Penguin Blues

Penguin Blues

Here is my commentary – warning:  an enormously long post – and rebuttal of Chris (“The Lazy Marketer”) Rempel’s article “Here’s How We’re Ranking Now – Post Penguin“.

the lazy marketer

Please click through on the above link and read Chris’s article first and then have a look at my comments below. (The actual point-by-point rebuttal comes at the end of the article).

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Penguin?

If it wasn’t because Chris has a well-deserved reputation as an Ace Marketer, I would have been tempted to dismiss his rantings as prejudiced and poorly informed mumbo-jumbo. But Chris isn’t a man easily dismissed. So, instead, I decided to offer my humble comments in the spirit of “let’s not jump to conclusions – Google is just an ALGORITHM – not The Devil, please!”

google penguinThe difference of opinion between Chris (along with the vast majority of IM/SEO experts) and someone like me, lies at the very foundation. Everything else from there on is just a logical consequence.

My “foundation” is that Google is simply a program, designed by intelligent humans whose goals begin with “providing a great tool for searchers” and end with “making as much money as we can while doing it”.

Chris’s foundation appears to be that Google is a criminal organization whose mob bosses control the world and who only want to screw you and the least of their concerns is “providing a great tool for searchers”.

Where I see intelligent software engineers and marketing experts, Chris sees Lucifer.

99% of All SEO Is Based On Subjective Experience

With the sole (possible) exception of Google’s own personnel, most SEO experts have developed their knowledge of how Google and other search engines work basing on meticulous observations and testing. Add to this their interpretations of  what Google themselves write about their own rules. Some of the stuff Google’s staff write isn’t “strictly true”, or at the very least it’s well open to interpretation.

Between these interpretations and tests there is an ocean of potential misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Sometimes when a test appears to offer a conclusive evidence of  “a rule”, it might, in fact, be incidental.

google seoA good example might be the infamous “Google dance”. It only takes a little testing and monitoring to establish beyond any doubt that search ranks fluctuate all the time. So that’s the “testing” part. Now you want to come up with “a rule”. Most SEO experts – a staggering majority, in fact – contend that this “proves” that Google’s ranking algorithm is poorly written. Hence you have the popular myth that “Google dance can’t be helped and is due to sloppy coding.

A tiny minority of SEO researchers, such as myself (he added merrily), refused to accept that a team of ACE programmers would really be so sloppy in something so FUNDAMENTAL to their stated mission. With that in mind, I have set out to either confirm or debunk the myth. I describe this process in some detail within the members’ area on the SEOlater site, but here let me just tell you my  conclusion. To be sure, it’s “just an opinion”, but it’s an opinion which can be tested and confirmed with an overwhelming percentage of accuracy.

I have concluded that “Google dance” is an effect due to Google’s “practical application of its ‘TrustRank’ score“. It was, in fact, largely thanks to my detailed analysis of SERP results that the very concept of Trust Rank popped into my head and I have, subsequently, not only confirmed its existence, origin and application, but I have – to a very high degree of accuracy – been able to not just (relatively easily) calculate it, but also PREDICT future results basing on my Trust Rank calculations. But that’s another matter, and one which I address within SEOlater itself, so let’s just move on.

To understand this, keep in mind that Google operates from thousands of data centers spread out all over the world. They are synchronized according to an algorithm which has everything to do with TrustRank calculation and nothing to do with sloppiness. That’s my very strong and experimentally confirmed assertion.

