Asad Zulfahri
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Asad Zulfahri

Hacking SEO: Simplest Changes, Maximum Impact

Everyone needs to do SEO but some may only have minimal resources to work with. Good news! You don’t need a big team to have good SEO. Take if from someone who’s done SEO for companies from the startup stage to Enterprise. I’ll share strategies that can help you improve how you run an SEO… Read More »Hacking SEO: Simplest Changes, Maximum Impact

Everyone needs to do SEO but some may only have minimal resources to work with. Good news! You don’t need a big team to have good SEO. Take if from someone who’s done SEO for companies from the startup stage to Enterprise. I’ll share strategies that can help you improve how you run an SEO & Marketing campaigns. In this presentation, I’ll cover the following 4 main areas of:

  • Team Management
  • Surround Sound SEO
  • Content Strategy
  • SEO Toolbox

Presenter notes from my deck at the HubSpot User Group KL Q3 2020. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out directly.

About Me

  • Born and raised in Malaysia
  • Studied computer science at Sunway University
  • I’ve done SEO for almost a decade now (started in high school) and have just recently grown into the broader Marketing role
  • I’ve been on the agency side, in-house and also for the past few years I’ve been doing freelance consulting
  • So I understand the different SEO strategies that’s needed to grow companies to the next level
  • For the past 3 years, I’ve traveled around the world working with companies in North America & Europe
  • Currently living in Belgium and working with PieSync & HubSpot


  • Today we’re going to be covering the following topics
  • Team Management
  • To highlight the importance of having a clear framework of communication, documentation, project management and reporting progress
  • Surround sound SEO
  • To explore the different content types that will help you be present everywhere in a buyer or user’s journey
  • Content Strategy
  • To understand what is a pillar content, how to expand them and why you should do a content audit
  • SEO Toolbox
  • To look at tools that will help you accelerate SEO campaigns and save you time

Team Management

  • After working with over a dozen of companies in the past 3–4 years, I noticed a common struggle
  • Everyone struggles with managing resources
  • It doesn’t matter if you’re a solopreneur, a small startup or at the enterprise level
  • Communication, Project management, and Reporting is always something that needs improving
  • So let me show you the basic framework I’ve found to be the most effective

Communication & Documentation

  • Let’s start with, communication & documentation
  • Now a lot of people, are already used to emails
  • Over the recent years, a number of asynchronous communication platform has arrived, such as Slack
  • I find Slack much better than email, because, it makes information searchable by everyone
  • Channels can be organized by departments, or projects
  • It makes it easier when onboarding a new hire, or bringing in someone new, to a project
  • They can get up to speed on projects quicker because past conversations are searchable
  • Day to day operations are much more visible with team members checking in their work progress
  • You can pin important documentation and meeting notes to a channel
  • Effective usage of Slack, bring efficiency to how a team, or company operates
  • Because it allows anyone, to access information about your work progress, without, waking you up in the middle of the night
  • This is especially important if you’re working with teams around the world, in different time zones

Project Management

  • Another common thing that often gets overlooked is a project management board especially for Marketing or SEO teams
  • And usually not many teams even have a content calendar
  • A content calendar basically gives you an overview what the content plan is for the next 12 months
  • It’s important to have this especially when we’re doing topic cluster planning (which we’ll get into later)
  • This is how a typical content calendar should look like
  • We have the ideas section
  • And everyone in the company should have access to this section
  • Especially your customer support team because they’re the ones in the frontlines with the customers
  • The deal with the day to day pain points of customers
  • So encourage them put in topics or questions that’s frequently being asked by customers
  • And then we have the To Write section
  • Have the SEO team review the ideas so they can research the relevant topics and potentially expand on them to create more pillar content and topic clusters
  • At the end, make sure you keep track of all the published content
  • Once it’s published, it doesn’t mean we can just let them go
  • Keep track of content performance after 1 week, 30 days, 90 days
  • Keep tweaking as necessary
  • We’ll go through the process on how to do a content audit shortly


