Welcome to Nenad SEO.
This will be the first among numerous reports, SEO case studies and articles that you’re going to read on our blog.
After receiving a manual penalty by Google for 2 small sites (for gaming the Google PR system, even though one of those sites had 3 links in total (!), 2 being no-follow) in December 2013, I decided to shoot myself in the foot and explain a little bit about how SEO, Internet and marketers work. I am going to talk about the biggest sites in the world. I am going to talk about tactics they use to rank their sites and earn billions of dollars. (Believe me, there is nothing special about these tactics, even your grandmother can do it…wait,wait, I sound like a WSO sales page)
Now, what’s the big deal? Right? Here is the thing: We wanted to have sites rank higher, building high quality links on several high quality sites, which means that we wanted to do something that Google SE does not allow – link schemes, which SEOs call “content placement.”
The big deal is that multibillion businesses are doing this as well. Are they punished? No. Are they buying links? Yes. Are they hiring bloggers to place “guest posts” on numerous sites with optimized anchor keywords pointing to their sites? Yes!
So, why does everyone in SEO know this (at least anyone with a little bit of brain), yet Google fails to punish sites that are using, what they call, “poor SEO tactics” or something similar to that term? I was never a big fan of preaching one thing and doing something else. If a client wants to rank for a keyword, I will do as much as I can to have his site closer to the number one spot, and we all know that on-page SEO is often not enough. Spamming and using auto-generated content and/or using tools to generate links is out of the question, of course. We’re not in 2006.
You know all those bloggers/SEOs at MOZ giving webmasters tips and tricks on how to rank higher? Well, they never said: “Guys, you gotta do basic on-page SEO, buy quality links and you will rank higher, that’s all you need to know.” Instead they keep selling stories how their clients rank using “white hat” SEO.
Everything seems so legit when people read MOZ. Articles mostly start with tips like these:
1. I will show you how to engage your readers
2. It continues with some mumbo-jumbo about how Google authorship is a must
3. They add a little bit of “Content is King”
4. And they finish with some screenshot from Google Analytics showing how their traffic spiked at a certain day and how it was growing steadily ever since…blah blah blah.
How come they always forget to tell their readers that they skipped the most important part of their strategy?
BUYING LINKS FROM QUALITY SITES
We will make a report about huge companies (we will start with one company), ranking for tens of thousands of keywords using black hat tactics. Yearly revenue for the biggest company on this list goes well beyond $1 billion!!
And all this because they rank in the first place at Google for millions of profitable keywords, and all this thanks to low quality off-site SEO, using overly optimized anchor keywords.
Their SEO budget? Limitless.
Why would they bother engaging anything/anyone when they can take “hard earned “cash and buy thousands of quality links?
I still don’t get it, Google. Why are you playing with some small “Anglo Network” on BHW yet you don’t have time for big players? So what if some spammy site is going to rank for “Garcinia Cambogia” in front another spammy site? Who cares? I don’t and I bet no one else except Dr. Oz and a bunch of affiliates trying to earn pennies.
Is it possible that such a big company has some kind of a deal with major sites? Is it possible that they are paying Google not to be penalized? I doubt it. Google is much bigger than a $1 billion/year type of company.
In this report I will show you screenshots, tactics they use and the amount of traffic they gain using these tactics.
We’re starting with the first company, Expedia.com
The head of “inbound marketing” at Expedia is Martin Macdonald. Let’s see what the head of “inbound marketing” at Expedia says about SEO. You can read his thoughts here. I hope you enjoyed that article, welcome back here. I find one sentence in that interview really interesting. This is what he had to say:
“Big brands have an advantage – they have the resources to create great content, and already have large followings.”
So, big brands create great content? Maybe some companies do this, but great content and Expedia do not go hand in hand. What Expedia creates is the huge amount of paid articles filled with fluff content aaaaand…what else?
Overly Optimized Anchor Keywords
Why would Google punish a big spender such as Expedia?Just check this (old) infographic and you will see how much top travel companies spend on AdWords.
I have inserted a screenshot from that infographic, so you don’t have to jump to Wordstream.com:
But that’s nothing; we’re talking about pennies here. So what if Expedia spends 5% (I don’t know the exact number) of their earnings on AdWords? It’s not a biggie. AdWords is just a part of their SEO “efforts.” The other part is hiring bloggers and fake journalists to write random articles (you know those articles that start with “Top 10 this” or “Top 5 that”) and link back to Expedia using 2010 SEO style keywords. Why do I say 2010?
Well, for the rest of the SEO community, Google announced how overly optimized anchors are a big no-no. Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s web-spam team said:“Usually there is a clear distinction between occasional guest blogging and large-scale, paid-for links.” Thank you very much for that line, Matt.
So, Expedia was (and still is) using large-scale guest posting services for the sake of ranking higher for these types of keywords:
– Cheap flights (insanely profitable keyword)
– Car rental
– Get cheap tickets, etc.
