[rank theory] SEO Newsletter

spicy SEO gordita crunch and nacho fries with cheese

Published 4 months ago • 8 min read

hey it's me, your favorite SEO newsletter writer.

I'm back again with THE GOODS, an email chock-full (not chopped-full) of interesting SEO insights and observations from someone who doesn't feel like DOING the SEO, but someone who very much feels like yelling about it.

you know what they say:

those who can, do. those who cannot, rant about it each week in an increasingly unhinged email newsletter.

well, here we are. Another week of anxiety all the time, trying to launch a new thing (that I *really* believe--see below) and it's STRESSFUL AF, so whatever, let's get into it!

News and Updates

You know the deal.

I make this amazing meme page, you click on it so my email service provider doesn't label you as a lazy, good-for-nothing reader and then I have to send you a "bro are you even a subscriber" email.

Avoid all that shit and go look at some memes!

In other news, as mentioned above: I'm launching a product/service (productized service???) aimed at:

  • SEO agencies (with an email list)
  • SEO consultants (with an email list)
  • SEO tools (with an email list)
  • SEO product providers (with an email list)
  • SEO services (with an email list)

It's not QUITE ready for primetime, but it IS ready for me to tell you about it if you're one of those people I mentioned above.

If that's you, hit reply if you're interested in me telling you my dumb idea, and you giving me feedback about my dumb idea, and possibly buying it at a low introductory price.

NBD if not, I won't take it personally I PROMISE

pinky promise.

Or whatever...

-- - SPONSOR 👇 - --

Half a $ million selling guest posts and niche edits - how easy is this shit?

Ever considered turning your website into a cash machine by selling guest posts? Maybe you’ve been burnt in the last Google update and want to squeeze more cash out of your website(s)? Or perhaps you're interested in developing properties specifically for link sales over the long haul.

Building link farms is becoming quite a desirable SEO venture lately.

In case this sparked your curiosity, you should read my story on how I built several websites that made over $500k over the last 4 years - all fully automated (funny enough, these websites have all thrived during the HCU - proves how big of a dumpster fire Google is).

Now, straight up - that intro guide promotes a paid playbook that fully explains how to make money building link farms from A to Z. It comes at a not-too-high, and not-too-low price of $109 (which also includes an email list of buyers who all purchased links on my properties in the past - straight up gold).

But for the action-takers who read Sean’s newsletter, I’ve prepared a juicy 30% discount - use the code 30OFF at checkout to snatch your copy at a much lower price. There’s a limited number of discount codes, so first come, first serve!

-- - SPONSOR 👆 - --

Featured Snippets

🖕 Here's a poll that gives cold, hard data to what you already know: most SEOs hate Google. lol

❓Cyrus asked "how do you think the Google HCU works? and the responses are super interesting you should give them a read.

🤐 Kevin shares a search console message that just said "hey this thing you're doing is bad, but I'm not gonna tell you what or where it is. Be sure to check the update for how it got resolved...

Sites For Sale

Not much to speak of... still selling aged domains for pretty cheap, which you can check out here.

That's it. Aged domains... they sell themselves.

Want To Recover from HCU? Get Your House In Order, and Then... Wait. Wait Until the Walls Crumble and Your Shag Carpet Goes Out Of Style And Your Roof Lets In Rainwater, Wait Until You Finally Sell Your House For Super Cheap And It Ultimately Gets Torn Down To Make Way For A New Interstate. This Is A Metaphor.

Last fall the Helpful Content was fucking DEVASTATING to an overwhelming number of businesses.

Did some deserve it?


MANY of these sites did not deserve it, and it's gotta go down like an apple filled with a thousand razor blades to see sites like Forbes and The Usual Suspects rank for everything and everything's mother while you and your probably-not-that-bad site got banished to... what's the realm beneath the shadow realm? You got banished to a realm awash in the super-heated exploding plasma of the early universe, when the rules of physics were still being established and you just... disintegrated into nothing.

Can you ever come back from this?

According to Glenn Gabe, it's gonna take a while:

twitter profile avatar
Glenn Gabe
Twitter Logo
7:59 AM • Feb 12, 2024
There have been some recoveries from previous HCUs, but they are few and far between. When checking many sites that were impacted by the August or December 2022 HCUs, the reality is not many have improved content-wise. So, that could be a big reason why many sites impacted by previous HCUs haven’t recovered. And to be honest, I’m sure Google is happy with that if the site owners built those sites for Search traffic (and monetization) versus helping humans. That’s pretty much why the helpful content system was created. Remember, it’s a punitive algorithm update. It demotes and doesn’t promote.

For me, that "if the site owners built those sites for search traffic (and monetization) versus helping humans" is a heaping spoonful of bullshit.

I realize this is Glenn paraphrasing Google more than it is Glenn laying down judgement, but here's a great big FUCK THAT SHIT from me.

