA.

competitive landscape for cheap flights

We can clearly see above that there is a huge difference to the average in every type of Keyword. The most worrying is only 6% Money keywords, comparing to 34% average for Top 3. That means that Top 3 average has 560% more money keywords than Expedia.

metric comparison by link status

Do-follow to no-follow distribution is also worth looking into. Expedia’s got 6% more do-follow links than Top 3, Top 5 and Total average.

metric comparison by link type

Some more image links than competition, but I wouldn’t worry about the score here. It is pretty close to top 10 average.

metric comparison by deeplink ratio

40% Startpage Link to Deep Link proportion. Also a little bit different here than average. From what I saw in the links, it is mainly because of the Expedia’s site structure with many landing pages like for flight related searches and for hotel searches etc. I think we shouldn’t look at this factor as good or bad. must be more complex site than as Expedia offers also hotels, cars etc.

metric comparison by google author id

In my opinion, here CLA “reveals” what NenadSEO wrote in his post about Expedia buying articles from bloggers. Bought links from blogs are a large part of Expedia’s SEO strategy what we can clearly see above.

metric comparison by sitewide ratio for domain

The Sitewide Ratio for this domain confirms the WordPress theme links strategy of sort of, and while there are quite a lot of site wide links popular in the travel space as we can see, Expedia sticks out again.

CLA (Competitive Landscape Analysis) for “Travel” top 10. had also a huge traffic drop for “travel” keyword. Let’s see the competition in the field and how Expedia’s link profile fits into it.

Competitive Landscape Analysis for Travel

Competitive Landscape Analysis for Travel

As shown above, Expedia is a leader in here in amount of referring domains. Only TripAdvisor has a better score.

What should raise a flag here is that Expedia has more than twice as many referring domains as or while their LRT Power*Trust™ is much higher. 49 for and 42 for, while has a score of only 35 LRT Power*Trust™. This clearly indicates that is getting many links from low authority and power domains.

metric comparison by CEMPER Power*Trust

As we can see above, Expedia’s link profile has a huge spike with 76% links being 8-12 Power*Trust™. What is in my opinion caused by WordPress Theme links.

metric comparison by DeepLink Ratio

This is a really interesting screenshot that made me include “travel” CLA in this Case Study. If we compare it with the “cheap flights” CLA, we can clearly see, that those niches are completely different.

Let’s take a look at the same comparison from “cheap flights” niche.

metric comparison by DeepLink Ratio

As you see, those are two completely different niches with a different competitors. It is a challenge to compete in both of this markets and after recent Expedia traffic drops, I think they are going to look closer into this problem.

Link Detox (DTOX) for Expedia

Let’s run a DTOX then for

Link Detox for Expedia

Now, we need to classify as many keywords as possible. We are aiming at a score higher than 80% to have best DTOX accuracy.

Link Detox Keyword Classification

After classifying as many keywords as possible, we need to reprocess the report with new keyword classification and we got our Average Link Detox Risk. First, let’s take a look at the scale.

Link Detox Average Risk

The overall risk is not high for It is far from exceeding 1000, where it could be classified as potential Penguin Victim. What we learn here is that the “AVERAGE” link risk is just that, an average, weighted by a couple factors, but this is the reason why Expedia got away in the Penguin updates.

There are still many links, I would take a closer look at.

Link Detox Risk Breakdown

As we can see above, out of the links we checked, 6% is High Risk or higher. If we scale it to all the links we found for, that would give us 6% out of 120 million – 7.200.000 links. More than 7 million possible toxic links (!).

Have in mind, that it is only a “partial” detox. While working on this case study we didn’t have enough time to properly process more than 120 million links. It would require more time to process and then properly analyze such amount of links.

Link Detox Summary

Link Detox sitewide filter

We filtered only 4793 links out of 101.578 cause or really excessive site wide linking to

What is an interesting fact is that has 80 links from every linking domain on average! This is quite common and shouldn’t be worrying in travel niche, as there is a lot of partner sites linking with widgets or offers.

Link Detox for Expedia’s subdomains

But is a complex site with many subdomains. Some of them are worth mentioning here. - DTOX

For example, let’s take a closer look at subdomain As we know Rental Cars is one of the keywords that lost visibility recently.

