Google and Expedia are at it again. Or so they say. Respected US websites are reporting that Google has reduced Expedia’s natural search visibility by 25% after the online travel giant was supposedly found guilty of running a ‘paid links’ campaign – which is a big no-no in the arcane world of search marketing, though a strategy many companies deploy on the sly.

That’s because it’s a cost-effective method of exploiting the high value Google places on the number and quality of inbound links a website has, the theory being that each link is effectively an autonomous vote of confidence. That is of course if the links are genuine.

Google’s point of view is that paid links do not count as a vote and and must be identified “to prevent (them) from influencing search results and negatively impacting users.

“We urge webmasters use ‘nofollow’ (a way for webmasters to tell search engines ‘Don’t follow links on this page’ or ‘Don’t follow this specific link’) on such links,” Google says.

Google requires “machine-readable disclosure of paid links in the same way that consumers online and offline appreciate disclosure of paid relationships (for example, a full-page newspaper ad may be headed by the word ‘Advertisement’).”

Which brings us to to the Expedia brouhaha, which has not been confirmed or denied by either of the alleged protagonists.

So you’d have to think it has some validity, especially when it’s in Expedia’s interest to clarify the situation (it’s a publicly traded company).

This is just the latest in a number of disputes Expedia and Google have had over the years.

For example in 2011, Expedia accused Google of “using its extraordinary power to manipulate users and foreclose the ability of other sites to compete”.

Expedia lawyer Tom Barnett made the accusation in a statement to a US Government Senate Sub-Committee investigating online competition.

He said that because Google now competes directly with many of its major advertisers through products such as Google Flight Search it has a fundamental conflict of interest.

According to the investment website Seeking Alpha, both Expedia and arch-rival Priceline have been ramping their Google ad spend in recent months

It says Priceline spent USD533.2 million on online ad spend in Q3 (+42% Y/Y), while Expedia spent USD625.3M (+24%) on sales/marketing in total.

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