  • Being accountable means having consistent and reliable reports
  • It doesn’t matter if you’re using Google Data Studio, Periscope, Looker, Chartio
  • The important thing is to create a dashboard or report that is automated & scalable
  • Avoid wasting time manually inputting data into spreadsheets
  • Invest time to set up on a scalable platform that can grow with you, from a startup to enterprise level
  • Keep track of High level KPIs such as
  • Sessions: not only it gives you insights on your growth, but also any potential spikes (negative or positive) — so you can monitor content performance and tweak as necessary
  • Bounce rate — let’s you know whether your content delivers on users expectation
  • Avoid clickbaiting because, it’s just not worth it as it can hurt your brand reputation
  • Session duration — this let’s you know how engaged users are with your website
  • Are they clicking through other resources on the website
  • If people are leaving under 30 seconds, something must be wrong with your content
  • Then split your session data to reflect the different sections of your website
  • This let’s you know where the bulk of your traffic comes
  • Keeping track of this on a day to day or weekly basis can help you get ahead of any accidental SEO errors
  • Have a table of top landing pages so you quickly see the top performing content
  • Having a worldview map let’s you know where your users are coming from
  • So you can tailor your content to match regional expectations

Surround SOUND SEO

  • Surround Sound SEO is the practice of being everywhere in the buyer’s journey that your potential customer reaches from search

What is Surround Sound SEO?

  • And the 3 types of content for Surround Sound SEO is
  • Owned — properties you control; website
  • Earned — 3rd party websites or properties you don’t have control over
  • Paid — Similar to earned but requires you to pay whether it being an affiliate program or a fee to be included in a marketplace review listing

Owned Content Types

  • Owned content types are all the different pages on your website
  • Before even thinking about working on other types of content, make sure you optimize assets, that you have direct control over
  • From my experience, people love product comparison content
  • Because it allows them to be quickly find out the pros and cons of different products or services
  • And most people nowadays will always do their own research or Googling before purchasing a product

Google Search: HubSpot Vs Mailchimp

  • For example, let’s say someone searches for hubspot vs mailchimp
  • We would rather have them land on our own website rather than some other 3rd party site or worse, the competitor website
  • It is much better that you take ownership and control of these types of search terms and create landing pages on your website
  • Here is a table taken from the HubSpot vs Mailchimp article, we have on our website
  • At HubSpot, our product comparison articles goes into each and every feature
  • And we’re very transparent about the pros and cons
  • We even let users know when a competitor may be a better fit
  • Maybe it’s because they’re looking for a cheaper alternative
  • Maybe it’s because they don’t really need the Pro feature HubSpot offers
  • But once they grow bigger, once they need to go Pro or Enterprise, they might just come back to HubSpot
  • It’s not only about acquiring customers, it’s about building your brand reputation and being a credible source of information

Earned Content Types

  • Earned content types are pages that live on properties that you don’t control
  • It can be an independent website that writes reviews and comparison articles about different services
  • For example…

Google Search: ShopEE Comparison

  • When someone searches for “shopee comparison”
  • Then we’ll find a list 3rd party websites that writes an article comparing Shopee with Lazada
  • In this example taken from, they talk about the different aspects of delivery from each services
  • In terms of SEO, this is a really good thing
  • Not only does this article is topically relevant, but they’re also linking back to your website, who doesn’t like a free backlink?
  • So if you can actually walk the walk, people will take notice and they will happily write about your service
  • And if you’re smart, you can reach out to the website and maybe build some sort of a content partnership
  • So when they’re thinking about publishing the next content, your website will be featured when relevant

Paid Content Types

  • Finally we get into the paid content types
  • The paid side of things are similar to earned but it may involve you actually spending some money to get mentioned
  • Whether it be an affiliate program, giving discounts or vouchers to customers who submits reviews, or paying to be listed on a review website
  • Even if we’re paying to be listed, it doesn’t something shady is happening
  • Reputable websites, publishers or influencers will always have their own ethical guideline when accepting a fee or payment
  • Paying doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get good reviews
  • You also risk getting a negative review and you can’t suppress it
  • But think of it as constructive feedback to help make a better product

Google Search: HubSpot CRM Review

  • For example, when someone search for hubspot crm reviews, you might see sites such as G2 or Capterra
  • Let’s look at the Capterra listing for HubSpot
  • A site like Capterra is valuable for software services
  • They not only provide valuable information such as pricing, features and reviews
  • They also help in sending leads to your website
  • They have a vast dataset of services and the users who use them
  • So based on the user profile, they can predict which services they need and Capterra will actually recommend your product
  • So if you have a presence of review sites like Capterra, make sure you make an effort to push existing customers submitting a review there
  • To minimize the potential of negative reviews, you should segment your customers
  • Only push customers that are active have a relatively high NPS score
  • The more positive reviews you get, the higher you’ll rank within the review sites, and the higher the chance of being featured at the top which means more leads to your website