Link Detox Deadly Risk

Link Detox Risk Breakdown

Subdomain has Link Detox Risk score of 1658, making it a Deadly Risk and a potential Penguin victim. With almost 60% links with High – Deadly Risk! – DTOX

Another keyword that significantly lost SEO visibility.

Link Detox Deadly Risk

Link Detox Risk Breakdown

Link Detox Summary – DTOX

Link Detox Deadly Risk

Link Detox Risk Breakdown

Link Detox Summary

As you can see looking at those 3 subdomains above, there is a lot of link cleaning for Expedia’s SEO team. We don’t know if those subdomains were penalized, but those are sure Penguin candidates.

Good things at

It turns out that somebody at still believes that “content is the king”. After spending some time with them, I found one really good asset –

good things at

good things at

After taking a closer look, I think they really focused on quality there. Hiring really good guest bloggers, creating interesting articles and offering good terms for new bloggers.

Unfortunately, many things lead me to believe Expedia’s Marketing and SEO team are in two different buildings or even states.

There are a lot of great articles. However, they are filled with keywords. Too many keywords. While reading such a “stuffed” article, you start to think this article was written as a result of an SEO saying “write an article on: Romantic winter experience, New York City, Big Apple, Jacques Torres Chocolates, La Maison du Chocolate and Pairing Classes.”

good things at

Expedia has a lot of interesting and quality content. Even the size of the site (4 million pages indexed in Google), gives them a huge advantage. I am sure after recent problems, Expedia is going to start using their potential; without the dirty tricks and cheap “keyword stuffing”.


This is a deep dive into Expedia’s linking and SEO strategy. After looking at Expedia and their competitors, I think that if NenadSEO didn't create a post that went viral in the community, Expedia could have got away with its SEO strategy for quite a while.

What we see above clearly shows that is most probably not hit with algorithmic penalty, what again confirms my hypothesis about manual action after revealing their linking tactic. Some of the subdomains are a perfect candidate for a Penguin penalty, but Expedia’s traffic drops are correlated with main page and subpages.

I think that if Expedia is going to work with Google on removing the penalty, it is not going to take a long time before they come back in rankings. The Search Quality Team at Google will achieve its goal and Expedia is going to put a little bit more effort (and budget) in creating their SEO strategy.

While working on this case study I received some emails and messages from people struggling with this huge player in the travel industry. They were all trying to focus Google’s attention at what is going on in this niche for a long time.

While looking at the whole of Expedia’s link profile, I knew was room for improvement in many fields. I think that this traffic drop is going to be influential for Expedia. A fresh start with a better strategy, one that is not based on a spammy blogs or WordPress themes with link injection. These are all SEO techniques from many years ago and as we know in SEO world, strategies or SEO “trick” that is 4 – 5 years old are basically a negative SEO.

What is also important to notice, Expedia is “cleaning” its link profile as I write this post. It means that even when the penalty is lifted and their rankings come back, they are not going to regain their “old” positions and visibility straight away.

That leaves room for new players in travel industry and from the feedback I had during my work on this case study, I know that there are many new players looking for a fair chance in travel niche.

What do you think about this research?
Please comment below

This case study was written by Bartosz Góralewicz, SEO Consultant, Online Marketing Specialist, and proud user of LinkResearchTools and Link Detox.

A word from Christoph C. Cemper

LRT Certified Professional This analysis was conducted and post written by our new LRT Certified Professional, Bartosz Góralewicz.

Bartosz showed proficiency in doing a SEO link audit on the current topic of Expedia's penalized SEO strategies. I am thrilled by the detail and structure he accomplished in his case study. Therefore, I'm very happy to certify Bartosz Góralewicz as the latest Certfied LRT Professional; by approving and publishing his research on our site.

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

I look forward to his future work, and personally recommend Bartosz Góralewicz to work with you, whenever you get the opportunity!

And if you wonder what it takes in hours and coffees to put this post together and achieve the honored status of CLRTP, then you should read Bart's "Behind the Scenes of the LRT Case Study" post.

LRT Certified Professional Bartosz Góralewicz

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You can fix or avoid a Google Penalty! Learn more about how you can Recover and Protect with LRT.




Bartosz Goralewicz

Bartosz Góralewicz specializes in link audits. He does consulting mostly for corporate customers and large sites. You can find some of his case studies or interesting posts by clicking the posts tab. 