You're telling me Forbes exists to help humans and not monetize the absolute shit out of search traffic?

Healthline bothers to rank for "best CBD oil" because they're the world's purest altruists?

Better Homes and Gardens wrote a post about 37 vacuum cleaners they TOTALLY (probably) DIDN'T TEST THEMSELVES because they just want to help all the moms and dads vacuuming cereal and pet hair and dust bunnies that drifted underneath the bed?


Nearly every site that ranks for something worth ranking for is there to grab that organic search traffic.

This frame is so bad it destroys any art inside of it even if Bob Ross painted it (RIP king).

Still, it's a good post (basically every GG post is) and you should totally read it. It's about how Google's HCU has evolved and why it's a punitive algorithm update that demotes instead of promotes. There's more to this post than what I wrote about, but god damn I take exception to the lofty idea that Google only rewards sites that aren't doing everything they absolutely possibly can be to vacuum up that sweet, sweet search traffic.

Are Toxic Backlinks A Thing You Have To Worry About, Or Is It Just A Made-Up Concept Like Finding Love and Safety In The Arms Of Another and We're NOT Just Gonna All Die Alone...

This idea comes via an AHREFS article. Here's a quick summary of the definition they are playing with:

Spammy links are low-quality links that every site attracts through no fault of their own.
Manipulative links are links built or bought solely to improve Google rankings.
Toxic links are links that certain SEO tools say could hurt your website’s rankings.

Okay, so we're specifically talking about toxic links.

I've used tools that have claimed this about backlinks/had clients come to me like "omg our backlinks. they're toxic! We need to disavow them right meow!"


Here's an example from the article about what can maybe happen:

To which, let me just say:

I guess the main takeaway is:

If you fuck up by building a bunch of shit links to your site, the MOST LIKELY SCENARIO is that they are just not helping you.

If they are actually tanking your site, it's probably something you'll see in your search console. Manual Penalty, BB.

If an agency or especially a tool says "yo these backlinks are toxic like my ex-husband/ex-wife," well, that's unfortunate but you shouldn't do ANYTHING DRASTIC.

The best and most reasonable response should be to try and undo the damage, if you decide that your backlinks are actually toxic and not helping you. Go to where you acquired them from and try and get them removed, then re-index those pages.

If they just showed up on your backlinks report because the internet is a hell place full of spam and scraped content, just ignore that shit.

They aren't hurting you, most likely, because almost EVERY site gets these. You know I mostly don't believe things that Google says, but I actually DO believe that if you pick up a bunch of garbage links by JUST EXISTING these are a known entity, and don't impact your site.

Negative SEO--that's a whole different thing. I have less clear thoughts on the impact of that, but maybe that's a conversation for another day.

This Isn't About SEO I Just Love the Writing

"The Vice Media Collapse Was Entirely The Fault Of Incompetent, Fail-Upward Brunchlords"

When it comes to financing Vice journalism and keeping the lights on, the problem wasn’t the people doing the actual fucking work. Nor is it the costs of doing actual journalism. As noted previously, The equally incompetently managed The Messenger burned through fifty million fucking dollars in less than a year; enough to fund any competently managed modest newsroom for the better part of a decade.
But again, if you read most mainstream analysis of the Vice collapse, executive incompetence is either downplayed or simply nowhere to be found. Instead, the collapse of Vice, like most mismanaged modern U.S. media companies, is often left causation free, somehow the unfortunate, unforeseen consequence of ambiguous externalities in the thankless job of informing the public about factual reality online.

Read the full article here.

Work With Me

You know I can help you if you just need some guidance, a light touch, some 30,000ft advice with the occasional low-flying "hands dirty" help like working with you on keyword research or trying to figure out why tf Google deindexed a random page...

$1,000/mo for this fractional director of SEO service.

We also do some big 💪💪💪 audits and legit SEO work for bigger clients that need some real muscle behind getting their site to rank better. We = me and my SEO biz partner Matt. We are top shit, if I do say so myself. No page for this one, just book a call here and let's talk about how we can help.

all right.

email accomplished.

you did it, you made it through this email and you made it through week.

for me, it was a bit rough, but it's OK, I'll hit the weed and put on some Tool (Ænima, obviously) and get through it.

what about you? how do you unwind after a rough one?

hit reply and tell me and also tell me if you liked this edition of Rank Theory or if we CAN find love and safety in the arms of another and we're NOT all just destined to die alone...

you know, totally normal SEO stuff.

until next week!


[rank theory] SEO Newsletter

Sean Markey

the world's grumpiest SEO lifts you up each week with inspiring SEO content. Rank Theory is a twice-weekly newsletter containing emerging theories, illuminating experiments, and occasional sh*tposting, as well as a special weekly domain-focused Friday edition.

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