CheapOair backs away from its cheap link-exchange SEO effort

In the mid-2000s, link-exchanges were a popular way for travel websites to try to game Google’s search engine results.

Even to this day, travel blogs and websites of any size still receive daily requests for link-exchanges.

Yet the appeal of this link building tactic has waned in recent years. Google and Bing have gotten wise to the strategy, and the value of the resulting pages and links tends to degrade over time.

In light of this, most major brand travel sites no longer consider it a best practice to seek out link exchanges.

Or at least so we thought.

Last week a Tnooz reader tipped us off to a link exchange request they had received for CheapOAir, the respected US-headquartered online travel agency.

The message, which came from a e-mail address and gave a mailing address in Ontario, is here:

From: [Redacted by Tnooz] Date: Fri, Mar 15, 2013 at 7:20 AM
Subject: Link Exchange Request
To: [Redacted by Tnooz]


I came across your site [Redacted] while browsing some travel sites. I must say you are doing a commendable job.

I am a blogger & maintain few travel blogs. Some of my blogs are:

[Redacted by Tnooz]

At present I am working with Our sites can be useful to one another. So, I offer you a partnership.

I have some options for you.

1. I could cover you on my blog and in return I would like a back link for my website from your blog within the content.

2. If you allow guest blogging I would be glad to write a blog post as a guest blogger. Within the post there would be a single link to my website.

3. We both can do guest blogging for each other where we can add links to our respective websites.

4. On top of giving link from my blog, I can also give you some links from other websites that I am managing.

Let me know your views soon.

[Name and address, Redacted by Tnooz]

CheapOair distances itself


A second email has been sent to a different Tnooz tipster, who also runs a travel site. Interestingly, this one came from an email address at itself with a mailing address for the parent company, Fareportal’s, New York City office.

Despite that identification, there is reason to think the email was actually sent from a contractor described as an “SEO Executive at Fareportal” working in or near New Delhi, because of related information Tnooz has obtained.

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: [Redacted] Date: Mon, Mar 11, 2013 at 10:54 AM
Subject: Travel Resource Partnership
To: [Redacted]


Dear Webmaster,

Greetings of the day..!!

I am the web master for CheapOair, We are an online international travel booking company providing cheap air tickets to different destinations of the world. To know more about us, please visit

Today I had a chance to visit your site [Redacted] It’s terrific. The information and services offered on your site would be of great value to our visitors and i believe your visitors would find great value in our site. I am writing to see if you would be interested in Swapping link. Because our two websites are complementary rather than competitive, we see the synergy here as an opportunity for mutual benefit.

You will be linked to one of the following sites:
[Same websites as mentioned in the e-mail sent from the Canadian address]

Or Blog post with unique content related to travel on any of these blog

Your time is greatly appreciated. Looking forward to your reply.

Thanks and Regards


213 W 35th Street,
New York, NY 10001 USA

We asked CheapOair for comment. Pete Howard, CMO at Fareportal, parent company of CheapOair, responded by e-mail:

It is not CheapOair policy to send out this type of request.

Our team members are continually educated and trained to comply with industry-standard best practices, which this communication does not reflect.

CheapOair’s content marketing efforts continue to drive niche traffic, but our strategic purposes are not being advanced unless our team members are following the guidelines we set in place for our marketing outreach programs.

We appreciate you contacting us, and will be following up to ensure that our team members both in the US and abroad maintain proper marketing outreach practices.

So what *are* the best practices in linking?

After all, the theory behind this search engine optimization (SEO) tactic is, essentially, that two sites on the same travel topic that link with each other may be receive greater weight in Google’s algorithms than links between sites with no common subject, which may not seem authentic.

The ideal content marketing is to create great, authentic content, and to promote it so that there is a lot of organic interest from others, who will then link to your site.

For more subtle tips, check out this list of linking tips from Search Engine Land. See also what Leo Widrich at has done with content marketing, as an example.

NB: Image courtesy of Search Engine People Blog on Flickr/Creative Commons.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail to someone
Sean O'Neill

About the Writer :: Sean O'Neill

Sean O’Neill had roles as a reporter and editor-in-chief at Tnooz between July 2012 and January 2017.



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Brian Swanick

    Enjoyed the comments more than the article! (No offense Sean…and I don’t understand the confusion for the record)

    Here’s the future of digital marketing: sustainability. Only if you continue to do sustainable marketing are you going to continue to see results without penalty. The travel industry is definitely behind the times with their SEO/digi-marketing tactics (meta keywords stuffing? really?!?) but Google won’t allow this stuff to go on forever. More glory for the people who want to do the work.

  2. CheapO is CrapO

    “Last week a Tnooz reader tipped us off to a link exchange request they had received for CheapOAir, the respected US-headquartered online travel agency.”

    Respected? By whom? I’m otherwise a fan of your work, Sean, but are you sure that you know what the word “respected” actually means? Because if you were to judge by the opinion of both the general public as well as people within the travel industry, Cheapoair is unquestionably one of the LEAST respected brands in the business, and one that often makes the rest of us embarrassed to be in the travel industry.

