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THE UNSCRIPTED SEO INTERVIEW WITH:

Grant Simmons, Freelance SEO Consultant & Strategist

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Grant Simmons - Freelance SEO Consultant

Grant is a freelance SEO, consultant, and strategist at Simmonet Marketing.


Grant has over 35 years marketing experience with an emphasis on digital channels and a focus on collaborative SEO consulting, leadership, agency organization, and performance-based success for local, national, and international companies and organizations.


Grant is a popular speaker at search marketing conferences around the world including: Chiang Mai SEO, Pubcon, Advanced Search Summit, Brighton SEO, SMX, SES, SIS, LRTCon, and Digital Summit, as well as being a judge for the US, UK, and European Search Awards.


Grant provides a fantastic overview of what it takes to drive organic growth and achieve specific business goals base on his vast experience working in-house and agency-side on well-known and lesser-known brand sites, and now working in the freelance consulting world. With agencies, startups, and established ecommerce, B2B, and B2C sites.


You will find Grant giving back to the SEO industry through mentoring, contributions to industry forums, webinars, events, interviews, and through the authoring of articles for top industry sites.

The Unscripted SEO Interview Podcast with Grant Simmons

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Listen to the podcast

(56 minutes long)

The unscripted questions Mark A Preston asked Grant Simmons

  • What is Grant Simmons, the SEO?

  • Your bio describes you as a seasoned SEO consultant, what exactly do you do?

  • What are the key differences between working full-time for a large corporate brand to going fully freelance as an SEO?

  • You are a London lad who now lives in the States. What's the story there?

  • I notice on your Twitter feed that you like your morning walks along the beach. Does that help to set you up for the day?

  • You used to work as VP of SEO at Homes.com. What did you have to be mindful of with working on such a large website?

  • What was the monthly traffic difference on the Homes.com site when you started at the company to when you left?

  • What did you and your team do to gain such a leap in organic traffic?

  • What does it actually mean, improving the quality of the content?

  • What's your thoughts on case studies mentioning required word count on a page in relation to a specific number?

  • What type of clients do you work with now as a freelance SEO consultant?

  • What steps did you take to move from a full-time job to going fully freelance?

  • Learning from your own experiences, what advice can you give someone who is thinking of packing in their full-time job to go it alone as a freelance SEO?

  • Do you ever do work for free as a freelancer? If so, how do you demonstrate your value?

  • What percentage of your time as a freelance SEO consultant is split between doing the work for clients and generating the  work, besides all the business admin stuff?

  • How do you think the actual SEO industry has changed since you started in it to now?

  • You said that you are subscribed to about 20 paid SEO tools, but what should the minimum required toolbox look like for a freelance SEO?

  • Do you use any specific tools to help you with website structure and structured data?

  • What should SEOs new to the industry be thinking about or learning as a starting point?

  • If you could personally change just one thing in the SEO industry, what would it be?

  • Where do you stand on the SEO checklist debate?

  • Is there anything at all that the good people of the SEO industry can help you with, Grant?

The unscripted conversation between Mark A Preston and Grant Simmons

Mark A Preston: Welcome to the unscripted SEO interview. I'm your host Mark A Preston, and today I have Grant Simmons with me, who is the former VP of SEO at Homes.com, and he describes himself as a seasoned SEO consultant. Hi Grant.

Grant Simmons: Hello. Seasoned, I like that.

Mark A Preston: Yeah. So for those people who don't know who you are, could you give a bit of an overview of your background, who you are and what you do now?

Grant Simmons: Sure, that sounds great. So I started SEO quite a long time ago. I was working for myself for a little bit, wondering what this internet was about. This had to be in the late 90s and then essentially I got a job at an agency in Los Angeles. We had a client, GE, that wanted to do some internal intranet, so I was the only one that had any kind of programming background. My program background is from the 80s, so essentially the website fell to me to build and then I leveraged that into the city of Santa Monica, who wanted to show up for things like hotels in Santa Monica, restaurants in Santa Monica. So I learned everything I could about that.

 

There were obviously some of the old guys of search that were around at that time, David Harry, and obviously Bill Slawski, and some other guys that sucked up to Dan Baker and really grew from that into my own agency for seven and a half years. About 50% of his web work, then got a job at a large agency in Los Angeles. Ended up essentially running the SEO and social kind of product to come up with the best thing partner sales process sending to big clients like Red Bull and Sam's Club and Toshiba, and then went to work for Homes.com where I led the SEO and marketing and brand teams for a while.  And since January I've been out on my own doing some consulting, doing some agency consulting, and really just, generally enjoying life, with wife and kids.

Mark A Preston: Wonderful. I'm going to say obviously with your background and working in the sort of corporate space, it must be a big difference ditching all that going into, you know, back into your own freelance world.