The reasoning I elaborate on within SEOlater to explain this principle goes something like this:

Google Dance Test, Part 1

  • google danceRun a ranking test on your target keyword which you already rank on. Write down your IP, the date and time as well as the SERP position.
  • Repeat the test 1 hour later and make the same notes. Continue the test for 24 hours.
  • Meanwhile, using a proxy-switching program (or even something as crude as, although in this case you won’t have full control of your geographical locations, so testing with an imprecise system like that will not give you quality results), change your location to another data center and run the same test, making the same notes.
  • Continue trying different geographical locations (hence: different data centers), until you’ve built up a few dozen results.
In case of MOST sites which haven’t yet built up a reputation with Google, your results WILL surprise you. You will discover that you rank at the given position only a part of the time and only in SOME geographical locations. As you add these times up and average them out, you will discover something like “I rank at #10, on THIS date, and on THIS data canter, 90% of the time – and I rank at #’s 30-70 on THESE data centers 50% of the time, and I didn’t rank at all on THOSE data centers during the test period”.


A calculation can be derived from this observation which – in my view, at least – forms PART of the Google Trust Rank algorithm.


Google Dance Test, Part 2

  • And now run the same test, using the same rigorous methodology, but this time using the “undisputed” market leader in your niche.
You will discover that their results fluctuate MUCH LESS – in some cases not at all!
To learn more about Trust Rank, delve into SEOlater. Otherwise, just read on.


The Tale of Two SEO Camps

The SEO world is neatly divided into two camps. What Chris calls “The Google Bootlickers”, i.e. “White-Hat” SEO people who slavishly believe that Google has good intentions and can be “won over” with high quality content and high quality linking – and the “Google Is Evil” camp which often resorts to “Black Hat” tricks and, essentially, all kinds of tricks which help them GET AROUND Google’s rules.

black hat vs white hat seoBut wait a minute… “get around WHAT rules?” The ones they GUESSED are “rules”? Or the ones they KNOW are rules?

The Black-Hat camp is busy devising techniques which are hell-bent on “gaming” Google. Often, they don’t even look for straight-forward ways of achieving their goals. They just look for backdoors. Kind of like the burglar who uses the window in spite of the front door being wide open. Wait a minute. Not a burglar. A guest…

Now, the interesting thing about both these camps is that their respective methodologies are self-affirming. The more White-Hat SEO you do, the more convinced you become that Black-Hat is bad – and the more Black-Hat SEO you do, the more you’re likely to dismiss the White-Hatters.

Ultimately, however, it really comes down to RESULTS. And because results will differ – even among the practitioners of the same “SEO cult” (lol) – they will be used as “proof” of the given “ideology” working or not. So, if with your Black-Hat techniques you managed to make a few $, you’ll be inclined to think that IT works, especially if you previously failed to make any $ using a White-Hat technique.

My contention – explained in some detail within the SEOlater pages – is that White Hat is the ONLY way to go, if you want to achieve lasting and powerful results.

And now, finally, let me attempt to rebut Chris’s article.

The Rebuttal

Chris says: "Penguin [...] The SEO landscape right now is a whole buffet of BS"

  • People who don’t understand the rules, see the rules as BS. Not just in SEO – in life in general. Surely, Chris, you DO know that.
  • The “SEO landscape” has ALWAYS been unclear. But it has always been “understandable enough” and Google’s stated mission (to provide a tool for the searchers) has NOT CHANGED.

Chris says: "... there are offsite factors, onsite factors and niche factors that you have to be aware of"

  • Of course. This is just a statement of the obvious. And it’s going to remain that way.

Chris says: "...Matt..Cutts... [& any] bootlicking [...] WhiteHar authority/expert - “great content”, “user experience”, “relevance” [...] that is far from the reality.

  • Quite the contrary is the truth. Now more than ever before content WILL get you ranked. But, mind you, it needs to be GOOD QUALITY content. “Spun” articles can in about 80% of the cases be easily detected. And… downgraded.
  • (Awww no…! We can’t cheat??!!)

Chris says: "Google [...] is broken [...] almost entirely focusing on anti-SEO measures. [...] the SERPS themselves are largely degraded and biased. Especially in niches with high commercial intent."