  3. Diplomatically Redacted

    I’ve been receiving emails from CheapoAir contractors using CheapoAir email addresses requesting either link exchanges or free content for their site, or free content in “exchange for” a badge on mine since a few months after I started blogging in 2010.

    Here’s the opening from the one where they wanted me to put a badge up “in exchange for” me providing content from their blog. I almost spat my coffee.

    “After reviewing your blog, CheapOair would be interested in considering your blog as a CheapOair Featured Travel Blog.

    There are several reasons and indicators that we use to identify each FTB. These indicators include:
    · Dedication to Travel/City Culture

    · Your online presence

    · Traffic to your site

    · Destinations you have visited/blogged about

    · Major events, festivals, etc. that you attended while traveling.

    As a CheapOair Featured Travel Blog you will receive the following:
    · A guest blog post on our main travel blog-

    o Unique Visitors 60,000 every month

    o 100,000 page views

    · A CheapOair Featured Travel Blog badge for your website.

    · A write up about your blog on our Facebook page

    o 27,000 Fans

    · A sponsored Tweet on about your blog

    o 16,000 Followers

    · A video Blog post on CheapOair Travel on YouTube.”

    Not sure if this is SEO best practice or not, but it’s bloody irritating as a blogger, especially when it’s known within the industry that CheapoAir do actually pay for content, to have people requesting free content and linkbacks and acting as if they’re doing you a favour, and I’d guess annoying bloggers probably isn’t part of SEO 101.

  4. Sean O'Neill

    Sean O'Neill

    Thanks for taking the time out to share your thoughts here. I can imagine it would be irritating to be asked to write for free when your content is valuable and worth money.

  5. Mike C

    That’s the email I got from their head of social media after pitching an article for their blog. I mainly make my living as a freelance writer, but to be sent this email – it pissed me off.

  6. Rakesh

    I agree with Seo Dok and seems that this man Sean is either a naive in Travel Articles or he has some rivalry with this travel agency ( cheapoair)

    Also, I feel like some of his group network people are coming here and commenting in favour of him because the article he wrote does not express what wrong this travel agency is doing.

    They sent him a letter so he is angry or he has some other reasons because he is not clear about it .

    Sean what will you say about ( India top online travel agency )

    & ( Canada second top online travel agency)

    looks like you didnt do any research or else you would not say that big travel brands are not doing it

    Please do some research and then only say something.

    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @rakesh – easy, tiger… Keep the personal attacks well away from the comments here…

      We stand squarely behind Sean’s reporting and I urge you to note his respectful responses to earlier comments.

    • Sean O'Neill

      Sean O'Neill


      I last reported about SEO practices by travel brands two weeks ago. I reported that there’s a whole range of SEO practices out there by travel brands of all sizes. Some practices are just bad for the users but are harmless. Other practices may actually be in violation of Google’s and Bing’s policies. I interviewed several people whose jobs are to do SEO for a living for major travel brands. I also spoke with the founding editor of the top news site about the topic, Search Engine Land.

      You have posted examples of linking pages. Note in my earlier article I specifically reported that a linking page isn’t bad — but it’s hardly stellar for losers, the value of the links degrade over time, and it looks amateurish compared to what sites like Expedia and Airbnb do.

      As for CheapOair, I’ve already responded to you about this.


  7. Former CheapO Employee

    As my name says, I am a former CheapO employee. I can’t say for certain that it is their current policy to do link-building. But I can say with 100% certainty that when I was a part of their marketing team it was their #1 marketing strategy. Their social media strategy was solely to support SEO. They employed dozens (if not hundreds- I honestly could not tell how many people were employed in India) of SEO link-building “experts.”
    I know they did the link-building because it was my job to identify the bloggers they asked for links! (But maybe they have had a 180 degree change of opinion on that strategy.)

    By the way, to call them a US-based company is a bit of a joke. Are they headquartered in the U.S.? Yes. However, try to find a native English speaking American in their New York office. You might find 4-5 out of about 100 employees. The rest are almost all Indian, brought over from India to work for CheapO. They are barely an “American” company.

    • Sean O'Neill

      Sean O'Neill

      Thanks for your comment.
      Readers should know that the editors have verified this is an actual former employee, who has chosen to remain anonymous.

  8. Sean O'Neill

    Sean O'Neill

    Hi Tim,
    The message is what I wrote:

    “Most major brand travel sites no longer consider it a best practice
    to seek out link exchanges.”

    Therefore, these two emails from a major brand like CheapOair — sent
    within the past month — are a n exception to industry practice and
    therefore noteworthy.

    CheapOair executives have told us they are conducting an internal
    investigation to find out what happened. They say these emails are a
    departure from strict company policy.

    I believe their response shows that this was an issue of legitimate
    concern to raise in the trade press. But I can see how some people
    might be irritated.

