Im an Expedia employee (inbound marketing director, covering SEO), although Im currently at the end of my notice period. (Im leaving in two weeks).
Also, I worked in the B2B division, nothing to do with the consumer side that this article references.
The author of the post linked above contacted me a couple of days before publishing it, to warn me that he would publish (quote: "damning evidence of expedia spam").
HOWEVER: If I wanted him to not publish it, he would "sell the post to the highest bidder".
That was what prompted me to post this on my personal blog: http://webmarketingschool.com/big-brand-seo-spam/ and for the record, I told him to sling his hook reference to extorting money out of anyone in exchange for not posting stuff about their backlinks.
No doubt that is why I got singled out in the article. You'll notice that at the top I get mentioned as being in charge of this stuff, then right down at the bottom, he mentions that in fact Ive got nothing to do with it.
I'll let you all draw your own conclusions.
The only reason I got mentioned, was that I refused to pay money to not have it published, and told the author that blackmail wasnt a great idea.
If someone had attempted to extort you, and were now using your name in this fashion, wouldnt you want to respond?
"Outsource your downloads (google it, there are several providers). Rinse and Repeat, as all the fake Guru’s like to say."
These tweets by you were enlightening too: https://twitter.com/searchmartin/status/417260215453876224
And of course the intro to the very post:
"After receiving a manual penalty by Google for 2 small sites (for gaming the Google PR system".
I would not touch this entire fiasco with a 10-foot pole and I do not envy all involved or dragged into this.
I'll draw my conclusion among other things from statements such as:
Sure, there are some skeletons in SEO-closets, but thats the same for every single major site that has existed for a decade or longer, bar none.
Not only do you attempt to drag the whole web business through the mud after being caught with your pants down, you also personally insult people who have been opposed to these kinds of practices and still ran major sites for a long time.
If I were you, I'd keep quiet and seek a position somewhere unrelated to SEO and not taint Expedia's reputation even more by invoking the "everyone else is doing it" defense, which most people in the web business know is just plain wrong.
Also, I'd now expect people to scrutinize Wikipedia more, looking for spammy Expedia links. Thanks for the hint.
I don't think we should accept that same behavior should have different implications depending on who is doing it.
Thing is, there IS one set of rules already - and thats governed by the google organic results algo which looks at a sites backlink profile as a whole.
If its mainly crap links with no authority then the site will get banned. If its a big brand site with authority and reputation, its really tough from Google's perspective to simply ban that site and all its pages because there are some links of questionable authority pointed at it.
IF they did that, the search results would be a pretty lonely place, and it would be super easy to remove sites positioned above yours in the results!
This doesn't justify the spam, it just makes it much more difficult for Google to detect and penalize due to the mostly natural link profile that Expedia has earned legitimately by building a household brand.
If you had 99% signals saying this is a strong brand worth ranking high, or even only 85% of the signals are positive, and you have a few shady backlinks, wouldn't you give them the benefit of the doubt? Even if you wouldn't can you risk penalizing them without a smoking gun and proof of spam?
The only real question here is why Expedia even bothers with these efforts...Most big brands can get more than enough natural backlinks by launching new programs and services and having all the press pick up the story.
The fact that you're the Marketing Director at Expedia makes it even worse (if you are lying).
EDIT: Okay, I just did some research and this person's company is extremely fishy but I would still like to see some evidence.
As for pinning blame on the author?
Im not debating anything he said, other than calling my name out.
Its not my place to deny OR corroborate any claims against a division that I NEVER worked for, of a company that I no longer work for! ;)
I took the decision then not to out the behaviour - however given that Im targeted in the article I've since slackened my ethics on how to treat the situation.
"In fact, the article can be about any topic related to your blog, just mentioning at some point something like “find coupon codes for Expedia”, “get some deals in Expedia”.. Do you think that would fit in? Doesn’t have to look very spammy (we don’t want that either). What do you think?
About the price, how much would it be a post like this with maybe 2 links? "
"I’m looking to place a link this week on the homepage, but can I ask when the link for expedia.co.uk expires on your site?"
These are just two examples. There are plenty of these. BUT it does appear that they are now hiring quality bloggers to write on their own blog so perhaps things have changed.
