Expedia drops again. Google Penalty or Technical SEO problem?

The SEO community is on fire again after SearchMetrics' visibility refresh shows a huge drop in Expedia's SEO visibility.

I first heard the news after seeing Marcus Tober from SearchMetrics' Facebook status.

Marcus Tober about Expedia Drop - Facebook

Expedia has dropped, and it doesn't look good.

Expedia's drop SearchMetrics

The news turns out to be even hotter after considering recent warnings from Googlers about guest posting for SEO.

Gary Ilyes - twitter

There is a lot of speculation involved, especially in the context of Expedia's past SEO issues which I covered after their 30% drop at the beginning of 2014

Back then, Expedia had thousands of links from WordPress themes they created for SEO reasons. It took Expedia a few months to gain their SEO traffic back, and now it looks like they've hit another speedbump.

Let's have a look at Expedia's 5-year visibility.

Expedia's 5 year visibility

Now that you have a little bit of background in Expedia's situation, let's have a look at hard data. If we do a little bit of digging through the SearchMetrics data, we can see something interesting.

Let's start with the keywords responsible for the traffic loss.

Expedia - loser keywords

As you can see, there are six keywords responsible for such a drastic loss: 

Flights

Airline Tickets

Flight

h n m 

vacation

Cheap Flights

If I were to assess the real problem related to losing the traffic from the keywords above, I would say the only keyword that caused the real traffic loss was "Cheap Flights" and "Airline Tickets". 

"Flight", "Flights", "Vacation" and "h n m" most probably didn't result in a lot of clicks/traffic.

Moving forward with our drop analysis, let's have a look at the landing pages matched with those two keywords.

Keyword "Cheap Flights" was matched with the landing page: https://www.expedia.com/Cheap-Flights-To-Tel-Aviv.d180031.Travel-Guide-Flights

Keyword "Airline Tickets" was matched with Expedia's homepage: https://www.expedia.com/

Cheap flights

The keyword “cheap flights” match was far from perfect. I find it hard to imagine that a lot of people searching for "cheap flights" were actually looking for "cheap flights to Tel Aviv". This tells us that whatever problem Expedia is having with visibility isn't new.

Keywords "Flight" and "Flights" were both connected to "https://www.expedia.com/Flights" landing page. Let's take a closer look into it.

https://www.expedia.com/Flights landing page

After looking into expedia.com/flights landing page, the first thing that hits me is a huge redirect chain. 

 

Redirect chain

 

This is an SEO horror that is a huge problem in and of itself. WWW vs. non-WWW, HTTP to HTTPS and capital letters redirects. I am not a huge fan of capital letters in URLs, but if you have to do it, it is crucial to make sure that redirects are configured properly. In this case, it backfired badly. Let's have a look at this redirect chain.

The first step of this redirect chain is handled by "UltraDNS Client Redirection Server".

UltraDNS Client Redirection Server

 

redirect ultrands

This first URL is hosted in USA, San Mateo and returns 204.74.99.101 IP. Then it redirects us to NGINX hosted URL.

 

We are not only redirected through different server/CDN technologies but also through IPs and across the world. While http://expedia.com/flights is hosted in the US, San Mateo, all the following redirects are hosted in NL, Amsterdam. The solution is properly implemented since when a USA-hosted computer is used, the IP from Amsterdam is replaced with an IP from Florida. 

To summarize, apart from a huge mess with redirects, it looks like www.expedia.com/flights URL is served from CDN serving content from the closest server.

Apart from redirects, CDN seems to be configured correctly and shouldn't affect crawling and indexing.

Let's look into https://www.expedia.com/Flights indexation.

Indexation issues

Let's start with Google.

Google

To make sure that Google can access and index the "/Flights" page, I’ve also created a simple script (with some help from a very smart friend of mine - Max Cyrek from Cyrek Digital) to fetch and render the page as Googlebot. 

flights page fetch and render

As you can see above, even with limited resources (the method I used for fetching this page isn't perfect, but does the trick), the page renders more or less correctly.

Yahoo/Bing

Bing Index

AOL

Flights URL - AOL search

URL indexed in both search engines is https://www.expedia.com/Flights/?itid=1662112514&citd1=SNA&date1=7/26/2017&date2=7/30/2017&cAdu=2&cChi=0 and it redirects to https://www.expedia.com/Flights?itid=1662112514&citd1=SNA&date1=7/26/2017&date2=7/30/2017&cAdu=2&cChi=0

If you can't spot a difference between those two URLs, let me make it easier on you. 

URL difference

Now, we can also assume that Expedia has been working on the URL structure very recently (old URLs are still indexed in Bing/Yahoo/AOL). This is most likely the reason for their drop.

To see if my diagnosis makes sense, let's have a look at Wayback Machine.

Wayback Machine data

Wayback Machine is not a perfect source of data, but it is one of the best we have. Let's have a look at the info gathered over the years for "https://www.expedia.com/Flights".

 

wayback machine data

All green dots on the screenshot above mean that Wayback's crawler was redirected while accessing the data. This again supports the theory that Expedia has been having structure issues recently.

Wayback Machine isn't the only crawler which has a problem accessing Expedia.com. Take a look at the screenshot from OnPage.org when trying to configure a crawl. 

onpage.org crawl setup

It seems that geolocation redirects can also use a little bit of optimisation.

Summary

This analysis is only the first step, and I could definitely spend many more hours digging deeper. I was extremely curious to see the reasons behind Expedia's drop, and after looking at the data above I think I have the answers I was looking for. Whatever hit Expedia, definitely wasn't a link-based penalty. Whatever structure changes they've been pushing recently, they have affected their visibility and SEO traffic.

If you have any interesting feedback or findings about Expedia's drop, please comment below or email me. I am happy to add it to the article with credits.

Bartosz Góralewicz

Bartosz Góralewicz is the CEO at Elephate, an SEO agency that specializes in preventing and curing technical SEO issues for businesses of all sizes, including renowned international corporations. He is passionate about sharing his expertise and frequently publishes thorough case studies. In his off time, he enjoys spending time with his wife and two young baby girls.

 

bartosz góralewicz