Major Travel site’s SEO decimated by possible Google Link penalty

A major European travel site, previously positioned on page one of Google UK for 100s of hotel related searches has, we can only assume, been decimated by a Google link penalty, a degradation of legacy links once benefitting the site or an internal error.

Though we can not be certain that this is a Google link penalty for this very large and search competent site, the dates of the demise do fit in neatly with Google’s initial announcements of link network takedowns.

Chart 1: Major Drops for Positions in Google UK and Google Mobile for Global Hotels

travel seo and google search positions

Using our organic search software Pi Datametrics, we see the dotcom site for this travel operator has seen some catastrophic falls. This means that traffic to the site, which once enjoyed 1000s of page one positions, will now be significantly reduced. Other European TLDs within the Travel company’s group, such as .es were not affected. Admittedly this sudden demise could be due to an internal error, but for a site that has performed so well in the past it seems strange to suddenly see such a drop. It seems more likely that there isn’t perhaps a direct penalty to the site, just that the links that were once enjoyed by the site are now negated.

Chart 2: Major Drops for Positions in Google UK and Google Mobile for Global Hotels

travel seo and google search positions UK

Google Announce Link Network Takedown 2014

Google announced in February and March that it would take down link networks in France and Germany, and then later on Matt Cutts stated that Italian link networks were targeted. It seems assured that sites that took part in such schemes will be penalised too, both indirectly by the fact that they have lost their purchased links and directly too for taking part in such a scheme. But who has actually been penalised is indeed just conjecture.

Replacing the Traffic with PPC will be costly

For whatever reason for the demise, to replace this loss of traffic would need a large investment in PPC spend. The cost per click rate for the major cities for “hotels” is over £2 per click. For London Hotels alone the traffic is around 90,000 per month. To therefore cover all town and city hotels that have seen these drops would incur substantial short term investment together with no assurance that SEO positions would return to their previous positions.

Chart 3: Google Adword data on UK traffic and CPC cost for a selection of Hotels

Hotels global traffic CPC spend

Travel Sector and SEO Link acquisition strategies

In our experience the Travel sector, perhaps more than any other industry, has notoriously been involved in link acquisition and the activity of using link purchasing as a media commodity. We have been invited to RFPs where major segments of the document refer to the purchasing of links or indeed huge quantity link acquisition, we (and other agencies we know of) have therefore declined such invitations.

Ultimately this tactic of link purchasing is gratefully dying. The best, most competent and long term tactic is for better content. In terms of travel this is highlighted in sites such as Sky Scanner which we analyse here.

The old-school strategy of purchasing links

Google has always stated that sites will be penalised if they undertake such as strategy, but it has previously been extremely difficult to prove that a do-follow link is in fact purchased.

Google Chrome themselves fell into this trap when they did a blogger outreach campaign a couple of years ago. The advertorial posts on the bloggers’ pages quite rightly stated “Sponsored Post” though the links to Google Chrome each had a Do-follow, thus passing PageRank to the browser as well as inadvertently stating “these are paid for”. Google then went on to penalise itself – temporarily.

Position Alerts

With our business intelligence SEO platform Pi Datametrics – alerts can be set up on any search term or group of search terms, thus mitigating the risk we see above and saving valuable resources. For a demo of this feature please contact Holly or Scott at IP.

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