With these examples, the links are clearly spammy to a human but a little less detectable by a bot. And -- this is crucial -- there is no evidence yet linking these bloggers back to Expedia. Google will have to do a little more digging to figure out the nexus and analyze the quality of Expedia's backlink profile before they can slap a penalty. My guesstimate is that there's a 1 in 3 chance there will be a penalty and a 1 in 10 chance the penalty will be public.
I did notice that they give the blogger discretion on the link placement and anchor text so its somewhat natural...although still clearly link spam worth penalizing!
"Hey, you want to know who else pays bloggers to link to their site? Expedia.com, here is some proof:"
I can understand the author's frustration, and he brings good points to the table, but the first quarter or so of the article is neigh unreadable.
Edit: Are they using http referrers so reward the correct affiliate?
Basically if you are either a big brand or a spammy company or have a nimble operation, you can afford to do grey & black seo. If you are a small business/ up and coming company white seo practices are the safe choice.
I'm happy this Rap Genius incident happened because it's driven some attention to how Google's business actually operates, how poor their algorithms actually are, how arbitrary their search engine actually is, how poor their customer service practices are, and many other similar ideas.
Granted, these are monumentally hard problems to solve and Google still does it better than anybody else, but it's good that some attention is directed here because there are numerous problems with how ranking in Google currently works.
This rather suggests that what you're calling "white hat" is a slightly less white shade than you may think. After all, who exactly is defining what "above board" is here?
You're talking as though Google has some kind of responsibility to you. They don't. You are not their customer. Their customer is the searcher, and they have every right to do whatever they like with their results to give what they think is the best result for the searcher.
I'm getting pretty tired of this attitude (generally among "SEO" people) that Google is some sort of public property.
> This rather suggests that what you're calling "white hat" is a slightly less white shade than you may think. After all, who exactly is defining what "above board" is here?
We've had a lot of proof by vigerous assertion in this thread. I particularly like the protestation of lily-white innocence by marketers writing "great content" in "guest posts".
A thousand words on "10 things to bring on your next business trip", or "5 things to ask when choosing an online university" isn't exactly Woodword & Bernstein on Watergate, Joyce's Dubliners, or even Michelin's Guide to Paris restaurants.
2. Once a company reaches monopoly status the government can regulate it for the public good.
2. Well, that's not quite right. The government can limit the actions of a monopoly to prevent abuse, but demanding arbitrary shit isn't really something that's in the statute books.
One thing's for certain, the "white hat" "SEO"ers paying bloggers to write thin articles about them to increase their organic search ranking are certainly not Google's customer and they have no obligation to please them.
I'm getting pretty tired of the attitude that they have no responsibility to anyone other than those who buy advertising from them since it's blatantly false.
Not really. Certainly not a responsibility to abide by the whims of random people who want their content ranked higher.
And if we decide to burden them with "responsibilities", what about their responsibility to keep my search results free of spa^W SEOers' crap?
You're right that they don't have a responsibility to abide by the whims of random spammers, but they also don't have carte Blanche to use their power to regulate the internet as they see fit.
The 'it's their product so they can do what they like' line is simply not correct. When they take action like this they need to be scrutinized carefully and we as the public most certainly should debate the merits of their actions and their effect on the internet.
Google clearly does not have a monopoly on search.
If you think the word monopoly means that there is precisely zero competition, then you are not using the word as it is used by economists, governments, and the law.
Monopoly is defined by effective competition, barriers to entry and market power. Google qualifies.
If Google sells me ad-space - or a Nexus - and then doesn't respond when I have a problem, that's bad. But if your pages drop in the search result rankings, suck it up and maybe pay a bit more attention to the spirit of that preaching - Google owes you ZERO customer support if all you're paying for is snake-oil from some 3rd-party SEO "expert".
Meanwhile the world commerce is moving towards the Internet and Google controls 70% of that. But you don't want to come off as "spammy" so better to risk your company and follow the rules of an unresponsive search company that might or might not punish you for it.
Are there examples of sites that have done no SEO, and can still point to a banning-type event in their search result ranking history? Obviously this wouldn't be a big site; it might just be a random business the marketing of which is mostly offline.
...so you gotta do what it takes to get ahead, even if that means abusing the system and everyone else who depends on it? That's been the spammer's argument from Day 1, and it's just as crap now as it was twenty years ago.