So, basically, their writers create a meaningless article then post it on a site and they link from the article body to Expedia’s site using these types of keywords.
Let me show you how they do this.
Here is the article that talks aboutThe 10 Best Gadgets for Your Vacation– and if you are the type of person that is not into SEO, you probably won’t notice anything suspicious about it. It would be just another Top 10 kind of an article, you would scroll down to the end, and that’s it. But if you pay attention to tip number 6, you will notice that cute anchor keyword “get cheap tickets” inserted in the article body, totally unrelated to the text. So, this “blogger” (Abigail Clark) is writing how you should have a fully charged phone yet she decides to link to Expedia site….??!!
How is Expedia.com connected with a fully charged phone? Oh yes, you can search for “get cheap tickets” using random apps, that’s how….I am really foolish.
OK, but this must be some kind of a fluke; Expedia is a quality site, and people link back to Expedia because it offers “quality content,” right? Wrong.
The other day I was really in some kind of a biz mood, and I wanted to read something about entrepreneurship because I really wanted to learn more about this niche – and guess what I saw? I saw our friend Abby blogging for entreprenomics.com and she was covering a really important topic:
Top 5 Tips for Business Travel
So, while I was reading this fresh piece of content – BAM! There it was:the keyword “car rental” pointing to Expedia.com/Cars, and I thought to myself, “How bizarre…”
But this must be a coincidence; it’s not the same anchor as it was in the previous article written by Abby and she probably adores Expedia. Well, I thought this was a coincidence until I saw this article (link removed cause blog died in the meantime) written by our dear Abby.
Now I remembered something: She even contacted me to say how my blog is awesome and how she would really like to…well, read for yourself:
Holy Cow…You Rock
But I will stop talking about Abby here – this operation is much bigger, and Abby is just a small cog in this gigantic wheel of a process. She was just doing her job, and the job was to get a bunch of links for Expedia. Let’s not blame the mailman.
Let’s continue with our story. Remember how I said that Expedia had nothing to do with great content? Ok, so here is the article written by Jennifer Gilligan– and even though English is not my mother tongue,I noticed that the article did have some major flaws. I saw that subtitle “Niagra Falls” and thought that spelling was a mistake. Nope, if you read that paragraph you will notice that Jennifer uses“Niagra” one more time, so I guess she thinks it’s “Niagra” Falls rather than Niagara.
I am not going to be a Grammar-Nazi here. Who knows how many mistakes I’ve made in this article? Let’s focus on the anchor keyword “United Airlines” and how it points to the landing page at Expedia’s United Airlines reservation and flight deals.
Now, even if you think that this is probably something that is not suspicious, I will prove to you that you’re wrong. Our writer here, Jennifer, often share posts written by our friend Abby. In this screenshot from her G+ account you can see that she shared her post on November 4, 2013:
Ok, the post she shared is written for some other client, but I will leave that for some other report. If you follow the footsteps of these bloggers you will discover the rest of the crew posting crappy articles and using these articles to link back to Expedia.
And now let’s see how Expedia got awarded for this SEO campaign. Rankings went up more than 50% in one month (October-November).
So far you’ve seen a couple of sites where these links appeared, and majority of these blogs/sites are either small niche blogs or sites you never heard about. Lifehack is the only one that sounds familiar.
Now, I will tell you a little bit more about Huffington Post writer Jake M. Fisher. Besides the fact that he’s posting all of the articles for the sake of SEO/link building, there is another fact that is really interesting here. How did Jakeget started writing for such a site? What smart tips can we learn from him? He claims to be a “nerd who loves all kind of tech.” And that’s it? Huff Po, please. Is that the best you can do?
— ThomasBCN (@ThomasBCN) December 30, 2013
How is Jake Fisher connected with previous writers (Abby and Jennifer)? Well, he has obviously been hired by the same person/team to build overly optimized, targeted anchor keywords for Expedia.com.
I really doubt that Jake,Abby and Jennifer are connected enough to get directly hired by Expedia. I mean, let’s take a look at their Twitter feeds and their G+ profiles. It’s funny that they all come from Tampa, Florida, and sometimes I wonder if they are real people. (I won’t talk about the agency behind those writers).
Even though I have many more screenshots, I am sure these couple of pages proved my point – which is that “link schemes” are allowed….as long as you’re a big brand!
Important, I contacted Martin Macdonald prior to publishing this report and I must say that he explained to me that he is not the person in charge of the Expedia.com SEO campaign (he is the head of another SEO department in Expedia), so he can’t be blamed for this SEO campaign. He pointed me to a person that could answer my questions related to the Expedia.com SEO campaign. Even though we never blamed Martin for these actions we did quote the part of his interview because he said something that is, in my opinion, not true (big brands producing great content). We used this sentence to open the article and prove our point, nothing more, nothing less.
Note: This article was first published back in 2013, and it was the first post on this blog.