  • When you implement Surround Sound strategies, the goal is to have products and services visible everywhere
  • This way no matter at what level the buyer’s journey are, your product is always there
  • And, psychologically, people like familiar things.
  • When you’re literally everywhere during their research process, they’re more likely to choose your product and services

Content Strategy

  • Content Strategy is one of the most important aspects of growing your business and website
  • Yet, I see a lot of teams doing it poorly
  • Let me show how you can get started with planning for content in an organized and scalable way

Pillar Content

  • Pillar content is a high level & informative piece of content that can then be broken down into many other sections or themes
  • Before we dive deeper on what a pillar content is, let me tell you why we need to have a content strategy based on Pillars
  • Conversational SEO
  • The way people search has changed, and in turn, that’s started to change the way SEOs and bloggers create content
  • The typical method of optimizing for one specific keyword doesn’t work anymore
  • Because search results are getting more personalized
  • For example, if you were trying to find a place to eat sushi, would you search for “restaurants,” or would you search for “Japanese restaurants near me”?
  • Natural Language Processing
  • Google has become more advanced up to a point where it’s intelligence or AI is similar to a small child
  • NLP technology allows Google to better understand users search query and intent
  • Google aims to provide the best experience to users, by giving them the most relevant answer to every search query
  • This is why we need to move away, from the typical keyword targeting, and start generating pillars and topic clusters
  • Keywords vs Topic Clusters
  • The way most blogs are currently structured, is to have, someone write an article focused on a very specific keyword
  • The result is disorganized, and makes it hard for the users to find the exact information
  • This can also cause your blog post competing with each other when you create multiple blog post for similar topics
  • Let’s look at how a topic cluster should look like

Topic Clusters

  • A pillar page (represented by middle circle) is the basis on which a topic cluster is built.
  • A pillar page covers all aspects of the topic on a single page, with room for more in-depth expansion in a more detailed cluster of blog posts, that links back to the pillar page.
  • Pillar pages are longer than the typical blog posts
  • This is because they cover all aspects of the topic you’re trying to rank for on a high level.
  • A pillar page answers the high level questions about a topic, that leaves room for more detailed explanation in a cluster content
  • The first step to creating a pillar page is to stop thinking about your site in terms of just keywords.
  • Start thinking about the broader topics you want to rank for first
  • Then, brainstorm blog topic ideas based on more specific keywords related to the broader topic.
  • Pillar pages should answer any question or query a searcher might have about a topic
  • Which will make them want to click on your pillar page when they enter a Google search term that your page ranks for.
  • Then, they’ll click into your pillar page to get the answers to their questions, which will link out to more specific pieces of cluster content linked on the pillar page.
  • But pillar pages and cluster content is not the only thing you should work on

Content Expansion

  • Content on your website are just the tip of the iceberg
  • Think about where does your audience live?
  • Is it Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Facebook Groups?
  • There is no downside to expanding your content to different platforms.
  • You just need to adjust the messaging
  • So when you’ve figured out Pillar Pages and Content Clusters
  • You can then start thinking about expanding your content to different social platforms or channels
  • Take each pillar and cluster content, create shorter or summarized versions of it
  • Convert them into various formats to fit the platform
  • And distribute them
  • Remember, social is free and its unlimited!
  • There’s really nothing to lose here!

Content Audit

  • Creating new content is great, but have you thought about the existing content
  • When was the first piece of blog post published?
  • When was the last time you updated a blog post that was more than 1 year old?
  • Content audit is important to keep your website fresh
  • And Google definitely prefers websites that have relevant and updated information
  • So how do you start reviewing your content assets?
  • Start with identifying content that aligns with your business brand so you have consistent messaging
  • Identify which ones that has the potential that can be converted into an evergreen content
  • Evergreen content means that it continues to be relevant long past its publication, so traffic grows over time
  • Look at content that has fairly good historical performance
  • If you see duplicates here, then merge the articles into a single article
  • If you decide not to merge but there is a somewhat similar or relevant article, set up a redirect
  • A common mistake here is redirecting everything that’s been deleted
  • Don’t do this
  • If there is no replacement, simply remove it and let the page die