No one owes you a successful business. If the only way you can find to make money involves dumping on others, then you shouldn't be surprised when there are consequences - even if you're following the "letter of the law" while doing so.
(The Japanese govt pages have high page quality, and link directly to these candidate domains, thus giving these candidate pages high link quality status in google's eyes. The candidate pages become info-spam-blog pages that peddle things like cosmetics and link to the mother payload pages to impose so rank.)
It seems like old bad links can hurt an expired domains rankings.
"On expired domains, Matt said Google tries to reset pagerank/links for all expired domains to zero when they are registered by someone new. They don’t try to penalize the expired domain, but they also don’t want to give credit for the previous owner’s links."
People used to snatch up expired domains and use the internet archives to put back up the same content and than slowly add links to their sites...
Because of this spam, Google just ignores links to a domain that expired that are from before it went live if the new registrant is a different person I presume but don't know.
Not (entirely) true. Here's a 'small business' sans any big-brand protection that is obviously spamming the heck out of electrician/plumber niches and has been succeeding for years. If you're near one of the relevant areas and Google "[area] plumber" you'll see a few of their sites on page 1. Not one or two. Maybe five. My fiancee got an electrician in from one of those sites and he was so clueless he claimed that his people were building an oven element (rather than buying it for $20 and just installing it.)
See two pages with the same layout, and if you click around you'll see they're barely trying to hide it.
This is 90's stuff. Google's being gamed badly by the most unsophisticated techniques. The guys who actually work in those areas and provide relevant services must be going crazy.
Aren't all search engines susceptible to the same practices? How would you like to see them fixed?
GrantTree is ranked pretty high against our competitors on several keywords that are important to us. This was all entirely through whitehat SEO within about a year of setting out to do it. We've just written lots of high-quality content on our blog, and then contributed genuine, original articles to other sides and got them to include a link to GrantTree or to one of our topic sub-pages (like http://granttree.co.uk/tax_credits ) in the byline. We've never bought links, nor will we ever buy links.
Now, GrantTree's context is not super-competitive like, say, Expedia or RapGenius... but we do have competitors. So competing with good, well-structured content and genuine contributions to other sites does work - at least in some contexts.
Also, I'm frequently on the receiving end of these "your blog/site/whatever is awesome and we'd love to publish a high-quality article on your blog and we'll even pay you for it" emails, and as far as I'm concerned they are spam. I never even bother replying to them.
I'll be happy if Google nails those spammy bastards to the wall - both the paymasters and the so-called bloggers.
(Note: this makes no judgement on the claim that Expedia is partaking in this)
Typically I've written the article before passing it on to someone, so in those cases, obviously the question doesn't apply. In the latter case, if someone asks for me to e.g. write about tax credits for their site, then it's only polite for them to allow us to include a byline without nofollow.
> And what links are you requiring in the byline?
Hah, whatever I can get :-) Depends on the site, obviously, but if I can get links to some of our topic pages with the right text, I'll go for that! (e.g. http://www.ec1capital.com/blog/rd-tax-credits-explained).
We don't "ask to guest post" as a company, though I've offered to write some good original content on occasion, but only in person and with no pressure.
1. As a product search experience, that is still horribly broken.
2. It is still good for the web, incentivizing you to create quality content.
Occasionally I have written a full blown article and suddenly realised it would be better suited for another site (eg techcrunch) and approached the editor there to ask if they would like to publish that specific article, but I don't do blanket "can I write something for you". That would be highly hypocritical!
Even though the third party had nothing to do with Expedia (besides emailing me the particular anchor text and URL), the fact that I was only ever contacted to put Expedia links and no other sites in the 5 years I've been running them made me think that they were Expedia shills.
(this is obviously a throw away account)
That said, Google are not doing a very comprehensive job of busting blackhats. Even some of the cases that an algorithm should be able to easily detect are not being punished in the same way that RapGenius was. This essentially leaves everyone in an awkward situation. You can't compete using whitehat methods because your competitors are using blackhat methods and Google is turning a blind eye. You end up with two options; (a) lower your standards and start using blackhat methods, or (b) hope that Google will eventually punish your dodgy competitors and buy traffic from Google in the interim.
