Last week, it occurred to me that GDI has been an agency for about three years now and the way we did things at the very beginning is pretty different from how we do things now. It made me look back at the changes in how Google determines and presents its SERPs, as well as the strategies we use to curry the Big G’s favor.
Since 2014, things like Hummingbird, the emergence of mobile, the resurgence of technical SEO and Position Zero have shaped the way we operate as a business. It got me wondering if other top SEOs were experiencing similar changes and I started asking some of my friends in the business.
I was pleasantly surprised to get some really good insights from some of the SEO minds I respect the most. The answers were so good that I thought they’d look great in a roundup post that I could share with everyone.
So without further delay:
There were a lot of changes that were more dramatic 6 years ago when Panda and Penguin came out. In the past 3 years though, there were still further updates to Panda and Penguin, but with good practices already done since 2016, there was less negative effects of these other rollouts in the past 3 years. But that does not mean nothing changes in the past 3 years. Here are some of the changes:
- Since Authorship photos were no longer displayed in the SERPs in 2014, the rel=author tags paired up with a Google+ verification was no longer used. But that does not mean Google is no longer looking into the authority of authors, I think author rank still exist, it’s just that the display of photos are no longer needed.
- Always pushing for responsive design and Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). Since several updates related to the mobile user experience has come out since 2015. From the mobile ranking update, AMP update, mobile first update to mobile interstitial ads update, mobile is a strong focus of Google these days and it totally makes sense since mobile traffic has already exceeded desktop traffic in many industries.
- Strong focus on rich snippets, answer box, knowledge graphs etc. When everyone is performing well on page 1, and you and your competitors are fluctuating in the top positions, sometimes it’s all about the appearance of the search result that gets the clicks and gains the traffic. It all depends on what is more inviting to click on.
- Lastly, this is a bit situational, since it is not applicable or it may have a negligible effect on small sites. This is about having a strong focus on internal linking between pages. Good site architecture can partially fix this. Often pages tend to become “siloed” where there are drilldowns of pages from general to specific in categorized taxonomies. When one branch of navigation tends to get good external backlinks and starts to rank well, internal linking can sometimes be inefficient in passing on these link popularity metrics to other deeper pages especially for sites with 100,000 to millions of pages. I’ve been working on improving the internal linking in an algorithmic manner where business metrics (traffic, conversions, revenue) and opportunity metrics (keyword search volume) are balanced in such a way where pages that tend to get the best pagerank flows better to the pages that need it the most, the ones that are revenue drivers. Sounds a bit complicated without the proper technology, but it is exactly the technology built and developed at my current employer (Myers Media Group).
I would probably imagine some SEOs might say what they changed in the past 3 years is to focus on outreach, building relationships, persona development, audience research, better quality content with stronger focus of keywords + intent + page content, etc., or maybe not. But for these, we already made adjustments many years before 2014. So this is not a new change for us in the past 3 years.
Benj Arriola is the SEO Director at Myers Media Group, LLC and the SEO Consultant at eREACH. He’s known as the godfather of Philippine SEO. He has been in the SEO space since 2004 and in web design and development since 1997. Benj has been a speaker at major conferences internationally. Benj has joined many SEO keyword ranking competitions in the past and has won several from 2006 to 2009 with the most prestigious among them being the 2007 SEO World Championship.
The core of our SEO strategies for the past several years remained pretty much the same, in which we’ve focused most of our efforts on:
- Making sure the site is technically superior in terms of accessibility, sitewide & page-level SEO best practices and later on loading speed.
- Developing high-utility content assets that can rank for keywords to consistently attract potential customers to the site, earn links and establish the site’s brand as an authority in its respective space over time.
- Acquiring links that can refer highly qualified traffic and also exemplify the brand’s expertise and credibility (which are the characteristics of links that will most likely have impact in SEO anyways).
But I think the one thing that changed or another key aspect we’ve integrated to our campaigns and general approach in the past 3 years is giving more weight on User Experience (especially with mobile experience, nowadays) and optimizing for better engagement (dwell time).
