10 reasons why filipino companies fail SEO by Glen Dimaandal

While the Philippines has made a lot of progress in its adoption of digital communications technologies, it’s hard to deny that it remains far behind its ASEAN neighbors in terms of the size and maturity of its ecommerce sector.

With the exception of the best Philippine SEO agencies, local SEO practices are, at times, a generation behind what companies abroad are doing.

A lot of this is due to the relatively low buying power of most Filipinos. While most Filipinos can watch YouTube videos or browse Facebook just fine, most are unable to make regular online purchases either due to limited funds or the lack of access to payment options.

This low buying power effectively disincentivizes high-level competition in digital marketing and reduces the local demand for SEO services. Additionally, because of the country’s low ecommerce adoption rates, relatively few homegrown businesses are taking local SEO or even basic internet marketing concepts seriously.

Of course, failing to invest in local SEO is a serious mistake. At the end of the day, however, there are still tens of millions of Filipinos who regularly purchase items online. What’s more, the Philippine ecommerce sector, while small and hampered by low purchasing power, continues to grow year over year.

With so few Filipino companies investing in SEO, it should follow that those that do are going to the top of the Google search engine results pages (SERPs). However, this is far from the case.

This begs the question: why do Filipino companies continue to struggle when it comes to search optimization?

Here are some of the most common ways Filipino businesses squander opportunities in local SEO:

1.) They Let Their IT Department Handle SEO

While the average age of Filipino entrepreneurs has dropped, a large proportion of Filipino business owners are not digital natives, with many already in their 30s or 40s when the internet first came to the Philippines in the 1990s.

While some have succeeded in leveraging the potential of the web early on, many more have failed to even make the necessary distinctions between the dozens of different computer and internet-related disciplines.

Given this, it’s no surprise that many older business owners (and even some younger ones who should know better) of them would assign SEO-related responsibilities to the only computer-literate people they know — their IT teams.

While search engine optimization is technically a sub-discipline of IT, most IT people lack the marketing background, specific SEO know-how, or the nuanced experience to manage a competitive SEO campaign. And even though most IT professionals may be able to do basic on-page SEO, it may be too much to expect them to do much more, especially given the immense workloads that are typical for Filipino IT workers.

2.) Red Tape

Red tape is still a common feature of Philippine workplaces. While this is somewhat expected in the government sector, many private organizations also suffer from it.

Whether caused by organizational infighting, insecurity, or overly inflexible branding guidelines, red tape can slow down the momentum of an SEO campaign.

Red tape is especially harmful to SEO campaigns that are time-sensitive or dependent on market seasonality. Content marketing and on-page SEO are also acutely affected by red tape, as activities that should only take a few hours or days can very often take weeks or months to complete, if at all.

3.) No SEO Point Person

Strictly speaking, most local companies do not need an entire team of SEO specialists. Most can be more than adequately served by reputable SEO agencies, provided that the business’s assigned point of contact (POC) is fairly knowledgeable in SEO matters.

This is not always easy to arrange. Because many Filipino business owners do not understand SEO, their assigned POCs are not always qualified to determine whether or not the agency is doing a good job. Even worse, they may not assign a POC at all.

Tragically, there is no shortage of unethical SEO agencies out there who are willing to exploit one’s ignorance of SEO.

If the business is lucky, these agencies will just give it the bare minimum effort, diverting their resources to more attentive clients. It’s not unheard of for even sketchier agencies to outright scam their clients by doing literally nothing while they collect fees for running nonexistent campaigns.

This not only gives ethical SEO professionals a bad name but it ultimately dissuades some local businesses from investing in SEO, hampering their visibility on search engines.

4.) Using the Wrong CMS

Using the right content management system (CMS) can make all the difference in making a website easier to find on search engines.

Unfortunately, many local companies use outdated CMS platforms that do not easily accommodate the needed optimizations for search engine visibility.

In these cases, the best solution would be to migrate to a new, SEO-ready platform. However, some Filipino business founders have an irrational attachment to their less-ideal systems, making it difficult to feasibly improve their online presence.

While you can still work with these outdated platforms, your SEO campaigns are probably going to be much more time and labor-intensive than they have to be. This, in turn, can disincentivize the business from pursuing further SEO, which puts them even further back in the SERPs.

5.) Weird UX Design Schemes

While there are some good reasons to have an unconventional site design, these can ultimately be an issue if your goals involve better search engine visibility and higher conversion rates.

In most cases, some web design compromises could be made that will allow clients to retain the unconventional character of their site while offering better search optimization.

However, in many other instances, strange UX choices can make it very difficult for pages other than the homepage to rank on the SERPs.