I am sure Matt will provide more info soon especially after what happened to RapGenius.
This is nothing compared to what RapGenius did. This is a low quality, but legit link building tactic.
The author claims the articles are poor quality, but they aren't. The only red flag is commercial keywords as anchor text, which Penguin today does a good job of discounting.
I believe avoiding targeting the big brands is for the better since giving bad reputation to the brand linked on these articles would backfire with false articles against competitors.
Penguin is also discounting many of these links that have commercial keywords as anchor text. (I wonder if these links even help them.)
That'd really stick it to sites like Cracked.
One wonders how safe HN will be from this. Inevitably if something can generate views or $$ then someone will have an interest in gaming it.
All marketing is a Ploy if you really think about it, and businesses for intents and purposes is just an investment vehicle and marketing is how your turn over that investment.
Heck news media a ploy for corporations.
Someone has to Pay the Bills and Keep The Lights On
"They don’t buy links? They don’t bribe bloggers? They don’t sell links on MOZ? Yes, you’re reading right. SEOs sell links on MOZ. But we all know this. It is so obvious. But MOZ is not the topic of this article.
And this is not going to be an article; I would like to look at it as a report. We will make a report about huge companies (we will start with one company), ranking for tens of thousands of keywords using black hat tactics. "
This is all Google's fault. Most travel sites used to try to generate good content, and then buy SEM to their content and use OTA search widgets to monetize via affiliate programs. But Google decided this was search arbitrage, and stopped approving SEM landing pages that were monetized by affiliate search, so people have had to resort to text links, in the hope that someone will click and they can drop their cookie and get paid.
NB: I used to work for a site that was at the time owned by Expedia.
Another thing is the website owners can be paid to add new content to the blog via an in-house SEO grunt, who has to add a number of links and space them out based on expected. I.e. one link per blog. They will edit over or add to the actual bloggers content.
I have to wonder though if these specific posts were linkbuilding posts, because of the location of the Authors. (i.e. Tampa - where copypress is, and blueglass was.)
You try to avoid taxes - you get squished.
For example, slap-up-media.net spammed us today, offering to pay us to publish guest posts written by them. I'd really like to know who their clients are (but would not risk accepting their offer out of curiosity).
There is definitely some room for fresh approaches to content discovery, knowledge indexing, and finding answers. New startup(s) or Google rediscovering itself?
Ironically, Tampa is where BlueGlass was located before they went bellyup.
Personally, I think articles likes these are fine for SEO. The articles are NOT PAID FOR and while the links might not be totally organic, you could certainly argue it adds some value to the post. (i.e. expedia's app is a good app for finding cheap airfare.)
Google has announced several times that they are going to crack down on poor quality guest posting, and I think expedia should be a little more progressive in their anchor text (i.e. linking with a brand name, url or even not linking... but just mentioning the brand name could help their rankings.)
Bottom line, Good offsite SEO today is a more polished version of this...
Step 1: Create Linkable, shareable, emotionally charged content.
Step 2: distribute your content socially.
Step 3: Do outreach to bloggers and journalists to get exposure to their audience, and perhaps attract links...
That being said, aside from the overly optimized anchor text, this is legitimate link acquisition and its what all SEOs do today... They create content and try to get distribution far and wide.
These links and posts could just as easily be traffic generation strategies, not SEO strategies.
"A little about me... I am a search marketing consultant,and I love everything about marketing and emerging technology. Growth Hacking is my strongest skillset, especially when leveraging search engines."
While I'm not sure that what you're doing is technically astroturfing, it's still equally as dishonest.
First, none of the links described in TFA match your "guidelines" to "Good offsite SEO", so even by your own admission this is not "Good offsite SEO".
Second, there is no such thing as "Good offsite SEO", since any "offsite SEO" is by definition either link farming or gaming the system. The entire point of the Penguin update (if I'm not mistaken) was to prevent quite literally all "offsite SEO" so google can rank your page according to your content, and so they can reliably weight incoming links. If an incoming link (that is not on your site!) has been SEO'd then by definition it is not an organic, quality incoming link.
Third, you state "this is legitimate link acquisition and its what all SEOs do today", which undermines the entirety of your post since link acquisition is by definition not organic, nor does it produce "quality" inbound links.
