June 10, 2023

Penguins Don’t Have To Be Scary – My SMX Toronto Recap

Google penalties at work

If you missed the Big Google Kitchen Sink Panel at SMX Toronto featuring yours truly, @duraninci , @kdobell , and @aaranged you’re partially in luck – because I’m going to recap my part of the presentation here. That’s right, I’m liveblogging myself (3 days later.)

If you’ve read any SEO blogs lately you’ve suddenly become afraid of cute little animals like Pandas and (more recently) Penguins. (Ok, I didn’t say Penguin during my presentation, I said “over optimization” but this is the benefit of blogging 3 days later – I can change things.)

Penguins and Pandas don’t have to be ferocious though, they can still be all cute and cuddly – if you do your SEO right.

Anybody new to SEO who started reading the major industry blogs or attending conferences in the last few months might get the impression that Google’s algorithm works by compiling a list of relevant URLs and then applying penalty after penalty until only 10 links remain. After all, penalties are all we seem to talk about lately. The good news is (and Google will probably confirm) that their algorithm doesn’t quite work that way.

Matt Cutts Google Penalty

Google's goal isn't to run around like Eric Cartman as a hall monitor and penalize everything in sight. Really.

Google isn’t out to penalize. They’re out to reward quality content. Specifically, quality content that helps a user solve a problem. More on that later.

Algorithm updates and penalties are a fact of life. Google makes over 350 changes to their algorithm each year. That means we as SEOs need to change our methods. In the old days, SEO was all about reverse engineering an algorithm. That’s just not possible today. Instead, we need to practice what’s called Sustainable SEO.

Wayne Gretzky once said “A good hockey player players where the puck is, a great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” The same thing is true for SEO. We can’t optimize for the Google of today and expect to get anywhere tomorrow. We have to anticipate what Google is trying to reward and start turning our sites into that. (Likewise, anticipate what they’re going to start penalizing and stop doing that.)

In actuality it’s not that hard to do. During his SMX keynote @outofmygord talked about how the Titanic was sank by the 7th iceberg it was warned about. Had they not ignored the first 6 warnings, they wouldn’t have been hurt by the 7th. The same is true of Google. @mattcutts has given us hundreds (if not thousands) of iceberg warnings over the last decade. He’s been screaming about bad things not to do, and how Google wants quality content. The problem is, most of us SEOs just didn’t listen. We kept going full steam ahead with our other efforts; mainly because they kept working. Then one day we woke up, logged into our analytics platform and saw this:

Google Penalty

Boom! Iceberg. And the worst part? It completely surprised all of the SEOs who were ignoring the warnings and some of them are realizing that there aren’t any lifeboats left.

It’s time we start listening to the warnings: Algorithm Chasing Isn’t Sustainable.

Have you ever asked “How can I rank for this term?” If so, you’re doing it wrong. Instead, put on your user hat and ask “when somebody searches for this term, what would they expect? What would they find useful?” – then go build that. You’ll get much better results.

We sometimes forget that we as SEOs are the 1% of searchers. It can be beneficial to put ourselves in their shoes and look at search how they see it. (Hint: they see it a LOT different.)

A goal to strive for is if a user does a search and they don’t see your site, they should think search is broken. That’s called being an authority – or in Google Quality Rater terms, a vital result.

So how do you be that vital result? By Differentiating and adding value. (by the way, @rhea did a talk about this at SMX west. It was awesome so I’m not going to go into it.)

When Microsoft released Bing (Bing? What’s that doing in a Google panel?) Bill Gates said that “the future of search is verbs” and he couldn’t be more right. Users are searching with the intent of doing something. They no longer just want information. The more your site can help them accomplish that task in a useful manner, the more the search engines will reward you. At least, that’s what they’re trying to do.

Remember, we see tons of articles about sites getting penalized by Google and “ruined” – but for each site that loses rank another one gains. The trick is to be the site that gains. To do that you’ve got to play where the puck is going not where it’s been.

Did you catch my talk and just want the slides? No problem, you can download them here – or even download the slides from past conferences I spoke at.

About Ryan Jones

Ryan Jones is an SEO from Detroit. By day he works as a manager of SEO & Analytics at SapientNitro where his team performs SEO for Fortune500 clients. By night he's either playing hockey or attempting to take over the world with his own websites - which he would have already succeeded in doing had it not been for those meddling kids and their dog. The views expressed here have not been paid for and belong only to Ryan, not any of his employers or clients. Follow Ryan on Twitter at: @RyanJones, add him on Google+ or visit his personal website: www.RyanMJones.com


  1. “Algorithm Chasing Isn’t Sustainable” – Should be quote of the year!!!

  2. That’s an impressive screenshot of analytics. 😀 Also, love this: “Have you ever asked “How can I rank for this term?” If so, you’re doing it wrong. Instead, put on your user hat and ask “when somebody searches for this term, what would they expect? What would they find useful?” – then go build that. You’ll get much better results.”

  3. This is like a room full of bodybuilders telling skinny kids to eat their borccoli and theyll be as big as we are.

    The give a user what they want line is getting a bit tired. Any SEO that truly believs you should just put on a page what a user wants, then go wait 3 years will starve waiting while those who push the envelope to some degree eat their lunch.

    The playing field is gamed to make everyone that doesnt have a 5 year old website have to pay for Adwrods. We always write like Google is dying to help us rank well with a simple write about your feeling and put some of your college love poems online and youll be page one!, But they dont make any money off organic rankins, they make money off paid rankings, so if a way to make one pay is to make an unavoidable 3 year road to page one, then thats what the goal of a business would be.

    Meanwhile, the guy above you built a subdomain profile on some established site, Xrumer’d 1000 links to it and ranks on page one.

    On the guy who was the first to register “chicagohousepainter” .com is instanly on page one after 7 days, while the company named paintingwithstyle .com is still on page 6 after a year.

    Lets not pretend building sites by the 1 page google SEO handbook will get you anywhere. If everyone here is a skilled SEO by their own opinion, then we all know better than that.