Sites that use dynamic URLs are especially problematic, as these could quickly lead to duplicate content, which tends to decrease SERP rankings. Likewise, “creative” site designs with excessive animations, pointless widgets, a bad mobile experience, obnoxious pop-up ads, a cluttered home page, or an unpleasant navigation experience can also contribute to poor site performance, UX, and search visibility signals.

6.) Targeting Unrealistic Keywords

Search Research Subject Terms Vocabulary

As the old saying goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. While more and more Filipino business owners are beginning to understand the value of SEO, some of them have an unrealistic idea of how it works. When paired with a rudimentary understanding of marketing theory, absurd demands are bound to be made.

For example, we once had a client that sold water dispensers. They demanded that we target the search term “water”.

This was clearly an unrealistic expectation. Even if they could rank first on the Google SERPs for “water”, the vast majority of queries would not be related to water dispensers and, therefore, would not lead to conversions or customer acquisitions. In any case, this would have been moot as their site would have also crashed from the sheer traffic volume.

Of course, the client was not stupid. In fact, he was extremely knowledgeable about water dispensers. It was just that SEO and basic marketing concepts were well outside of his wheelhouse.

If you’re doing local SEO, chances are you will meet a lot of individuals just like them. Given this, you should probably accept that a big part of the job is to communicate realistic expectations to your clients.

7.) Oblivious to Competition Levels

Many Filipino business owners fail to anticipate how competition can affect their SEO campaigns. Today, more local businesses are cognizant of the value of SEO services, which means a growing number of local search terms are starting to get hotly contested.

A little competition is not the end of the world but it does mean that you’d have to work harder and invest more time and money to get to the top of the SERPs.

However, if you don’t even realize that rival businesses are competing for your keywords, you might get the wrong impression about the effectiveness of your SEO campaign. This failure to account for local competition has caused many local businesses to abandon SEO efforts prematurely.

8.) Impatience for Results

Many local business owners have also squandered golden opportunities in SEO by being impatient. As SEO professionals, we know that ranking high up on the SERPs can take months or years, depending on how hotly contested a search term is.

Unfortunately, a lot of local marketing managers and business owners do not want to wait that long, terminating SEO campaigns before they’ve had the time to bear fruit.

Perhaps this is partly the fault of some SEO professionals who promise their clients unrealistic ROI estimates. However, it may also come down to the inability of some businesses to think in terms of long-term growth.

Again, SEO professionals should make sure that they are not a part of this problem. When possible, they should set realistic expectations for their clients that account for the industry’s quirks, seasonality, and other relevant factors. SEO professionals should also refrain from giving hard deadlines, as these can give business owners the wrong idea about SEO.

9.) Unsophisticated Understanding of ROI

The concept of customer journeys and repeat business is still new or completely alien to many Filipino businesses. What this means is that they are often focused on raw sales and conversions and not on customer acquisition and customer lifetime value.

Viewed through this lens, it’s easy to see why many Filipino business owners fail to grasp the value of SEO. Depending on the industry, SEO may not be especially good at directly generating sales.

However, SEO is phenomenal for customer acquisition, which in turn, is a prerequisite to gaining repeat business. While new customers gained from an SEO campaign may not buy anything during the first month or so of a campaign, chances are they may initiate multiple purchases down the line.

A manager or business owner who’s overly focused on raw week-over-week conversion rates, however, will not be able to see the benefits of SEO right away. For this reason, Filipino SEO professionals should make an effort to respectfully educate clients or bosses about the specific advantages of SEO before initiating a campaign.

10.) They Hire Bad Agencies

Unfortunately, while there are numerous opportunities in local SEO, many local agencies and marketing departments fail to grasp the nuances involved in executing long-term SEO campaigns, particularly within the context of specific markets and industries.

Other agencies or solo professionals also take on more work than they could feasibly do, leading to serious shortfalls in available manpower. This can be disastrous for labor-intensive SEO activities like link building.

What’s even worse is the fact that unethical agencies and experts continue to be hired by local businesses. Any gains made by hiring these agencies tend to be temporary, ultimately giving local business owners and marketing managers a wrong impression of SEO’s potential.


If you have to take one thing from all of these common blunders, it’s that SEO professionals have to learn how to manage expectations, especially when we deal with Filipino managers and business owners who are not digital natives.

Next, we should not assume that our clients and bosses have the same level of understanding as we do when it comes to SEO matters. Things that are obvious to us may not necessarily be obvious to them. After all, that is why they are willing to pay for our expertise.

Lastly, despite our country’s veneer of modernity, the traditional power dynamic between Filipino bosses and the people who answer to them is very much alive and well in the 21st century.

While some businesses are run more rationally than others, the mentalities that come with that system are almost inescapable when you do local SEO. Being able to navigate through this framework effectively will probably be foundational to your long-term success when doing SEO for local businesses.