  1. Nenad on January 24, 2014 at 21:05

    Hi Bartosz

    I was reading some article on your blog few days ago and I liked one article and wanted to comment, but for some reason this was not possible…anyway, I was now checking where the visitors are coming from (to our site) and noticed a link from this site, so I came to see what is it about and saw this great article.
    I am glad that you covered all these tactics cause this is exactly what i found out, I especially like that blackhat Free WP themes site. Imagine, free themes with premium support, and all they want is a footer link to stay intact.
    When I was checking out these links I saw (among others) “Galvestone Hotels” and when you search for that KW Expedia is either 2nd or 3rd spot on the first page.

    The agency that was doing this for Expedia was so sure nobody is going to follow their works that they didn’t want to hide their footsteps. And they were tapping each other on the back all the way to the bank for the last 5-10 years.

    Google webspam team is a major Joke

    • Bartosz Góralewicz on January 28, 2014 at 12:36

      Agency mentioned here is pretty “strange”. They are impossible to find, no backlinks (only from non-indexed staging sites). No SEO done in SEO agency? I think they are somehow connected to Expedia, but no idea if its true.

      Good job starting this whole thing Nenad!

  2. Dan on January 25, 2014 at 00:47

    Excellent analysis. I’ll be looking forward to the link detox part 😀

    • Bartosz Góralewicz on January 29, 2014 at 01:31

      Thanks Dan, its live now 😉

      • Christoph C. Cemper on January 30, 2014 at 15:24

        Thanks Bart!

  3. James on January 25, 2014 at 02:41

    Dude, this is fantastic. It’s like baseball, if players don’t do steroids, it won’t be a level playing field. Same thing in highly competitive online marketing.(travel, education, IMO,MMO etc….

    I’m glad that Google is standing by their terms.

    Props on this post!


    • Bartosz Góralewicz on January 29, 2014 at 01:33

      Thanks James, I am affraid, that this whole niche should be “cleaned” by Google a little bit.

      • Michael Korolishin on February 4, 2014 at 22:13

        Hopefully they take on the Fitness and Health industry next…I have an inkling it’s just as bad, if not worse than the Travel and Hospitality industry.

        By that, I mean it’s currently a full-blown fucking mess.

  4. eldy on January 25, 2014 at 03:37

    will seo specialists receive salary bump? they are like the key man for a raise and down in a company, like we see in rap genius and expedia.

  5. PackmintonR on January 25, 2014 at 04:05

    It is about time. There were times when I felt the hand of injustice from Google. Big names have always got free of the penalties while little ones suffer.

    I guess this is sending signals out to other big names to review their link building strategies.

    Thanks for this post and the analysis.

    BTW. Cemper’s tools are awesome but EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE!

    • Michael Korolishin on February 4, 2014 at 22:39

      While I agree that Google needs to come down on some of these big brands using questionable tactics, as well as make it easier for SMBs to recover when they are hit with an automatic penalty, I think we should take into consideration the actual impact of some of these manual “penalties”.

      Rap Genius is a great example, because the entire thing felt like a manufactured PR stunt from both parties – I still believe it may have been one. I mean, let’s think about what actually happened. That Google penalty lasted for barely 2 weeks, hardly the experience shared by many SMBs who are hit with automatic penalties. On top of this, the sheer amount of press around the even actually lead to Rap Genius’ organic link profile a rate faster than they had ever experienced in the history of the company. Now Rap Genius is using this wave of free press to launch their own App, and they are firmly back at the top of Google search results, even after running the single most asinine link building scheme seen this side of Expedia.

      It’s important to remember that Google is in the business of providing the best platform for advertisers, everything else is ancillary to, or a direct result of this fact. Rap Genius was too big, and too popular for Google to keep off the web for long because of the amount of PPC related to the keywords they rank for.

  6. Johan Hedin on January 25, 2014 at 04:43

    Interesting case study. Just like any other big site like BMW that was penalized many years back, came back very quickly. I think it will be the same for Expedia. It’s amazing that Expedia got all these low quality back links and they did not even know it. Did they ever check their GWT? If it was a not a negative attack, then I guess they have learned a lesson not to use cheap SEO tactics.

  7. Amit on January 25, 2014 at 06:33

    It will be really interesting to know about Expedia’s Link management and Link cleaning strategy.

