Expedia Drops Again! Google Penalty or Technical SEO Problem?
The SEO community is on fire again after SearchMetrics’ visibility refresh showed a huge drop in Expedia’s SEO visibility.
I first heard the news after seeing Marcus Tober from SearchMetrics’ Facebook status.
Expedia has dropped, and it doesn’t look good.
The news turned out to be even hotter after considering the recent warnings from Googlers about guest posting for SEO.
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 speed bump.
Let’s have a look at Expedia’s 5-year visibility:
Now that you have a little bit of background in Expedia’s situation, let’s have a look at the hard data. If we do a little bit of digging through SearchMetrics’ data, we can see something interesting.
Let’s start with the keywords responsible for the traffic loss:
As you can see, there are six keywords responsible for such a drastic loss:
- Airline Tickets
- h n m
- Cheap Flights
If I were to assess the real problem related to losing traffic from the keywords above, I would say the only keywords that caused real traffic loss were “Cheap Flights” and “Airline Tickets”.
“Flight”, “Flights”, “Vacation” and “h n m” most likely 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/
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 the huge redirect chain.
This is an SEO horror show 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 the 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
This first URL is hosted in US, San Mateo and returns 188.8.131.52 IP. Then it redirects us to a 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 US, San Mateo, all of 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 the huge mess with redirects, it looks like www.expedia.com/flights URL is served from CDN serving content from the closest server.
Apart from the redirects, the CDN seems to be configured correctly and shouldn’t affect crawling and indexing. Let’s look into https://www.expedia.com/Flights indexation.
Let’s start with 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.
As you can see above, even with limited resources (the method I used for fetching this page wasn’t perfect, but it did the trick), the page renders more or less correctly.
The 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 the difference between those two URLs, let me make it easier for you.
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 the Wayback Machine.
Wayback Machine data
The 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”.
All the 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.
The Wayback Machine isn’t the only crawler which had a problem accessing Expedia.com. Take a look at the screenshot from OnPage.org when trying to configure a crawl:
It seems that the geolocation redirects could also use a little bit of optimization.
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’d be happy to add it to the article with credit.