  • If you build your site with “gaming Google” in mind from the start, you WILL reap the rewards this approach merits.
  • Google IS, indeed, highly focused on “anti” measures. But they’re not “anti-SEO”, but rather “anti-spam” and “anti-Black-Hat SEO”

Chris says: "Google is systematically screwing webmasters [...] to rake in as much as they can"

  • Correct observation – incorrect attitude.
  • Google IS systematically trying to downgrade sites by webmasters who break its rules. And OF COURSE they are trying to make money too. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t have Google for very long.
  • Are they trying to “rake in” (notice the pejorative form)? As the answer to that can only be either naive or prejudicial, I’d say it depends on whether you respect them or not. If you do – they’re just trying to secure their company with sufficient earnings. If you don’t – sure, they’re greedy bastards who just want to find ways to “rake in”.

Chris says: "The only way you’re safe is if you’re making Google money."

  • This is redundant. He said that already.
  • But beneath this prejudiced statement is the assertion that unless you advertise with Google you won’t rank. And that is patently false. Just about all the SEOlater sites I know of which apply 100% White Hat techniques not only rank – they DOMINATE.
  • And Google isn’t paid a penny.

Chris says: "they’re obviously focused [...] Profit [...] Discouraging SEO through Misinformation and Scare Tactics, Thereby Increasing Reliance on Advertising"

  • Sigh. More redundancy. Chris, you already explained how much you hate Google. And now you’re adding that you really hate them. And then you’re confirming that you really really really really hate them. I got it. 🙂

Chris asks: "1) Why doesn't Google penalize unnatural links if it can detect them? It would eliminate negative SEO."

  • Negative SEO is not a “fact” – it’s an “interpretation”. I know that Google themselves don’t help matters much in the way they refer to it (in effect confirming that it exists) but, in my view at least, it’s a matter of semantics. If I give you 1 point for something I approve of and 1/10th of a point for something I don’t approve of – is it the same as “taking away 9/10th of a point?”
  • My tests strongly indicate that Google doesn’t actually apply “negative” points to things it doesn’t like, but rather – it recalculates the points using lower values.
  • Does negative SEO really exist? I have only done a few tests on that. If I apply “negative SEO” to a site of mine which  is OTHERWISE PERFECTLY BUILT using healthy principles that Google embraces – I haven’t seen the negative results at all. In fact, I’ve seen positive results! Go figure. I will need to test this much more but, for now, I don’t believe negative SEO can significantly affect  CORRECTLY optimized sites.

Chris asks: "2) Why doesn't Google doesn't provide a disavow tool?"

  • If you can get your head around my argument above – that’s why.

Chris asks: "3) Why do pages with YouTube and AdSense receive special treatment?"

  • I have collected a number of cases where the OPPOSITE is true (in case of AdSense sites), as inexplicable as this may at first sound.
  • I do, however, agree that Google gives YouTube a leg up. It’s understandable not only because Google OWNS YouTube, but also because video is an especially valuable resource.
  • Does Google FAVOR YouTube over other video providers? This is easily tested. The answer is that it SLIGHTLY favors them. The question of the “degree” of favoritism is still open. There are MANY factors to consider before you can answer this definitively.

Chris asks: "4) Why does Google ignore your title tag? "If they leave your titles alone, you’re favored. If they’re screwing with them – you’re in the shithouse."

  • Google does NOT ignore your TITLE tag. But, if I understand this complaint correctly, then there is another concept you need to get your head around – and it’s the concept which is responsible for SEOlater sites doing so well. There is something which I refer to as “Semantic Environment” and which most of you know as “LSI” keywords. But I use “LSI” to denote inter-keyword relationships, whereas “Semantic Environment” is a relationship between PAGES – and even, most certainly, related sites.
  • The trick to understanding how Semantic Environments help you rank lies in understanding relationships between keywords. If my site’s semantic environment is focused on, say, “marketing ebooks”, and I “own” most of the related terms, then I also know that I will ALSO soon start ranking on “internet books” or “business coaching” – and so on. In effect, my pages will rank on keywords they are – seemingly – NOT optimized for!

