Digital marketing consultants

Who we are

Cogney is a New York-based digital marketing agency with more than ten years of success in search engine marketing across many industries. Founded by Doug Pierce, an ex-Apple marketer described by The New York Times as "an expert in online search", Cogney’s advice has not only landed dozens of companies on the first page of search results but Pierce’s analytical research has on multiple occasions led Google to re-examine and modify its algorithm. (See our In the Media section for articles quoting and featuring Doug as the principal SEO expert commenting on various questionable digital marketing techniques.) Pierce’s passion for SEO extends beyond getting companies on the first page of Google. It is a fierce intellectual obsession based on his desire to engineer the perfect intersection between intention and result.

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Our philosophy

We're in it to win it

We relish the challenge of getting our clients to the top of Google. In the words of agency founder Doug Pierce, “It’s a huge worldwide game with countless players played on a big, public leaderboard that everyone can see: Google. It’s black and white and objective and you always know where you stand. Winning on that big scoreboard and having a major impact on someone’s business is very satisfying.” There’s no point in trying to pussyfoot around it: we love the fact that SEO is a competition and play to WIN.

Obsessive focus

We only do three things and do them well: SEO, pay-per-click advertising, and analytics. Anything else subtracts from the energy and attention required to stay abreast of evolving best practices. Plus, we’re not interested in offering related services for their own sake unless we’re going to be leaders in those practice areas. You’ll never be sold a service that we are not the best at; instead we would tap into our extensive network of firms who are expert in what they do, happy to make an introduction. This obsessive focus ensures that we deliver maximum speed and ROI on every account.

Only white hat

Shoddy SEO and shortcuts are very common, especially in Asia. We regularly trawl through the websites of competing agencies’ clients to look at their work. More often than you might imagine and even on the websites of major household brands, we find spammy backlinks and questionable tactics. Such an approach always costs more in the long run once Google ignores, demotes, or penalizes your website for running afoul of their guidelines. Cogney founder, Doug Pierce, has a public and well-documented record of sussing out SEO cheats, so it goes without saying that we never sail close to the wind.

Total transparency

We have nothing to hide because we devise strategies based on best practice and rock-solid first principles. It’s our standard operating procedure to share our full action plan with clients, from beginning to end. We do that for two reasons: to manage expectations regarding timing and results and to alert the client of any interdependencies that by their contribution can lead to a more successful outcome. In the same vein, clients always retain direct access to their ad accounts, making it impossible for us to pocket ad spend rebates or skim something off the top like many agencies following a black box approach. You’ll know 100% where your ad spend is going 100% of the time.

We never overpromise

There’s no such thing as “perfect” or even “fast” SEO. (Indeed, that’s the reason why paid marketing, SEM, is such an important complement to SEO: you can have control over the timing and placement of your paid ads and, therefore, your presence on Google.) While we can certainly execute technical, on-page SEO fast (provided your own development team is standing at the ready), there are many factors beyond our direct control which will affect the timing of your website’s move up the rankings. For a normal business not operating in blue-ocean territory with virtually no competition, it takes six months at least to begin ranking well on Google. A word of warning regarding agencies which do make guarantees: those guarantees are usually promises to land your website on the first page of search results for a long-tail, i.e., less competitive, more esoteric, keyword or keywords, not the keywords most commonly associated with your product or service.

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Sheer Grey Matter.

Like a lot of people, Doug Pierce, Cogney’s founder, got into SEO because he wanted to make another business successful, in this case, a lead gen business for KualaLumpurProperty.com, CopenhagenProperty.com and TaipeiProperty.com. Doug wasn’t interested in real estate per se. These were just the domain names he could afford to buy as a side hustle when he was a college student studying Information Systems in San Diego more than ten years ago. It was the Dark Ages of SEO, so Doug read every blog post he could get his hands on and pieced together optimization strategies through a combination of intelligent guesswork and trial-and-error. Back then, nifty tools which could instantly scrape crucial data like where all of your website’s links came from, didn’t exist. You literally had to track down each link by yourself and write it down -- or forget. But Doug wasn’t daunted. Every day, he watched his sites’ traffic and tried out new ideas. Eventually, the hard graft paid off: KualaLumpurProperty.com began ranking #1 for “Kuala Lumpur property”, “Kuala Lumpur real estate” and “Kuala Lumpur apartments”, and Doug started receiving emails from people who wanted to buy real estate in Malaysia. Not only did this side gig help Doug earn money through college but he found himself hooked on SEO.