Grant Simmons: It certainly is different. I think the good news is I can appreciate both. I think the agency world is pretty amazing because you get to work with some fantastic people, especially the larger agencies. You get to work with fantastic brands, which are quite hard to land as a freelancer, and you get amazing experience about large sites, difficult sites, slow moving development teams and everything else helps in the freelance side. So it definitely is a broad background. And that's why seasoned is a little bit of salt, a little bit of pepper and probably some HP sauce.

 

Mark A Preston: Wonderful. Well, obviously you do live in the States and obviously your accent isn't exactly, let's say, local to the States. So what's the story there?

Grant Simmons: I'm not sure about obviously I live in the States, but I do. So I left England probably in the 80s, travelled around the world a little bit, ended up living in Hawaii and then Australia and New Zealand, and then came back to the States for a brief time and then decided I wanted to maybe go live in the States as one does. It's the best country in the world. Sorry, England. And I ended up staying here from 92. And once I was here, I was here, became a naturalized American about, I think it's ten years ago. So that's how I ended up here. I don't know how I stayed here, but thanks to the grace of the US government and immigration folks, I'm here.

Mark A Preston: Wonderful. I was going to say, and I noticed on your Twitter profile, always like your morning walks on the beach. Does that set you up for the day?

Grant Simmons: I think it's really important to have a place you can go where you don't necessarily think about work, but you can think about work and without getting to think. I know you said we're not editing this. First place, I think, is the shower. All right? So my wife wonders why I have half hour showers and it's because I'm trying to think through things. And that shower happens after a walk. So the walk sets me up. Very lucky to live across the road on the beach in Virginia Beach. Lovely here. And the walk sets me up for clearing my mind, and then a shower sets me up for thinking about what the ideas of the day might be. So whether it's client problems or business solutions or anything else, I kind of spend the time on the wall, clear in the mind, and the time is actually thinking ideas.

Mark A Preston: Wonderful. Well, you say you worked a lot on Homes.com website, which obviously is a massive website. How different is it working on just one website all the time? What do you have to think about?

Grant Simmons: Yeah, so the good news is you have to have a good team around you. It's really hard to have a massive site like that and just have one person. So I was very lucky to have some solid SEO folks and technical SEO folks around me as well. And I think the biggest challenge you have is understanding that small issues can be very difficult to solve because you've got to do forensic, kind of look at a site and see what might happen. And then it's really difficult to understand the outcomes that might, obviously experience and expertise gives you an idea what the outcomes might be. But you make one change that affects 110 million pages and you've got to be really willing to dig in quickly and understand what the problem or what the outcomes might be. It's actually a funny story of how I got hired at Homes.com.

 

They had got hit by a penalty, weren't sure 100%, had really smart people inside that were doing some good things, but perhaps were a little bit scared to come in with a machete and cut through stuff. So during the interview process, I was on the call with Search Metrics, the agency who they'd hired to fix, and the internal teams and the development teams. And really, to me, it was very obvious they were hit by Panda. This was, this was back in 2014, and it looked like they'd been hit by Panda. And so I basically put forward a strategy and tactics that were getting rid of about 300 million internal links, getting rid of about 2, 3 million pages from the site, and really just focusing on better quality content because they're Craig's pages for every single location. It's a real estate site, every single location, regardless of whether they had homes in them.

 

So it was some things that were quite obvious. Now, the lucky thing was I was speaking at SMX in 2014 in London, and I sat down, and this is right after I got hired, and we are putting all this stuff in place, John Mueller. And I go, 'hey, John, you don't know me very well. I don't know you very well'. He was just less of a figurehead of Google at that time. 'Can you tell me, I think this site has been hit by Panda, and these are the things I'm doing. And can you help at all?' He opens up his laptop and he talks. He goes, what's the address? Homes.com. He goes, yeah, you have a Panda penalty. All right. Now, the great thing is, less than two months later, they had a refresh. Those days, the algorithm was very linear, the refresh updates, and we got, like, 60% of our traffic back overnight. So, yes, big changes on big sites can make big differences. It's much more subtle now with the rolling updates, but you just got to be aware of the butterfly effect. One thing you do over here, my thing here, and you've got to really build a great relationship with the dev teams to get stuff done. Sorry, I spoke a lot with that answer, but it's a big site. It's a big answer.

Mark A Preston: No, that's fine. I was going to say that it's all these things because it's about understanding. It's not just saying, well, we'll do this. But like you said, a site of that size, what would the traffic on it, roughly?