Chris says: "[Google] is not your “friend”.

  • Ah yes. Sigh. Another re-statement of Chris’s love for Google.
  • Google is the SEARCHER’S FRIEND. Or, at least, it definitely tries to be!
  • Once you accept that, you can TEST it. Once you test it – you will emerge convinced.

Chris says: "…and if it’s true – it’s beyond cruel."

  • It’s not true.
  • Life is cruel.

Chris says: "Exact match domains [...] that seems to give you a free pass to rank well, and rank FAST. [...] Throwing a short suffix on the end like that doesn’t ruin the effect."

  • There’s more to ranking with EMD’s than just a keyword match. If that were so, ALL of the EMDs would rank, wouldn’t they? And yet, the FACT is, that only a TINY FRACTION of them do rank.
  • Those which do, achieve their ranks EITHER because they managed to sneak one past Google – or – because they are compatible with Google’s principles. Simple as that.
  • EMD can indeed be helpful, though. But just keep it real, please.

Chris says: "In your linkbuilding, just make sure the majority of your anchors are naked URLs and actual brand kw’s"

  • In case of mini-sites, this is by and large correct. But even in case of minisites the QUALITY of your content will affect how your anchors will be graded.
  • In case of content sites, the above statement is only partially correct. You need ways to “point” Google to the primary keywords you want to conquer, but you also need a degree of “subtlety.” And the one sure-fire way to “subtly” – but OBVIOUSLY – convince Google that your site is worth listing, is by ensuring that your Semantic Environment is tight.

Chris says: "PageRank Still Matters. A lot. [...] PR still reigns supreme. [...] I really mean a combination of actual green-bar PR, and the arbitrary “TrustRank”."

  • Sorry, mate. This is patently FALSE.
  • Page Rank is ONLY a reflection of the NUMBER of links your site is receiving. It is NOT a reflection of the QUALITY of those links.
  • Google’s PR USED TO BE important, but has been supplanted by the – semi-secret – Trust Rank. Most webmasters don’t know Trust Rank even exists, and Google likes it that way. They hardly ever talk about it – and yet… it can be tested, measured and – predicted.
  • And Yes, PR matters – but only a bit.

Chris says: "Social signals and relevance possibly matter"

  • Social signals, as long as they are GENUINE or at least “very close to genuine” matter a WHOLE LOT. But not as much as some people who say that they are “all” that matters. They are merely a factor, albeit an important one.
  • Relevance is VERY important. It is part of your Semantic Environment and Trust Rank. It is one of the MOST important factors within the Google algorithm. But – it’s easy to miss it, if you optimize your sites violating Google’s principles.

Chris says: "[...] real backlinks [...] Buy them discreetly, or guest post and then build in major linkage / juice to the page that links to your site."

  • I’m against BUYING backlinks. Having tested this to death (and to the tune of THOUSANDS of $), I can tell you with full confidence that bought backlinks have – generally – very low value in Google’s eyes. It’s logical if you only take a few minutes thinking about it.
  • QUALITY backlinks which are GENUINE – yes, they’re difficult to get, but not “too” difficult – are one of the keys to succeeding in convincing Google to accord your site a high Trust Rank.

Chris says: "Avoid blogrolls/sitewides [...] Go for smart networks [...] it sure beats creating great content”

  • Huh?
  • Maybe I’m misunderstanding this. Or maybe Chris is referring to CHEAP links within blogrolls – in which case, yes – avoid them like the plague, ESPECIALLY in blogrolls.
  • Other than that, QUALITY links in blogrolls do A LOT for your Trust Rank!

Chris says: "DoFollow links are stronger"

  • Yes. No-Follow is NOW almost always seen by Google as evidence of manipulation.
  • But there ARE cases where no-follow is justified, particularly when it comes to “not distracting the crawlers”.

