What Changed in Your SEO Strategy in the Past 3 Years? 13 Experts Speak

What Changed in Your SEO Strategy in the Past 3 Years? 13 Experts Speak

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:

Benj Arriola

Benj ArriolaThere 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.

Jason Acidre

Jason AcidreThe 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:

  1. Making sure the site is technically superior in terms of accessibility, sitewide & page-level SEO best practices and later on loading speed.
  2. 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.
  3. 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):

Jason Screenshot

  • 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).

Jason Screenshot 2

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

Ruth Burr ReedyOne 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.

Mike King

Mike KingAt 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.

David Christopher

David ChristopherAs 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.

Sean Si

Sean SiThis 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.

Jec Gonzales

Jec GonzalesBiggest 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.

Dean Chew

Dean ChewIn 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Nacho Alzaga

Nacho AlzagaThe 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:
    1. Pages that provide clarity and meaning (things are much more obvious for users)
    2. Has an excellent navigation and organization of information
    3. has relevant call-to-actions and interlinking
  3. 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

Bernard San JuanThe answer is A LOT!!

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.

 Jayson Bagio

Jayson BagioWell 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.

Jayson Bagio screenshot

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.

Marc Samson

Marc SamsonWell, 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:
Site Audit
No strategy will work without a proper audit. I ensure I manually audit each website and try to rely less on tools to give me information. This make take longer but it also helps me understand the site structure, pages and page types, problematic areas and allows for a deeper understanding of what the issues are, theories on what can be causing them and possible solutions.
I always like to start with a checklist I have for myself. I then review point by point and drill in deeper by issue and by page level / page type. Separate them into sections of On-Page, Off-Page, Technical and Content. Identify opportunities by doing a Gap analysis. Check best practices versus what is implemented in the current state. What are your action items? List them down. Check competitors, what are they doing right? What are they doing wrong? Where does your site fit in? ALWAYS ask yourself questions.
Content Optimization
I don’t remember exactly when I switched beliefs on this. Anyways, I believe knowing your target keywords can be extremely beneficial. What used to work years ago isn’t the case any more. I believe this started in the early hummingbird updates. SEOs used to focus a lot of time and energy on optimizing based on keywords and keyword density.
The main things I focus on are:
  • Key Phrases
  • Intent
  • Semantics
  • Relevance
  • Quality
This allows me to keep the quality signals growing and keyword variations flexible in search, that is aside from creating quality that users need and care about. This is especially important and true for getting those featured snippets (amongst other factors of course). Another thing to really strengthen, is to ensure the structure of your site is supportive of your content and optimised for it.
Mobile Optimization
Lately, this has been a hot topic. This has also been a major change to my process. Back in the day, this is something I didn’t care much for but with mobile browsing surpassing desktop and of course the mobile first index, it only makes sense to keep optimizing for mobile. This is also something that can have direct impact to conversions, so why wouldn’t we.
A part of this is AMP, there have been a lot of chatter about its use. For me, I have been seeing some good results with being fully AMP compliant. However, it isn’t for everybody. Right now, it’s beneficial for new sites and publishers. But we can see that there are improvements that are being done continuously, i.e we are now seeing AMP for e-commerce.  It is extremely restrictive though, meaning you can only use their supported tags and not all elements will be allowed (i.e Javascript). But there are still workarounds to that. All in all, I’m still monitoring use cases and performance for AMP.
Optimizing for Google AND Bing
This is another thing that most SEOs fail to do. Optimizing for at the very least the top 2 search engines that have the most search market share. I have seen some sites generate low hundreds of organic traffic from Bing and once it was optimized, we started to see thousands.
It’s important to optimize not just for Google. Make sure you look into Bing as well. Use Bing webmaster tools as well and monitor technical aspects of your optimisations for Bing.
Invest Time in Technical Enhancements
I say invest time because these enhancements can have significant impact if done incorrectly. I believe having a strong foundation is the difference between sub-standard ranking and dominating / saturating results. Having your site technically optimised is a great foundation to ensure your on-page and off-page are complementing the site. This is more than just page speed, it can be anywhere from monitoring search queries and their mapping, indexing, crawling etc.
An example of this is, you have a site that is well optimised for on-page elements, 5 star implementation and just perfect on SEO page types. However, you have an index bloat issue that is tolerating the crawling and indexing all of your URLs (including non-important filters, parameters etc). As a result, your crawl budget isn’t enough to crawl the important pages.
With your important SEO “money” pages not being crawled, what do you think would happen?
Structured Data
I’ve recently dived into understanding advanced implementations of structured data. I believe this is a major area that Google can use to their advantage in providing quality results. Although only a few markup implementations have actual SERP real estate changes, I can imagine situations in which structured data could be used further, based on the extensive library that already currently exists.
Low Hanging Fruit & Small Opportunities with Big Impact
Sometimes, we focus too much on things that are really obvious and are under our nose. This isn’t bad at all. But there are some areas where small issues occur, and these would typically be easier to execute on. This is extremely beneficial if you are working with clients that have longer approvals and backed up dev cycles. Open your eyes to things that you can execute on immediately as well. Take a step back and look at the bigger picture of issues.
Ranking vs Revenue / Conversions
Don’t just report on rankings. Ensure that those rankings have direct revenue impact. You can rank for a thousand keywords but only rake in $1. What’s the point? I’ve seen and heard of this far too many times. I would also say to ensure you track everything, not just rankings. As they say, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Always have goals other than just plain rankings.
As you can probably tell, these are just little action items picked from an overall SEO strategy but can be very beneficial.
Right now, I’m enjoying learning about how voice can potentially have an impact on SEO aside from search queries being more conversational. I recently got a ‘Google Home’ and I’m curious to know what impact these voice searches would have in the future on overall rankings. It’s also interesting to see how Google really takes advantage of structured data and featured snippets to serve voice results.

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.

Venchito TamponThere’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…

Video Outreach

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).

Venchito screenshot1

Venchito screenshot2

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 screenshot3

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.


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