Expedia Inc’s Hotels.com regrets its SEO email to travel bloggers
Earlier this month, some travel bloggers received a message from a person with an e-mail address at the online travel agency Hotels.com.
It had an intriguing offer. The final sentence, including its lack of grammar, was this:
“If you agree with partnering with us on helping us acquire backlinks, I would like to discuss a package or how you wanted to compensated to perform this assignment.”
(The full message is reprinted below, in context.)
Search engine giant Google has issued guidelines for best practices. Offering compensation in exchange for links is generally considered to be a no-no.
A backlink is typically understood to mean an inbound direct link back to an original site, in this case Hotels.com. The more such incoming links, the more favorably Google’s search algorithm looks upon a website.
In this case, the poorly worded email gives the regrettable appearance that Hotels.com may have been soliciting backlinks in exchange for “compensation.”
That’s a worry because backlinks might be intended to boost a brand name’s visibility in the top search results for certain queries.
But appearances can be deceiving.
A Hotels.com spokesperson consulted with top people on Hotels.com’s search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) teams and then gave us this statement:
“We work hard to adhere to the guidelines which search engines have put in place. The email is not aligned with our program and was the result of an internal misunderstanding that has been quickly identified and resolved.”
“Compensated” is an awkward word
The original full message is reprinted below. Tnooz has redacted parts of the email, out of courtesy to those involved.
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: [Employee name redacted] <REDACTED@hotels.com>
Date: October [XX redacted], 2014 [redacted] To: [redacted] Subject: Blog posts for Brand marketing- [redacted]
Dear Sir or Madam,
I work for hotels.com and I was reading your [Redacted] blog posts and I was wondering if I could get in touch for some brand promotion for our hotels.
I would like to know if I wanted to feature some of our properties or destinations. I’m looking for hotel reviews, or even a more neutral content such as “brought to you by Hotels.com”.
Having 1 post a week would be great for us. I’m expecting amplification through other channels like Twitter, Facebook, etc. Just wanted to promote our hotels and brand through blogging.
If you agree with partnering with us on helping us acquire backlinks, I would like to discuss a package or how you wanted to compensated to perform this assignment.
Thank you so much for your time.
Best Regards,[Redacted] SEO Manager, Hotels.com Americas
Hotels.com – an Expedia Inc Brand
Unnatural links, or brand outreach?
One of the interesting aspects of the message is that it comes from a Hotels.com address but its writer seemed careless about basic grammar. Also notable is that the message wasn’t reviewed before being sent out.
The message was infelicitously worded. Its timing was also unfortunate.
It was rumored that that event was the result of “a major penalty” by the search giant for what was alleged to have been a paid linking scheme by Expedia, according to Search Engine Land.
Expedia Inc’s stock (EXPE) fell 4% on the news, though its share price later recovered. Google never commented.
During a quarterly conference call in February, Expedia Inc CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said that the company looks at all its search engine marketing (SEM) and SEO procedures in Google, adding:
“We’re constantly auditing them and making sure that our practices are industry leading.”
Extra leeway for big brands?
The owner of a long-established travel website claimed to Tnooz that tactics like these are an open secret in the industry. Speaking anonymously, they said:
Assuming the purchased links are not nofollow, this is definitely and 100% a black hat tactic. These are very common. I get these regularly (though not always from hotels.com).
Expedia is very aggressive in this area, and many of the second tier OTAs are at it as well.
Common now is dressing it up as a PR. For instance, if the link is in-body, they build the relevant language around the link to try and game Google’s natural language.
Travel blogs, etc., are awash in crap like this.
“Hotels.com” is a common search term on Google. In the US, it appears in organic search results a million times a week on average, says research firm SearchMetrics.
Whether big brands like Hotels.com have more leeway to make SEM mistakes than smaller brands do was reviewed in depth in this article: Three years on from Google Panda, many travel sites struggle with traffic
Sean O’Neill had roles as a reporter and editor-in-chief at Tnooz between July 2012 and January 2017.