FlipKey May Be Dealing With A Google Penalty


1200x630 Banner 10What a difference a week makes.

Last week I wrote a post about HomeAway dropping in Google’s organic search results called “No, HomeAway Didn’t Get A Google Penalty“. Today, I’m here to tell you that the competition has: FlipKey.com.

Based on my research and data, FlipKey may be dealing with a partial Penguin penalty from Google. Not sure what that is or how it could affect your rental business? Read on.

What Is A Google Penalty?

The easiest way to describe a Google penalty may be best left to Wikipedia:

A Google penalty is the negative impact on a website’s search rankings based on updates to Google’s search algorithms and/or manual review. The penalty can be an unfortunate by-product of an algorithm update or an intentional penalization for various black-hat SEO techniques.

A penalty is a terrible situation to be in from the SEO end of marketing your website. First, Google tends to be harsh when you’ve been caught violating the guidelines of their search rules. Secondly, Google doesn’t always let you know or allow for you to resubmit your website for review. That only happens when manual penalties impact your website. Lastly, to recover from a Google penalty can be a pure waiting game: many websites do not recover their original rankings once you’ve cleaned up the issues until the search algorithm updates again. As a result, many websites are still “stuck” in SEO purgatory waiting for their rankings to return.

In no simple way, Google penalties are bad news for your SEO traffic and conversions.

What Is The Impact For FlipKey?


Based on the Semrush traffic curve, the impact for Flipkey is fairly large. It’s likely that Flipkey has lost 15% or more of their Google organic search traffic over the past month. As a result, they’re generating less leads for their clients as the overall amount of high-quality web traffic is lagging behind last year’s numbers.

Long-term, the business of FlipKey cannot be derailed with a minor drop in organic traffic. But, the immediate impact may be large for their customers that rely on leads flowing in from their system.

Based on Semrush data on a keyword and webpage level analysis, the penalty is surely partial and doesn’t impact the vast majority of the pages on FlipKey’s website. However, external third-party crawl data is not always 100% accurate — I could be overestimating or underestimating the impact of my findings.

What Caused This Google Penalty?

Just as HomeAway’s Google penalty was fairly simple to uncover, FlipKey’s was as well. Using Ahrefs to research backlinks pointing to the FlipKey.com website, link badge building is to blame.

I’ll explain.

FlipKey encouraged those who had listings on their website to use their “badge”. This badge is on hundreds of different pages and websites, all with a specific frowned upon tactic: rich anchor text.

FlipKey's overall anchor text graph.
FlipKey’s overall anchor text graph.


Overall, FlipKey’s anchor text doesn’t look that spammy or misleading. Thousands of domains link to FlipKey.com using branded anchor text (a good thing).

But, some do not. According to the Ahrefs.com data, 116 domains link to FlipKey.com using “vacation rentals” as the anchor text. Here’s where I started to dig in.

Link Building With Badges

FlipKey is using exact match anchor text on their link badges.

Above is an example of one of 100 or more badges using the anchor text “vacation rentals”. These particular badges are probably not the cause of a FlipKey penalty, but they led me to uncover many more badges that FlipKey had out there

After digging some more, FlipKey was using exact match anchor text on pages much more targeted.

94% of pages pointing to FlipKey's Kissimmee, FL pages use exact match anchor text.
94% of pages pointing to FlipKey’s Kissimmee, FL pages use exact match anchor text.
Example of owner websites linking to FlipKey with their badges with anchor text.
Example of owner websites linking to FlipKey with their badges with anchor text.

As a result, Google has penalized this page. I did a search (logged out, cookies and cached cleared) for kissimmee vacation rentals and found FlipKey’s Kissimmee landing page nowhere. The first result? A property manager in Kissimmee’s profile page.

The first page ranking in Google for Kissimmee vacation rentals.
The first page ranking in Google for Kissimmee vacation rentals.

What Does This Mean For Property Managers?

Within a short timeframe, you may be emailed from FlipKey asking you to remove your badge if you’re showing one. Recently, home services startup Thumbtack dealt with a more harsh Google penalty and sent emails asking site owners to remove the badges or remove the link back to their website. In just 5 days, Thumbtack (who is backed by Google’s Venture program) had their manual penalty removed.

If you rely on leads from FlipKey, you may be seeing less of those if your area was impacted by this change. FlipKey generates tens of thousands of potential guests through Google search and less traffic means less leads to go around to property managers and owners.

My prediction for FlipKey is not as positive as it was for HomeAway’s recent Google traffic issues. Last week, I said that HomeAway would likely have all of their pages indexed and ranked high in Google within a short timeframe.

I cannot say my prediction is the same for FlipKey. They’ll have to deal with thousands of spammy-looking anchor text links across thousands of domains and websites and even if they do, Google may not return their rankings. A link-based penalty in Google can seriously hurt a domain’s performance over the long term and FlipKey is likely in for a battle. If you’re relying on traffic from FlipKey to get more bookings for your business, it’s reasonable to expect a drop in leads over the next few months until FlipKey’s rankings return.

Take The Next Step
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