    I have respect for SEO expertise. This particular post had to do with
    a narrow niche in the online universe — how a handful of top-tier
    travel brands navigate the ever-changing rules of SEO. It’s not about
    SEO in general, and we’re not an SEO advice blog. It’s not a black and
    white topic, so the article may strike some people as vague. There’s
    not much I can do about that.

    • Tim

      Thanks Sean, for your response. Most respected SEO coaching sites like seomoz recommend sending emails to bloggers.

      Also, check out SEO Guru Rand Fishkin video, he promotes sending emails to bloggers, his exact quote – “Once you have your list send them a friendly email with an offer to help promote one of their blog posts.” Click on this link:

      There is another one from Wayne barker, SEO Expert – his quote “personalize every email and open in a friendly tone” when sending to bloggers.

      You may be right about the fact that Exchanging Links is getting to be an old strategy, companies should look at other meaningful ways to be SEO proficient.

  9. Tim

    I couldn’t agree more SEOdok and Raksh.

    Sean, what’s the message here?

  10. Rakesh

    You wrote this mail because Cheapoair mailed you or because cheapoair didnt pay you. I read this article and I could not understand what this article wants to express . I am not against you or cheapoair but I want to ask Sean O’Neill that do you know how many people are in Link Exchange?
    It looks like cheapoair has great rivalry with you lol……..

    Also tnooz please bring some good news rather than this type of stories where I could not understand what he wants to say

  11. SEOdok

    So what’s the message here Sean? Are you saying that Companies should do away with inbound link building strategies? or is it that they should not use blogger outreach for their back link campaigns. Google is way smarter than anyone and any company, cheap quality backlinks do not help in page rank or natural search results ranking, Brands like Cheapo will not benefit from such strategies. Are you implying that link building itself is not useful since most SEO professionals still believe in bringing in higher quality backlinks through intimate outreach and networking. Most networking for link building is now carried out behind the scenes, since astute professionals have become aware of publicity related to exchanges or buying paid links. Most successful SEO strategies still have Link “buying” campaigns, which is accomplished with a high degree of discretion. Such email outreach/networking approach may be less common but not seen in a negative light by SEs, it’s more transparent than the buying and selling of links that large companies with big budgets engage in. Companies are spending millions to discreetly acquire links. It’s actually a big revenue source for sites with a high pagerank. The most advanced SEO folks focus on other white hat fundamentals such as dynamic relevant content, fast page loads, low exit and abandon rates as well as high user interaction and time spent on the site, i.e. stickiness. Your article seems confusing and is making a big deal out of a petty frivolous subject. I would have checked my facts prior to writing this article….here is some info to look up- SEOMOZ –
    Move down and look at manual blogger outreach strategy that is advised. Cheapo and other OTA’s shouldn’t be wasting their time with such email messaging for outreach programs, rather go 1 on 1 networking with bloggers to bring superior quality responses, and results as well as to keep them out of the limelight. And as they say…a good SEO professional is worth their weight in gold !!

  12. CheapOAir Admirer

    I know for a fact that this is exactly CheapOair link building policy, despite what they say. I know people there, and I’ve seen their messages, just like Erik B, though I’ve been seeing them for years. The only thing worse than their network of crappy websites, crappy content, bait-and-switch link building, purchased links, SEO reputation management and terrible customer service is the fact that all of this has worked really well for them in the SERP’s. I’ve been waiting for the day that Google does the right thing, but CheapOair just keeps growing, claiming sales volume right up there with the big boys. Kudos to them for winning the SEO game? Gotta admire that. I’m sure I’m not alone. And to Sam Daams’ point, they’re not alone in using these tactics. Meanwhile the rest of us play by the rules and see our SEO traffic declining… All of that said, can you save a few bucks by booking with them? Yeah, probably sometimes. I guess that’s why they get relative immunity? I’d be curious to hear other analysis.

    • Sean O'Neill

      Sean O'Neill

      Feel free to contact me via email at soneill @ We keep all tips in confidence and respect privacy.

  13. Sam Daams

    Seeing what some of the biggest brands in travel keep trying on Travellerspoint is really eye-opening. Not a week goes by without a blog having to be deleted for solely being started to drop links. And the number of times it’s huge brands that turnover billions a year is quite shocking. Every now and then we’ll call them out on twitter, but they just have no clue and some contracted marketing team, usually based somewhere cheap, is back a few days later 🙁

    • Sean O'Neill

      Sean O'Neill

      Thanks, Sam, for weighing in with some understanding of the broader industry trend!

      It must be frustrating to have your time wasted by some of the SEO tactics you’re describing.


  14. Erik B

    FWIW, this has been going on for at least a few months. I got one message from a e-mail on Jan. 11 and then another from a different e-mail on Feb. 6.

    • Sean O'Neill

      Sean O'Neill

      Thanks for your comment. i’ve replied to you directly.


Newsletter Subscription

Please subscribe now to Tnooz’s FREE daily newsletter.

This lively package of news and information from Tnooz’s web site provides a convenient digest of what’s happening in technology that drives the global travel, tourism and hospitality market.

  • Cancel