TNG/Earthling Perfecting Innovation Through Failure

"Embrace failure. It's integral to a successful discovery process." Bob Sakayama, CEO of TNG/Earthling.

Most of the high tech startups are led by innovators who recognize the value of failure - a successful venture is the result of many previous wrong turns, each a contributing factor in the larger success. Coders often speak of success as the point when the failures cease, and the code works. Researchers test their hypotheses, which are basically educated guesses, but in the end the experiments are trial and error - it's the error part that is the majority, until it isn't. This is true of difficult tasks in general, especially when there are no pathfinders to lead the way, when the process involves learning and creating innovative solutions that lead to more sophisticated insights.

TNG/E's search consultancy was borne of one such failure. The rise to becoming the market leader in Google penalty remediation began with one of their own websites being penalized. Losing all your ranks in the search results is the ultimate failure when your business is dependent on search performance. In fact it's an existential failure that unless remedied quickly signals the death of the business. Understanding the root causes of these search penalties not only cemented TNG/E's status at the top of the services offering penalty fixes, but also provided the insights the drove the success of its SEO business. Because understanding Google's approach to enforcement is a window into what Google rewards, and when you're attempting to optimize ranks, knowing what not to do can prevent you from making over-optimization errors. Forbes referenced Bob's expertise in their article "What To Look Out For To Avoid A Google Penalty" and links to his site, Avoiding over-optimization continues to be one of the skills that contributes to the success of productive SEO.

Search engine optimization is a field with no manual, no certification, no licensing, and no reference point to guide decisions other than experience. Learning by reading blogs is how most SEOs get their knowledge, but in the real world, this may not be the best way to stay up to date on best practices because Google's algorithm is constantly being updated - the rules are always in flux and what appeared to be good practices at one point in time can become a penalizable offense later on. A good example is how sharing links, or reciprocal link building, was once encouraged by Google. But once webmasters started acting on this encouragement, Google noticed sites with millions of reciprocal links that in no way contributed to their relevance. You can now be penalized for garnering too many reciprocal links and Google now discourages the practice..

So it's a world where the best knowledge comes from experimentation. And as a result, that's a world full of failures. If you don't know the rules, you try stuff, and some of that stuff works, but some of it doesn't, and sometimes it does both - works for while, until it doesn't. CEO Bob Sakayama is comfortable with that, but only because he has seen enough failure to not fear taking action. Of course as a penalty expert, a mistake can probably be reversed, but again that confidence comes from experience in failure.

Sometimes search failure occurs before the project even gets underway. A new client reached out to TNG/E when they could not get their site to rank for anything, wondering if the site had been penalized. Looking at the site metrics, Bob was able to confirm the site appeared to be penalized, but since the site was brand new, and there were no obvious non-compliances in the implementation, it was a mystery as to why. Upon close inspection, he discovered the reason - a huge number of garbage links were posted triggering a domain level penalty. The client had not posted these links, but it was also not the result of a negative SEO attack, where a third party intentionally harms the rank of a competitor. This massive failure revealed a little know vulnerability of brand new websites - harm done by a previous owner. When you do an availability search before buying a domain, the list of available domains includes not only those never before owned, but also previously owned domains, some of which had been penalized due to actions taken by the previous owners. In this case, it appeared that they attempted to rank the site using thousands of crappy links that Google had since flagged as non-compliant, and that penalty carried over to the new owners.

This particular failure led to the discovery of a previously unknown risk for internet businesses - and pointed to a new service that TNG/Earthling initiated - vetting domains prior to purchase for legacy search issues. This was in 2009, and at that time, no one was even aware of this issue. When he presented this topic at a London conference for quoted companies (public corporations) people were shocked that Google would permit such a problem to exist, making victims of first time domain buyers for problems they did not create. Over time Google claimed to become aware of this problem and supposedly enabled victims to file a notice via reconsideration requests that new owners could use to notify Google. But the issue remained in place even after Google was notified in many cases and to this day it remains an obscure but real problem for many unsuspecting domain buyers. TNG/E pioneered the solution, which is to examine the legacy implementation prior to any new domain purchase by looking at the historic versions of the domain in, and also checking the live links using data from As time goes by, the number of previously owned domains increases as does the risk - in fact the more attractive the domain name, the more likely it was previously owned. TNG/E has prevented numerous clients from experiencing the pain of having to start over on their first time out.

TNG/Earthling has demonstrated that innovation really can be borne of failure, and their successful business model suggests that paying attention to and accepting the silver lining that comes from failures can be rewarding both from the point of view of gaining knowledge and developing productive strategies.