Searchfest 2009 Interview: Marshall Simmonds

Todd Mintz

Marshall will be speaking about “SEO” at Searchfest 2009 which will be held March 10th in Portland, Oregon. Get your tickets now.

1) Please give me your background and tell us what you do for a living.

I’m the Chief Search Strategist of the New York Times. Which means I oversee strategic marketing initiatives and execution for About.com, Boston.com (The Boston Globe), The International Herald Tribune, The Regional Newspaper Group, ConsumerSearch.com, UCompareHealthcare, Baseline Studios and a few others. I’m also the co-founder and CEO of Define Search Strategies, an enterprise search consulting business, funded by The New York Times Company.

2) How did you educate the writers at the N.Y. Times on the value of tweaking their content output for SEO purposes?

It took a lot of playing the small clubs, working on our chops, appreciating the growing crowd, tipping the bar tender, practice and repetition of scales, earning a reputation, releasing demo tapes and EPs. After our Sophomore album release the buzz reached a point that allowed us to graduate to the bigger venues where people came to listen, paid attention to the lyrics and even sang along. Keep in mind all the while we had the blessing and from the execs at the record label who were quick to say we were great and everyone should buy our album. Alas it didn’t (and doesn’t) work that way in the mass market and ultimately comes down to hard work, supporting your effort by churning out good material, taking the music in new directions to keep things fresh and hopefully earning new loyal followers. Four years into our time together it’s safe to say my band; Matthew James Brown, Adam “6 Rings” Sherk and Jay “Faceman” Leary are now rock stars at the New York Times Company.

In other words, very carefully. You don’t walk into a 150 year old company and issue mandates and tell people a lot smarter than you how they should be writing content. Lots of audits, trainings, education, repetition, measurement and communication of results.

3) Are the current enterprise-level analytics packages adequate for thorough and complete SEO analysis?

That depends. Sure I can eventually get the data I want out of them – we focus heavily on Month-Month/Rolling Three-Month/Year Over Year ‘Referrers from Search’ reports (ranking isn’t a priority). But are you happy with Omniture’s customer service and mid-stream changes to data collection? How about Web Trends e-commerce-come-full-service-analytics-suite which forces you (or rely on them) to generate custom reports just to get at the basic search engine referrer data? Google Analytics doesn’t scale to a site the size of the NYT (although in their defense they don’t typically call themselves ‘enterprise’). Ultimately the enterprise analytics market is ripe and ready for a new player to come in, shake things up and take a lot of business away from the two 500 lb. gorillas we’re all forced to endure. At the end of the month you do what you can with what you’ve got. It’s all going into excel anyway.

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