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NYT search strategist suggests SEO implementation plan

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Marshall D. Simmonds is chief search strategist for New York Times Co. as well as CEO and co-founder of Define Search Strategies, an enterprise search consulting business owned by Times Co. Previously, Simmonds was the director of search for About.com and Primedia Inc., the parent of About.com before it was acquired by New York Times Co. in 2005. Define Search Strategies was formed at the same time. The division consults with noncompeting media companies, including Time Inc. Interactive.

MB: Why do you think b-to-b media companies should focus on search engine optimization (SEO)?

Simmonds: A lot of research has shown that search engine optimization has a much higher return on investment than paid search. There are no mark-up costs associated with SEO. It's just a matter of writing and classifying good content, which ultimately will pay off better in the long run.

If you are relying on your Web site to create traffic and revenue and you're not including SEO into that process, you're going to fail. There are so many ways you can create content now—social media, blogs, video. But if you don't have it optimized, no one will find it.

MB: How do you help busy print-legacy staffs implement SEO?

Simmonds: The real challenge is getting search integrated into the day-to-day work flow. What we've done at About.com and The New York Times is to centralize the process. Then we set up the evangelist role at every property so that [the person or group that heads search strategy] can convey information quickly and have it integrated at the property level.

Depending on how a company wants to implement SEO, we take a person, a team, a department or a whole property through a rigorous SEO training process over six to 12 months. That's when best practices and protocols are established.

SEO is not rocket science, but it's not that intuitive, either. It's a matter of educating, and training and repeating the education and training over and over again. I would say we do it no less than 10 times a year with the editorial staff at The New York Times.

MB: Isn't it somewhat difficult to get editors to take this on?

Simmonds: In publishing, you have to approach editors with a very specific voice. You have to emphasize to them that this is all about creating good content.

We don't write for search engines. We write for our users first and foremost. We don't want people to be scientists about their writing, and we would never ask writers to change their content because of the search engines.

Making that content searchable happens later, when it's loaded into the CMS. Then you have to write a title or headline in the way people are searching for that content. From an editorial standpoint, we typically just concentrate on the headline and the title, and leave the rest alone.

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