It gives us great pleasure to feature our interview with Grant Simmons, a highly experienced online marketing specialist and director of SEO and Social media at The Search Agency, an integrated online marketing agency.
Grant also consults with a number of Internet startups, is active in the SEO community, serves as advisor to local and national organizations. He has over 22 years of experience in the corporate and non-profit communication sectors, and has specialized in strategic planning, technology and project management. He has worked with a range of small, medium and fortune 100 companies, assisted them immensely by taking responsibility for the brand strategy, design, coordination and execution of Intranet, Internet, websites, eCommerce, print collateral, multimedia, marketing events, sales meetings, video production and other result oriented projects.
Grant is also a popular speaker and author for several industry and national publications.
Now, read the interview below to know more about Grant and his thoughts.
In Conversation with Grant Simmons – Interviewed by Kavin Paulson, editor of The iMarketing Café.
Kavin Paulson: Hi Grant, thank you so much for taking time for the interview out of your busy schedule. Please tell us more about yourself and your current projects or plans.
Grant Simmons: Thanks for the great intro Kavin, always humbling to be featured.
I was speaking at SMX in London last year, and tried to explain to the European crowd who I am in one slide. Came out something like this: Essex lad. Spurs supporter. Settled in the US in 1994. Started online marketing in 1997. Still an Essex lad.
For those of your readers who are familiar with Essex, it’s an area just outside London, and we don’t have the best reputation. But we are good at wheeling and dealing, probably why marketing appealed to me.
Kavin Paulson: Tell us more about The Search Agency.
Grant Simmons: I’ve been at The Search Agency for over 5 yrs now. We’re the biggest agency that not many folks have heard of, almost 200 passionate folks who help our partners show up in search. Currently I head up a cross discipline team serving some top tier partners, I’m also part of the SEO thought leadership at The Search Agency, who help define our products and services, research industry trends and are generally trying to stay ahead of the online marketing curve to get the most bang for the buck for our partners.
Kavin Paulson: Over the period of 20+ years of your career, how do you think marketing has changed?
Grant Simmons: How has it not! 🙂 Almost 20 yrs ago we were faxing presentation revisions back and forth to clients, the internet has fundamentally changed communications, and by extension marketing immediacy, efficiency, and effectiveness. It wasn’t too long ago that broadcast media was a key channel to support brands and products. In the past 15 years – yes it’s really been that long – the change of one to many push messaging has changed to a many to many model where the message is less controlled, but certainly more effective and genuine.
I can keep going, but the Internet, search engines, personal broadcasting, collaborative economy and ability to reach large global audiences instantaneously means marketers have to think quicker, let go sooner, and inspire the right audience to engage with their brands.
Kavin Paulson: You took part in the SEO survey we did on Twitter a few months back, we asked your opinion on how will SEO change in 2014 and your reply was “Ensuring a match of query (intent + context) to share-worthy content answers” Can you elaborate on that?
Grant Simmons: Search engines are seeking the most relevant results for a user’s search query. They want to present an answer that satisfies their intent, and adds to the trust relationship the search engine has with its users (inspire them to return). Whether the result is a paid or organic listing, the key is to satisfy the user. With the advent of mobile devices, signed in users, location aware engines and massive amounts of data, search engines can adapt their results to the assumed context of the search i.e. where the user is, what they’ve searched for before etc. resulting in personalized experience that hopefully (and it really is a best guess) inspires a click through to the correct website. The web marketer is trying to ensure search engines can understand their content and deliver the better match to both the intent and context of a query – it’s not simple keyword matching anymore. As to the share-worthy aspect of it… engagement provides additional signals to search engines that the intent truly was satisfied. Signals such as shares, time on page, citations, links and mentions, may not directly correlate to ranking success, but these factors do inform the search engines – and users – or a value of a site around particular topics, and this in turn can help with traffic and search visibility.
Hopefully you got all that… short question, long answer 😀
Kavin Paulson: Superb! The SEO landscape has completely changed now. How do you handle ranking-obsessed SEO clients these days?
Grant Simmons: I think you can coach most partners with logical explanations of cause and effect. We can all make the intelligent assumption that an ad in position 1 should drive more traffic that an ad in position 3, but when you demonstrate to partners that click through rate is not dependent solely on the position – looking at how the result is presented, bolded text etc., they realize it’s not the only factor they should consider. We’re also able to demonstrate on certain queries Google’s penchant for serving video, images or other ad units. It’s much easier to point and say “look, they’re (Google) serving video results for that relevant query and #1 you’re not showing and #2 you don’t have any video to show” to convince the partners that maybe there’s a new content opportunity there.
Kavin Paulson: Lately, many SEO evangelists and experts suggest stopping link building and focusing on link earning. Do you really think link earning is feasible in case of boring niches?
