Any website, no matter what the size, can get a penalty from Google, and when they do, it is bad news. The highest profile penalty thus far was JC Penny. But that might have just been topped.
On Jan 21, 2014 Expedia got an unnatural link penalty. As a result of this, shares dropped 4% and traffic on the website dropped 25%. Search engine land reported this data based on analysis done using the tool Search Metrics.
Google has penalized thousands of website in this way for purchasing hyperlinks. Ignite Visibility has helped 5 new clients (penalties occurred at other companies) now clean up penalties. This is hard, tedious work.
For those of you who do not know, a link penalty occurs when a website buys links from other websites online. They often buy these text links with keyword rich terms, so that Google crawls the hyperlinks, sees the terms that other websites are using to link to them, and as a result ranks their website higher for these keywords. Expedia was most likely buying links with terms such as travel websites or cheap flights. Link penalties can be avoided by cleaning up past purchased links, asking other websites to add a no follow, or having other websites pass the hyperlink through an intermediary URL that is blocked in your robots.txt file.
This penalty is big news for the SEO community. As we can see, Google is still causing massive hardship for websites who buy links.