As chief search strategist for the New York Times Company, Marshall Simmonds has been predicting the end of search since he started doing it in 1997. He tells his wife this to maintain a humble attitude about the success he has experienced in this fast- paced market. Technology finds creative ways to reduce our effort; however it is surprising how the need for SEO training and consulting has not been replaced. The search engines are still not very good about figuring out what content on websites is about. Until the engines are able to extract and classify data effectively, educating journalists, writers, editors and producers to write content for, SEO is going to be vital, said Marshall.
Marshall wasn’t always a search expert but very early on he questioned how people were going to find all of the websites being created. That questioning led Marshall into research, where he stumbled into Danny Sullivan. From there, Marshall became voracious for information and reached out to Danny. At the time Marshall was working for MMG (Multi-Media Marketing Group) in Bend, Oregon for John Audette. MMG was able to get in touch with Danny and enticed him to make a trip to Bend, Oregon to train the team. After Danny’s visit, Marshall took the reins of the SEO department at MMG.
While leading the SEO team at MMG, Marshall developed I-Search, a list of professionals that covered topics such as, search technologies, search, directories and marketing. He worked on several big accounts, including Intel’s launch of the Pentium II chip, all the while honing his skills. MMG was one of the first companies to incorporate every aspect of search: link development, submission, copy writing, advertising applications, etc… No other major marketing company was doing that during the time. So in 1999 when MMG sold, there where several search specialists in Bend, Oregon that spun off including, Marshall, Derrick Wheeler, Detlev Johnson and Jeremy Sanchez.
In November of 1999, Marshall spoke at the first SES conference in San Francisco and in December he joined About.com. Marshall says, “Whenever you put yourself on a higher pedestal, people consider you an expert, even though I wasn’t one at that point, but I was working towards it and eventually I did become one.” Marshall enjoyed working at About.com because of the intelligence of the company and the people that he was working with. They knew search was integral to a content network and they had enough foresight to hire an in-house SEO to optimize their content. Marshall spent most of his time educating people about title tags, meta tags, writing optimized content and doing design behind the scenes to ensure that certain elements were in place.
About.com built their pages right out of the ground optimized instead of having a marketing company come in and optimize over the top, giving them their advantage, according to Marshall. Marshall has stuck with About.com through acquisitions and is currently working for the New York Times Company, who owns About. Marshall loves his job and is very happy to still be living in Bend, Oregon – the birth place of search engine optimization according to him. MMG, Global Strategies and MarketLeap all got their start in Bend, Oregon. Marshall believes it’s safe to say that Bend is the mecca of search just by sheer numbers, the history and the lineage.
Today, Marshall keeps himself busy with nytimes.com, consulting with all of the major publishers in New York City (The Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune, to name a few), his speaking schedule and his growing family. According to Marshall, good publishers only have to do a few little things right because the content is well written and trusted. Publishers just need to be educated about how the search engines look at content.
Marshall’s advice for new SEOs: go to Search Engine Land and start reading, then WebmasterWorld, then SEOmoz and monitor them all on a regular basis. Once you have the basics down, Marshall recommends reading about link development and PageRank. He also recommends reading the search engine blogs and staying apprised of the webmaster guidelines of each of the engines. Knowing how the search engines look at content is paramount. He laughs as he says, “lots of reading.” Marshall certainly has made a name for himself through search and is a great example of what hard work and a thirst for knowledge can accomplish.