Many of those things that should "hurt" your rankings are still being used by sites that rank with success, so nothing is set in stone when it comes to SEO. One of our competitors has over 3,000 backlinks to their site from different domains, and at least 80% of those links are coming from SAPE sites. It's obvious because the vast majority of the sites are in Russian or a different language while their keyword is written on the sites in English. None of the sites have anything to do with the niche, and the anchor text for the vast majority of these links is one of their two main keywords. With this strategy, they rank for the vast majority of the keywords within the niche, and they've survived Panda and Penguin. Is Google showing favoritism to certain web sites? Why are some less developed web sites able to rank with so many backlinks that break the Google guidelines, while other sites with niche-relevant authority backlinks are no where to be found in the rankings. Google says that content is king and they are trying to bring in the best results for searchers, but that's a big load of cow dung, because in certain niches, some of the top sites are nowhere near as good as sites on the 3rd or 4th page of results. It seems to me that rankings are somewhat based on the chaos theory, in order to frustrate webmasters to the point where they give up on trying to rank, and move on over to Adwords for traffic. We haven't been able to rank in Google for a particular keyword in over 1 year. Whatever we do, nothing would get us past the 3rd or 4th page. So, we decided to develop a domain for that particular keyword to rank in Bing and Yahoo!. Two days after developing it and adding some backlinks, we rank in the top 3 rankings of Bing & Yahoo and we are still there. Sure, it doesn't get as much traffic as Google.. but 3 days to rank compared to 365 days of trying to rank in Google.