Chris says: "Don’t post anchors in comments."

  • Depends on the QUALITY of comments, WHERE, WHEN and HOW they are placed.
  • If your SEO work is GENUINE, meaning: you’re developing your site so that it serves your community and provides a USEFUL contribution to it, you can do pretty much whatever you want. Including anchors in comments.

Chris says: "Don’t post links in comments"

  • Same answer as above.

Chris says: "Link Shields Work Like Crazy With Exact Match Domains!! [especially] HOTH"

  • If they do, it will be incidental and usually the result of something else.
  • This is NOT to say that many of these linking techniques can’t work. Some can. Some are, in fact, even called for. But there is a substantial difference between “linking to deceive” and “linking to serve”.

Chris says: "Use Short, Not-So-Obvious Title Tags [...] to avoid getting “help” from Google."

  • As with everything in life, brevity is usually better than loooooooong and undisciplined writing.

Chris says: "Don’t just use your primary kw target as the title (standalone)"

  • This is generally correct, but more for “human” reasons than algorithmic ones.
  • On a well-optimized site, I can EASILY and without fear of retribution entitle my articles WHATEVER I goddamned please. 😉

Chris says: "Dilute Links and Anchors, Steady Drip."

  • Do what is NATURAL. Think of your site as serving PEOPLE – not bots.

Chris says: "Your primary keyword should only comprise maybe 10 – 20% of your overall anchors."

  • That’s roughly correct, but it’s got to be seen in CONTEXT of the whole page AS WELL AS the whole site.

Chris says: "MUCH of your anchor portfolio should be random/generic."

  • No, no, no. It should be DIVERSIFIED – but that does NOT mean “random.”
  • Diversification is KEY when building a strong Semantic Environment. This, however, works a little differently when it comes to mini sites. You have to be a lot more clever in the way you pick your keywords. Content sites are much easier that way.
  • As for “generic” keywords… that’s a meaningless term in this context. Does Chris mean “niche keywords”? If he does, then YES, your article/page should be tastefully immersed in niche keywords. But – think like a HUMAN, not like a BOT!

Chris says: "Well, that’s what we’re doing, anyway – and it’s working."

  • The fact that Chris, who is a rather successful marketer – with LOTS of experience and FEW of the “lazy” attributes he brags about – has much to do with the reasons for his success.
  • But just because it works for Chris – don’t bet on it working for YOU – unless you understand ALL the techniques Chris is utilizing. And not unless you STOP being lazy.

Chris says: "link types – get as much stuff as you can, as steadily as you can. Press Releases, articles, bookmarks, web2′s, twitter/FB, some wikis, even profiles & crap links – it’s all good IN MODERATION."

  • If the links you obtain are HIGH QUALITY, they will NATURALLY be slow in coming. You can’t get tons of great quality links on an industrial scale.
  • I have a table on the SEOlater site which illustrates how links MAY be valued by Google. I say “may” be, but my tests strongly indicate that they in fact “are” evaluated in that manner.

Chris says: "Just automate this and buy packages, etc."

  • Out of the (potentially) thousands of your readers, Chris, I SINCERELY DOUBT that more than a TINY HANDFUL have ever made penny number one on “automation” and “buying packages”.
  • Only experts – like Chris – may know how to utilize these “lazy” techniques correctly. But they’re NOT lazy in reality. They take years of experience and buildup to get to that point.
  • Most wannabe marketers START with the wrong approach. They BELIEVE that the lazy approach will bring them easy – and ultimately UNDESERVED – riches.
  • I challenge you to ask your readers: “have you have earned ANYTHING yet, using those techniques?” And also ask them “how many keywords do you rank on, how high are the ranks, how long can you maintain your ranks, and what is the average per-keyword yield you achieve?”
  • Needless to say, the answers to those questions will almost certainly be diametrically different to what most readers might hope for and expect…

Chris says: "Drip this stuff out. Slow burn is the key… [...] no “link velocity” issues"

  • Yep, that’s correct. But if there is a NATURAL way to do something FAST – no problem. (Think 100% LEGAL and legitimate promotional CAMPAIGNS as just ONE example.)