This is actually something that I’ve been doing lately for my own blog’s key pages (that I know I should have done last year):
- Making sure people finding the page (particularly via search – as well as mobile users) will stay longer on the site – through relevant internal linking schemes to entice them to browse deeper within the site, better CTAs, etc…
- Improving your key landing pages’ loading speed (individually). Many SEOs tend to just focus on fixing issues they find from the homepage – and it doesn’t really work that way. You don’t really have to optimize every page of your site. Start with your most important ones (your money pages).
- I’m definitely far from over – but here’s a list of elements of your content you should optimize.
Jason Acidre is the Co-Founder and CEO of Xight Interactive – a digital marketing agency based in the Philippines. He also happens to be the truth of Philippine SEO. Jason has been featured several times in the Moz blog and he regularly speaks in local and international marketing conferences.
Ruth Burr Reedy
One big change I’ve made in the last 3 years is thinking more about the entire customer journey. Asking, “when someone searches for this term, what is their ultimate goal?” and then trying to create landing pages and website experiences that help people complete their whole task, not just the step of their journey they’re on when they search that term. Along with that, I’ve moved away from old-school link building in favor of brand building: using PR and marketing techniques to help businesses really build a brand in their niche, to build authority that way. At the same time, I’ve also gotten more technical, and am spending more time on on-page SEO problems like crawlability, page speed, and user experience. Google Tag Manager has given us a huge opportunity to measure engagement and implement change
Ruth Burr Reedy is an SEO Manager with OPUBCO Digital Marketing Services, where she drives SEO and inbound marketing strategies. Formerly the Inbound Marketing Lead at Moz.com, she is well known and respected within the search engine marketing industry and contributes to Net Magazine, Search Engine Journal and The Moz Blog. Ruth has spoken at digital marketing events across the world including Pubcon Vegas and SMX Milan. Topic: Her talk “SEO musts for the non-SEO” will illuminate what you need to do to make sure your site is search engine friendly if you’re not an SEO – a must if your website relies on search traffic, or if you’d like to grow the search traffic to your site.
At iPullRank haven’t changed much because our audience-driven process has continued to account for many of the new elements that Google has introduced. For instance, we already did persona-driven keyword research so the idea of clustering keywords was one that we’d pioneered. Most of the changes are more on the technical side in that we are more focused on structured data, site speed and mobile-friendliness.
An artist and a technologist, all rolled into one, Michael King is the Founder and Managing Director of iPullRank, an agency specializing in performance marketing. Mike consults with companies all over the world, including brands ranging from SAP, American Express, HSBC, SanDisk, General Mills, and FTD, to a laundry list of promising startups and small businesses.
As I’ve moved from running an SEO team that was featured on the Moz list of recommended SEO companies, to becoming Director of Marketing at Tailwind, an Instagram and Pinterest scheduling tool, my perspective on SEO has shifted dramatically. SEO used to be my whole world, but now it’s perhaps one tenth of it. Organic search is still important. It’s an amazing traffic source if you can get it, but over the past three years it has become more and more essential for the SEO function not to be silod, but to be a part of the whole functioning marketing machine. It’s just as important that your well SEO’d blog content be socially shareable, for instance.
When you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. The danger of becoming an SEO expert (or an expert in any one thing) is that your tool box is actually just a single tool. Some jobs require drills and saws too. To really integrate SEO with other marketing functions it’s important that we work to make SEO as simple and accessible for others, and for ourselves, so that we can have the time and the headspace to work on other marketing skills, and as a team. Today, an SEO can’t rank alone.
David Christopher is a former Telegraph.co.uk Audience Development Executive. He has spoken at SMX West, Pubcon NOLA, founded the Confluence conference and helped start Oklahoma’s largest internet marketing agency, BigWing Interactive. He is currently the Director of Marketing at Tailwind.
