10 Years in SEO – Interview with Lily Ray

Lily Ray, SEO Director at Path Interactive has been busy sharing her insights on Google algorithm updates and helping clients recover from these updates. Lily has spoken at some of the biggest search conferences events including BrightonSEO and SMX New York as well as publishing posts about the Google core algorithm updates.


I saw your talk at BrightonSEO in April “Leveraging EAT for SEO Success”. It was an impressive presentation with the results. How long did it take your company to carry out the research?

Thank you! My team and I have been investigating the effects of each of Google’s major core algorithm updates this year, particularly because several of our clients saw extreme fluctuations in traffic as a result of them. The August 1st, 2018 update (AKA “Medic”) in particular sent me down a “rabbit hole” of trying to figure out what was going on; we have a few clients in the medical space and it was interesting to see the outcomes of which sites saw gains and losses as a result of that update. I would say I spent nearly every day between the Medic update and the Brighton presentation dedicating at least some time to researching performance across a variety of sites, not to mention fully immersing myself in Google’s Search Quality Guidelines, which had just been updated a month prior to the algorithm update.


BrightonSEO Lily speaking
Lily Ray speaking at BrightonSEO


Do you work with Marie Hayes? How did you get involved with working on the topic EAT?

Marie and I actually don’t formally work together, but we have become good friends. We first met at an in-person Google Webmaster Hangout in New York City in early 2019. Given the nature of the work that she does at her agency, her podcasts, articles and newsletters have been invaluable to my team and me as we help clients recover from the impacts of algorithm updates. 


Did you become focused on E-A-T due to the loss of traffic of your client?

I became focused on E-A-T after the Medic update, when one of our top-performing clients actually saw huge declines as a result of that update. While I’ve been working in SEO for about 10 years, I hadn’t been particularly focused on core updates for many years, because the clients at my previous agency had largely been unaffected by algorithm updates for many years. In my previous role, I was predominantly focused on ecommerce, retail, B2B and CPG companies, as well as Amazon SEO.  Generally speaking, those clients were not seeing a lot of movement from the updates the way that some of the clients at my current agency  (many more YMYL companies) have been affected.

While the Penguin update hit very close to home for me (I had been dabbling in black hat SEO and basically lost everything for the site I was working on), the Medic update was the first time in many years that the particular set of clients I was working on had seen such a huge impact from an algorithm update.


SMX NYC - Lily on stage
Lily Ray at SMX New York


What are your 3 favorite SEO tools you cannot live without and why?

It’s hard to to pick only 3, I probably use close to about 10 every day! Lately I’ve been using Sistrix a lot, which I love for investigating the (projected) performance of websites for which we don’t have access to their analytics. While I love Botify and Screaming Frog, Sitebulb currently has a special place in my heart for its hints feature as well as its crawl visualization. And I can’t live without Ahrefs, which is invaluable for analyzing links. (SEMRush is also necessary, I just ran out of room!)


When you first start working with a client what process/steps do you follow?

We find it is most effective to schedule in-depth on-boarding sessions with our clients. We come prepared with a handful of questions, but really the conversation needs to be fluid in order to be effective. We need to learn about their past history with SEO (if any), their goals, any concerns they’ve had, history with their website(s), and what a successful SEO campaign will look like. Based on these initial discussions and our discovery process, we develop 100% customized roadmaps for all clients that are prioritized based on initiatives we think will drive the most impact as quickly as possible. Personally, I love to immediately dig into the technical side and ideally uncover quick wins that can set us down the right path with new clients.


Lily Ray speaking
Lily Ray sharing her insightful tips


Do you think rankings are important in SEO? Do you ever guarantee ranking changes?

We never guarantee ranking changes. There’s too much variability and unpredictability to guarantee specific rankings in SEO, and clients have to understand that up front. However, yes – I still believe rankings are important; how could they not be? Especially with the rise of zero-click search and an ever-evolving SERP, the strategies of maintaining and improving organic rankings are as important as they’ve ever been. That said, rank tracking itself has become more sophisticated over time. If you are simply tracking a small selection of keywords (especially without tracking from a specific, relevant location and/or from a mobile device), you’re not going to see the big picture of how your website performs.


What do you think will be the biggest change in SEO over the next 10 years?

I think SEO will become more of an amorphous and multi-faceted strategy than what it has traditionally been: simply optimizing for the “10 blue links.” We are already seeing this shift take place today – SEOs must consider how to optimize images, video, structured data, the Knowledge Panel, Google My Business, AMP, PWAs, podcasts and other formats beyond traditional text-based content. The amount of knowledge and the variety of skills required to do a good job in SEO have expanded, particularly on the technical front. This evolution also makes it necessary for SEOs to think outside of the box with how they plan to approach their strategies for their clients – outdated techniques or simply understanding the basics of SEO will not be sufficient in an increasingly competitive organic landscape.  

Thank you Lily Ray for your time to be interviewed on the Authoritas blog and to be part of our 10 Years in SEO series. Look forward to seeing you at the next Online Marketing event, hopefully before BrightonSEO.



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