Off-page SEO helps business move up in Google’s rankings. But Google is actively targeting any businesses, even large and widely used websites, for trying to take a shortcut to success through shady link building tactics instead of creating quality content that encourages organic, relevant and ethical link placements.

One of the largest travel websites in the world, Expedia, learned this lesson the hard way; to the tune of about 25% of its visibility. This is almost exactly what happened to the website when Google cracked down on its link-building scheme.

Take a look at the website’s search visibility from last week posted by Search Engine Land. It is obvious that something changed quickly and drastically, making some to theorize that Google has penalized Expedia in their search results for unnatural links.

What Expedia Did Wrong

A writer at makes the claim that Expedia paid for unnatural, keyword-rich links pointing to Expedia from blogs and sites across the internet. The details of how keyword heavy anchor text links back to Expedia were found in unnatural places can be found there.

Rap Genius wasn’t accused of having paid links, but instead building a network of unnatural links by offering to promote any blog that added a litany of unrelated links to the bottom of a post. If we use Rap Genius as a guide, that penalty lasted 10-days and only ended after the website issued an apology, disavowed all of its unnatural links and promised to end its link network program. While Rap Genius is not back to normal yet, it’s at least on its way toward a full recovery.

Expedia is refusing to comment on what happened, but we expect Expedia to make some changes and disavow many of its links in the next few days to gain back its SERP results.

Off-Site SEO: Best Practices

As search engines become more advanced in the way they view off-page SEO strategies. They have moved from counting links as simple raw numbers to grading links on a sliding scale based on trust relevance and diversity, all of which come together to determine link quality.

A number of variables can determine link quality:

Who wrote the article and what is the page authority and page rank of the linking page?

  • Google and other search engines give preference and weight to links from authoritative authors and websites. In an ideal world, every link would come from a trust source, but because of spammers, search engines are taking the trust, or its authority, of the linking site into account. Generally, the higher a website’s Pagerank, the more Google and other search engines trust it and consider it authoritative. Links from established and trusted websites are worth more to link builders than those on newer and less visible sites. Link building experts should focus on creating authoritative content that can be placed on trusted websites with established domain and page authority.

Is the website relevant to your business? Does the anchor text make sense?

  • In link-building the word relevant doesn’t always refer to the page that the link is on, but instead to the link itself. Anchor text allows Google to determine the topic of a page, therefore the anchor text of a link is important when it comes to the quality of the link.
  • Google’s recent updates have cracked down on the overuse of keyword laden anchor text, so it’s important to make sure the anchor text fits into the flow of the page and isn’t forced. Google knows that the average webmaster or blogger isn’t going to use the exact keywords a business wants, and is hitting websites that have overdone the anchor text targeting.
  • Building links on sites that don’t make sense can also negatively affect search rankings. If links are repeatedly placed on websites with no relevance to the linked site, Google and other search engines may see it as spam or an attempt to buy links, both of which are against best practices.

Is the content surrounding the link related to what the links leads to?

  • The text surrounding the link also makes a difference. Some believe that Google uses the non-linked text to determine relevancy, particularly if the anchor text of the link isn’t descriptive. When building links, marketers may not have control over the anchor text, but by attempting to place the links on relevant websites, it’s more likely that the surrounding text will help search engines determine its relevance.

Where does the link exist on the page? (i.e. content body, author bio, footer, sidebar)

  • To weed off spam links, search engines take into account not only the anchor text and the Pagerank of the website and the anchor text of the link, but also its physical placement on the website. Google puts emphasis on what a “reasonable surfer” would more likely click on. For instance, if a link is considered important by a website, it’s more likely to insert that link on the top of the page, not in the footer. Links given prominence on the page, by being placed on top or near the center of a page, are given more weight because of this.
  • How the link is portrayed also makes a different. Under the “reasonable surfer” model, links that are specifically designed to stand out via a larger font size or by use of an image are given more weight than ones that aren’t.

Because Google evaluates website authority on a curve, one link from a relevant, highly trusted website will create a much stronger ranking effect than several links from questionable, low-traffic, low-quality websites. Off-page SEO professionals should strive to not just create links, but create relevant and ethical links that appear on websites that have domain and page authority. The best way to do this is through thorough research of target domains and cultivating personal relationships to create quality and relevant content that readers will enjoy.

Even with the recent updates, Google says that off-page SEO is still a main factor in determining SERP rankings. But, Google’s Matt Cutts adds that some links are worth more than others, so marketers should focus on quality links from high traffic sites and creating quality content that will be shared organically. By focusing on high-quality links earned through traditional techniques instead of bought through schemes businesses can avoid being the next Expedia.

Have any questions about SEO, social media or link building? Contact ZOG Digital today.