This may come out as disappointing but frankly, I did not change a lot in my SEO strategy. This is because I’ve been doing ethical, white-hat SEO for me and my clients. We’ve never been penalized (granted we may have experienced difficulties getting to the very first place for our keywords) and SEO Hacker has been in the first page of Google for the keyword “SEO Philippines” for the past 6 years. We’ve never been out of the first page unlike a good number of our competitors who have been in and out of the first page of Google because of penalties and algorithm changes.
I’m a very fundamental kind of guy – both in life and in SEO. I just discipline myself to do what works and what is in the boundary of ethical practice. So if you try to reverse engineer our efforts with our SEO, you’ll find that most of our links come from interviews and guest posts and most of our landing pages are well-designed with excellent copy that deserve to rank. We are very peculiar with UX, site speed and security – and rightly so because Google is obsessed with those things. We do all of the little (but critical and necessary) things right EVERYDAY and that’s what builds our rankings and ensures that we stay in the first page no matter what algorithm change happens.
It’s a lot of hard work but we’re playing the long game.
I guess most of the changes that took effect in my strategy in the past 3 years would be mostly technical. All of which I drafted a post or two for:
How Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Affects SEO – Why it’s Important and How to Implement it
Why Schema Might be the Next BIG Ranking Factor
Ultimate Guide to Site Speed Optimization
CTR Optimization due to Rankbrain
How HTTPS Affects SEO [Case Study]
I hope that these articles shed light to how our strategy has improved over the course of three years. It has had a profound impact on us and our clients. We did not change anything with our fundamental SEO strategies. We merely added to it as Google required.
Sean Si is the CEO and Founder of SEO Hacker, an SEO company in the Philippines and Qeryz. A start-up, data analysis and urgency junkie who spends his time inspiring young entrepreneurs through talks and seminars. Check out his personal blog where he writes about starting up two companies and life in general.
Biggest change we’ve done is reverse the overall site development and site management approach. 3-5 years ago, we go into a project (from building it from scratch to managing it) with Desktop in mind first, and then just optimize it for mobile later. Today we do everything with mobile in mind first.
From mocking up mobile versions of the site first (and then working out how it looks/performs on desktop later), to generating content condensed for mobile format (readable / “digestable” in under 3-7 mins), to using mobile traffic data as benchmarks (instead of combined #s of all devices), all the way down to converting leads using “portable” media (podcasts, printables, virtual coupons, etc) as the value proposition.
As a case study, look at Bill Simmons’ TheRinger.com. TheRinger is one of the best samples of niche websites out there where the user experience on mobile version is way better than the desktop version.
Now compare TheRinger to the long-form copy/layout of Grantland.com (Simmons’ original web-project before getting sacked by ESPN) and his ESPN Page 2 (his original blog). There’s definitely something to be said about Grantland being better content-wise, BUT TheRinger is raking in more money despite being less popular.
Jec Gonzales is a freelance SEO / Content Manager currently handling websites for multiple clients. He also manages a local team of content writers in charge of diverse content marketing campaigns.
In a way, this is a difficult question to answer as whilst a similar general SEO strategy is laid out for clients during the on-boarding process there are always changes and tweaks that need to be made along the way depending on the client in question, their SEO knowledge, previous strategies, and the market/vertical they operate in.
Considering you’ve asked about the past 3 years I think I’ll pick 3 of the changes which I feel have had an interesting impact on how consultants work with clients, none of which are particularly granular or cutting edge, but have changed the way that traditional SEO strategy components are now being thought about and executed.
- Keyword research and search queries: Back around 2011 (if memory serves me correctly) Google started removing keyword data from its Analytics platform leaving a huge amount of data showing up as “Not provided”. This was incredibly frustrating at the time but then around 2015 the keyword data inside the newly named Google Search Console started to fill massive gaps in our knowledge of what users were searching for. This data didn’t always match up with our expectations or insights that were based on traditional keyword research and required a certain amount of re-learning and thinking. Now that we have Google providing huge amounts of search volume data through their own Adwords keyword tool (providing you spend enough), or through 3rd party tools such as Moz, SEM Rush and the like we can leverage this information to drive more valuable, converting traffic to our client’s sites. A colleague of mine named Ryan Huser dubbed this a period of “query renaissance” which I think is extremely apt, and has had a huge impact on how strategies are now laid out.