    • Bartosz Góralewicz on January 29, 2014 at 01:35

      There is a massive clean-up going on now, but I doubt they will talk about it. 🙂

  8. Rick Lomas on January 25, 2014 at 08:32

    I have a handful of clients that I am trying to recover at the moment – mostly Penguin 2.0 and 2.1 drops. The weird thing is that they have mostly been sold SEO services that said “White Hat Penguin Safe Tactics”. Clearly risk management and knowing your battlefield is more important than ever now. I’m always stunned by how huge companies like Expedia, Interflora and Direct Line can manage their risk so badly. It’s all good new for LRT Associates Like myself though 🙂

  9. Steve on January 25, 2014 at 18:44

    Nice work Bartosz! Not a good idea to have the same listing in a few hundred directories then?

    • Bartosz Góralewicz on January 29, 2014 at 10:45

      It depends – if you got a short term strategy, that might work well (for a short time) 🙂

    • Bartosz Góralewicz on January 29, 2014 at 10:48

      If you got a long-term SEO strategy, then I wouldn’t do that.

  10. Matthew Boley on January 25, 2014 at 22:31

    That will teach them… I am surprised that they didn’t get hit long ago. It’s amazing though how many companies I run across when researching why a company is on top are actually performing black hat. The financial or loan niche is the worst out of all of them I have found. Great write up, I am glad I don’t use any of those tactics lol.

  11. Rotimi on January 26, 2014 at 11:54

    Great work Bartosz,
    I am shocked to hear that you still have more digging to do on this matter.
    Talk about being in-depth and thorough.
    Kudos to you on your efforts.

    I hope to read more SEO reports from you in the future. And thanks for this one.

    • Bartosz Góralewicz on January 28, 2014 at 11:18

      Thanks Rotimi,

      Actually there was a lot more work, and I hope it’s more clear to see in the full version. I’ve spent hours and hours researching Expedia’s backlinks. When I found one thing, it was like opening the doors with many other doors behind it. I think its and endless research, so we tried to focus on the main problems here.

  12. Magnus Strømnes Bøe on January 27, 2014 at 13:31

    Great effort to show what actually happened.
    Looking forward to the results of further digging.

    • Bartosz Góralewicz on January 28, 2014 at 23:51

      Thank you Magnus!

  13. Jerry on January 27, 2014 at 13:47

    What might be really interesting is to see how the bounced back from the penalty. I can still see them rank highly for a few keywords.

  14. Abdul Wahab on January 28, 2014 at 05:06

    Interesting findings. Most interesting point is Google took action after nanad’s blog. Its a question mark to Google’s algo.

    Waiting for next findings in this

  15. Krzysztof Furtak on January 28, 2014 at 23:18


    • Bartosz Góralewicz on January 29, 2014 at 01:44

      Dziekuje 😉
      Thanks 🙂

  16. Brett T. Smith on January 28, 2014 at 23:45

    I’m glad that Nenad exposed what Expedia was doing. Big brands need to be treated with the same slap that a small business site would receive. Unfortunately based on what I can tell, these big brands can get away with this type of stuff. Another example is GoDaddy (thanks to @ViperChill)

  17. sourabh rana on January 29, 2014 at 19:01

    Hello Bartosz,

    Thanks for this case study as a travel company we also aware & cautious about these kind of link building programs. Last year also penalized like this but this is really pretty big penalty.

    I checked his total link profiles they have 92crores external inks acc. to majestic seo database. ( very very huge)

    YES, we are waiting will google give them ranking again in just few days like google did with other top brands in past like rap genious &

  18. Massimo Fattoretto on January 30, 2014 at 10:29

    Great Analysis


  19. Charlie @ ClickProz on February 3, 2014 at 23:14

    Yet the author of this article has a dofollow signature link in his author bio. Interesting.

    • Bartosz Góralewicz on February 3, 2014 at 23:30

      Matt Cutts said it many times. It is the end of “low quality” guest posts blogging. He even mentioned that it is targeted towards paid guest blogs and you should only let someone you trust do a guest blog. I don’t see this case study as a way of getting 1 do-follow no-anchor link to “fool” the algo 🙂

      It is important to see a difference between spammy WP template with hidden links, and 1 no-anchor do-follow link from a quality post. IMHO links like the one in my BIO are exactly ones that Google should consider as a quality ranking factor. Not the other way around.