But hey, since "its what all SEOs do today" it must be kosher.
Edit: Just to address your last point (not to pile on or anything, but I feel like it's important), I'm pretty sure this is a willful conflation of two totally separate concepts. Since, you know, everyone who's ever done any sort of SEO knows that if you want to drive traffic, but not pay the penalties for link farming, you use rel="nofollow". Which Expedia/ the blogger did not do.
I don't even know what that means.
But, that was written close to two years ago... I have since moved on to content development and traffic strategy. Still, Whats wrong with being a search marketer and knowing about link building strategies that are legit. Why is building a site that inherently attracts links, not both legit to google, and a growth hack?
I think your understanding of Penguin, or Offsite SEO are misinformed.
Creating great content and proactively seeking exposure to that content is perfectly white hat and within Googles guidelines.
Using No Follow is for PAID placements, advertising and advertorials. These posts were none of the above.
Blogger outreach without incentive (i.e. content they chose to feature because it adds value to their audience.) is a bedrock of content marketing and inbound marketing, and traffic generation, and I would do these things even if Google and Search Engines never existed.
Bottom Line, distributing quality content through outreach is a legitimate practice that all GOOD seo's engage in, and whether you like it or not, its in Googles best interest as well for content creators to be incentivized to create more content, which comes about through growing an audience, which comes from exposure to other publishers audience, and search engines.
"Here are a few common examples of unnatural links that violate our guidelines..." (3rd bullet point)
As another poster pointed out as well, these might be affiliate links dropped by a widget like skimlinks,etc...
Oh wait... there is!
Viewing the source from the "6 of the Most Enjoyable Theme Parks in the Nation"  article referenced in the parent article shows that the phrase "guaranteed best price on airfare" indeed is a straight link to Expedia.
 - http://www.cheaptravelblog.net/6-of-the-most-enjoyable-theme...
 - http://i.imgur.com/gGoo9jL.png
stackedmidgets 3 hours ago | link [dead]
You're hilariously wrong, due to your ignorance.
As someone who has written thousands of black hat articles just like these, even in the same vertical as discussed in the article, except more specific (certain niche European destinations) -- well written, for what I was paid -- I can say that articles like these are paid for, and violate Google's guidelines.
There's on article that I'm particularly proud of that involved inventing all sorts of fictional romantic adventures on an island off the coast of Spain that included specific anchor text about cheap hotels for that destination. Creative? Sure! It was almost as good as a print ad, even though it's likely that few real readers actually read the thing. Violating Google's guidelines? Fuck yes!!
Google has no access to the bank accounts of these writers to verify that the links were paid for. The search quality team can't plum the e-mail accounts of everyone involved to see that said articles were commissioned to include specific anchor text.
It's quite difficult to establish objectively whether or not the writers were paid for this. However, I can say that whenever black hatters write these kinds of articles, we're instructed by the client to include certain anchor text types, and to vary the anchor text for different articles in the same campaign.
Further, botted traffic adds another ugly layer to gaming SEO. The publisher just has to 'look' legitimate. The traffic can even be semi-botted by offices full of Indians using software for that purpose.
Are these not essentially the same thing? I understand that in the SEO business this has all been carefully nuanced, but in the general world the idea behind pagerank was that it made the web a democracy of sorts, where authentic, honest links organically demonstrate resources that users find most useful. That is the antithesis of "whoever can pay the most to have the most pages full of rote text created with paid links tops".
 - I should mention that organic linking is virtually dead, so perhaps it really doesn't matter. Blogs are, by and large, dead (and the few that persist engage in a circle-link pattern that is intended to essentially keep it in the family), and they (and personal websites) accounted for the overwhelming majority of legitimately organic links. Outside of that source of links, sites like Reddit and even probably HN are overwhelmingly gamed and manipulated, because the majority of users simply don't "vote" at all, leaving the manipulators an easy course to ply.
The web has been bought and paid for for several years now.
Not quite. SEO is about optimizing PageRank, which is a false proxy for a website's popularity. "Traffic generation" means actually increasing the site's popularity, for real users.
Google is only having "SEO scheme" problems with freeloaders, like RapGenius.
To site Wikipedia: "Don't be evil" was the informal corporate motto (or slogan) of Google. Key word here is was.