- Client Content: The term “Content is King” has been repeated at SEO conferences for as long as I can remember, but whereas 4 or 5 years ago you could get away with just firing out ‘light’ content on a daily basis and rank well, we now spend a great deal of time sitting down with clients and mapping out incredibly comprehensive content and audience engagement plans using the insights gleaned from user search intent. For example, instead of having online poker websites just publishing quick “how to play poker” blog posts and such we now help them in working with say, phycologists to publish incredibly in-depth and audience engaging evergreen content such as the “psychology of playing poker” that other sites reference years later. In the past clients would likely just have a content director and couple of content writers on their books, now content is produced with much larger teams including researchers, fact checkers, offline PR, and respected industry experts over multiple meetings and brainstorming sessions.
- Link Development and clean up: In the past, we saw clients becoming almost obsessed with Page Rank and later Domain Authority without really considering the relevancy or overall natural look of their links. One thing that is done now but wasn’t even talked about 4 or 5 years ago is to clean up client link landscapes, and for new link campaigns we educate clients on how to get the amazing content we are helping them produce in front of topically relevant websites, as opposed to just looking at ones that have the highest metrics. Whilst metrics are still useful in determining certain factors we have seen a move away from Domain Authority as the recent de-facto metric due to the ability to inflate this at the cost of the websites “spammyness”. In my opinion this leaves Majestic’s Citation Flow and Trust Flow as the better metrics to look at.
So really the biggest changes in SEO strategy is how we understand user intent and implementing that into educating and working very closely with clients to super charge methodologies that continually add value to their websites by producing content that will be found, shared, and linked to for the foreseeable future. Of course, all the other factors that go into technical SEO, Social Media, Paid Media and the like are never overlooked.
Dean Chew is the Director of Operations (Asia) for Ayima Search Marketing. He is regarded as one of the world’s top search marketing minds, having been featured at Moz and in numerous international conferences.
The biggest changes in our SEO Strategy that we did for the past three years revolved around giving users the best experience possible. Below are the top three:
- We spent more time in research to figure out our target personas, so we’ll know who we are talking to. This way, it’s easier to communicate with them through our clients’ website and other channels, anticipate their intent, and optimize the site’s pages according to the intent. Everything else will follow from that research – from what kind of topic or content we’ll be writing about, to what elements should be on the pages.
- We also spent more time in designing the information architecture of our clients’ sites. We created processes to ensure that the sites we develop would have:
- Pages that provide clarity and meaning (things are much more obvious for users)
- Has an excellent navigation and organization of information
- has relevant call-to-actions and interlinking
- Lastly, we also focused on ensuring that all the sites that we manage are mobile responsive, mobile friendly, and follows Google’s quality guidelines (e.g. no intrusive interstitials for mobile pages). We’re also testing the implementation of AMP in a portion of sites that we manage.
Nathaniel “Nacho” Alzaga is the a digital marketing executive at Surefire Social. He is among the Philippines’ top search marketing minds thanks to his wealth of experience and unique perspectives in the industry. Nacho has been featured in several digital marketing conferences including MORCon 2016.
Bernard San Juan
Service delivery-wise one of them is the integration of tag manager in organic projects as a cost justifying tool.
When they see phone calls, sign-ups or sales that originate from Organic traffic, all objections melt away.
It is no longer enough to sell just rankings.
Methodology-wise, it’s the inclusion of rich content formats on all On-Page content we create for clients.
Bernard has more than 12 years of experience in the online industry, working with Web portals, e-commerce, and online publications. He has overseen the development of over a thousand marketing campaigns and over 400 websites. He is a featured speaker and trainer at events nationwide and has had the privilege to speak at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business and De La Salle University.
