Just over a week ago FSE Online Ltd heard a rumour that a very well-known brand had been hit by what seemed to be a Google penalty. That brand was very quickly revealed to be Expedia! One of the leading figures in the world of online marketing and founder of the Search Engine Round Table Barry Schwartz revealed that he had received a tweet telling him that Expedia had seen a significant loss in traffic overnight. This information was confirmed by data collected from Search Metrics:
Early indications were that Expedia could have lost as much as 25% of their natural search engine traffic. While this figure is hard to substantiate it was clear to see that Expedia had seen significant drops in positions for various keywords. For example, the site had fallen 27 positions for the keyword “hotels”, lost 23 positions for the phrase “car rental” and dropped way back onto page two for the search term “cheap flights”. In fact they retained positions for very few keywords, with losses varying from a few places to a few pages.
Now there have been some conspiracy theories going around – it’s funny how Google announces its plans to move into the travel industry and all of a sudden one of the biggest players (or soon to be competitors) takes a significant hit. Having spent some time analysing Expedia’s link profile we can see that there has been some aggressive unnatural link building going on, though it is possible this isn’t all of their own doing.
While many webmasters will find it refreshing to hear that the BIG brands aren’t exempt from the same treatment as many small and medium sized businesses by Google, this isn’t the first time it has happened. In fact there is the now infamous case of Interflora who were penalised very heavily on Valentine’s Day (of all days) last year. Many of us wondered if this was just pure coincidence or Google flexing its muscle once more!
So what impact will this have on Expedia?
Obviously without any inside knowledge it is very hard to say how much traffic and sales will be lost in total, but we do know that in the short term it’s going to be significant setback for the company. I can also tell you that within 24 hours of this news breaking Expedia saw share prices in the US fall to $67.67, down $3.02 which was a loss of 4.3%. Then there is all the travel agencies, hotels, car rental and flight companies that all rely on Expedia to bring them a large portion of their sales. The knock-on effect to these companies could be disastrous for some! In fact this whole scenario could have a negative impact on the economy as a whole (though a relatively small one).
Both Google and Expedia have refused to comment on the matter, so there are many that believe the two heavyweights are working behind the scenes to get everything rectified, with some believing Expedia will be all but back to normal within three weeks having had their slap on the wrist. This remains to be seen but we do know that in case of Interflora things were rectified within a few weeks, a scenario that companies like us could only dream of if we found ourselves in the same position.
We will continue to monitor this closely and keep you updated as and when anything significant comes to light.