  20. Chande on February 4, 2014 at 15:22

    Hahaha. I’ve been doing travel for years and this is nothing new. But now SEO community backfired to the hypocrisy of Google and sank Expedia. I would not like to be the manager who approved spamming for them. But I guess with so much $$$ in the pockets, they’ll clean up and get the rankings back.

    With manual tweaking by Mr. Cutts and “no-spam” team.

    Poor guy will be the collateral damage. VPs will still earn big checks. Investors will regain faith once the results are up.

    Time to invest in expedia stock.

    What a joke.

  21. @mmeisner on February 4, 2014 at 18:50 the FULL deep-dive into Unnatural Travel Link Schemes [250%+ update] very detailed expose

  22. @stuartdmcleod on February 4, 2014 at 19:35

    Expedia has been hit hard with a Penalty and lost 25% of its visibility, find out why –

  23. @ben_beck on February 4, 2014 at 23:00

    THIS –> the FULL deep-dive into Unnatural Travel Link Schemes

  24. @jonaslindblom on February 5, 2014 at 02:35

    Spännande länkanalys kring vad som hände med Expedia #svSEO

  25. @iamjoona on February 5, 2014 at 10:52

    This was an epic read of sneaky stuff that big sites can/could get away with: #seo #fuckthisshit

  26. @alfina87 on February 5, 2014 at 11:46 FULL deep-dive into Unnatural Travel Link Schemes via @Cemper#blackhatseo

  27. Victoria Lennon on February 5, 2014 at 12:09

    Brilliant article and very thought provoking!

    I wondered if you had any thoughts/opinion as to why Expedia managed to get away with using these out-dated techniques for so long (and why other brands are too)? Surely some of it would have been penalised after Penguin? It’s depressing for those of us who are adhering to the guidelines!

  28. @bart_goralewicz on February 5, 2014 at 12:44

    “@alfina87: FULL deep-dive into Unnatural Travel Link Schemes via @Cemper#blackhatseo”

  29. @kwaimind on February 5, 2014 at 13:13

    Wow! In Depth case study – the FULL deep-dive into Unnatural Travel Link Schemes –

  30. @tomyches on February 5, 2014 at 20:40 FULL deep-dive into Unnatural Travel Link Schemes [update +250%] vía @cemper

  31. @JakubMovic on February 6, 2014 at 19:46 FULL deep-dive into Unnatural Travel Link Schemes [update +250%] via @cemper

  32. @wkaczanowski on February 7, 2014 at 14:23

    as always great case study from @Cemper: Deep-dive into Expedia´s Unnatural Link Schemes

  33. @samsonmedia on February 7, 2014 at 14:40

    This is a WILD story about Google’s smackdown of Expedia and why. Reads like a whodunnit.

  34. @samsonmedia on February 7, 2014 at 14:40

    This is a WILD story about Google’s smackdown of Expedia and why. Reads like a whodunnit.

  35. @kesbutters on February 7, 2014 at 14:52 FULL deep-dive into Unnatural Travel Link Schemes [update +250%] via @cemper

  36. Durant Imboden on February 8, 2014 at 00:39

    Mind-boggling analysis. Good work! Now, if only a whistleblower could supply an analysis of how these schemes were allowed to happen (and of how high in the company the corrupt SEO schemes were approved).

  37. Spook SEO on February 11, 2014 at 07:12

    All of this was MMG’s fault why Expedia drop down this last January. That was the Expedias major breakdown.

  38. Jonathan Hatton on February 12, 2014 at 14:34

    Absolutely superb analysis.

    Very interesting to see the level of work put into link building they have done.

  39. @Pro_Ice on May 25, 2014 at 16:57

    Очень интересное чтиво — расследование использования Expedia грязного SEO с WordPress-темами: via @cemper

  40. @KarineHeyden on June 19, 2014 at 23:43

    @NinaHendy Google it? SEO fraternity? Ever seen this or this

  41. @joannavaiou on July 17, 2014 at 23:18 FULL deep-dive into Unnatural Travel Link Schemes [update +250%] via @Cemper#seo #seolinks

  42. Valentino Mea on December 27, 2014 at 14:19

    This is a complete analysis on the of Google penalty. Unfortunately, many brands use techniques to the limit, as Amazon for example, but are not penalized.

  43. Giuseppe Pignataro on October 20, 2015 at 19:59

    Excellent work Bartosz, you made a really deep audit! Definitely a bad idea to have the same listing in a few hundred directories

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