Well on the link building side, I have to say that we already stopped doing all the shitty things. Yes, some business owners are paying us to do work but we also ask ourselves if we are doing “enough” to help our clients.
Back then, the link building strategy that we are doing is whatever our clients want. They want comment marketing – GO. They want submissions – GO. They want to convert their blog posts into PDFs and JPEG – GO. Now, we are no longer that agency.
Today, we focus on what matters the most. The website is where the business actually happens. We help our clients improve their content quality and link-ability at the same time. There is nothing new on what we do actually, link baiting existed way-way back and it has always been effective.
The realization is, you can always build links when you want it. But does the business really need it? Or do they just need to achieve link-ability and reach out to possible linkers to get high-quality links? In the long run, quality beats quantity.
Always remember, we are doing link building to increase keyword rankings and website traffic. I’d rather ask our client to invest on something that would surely give them wins and help them.
Jayson Bagio is the co-founder of Go Biggr Digital Marketing. He is one of the Philippines’ most prolific search marketing practitioners with an emphasis on link building. Jayson regularly shares his insights in SEO conferences around the Philippines.
Well, I’d like to start by saying, over the past 3 years, there hasn’t been one single strategy I employ for all sites. Each of them are treated in some cases similarly but in most, significantly differently. I don’t have a single process for myself. I’ll keep this on the surface as I generally have different processes per client and work mostly with enterprise level e-commerce brands with different approaches and strategies. Here’s a list of a few things I think are beneficial to understand:
- Key Phrases
Marc is an SEO and Digital Marketing professional with over 8 years of experience in strategizing, campaign management, and overall SEO execution for SMBs and enterprise-level e-commerce sites. He is currently the Director of SEO, Operations at Growth Rocket.
Venchito Tampon Jr.
There’s a lot of improvements we’ve made in our internal processes, but I’d love to share a few of them that matter a lot to us (the last two in the list are a few tweaks I just recently tested):
Leveraging existing relationships for relevant non-competing clients
Though it’s easy to prospect and qualify link sources for your clients, it’d be wise to maximize existing relationships you’ve built with bloggers and webmasters in the past to build links to your current clients’ websites.
Not only would you save time in prospecting for new link opportunities, but the conversion to link rate is much higher. And time saved could be spent on other link acquisition efforts – outreach and content creation.
Google Sheets for Organization
We use Google Sheets for three things:
- Campaign Tracker – serves as a general lookout of the status of each link building campaign (ongoing research, waiting for responses, etc..)
- Research Team Campaign – allows us to see the exact keywords and search operators (Google search terms) each link prospector used to find every link opportunities. This consumes some time, but helps us avoid repetition in keywords we already used to find potential link sources. Also, it gives us insights on new keyword niche ideas for additional link opportunities.
- Client campaign – each client has its Google sheet and tabs to organize link prospects, track relationship status for potential links, etc…
Avoiding email spam and promotion filters creativity. Capturing webmasters’ attention as soon as you launch your initial pitch is essential in securing a placement down the line.
One way to capture potential prospects’ interests is by using video for content promotion.
There are many ways you can use it
- Use Twitter video feature (message & reply) to promote your content and/or build relationships with existing content promoters of your brand.
- Use Loom to scale Gmail creation of micro explainer videos to tell which links are broken on a resource page (for broken link building).
- Use the same Gmail app to pitch preferred guest post ideas to bloggers (for guest blogging).
LastMod for BLB
Knowing which resource pages are regularly being updated (or have recently been updated) can help you set levels of priority for each link prospect. The more recent the last update was, the more likely the webmaster would be open to linking back to your site.
When you send out an outreach message, using a line like “I’ve noticed that you just updated your page last [lastmodedate]” helps grab the recipient’s attention. It gives them the impression that you’re a regular visitor who’s interested in their content.
Venchito Tampon is the CEO and Co-Founder of SharpRocket, link building company in Asia that provides professional link building services to SMEs and Fortune 500 companies.