Between KualaLumpurProperty.com and graduation, Doug spent a year in Singapore and did his final term at the University of Macau. The experience opened his mind to the possibilities of Asia but the tech industry was still too undeveloped to justify moving there after college. Instead, he took a job doing SEO for a digital agency based in New York City after graduation. One day, a reporter from the New York Times called the office seeking expert help on SEO. (Doug’s colleague had previously written to the New York Times to alert them that they were linking to a spammy site.) The reporter wanted to determine if American department store, JC Penney, was using blackhat tactics (i.e., tactics prohibited under Google’s guidelines) to artificially boost its search rank for various keywords. Doug ended up being the New York Times’ primary source of SEO expertise for this investigative expose. The article, both unprecedented and explosive, ran on the front of the Sunday Business section in February 2011 and was the first in a series of New York Times pieces, published from 2011 to 2017, in which Doug was the key expert exposing, on one hand, the underhanded tactics used by companies to gain an unfair, “illegal” advantage in Google search results and, on the other hand, the inadequacies and flaws in Google’s algorithm. In many cases, Doug’s research led Google to revisit its algorithms and revise its ranking criteria in order to prevent perverse, unfair outcomes.

That same year, 2011, Doug and his colleague, Byrne Hobart, left their jobs to create an entirely new kind of digital services agency. Called Digital Due Diligence, it was a direct follow-on from Doug’s cyber-sleuthing activities for the New York Times. Besides continuing to assist the New York Times to out companies engaged in prohibited SEO practices, the agency’s clients were investment banks and private equity funds who needed to assess digital risk for the purposes of shorting or investing in a company. In a nutshell, DDD specialized in determining if a digital business was built on real traffic -- or just a house of cards. Not everyone was a fan of DDD of course. Some commentators considered Doug and Byrne to be hitmen for hire -- digital style. But plenty of big names, including Whaleshark Media (behind RetailMeNot, the world’s biggest couponing site), Loopt (co-founded by Sam Altman, who went on to become president of Y Combinator) and BestVendor (a software recommendation platform backed by Peter Thiel), plus several bulge bracket investment banks, started calling them immediately to look at their deals.

DDD’s business was booming but, within a year, Byrne got recruited away to head up SEO for Yahool and Doug didn’t want to go it alone, so he packed his bags and went to explore China’s SEO scene at the encouragement of a friend who was running a small digital agency in Shenzhen, where he met his wife-to-be, a Hongkonger, over a serendipitous Thanksgiving party. Doug soon moved to Hong Kong to join her and started Cogney.

In 2013, he launched Cogney in Hong Kong and started working with major companies like Shanghai Tang, Global Sources, Recruit.net, Airbnb, Lumosity, China Mobile and Huawei. All told, Doug reckons that he has landed more than 40 companies on the first page of Google for their industry’s golden keyword (the most likely search query for a given industry’s products, e.g., “Hong Kong jobs”) and more than a hundred companies on the first page of Google for popular, if not golden, keywords (e.g., “Hong Kong classifieds”).

Browse our case studies or just get in touch if you want to work with one of the world’s top SEO experts.

Our team

Doug Pierce

Founder

Samuel Pun

Sr. Strategist

James Atter

Strategist

Wit Lau

Contracts Director

Our Results

Lumosity

We rewrote the playbook on how the world’s best-known brain games company presented its content and games to Google and end-users.

HelloToby

Through a reclassification and restructuring of its taxonomy, Cogney made this online marketplace of personal services Hong Kong’s #1 go-to resource for booking tutors, manicures and the like.

Airbnb

Cogney overhauled the SEO strategy of Airbnb over two years by working closely with the company’s headquarters. "We saw huge lifts in traffic," said the Head of SEO.

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