Chris says: "I strongly advise you to just focus on rolling out a perpetual production-line of exact-match-domain minisites"

  • Arghh….
  • Think of these two scenarios:
    • (a) a “ton” of EMD minisites, where EACH site will take you up to a week to design, write GREAT content for, research keywords, plus at least a couple of days per month to monitor, track, improve, etc. Shall we say “a ton” equals to… 20 sites? More…?! Nah. Let’s just say 20.
    • (b) ONE great content site which will take you up to a week to design and START writing GREAT content for, research keywords, etc. And then it will take you 1-2 days per week to keep current, including monitoring, tracking, improvements, etc. Let it be 5 days even.
  • Which of the 2 scenarios is EASIER, do you think?
  • Which of the 2 scenarios is MORE LIKELY to be highly profitable?
  • Which of the 2 scenarios is potentially more USEFUL/VALUABLE to “the people”?
  • Which of the 2 scenarios is more like to earn MORE THAN PENNIES?
  • Which of the 2 scenarios is CHEAPER to run?

Chris says: "Spread these out a bit, between a few different IPs/hosts, and also spread out your link types/services from site to site."

  • If you’re planning on creating link networks between your OWN sites, then sure – spreading out between different hosts and IPs is potentially a good idea.
  • If your model is “mini sites” then this MAY be a good idea – if you rely on LINKING more than you rely on High Quality linking, semantic environments and Trust Rank.
  • If you focus on QUALITY, you will ALWAYS trump quantity. Even on the same host and IP…!

Chris says: "This is MUCH SAFER than going and investing all of your time into one big site."

  • The opposite is GENERALLY true, in my humble opinion. See my argument above.

Chris says: "So you might as well build a giant network of feeders that are largely self-reliant. [...] Rather than building a brand."

  • Arghh…
  • Chris, is that also what you would advise to people who have an offline business that they’re trying to launch online?
  • If you wouldn’t (and I know you wouldn’t), then WHY NOT?
  • And why then are you advising this to all your newbie readers?

Chris says: "I really wish providing great content / UX and building real sites was worth doing."

  • Hurrah! You wish has come true!
  • It really IS worth doing.

Chris says: "Google is making it clear that they are at war with all SEO’s, that webmasters are pawns in their empire of scraping / stealing value, and that major sites can tank overnight for sins (even retroactive sins) that are often far outside one’s ability to control."

  • Once again, you’re redundant. Yes, I know. You really really really really really really really really really really hate Google. Okay mate.
  • Google IS “at war” with opportunistic Black-Hat SEO spammers.
  • Google IS NOT at war with people who have GENUINE contributions to make.

Chris says: "So let’s return the favor and make the SERPs our little bitch – a source of free traffic and increased profit for us… and ride the gravy train of FAST EMD Rankings for as long as they last."

  • I couldn’t agree more with you – in sentiment if not in exact wording! 🙂
  • Yes, let’s get Google to be our WILLING and VERY ACCOMMODATING “helper” (that’s a bit more polite than “bitch”) and let’s dominate the  SERPs.
  • Sites developed using the principles discussed within the SEOlater methodology invariably dominate their entire niches with hundreds and thousands of CONQUERED keywords. “Conquered” meaning at least in the top 100, but typically about 70% in the top 10 and SIGNIFICANTLY in the top 3.

I don’t intend for this commentary to put Chris down in any way. His experience and record speak for themselves. I do, however, strongly believe that White-Hat methods are vastly superior, longer-lasting and much more rewarding – if done correctly, minus the mythology!

You like this kind of content? There lots more of that on the INSIDE!


  1. Frank  July 19, 2012

    I completely agree, Paul. A great article and rebuttal.

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