Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last week or you have absolutely no interest in SEO whatsoever, you’ll already be aware by now that the travel brand Expedia was hit by a pretty large Google manual penalty last week.

As I said in the blog I wrote last week, it seems like the brand experienced a 25% drop in search visibility for a number of key ‘money’ terms, with paid links being the main culprit for a penalty of this size and scale.

Now, as with any high profile penalty of this nature, I was keen to learn more about the situation so I’ve been keeping my eyes open for an article which could explain exactly what Expedia had been up to to catch Google’s attention (or rather a blogger’s attention who then caught Google’s attention!)… and I kept drawing a blank until Christoph C Cemper pointed me in the direction of the Link Research Tools site.

On the site they’ve published a great analysis by Bartosz Goralewicz which goes into Expedia’s backlink profile in detail and picks out the key link building tactics the brand (or rather their SEO agency) had used to try and improve their rankings in the organic SERPs.

Now, for anyone interested in SEO, I’d definitely urge you to give this a read because it’s an incredibly detailed article which is really informative – however, it is pretty lengthy so you will need to set some time aside. That said; I know some of you are incredibly busy, so I thought I’d try and give you a quick round-up of the article outlining just what Expedia had been up to.

First up, it goes without saying that any site which receives a Google penalty of this size didn’t just employ one dodgy link-building technique, but the analysis shows that, to coin an old phrase, Expedia really did use “every trick in the book”.

Without further ado then, let’s have a look at what Expedia’s link builders had been up to:

detective 21. Footer Links In WordPress Themes:

Think Expedia wouldn’t have been silly enough to inject heavy anchor text links in the footer of WordPress themes? Think again! Yep, from the looks of it Expedia created a free travel template WordPress theme which included key phrases like “Designed by Expedia Cheapest Flights Team” in the footer. D’oh! Don’t think it could get any worse? How about hiding some of these links in black text on a black background? Uh-Oh! Needless to say, since word got out about the penalty, Expedia have been busy making changes to the templates left, right and centre…

2. Link Networks:

The aforementioned article picks out at least two different link networks that Expedia was using to try and boost rankings. These networks seemed to include two different kinds of sites – auto-generated exact-match domain hotel sites and thin non-travel related sites which included classic co-citation links – multiple links to Expedia and another non-related sites – to try and avoid raising suspicion.

3. Keyword Directory Submissions/Articles:

Remember how Google made such a big deal of keyword-heavy links from low quality directory and article sites? Well it turned out no one told the Expedia SEO team – or if they did, the team chose to ignore it and carry on anyway.

4. Low Quality Guest Blogs:

With all the chatter about low quality guest blogging at the moment (hint: it’s a big no-no from Google!), you’d think Expedia might have thought twice about using the technique but the analysis shows this wasn’t the case. The article highlights at least three different examples of Expedia low quality guest blogs where keyword links have just been inserted randomly – talk about obvious!

5. Press Releases:

Last but not least it looks like Expedia failed to take any notice of Google’s advice on using press releases to build links. Remember, if you’re trying to use press releases to build your brand, then no-follow the links. If you’re using them to build links that will pass page rank, be warned!

Like I said, just like the Interflora penalty, it seems like Expedia were using a wide range of dodgy link building techniques to try and game the system – and it worked… for years! Granted, the WordPress template was going to be discovered eventually but you’ve got to admit – three years was a pretty good stretch.

In terms of what’s next, I’ve already mentioned that Expedia have already made moves to either remove or alter their WordPress footer links and I’m sure their team are also working hard to clean up their act regarding the other techniques I’ve mentioned in this post – so it’ll be interesting to see what happens next.

Needless to say for a brand that’s spending an estimated $29 million on Adwords marketing each year, I have a feelingthey’re not going to have to suffer for too much longer! ;)

Spotted any more dodgy link building practices Expedia had been involved in? Or have any thoughts on how long the Expedia penalty might last? Leave me a comment or tweet me – @amy_edwards88.