Grant Simmons: The Search Agency stopped the link buying practice way before Penguin reared it’s head, but we were still link building through traditional outreach, there were just less stipulations on anchor text and link inclusion. We really didn’t care if there was a link generated with our outreach, main goal was some kind of citation or association or our partners and relevant topics.
I don’t think link building is dead by a long shot, but I’m definitely one of the “evangelists” who believes that link earning is the way to go.
As far as boring niches… One man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure! Translated… boring is relative. We had a B2B client that manufactured ball bearings. How interesting is that to you? We created some features – images and stories – with cool items that relied on ball bearings to function. A robotic exoskeleton was quite a hit with their target audience – engineers – and we certainly made ‘boring’ less so!
Kavin Paulson: Cool…what is that one piece of advice that you would like to give to upcoming marketers?
Grant Simmons: Read. Learn. Listen. Adapt. And be passionate. And listen.
Kavin Paulson: How do you think Google will change five years from now?
Grant Simmons: Buy Google stock now 😀
It’s obvious to almost everyone that Google is transcending their traditional search engine roots to become more relevant to people’s lives in more ways. Why? Because there will always be brands willing to pay for awareness, customers that want to sell, and people who want information at their moment of need.
I’m a big believer in the driverless car as the biggest opportunity for brands to connect. Where else do you have a captive audience, granular data on needs, location, future paths and plans? It’s a perfect opportunity to present ultra relevant ads, or consideration suggestions, to drive (pun intended) consumer behavior.
I see Google as powering – or partnering on – many of these daily interactions from your kitchen to your car to your office and home experiences. They will anticipate and service your life, the perfect butler and maid!
Kavin Paulson: Interesting points :). What would be your answer to the client who questions the ROI of social media marketing?
Grant Simmons: How do you measure the ROI of your customer service, your product development, your focus groups and your PR? 😀
Kavin Paulson: Good one 😀 . Can you tell us some of the common challenges faced by small businesses when it comes to online marketing?
Grant Simmons: It always comes down to time, finances and resources. Small businesses have the challenge of priorities, often without enough information to make the right decision, and unfortunately there is no perfect book that describes how to run a successful small business.
Today there’s less excuses to getting online, there’s better tracking to measure progress, and there’s inexpensive ways to fail or succeed fast (at least in small increments).
So generally the biggest challenge I see is a “toes in water” approach without the time and financial commitment to get a result (positive or negative), which leads to a general mistrust of the online channel and a return to what still works at a local level… direct mail, email and – dare I say it – the yellow pages – though only effective for the aging targets.
Kavin Paulson: You have worked with some fortune 100 companies, so I thought it would be appropriate to ask this question to you. As per the study conducted by CEO.com , 70% of Fortune 500 CEOs aren’t using Social Media. What’s your take on that? Do you think CEOs should be more active on Social media?
Grant Simmons: I think CEOs should run their companies and if so inclined, and passionate about Social Media, engage at will! There’s nothing worse than a disingenuous presence online, and to be frank, some CEOs aren’t cut out to talk to their customers in any forum.
I can just imagine after that study came out though, the internal marcom folks pulling together an action plan to get their CEOs on Twitter, coaching them, cajoling them, and finally realizing they might as well write the tweets for them. This isn’t a dis on CEOs any more than the small business who creates a Google+ Business page and then never updates it.
Communication should be left to folks that are genuine, engaged and good at it. maybe on 30% of Fortune 500 CEOs are. 😀
Kavin Paulson: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Grant Simmons: Professionally, who knows? The industry is in constant flux, and I hope I can stay relevant, engaged, interested and as passionate as I am today about making a difference in the industry.
Personally, that’s a bigger question. If I’m retired by then (and I would like one of the startups I’m involved in to hit it big), then you’ll find me on a sailboat somewhere, probably online and definitely soaking up the sun 🙂
Kavin Paulson: How would you describe yourself in one word?
Grant Simmons: Excitable.
Kavin Paulson: If you could change something about yourself what would it be and why?
Grant Simmons: I’m sure my coworkers would say I need more hair 😀 but personally I’d like to control my impatience better (it’s a function of mature ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder) and focus on… where was I? 😀
Kavin Paulson: 🙂 …on a lighter note, what would you do if you woke up one morning and found out that you had become Matt Cutts? 😀
Grant Simmons: First I’d hide from all my SEO friends 😀
But fairly, seriously… I appreciate Matt’s “almost” transparency, but I think if I was me in his body I’d open up the algorithm to the world and see whether it would be Armageddon or Nirvana. I’d then like to head up an open source ranking initiative that would become the definitive methodology for ranking entities (whatever they may be). Then I’d go sailing 🙂
Kavin Paulson: :D…thank you so much Grant. It was great talking to you and all the very best for your future endeavors.
Grant Simmons: Pleasure was mine. Cheers.
To know more about Grant, logon to www.grantisms.com or connect with him on Twitter, Linkedin and Google+.