PieSync Blog YoY Growth

  • Here’s a chart showing the growth of our PieSync blog property
  • We started to post more consistently in Q3 last year
  • From 3–8 posts per month
  • To 20 posts per month
  • It was going well, until in April this year, we started seeing sessions dropping
  • So we decided to take a step back do a full content audit on the blog
  • It took a few weeks of painstakingly sifting through different data points and reviewing around 1k articles
  • And for the past couple of months, we’ve started to:
  • Updated 90
  • Merge/Redirect 170
  • Delete 307
  • Thin content
  • Guest posts
  • And that’s when we saw the blog traffic started to pick up in September even after getting rid almost 500 posts
  • Now, with just over 500 balance articles left, the traffic performance recovery and growth has been phenomenal
  • We have another property that has over 60k pages
  • Yet, the blog still has 61% more traffic
  • This shows that content does indeed still work and to continue growing, you need to be
  • Consistent in publishing new content and persistent in refreshing old content

SEO Toolbox

  • Moving on to SEO Toolbox
  • These are the different types of tools your SEO & Marketing team should have access to
  • Yes, they can be expensive, but think of them as a long term investment
  • Initial setup and learning curve can be a challenge, butI promise you, it will pay off
  • And if you notice, Ahrefs is mentioned a few times
  • In my opinion, Ahrefs is an industry standard tool that should be used by everyone regardless if you’re a one man show, a startup, digital agency, ecommerce site or even enterprise business
  • We at HubSpot also use it, as with all of the previous companies I’ve consulted for
  • All of these tools exists for a reason
  • They have a large dataset which allows for in-depth research & analysis
  • They save you time by automating reports and giving you access to historical data
  • You should leverage all of them and if you’re tight on budget, you can always start Ahrefs


  • Why Ahrefs? Isn’t Ahrefs a paid tool?
  • Yes and no
  • Ahrefs recently launched a free plan called the Ahrefs Webmaster Tools
  • Just connect your Google Search console account and you’ll get access to the following features
  • Site Audit with 5k credits per month — scan pages and identify on page seo issues
  • Gives you recommendations and steps on how to fix those issues
  • See backlinks data to find out if other sites are linking to you
  • A chance for you to identify new partners to create a content partnership or co-marketing campaigns
  • Keywords data to see what keywords people are using to discover your website
  • If you see a keyword that’s not ranking well, then you need to do something to optimize that content using the topic cluster technique
  • Competing domains allows you to see the Top 10 competitors based on your common keywords
  • Also discover unique keywords that you’re not ranking for
  • Content Gap allows you to see how well you content is doing compared to the competitors
  • And gives you insights on what specific content+keyword that your competitors have, that you don’t
  • Ahrefs has been the primary tool for all of the SEO work I’ve done
  • When I consult for other companies, Ahrefs is a mandatory requirement
  • Either they get the tool for the team or I just won’t work with them
  • It’s a test to see whether they’re actually serious about long term growth
  • Also it can be an indication of how the company allocates budget and resources for the team

Google Search Central

  • Now if you’re just starting out and thinking that all these tools are expensive and want to find a way on how do everything yourself for free, then fine.
  • Learn from Google directly!
  • Google is the leading search engine and most other search engines follow their lead
  • It makes sense to learn how to do SEO from them directly right?
  • Just search for “Google SEO Guide” and you’ll be able to find the official Google Search Documentation for SEO
  • Which includes information on how to setup Google Search Console, Google Analytics and Google Data Studio

People Matter

  • When it’s all said and done, everything revolves around people
  • It starts internally with how you manage your team and resources
  • And then understanding where your users live and being present everywhere while being transparent with your strengths and weaknesses
  • Deliver on users expectation by making sure your content brings value and are always up to date
  • You need to Invest in tools that increases efficiency when doing research so your team have more time to focus on other things that are also important to the business


  • Here’s a quote by my favorite entrepreneur, Gary Vee
  • 9 out of 10 times, the right decision is the fastest decision
  • It means that, you don’t have to be perfect
  • Being perfect slows you down
  • When everyone else is stuck on planning, you’ve already spent all that time executing
  • And because you’ve been executing, you’re also actually learning
  • And you’re definitely learning from your mistakes quicker than everybody else
  • When you operate on speed, when a mistake happens, it’s fine because you can always fix the wrong decision quickly too
  • As what we HubSpotters say, make sure to always use good judgement

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