Grant Simmons: So we got it up to almost 20 million a month. But I mean, when I got there, we were in the hundreds of thousands and maybe a million, I can't remember, to be honest. But we got it back up to almost 20 million a month. Now, there's lots of things happened after that, but that was our pinnacle. But I think what you've got to think about is most technical folks and most SEOs will look at small problems. And on large sites, small problems can't always give big movement. Now, as an SEO, when you look at large sites, the first thing you recognize is there's going to be different templates that are scaled, because it's very rare that there's 110 completely unique templates on a site. So you got to focus on templating and how you can affect a template in a way that's going to scale completely. For us, we created better navigation, better internal linking, more unique content. I mean, all the things that on a small site, you have to look at, but you have to just think of it as how is that going to work at scale, how's it going to work in an imperfect database? Because no site ever has perfect clean data, unfortunately. So you got to think about the outliers too.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, you've mentioned a couple of times about the content obviously improving the quality of the content. What does that actually mean, improving the quality of the content?

Grant Simmons: I think this has changed since I started SEO. So there's a lot of difference between the 2000 and 2022. But the first thing you have to look at, and I think Panda was really the big push for this, is what is low quality content. All right, so when you say about improving content, the first thing you look at the site holistically, and you say what doesn't deserve to be there? So generally thin content, content that's there just for search engines. So whether it's a zip code page or whether it's a product that's never in stock or was in stock once, you got to think about how you handle content that shouldn't be there. So consolidation, aggregation, just getting rid of, letting Google know their content is gone, those are the things I look at. Then I look at, does the page and this is 2020 and the 20s kind of view, does the page answer a query completely?

 

So while at the search agency, which is the agency in Los Angeles, I came up with intent to content. It was quite kind of radical at the time. You know, this is 2014. I mean, it's eight years ago. And I also came up with the idea of Holistic search, which is really looking at all the different facets that touch, search and content is one of them. And at that time, there was also the authority standpoint of it from Google Plus and Authors and things like that. But it really came down to if content is king, authority content is king here. That was in my presentation, and it really looked at answering the query completely, answering it in an authoritative way, so an expert way, and really not worrying about word count as being any kind of facet of SEO. It was worried about answering the question completely. I remember, Matt Cutt said it, I said it, and lots of other people said it is, how long do you need to be on a page to understand if query or intent has been answered completely? And it really came down to, it depends on the subject, the topic and getting engagement of someone through a site was really an understanding of you answered the query enough and enough on one page to get someone to move to a second page. So good content answers the question. Great content answers the question completely.

Mark A Preston: Great. Well, I'm going to say there's been some I've forgotten the number of times I've read a case today that's mentioned content in the context of 2000 plus words. I mean, it's just, I don't know about you, but I think this sort of stuff shouldn't be published because people look at it. I remember a case study a few years ago that mentioned 2000 words on a page, literally, I think it was. Three months later, an e-commerce brand from Australia come to me, said, Mark, I've had an SEO work on with that. Can you check it out? Every single product page had 2000 words of content and other things that I could recognize what case study they've read. But I mean, the whole content thing, it confuses so many people. But like you say, just write what's needed there on the page.

Grant Simmons: Yes, look, there's a couple of things I have to feed into, exactly that, because we both look at word count and we go, it's a silly metric. All right? However, there are often guidelines one needs to give to someone that doesn't know SEO. We often run into this, and I'm sure you have as well, which is someone says, well, how many words should I write about? And I say answer completely. And they come back and they go, Well, I've done 100 words, and it answers. I say, no, that's not completely. Go and look at who's ranking in the top ten. And there's tools like Surface SEO and Page Optimizer Pro, and there's other tools that scrape the top ten, top 20, top 50, whatever, and then they come up with an average. And although it's not useful in saying that is a number you should go for, it is a guideline to say that is a number you should go for. There's always this I hate to say it depends, but there's always this idea of we're dealing with people that don't know SEO. So if you want to give someone a guideline, you're going to get that guideline from something. Now, I can say answer the question completely, satisfy the query completely, but someone's going to come back and say, how many words is that?

 

Or they're charged by word. And so we have that problem of how do we explain to people that are actually doing the work or who don't know how long an article might be? So, yeah, there is no number, but there is a number. And that number is just a guideline, not a definitive line in the sand that says, hey, you've got to do this. So I hate to keep going, but this is the challenge. The challenge that SEOs have is to explain to Non SEOs why things are important, and why sometimes we're working on imperfect data. So co-occurrence of words in a page, we can analyse that and we can leverage that to give us insights and give us some direction. But when it's a direction, unless we're actually writing the page, we're using it as a tool to give to someone to go and write the ideal piece of content. And we're going to look at what's in that content based on someone like Surfer SEO or Page Optimized, the pro that gives us a distinct word count, topic count, entity count, NLP, whatever it might be, they're going to give us a brief that we can give to someone to write. So I think that's a long answer. Maybe it's over 2000 words I just said, but it answered the question completely satisfying and with a certain amount of cadence of relevance.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, that's probably one of the best explanations I've heard.

Grant Simmons: I'm going right.

Mark A Preston: No, it's just sometimes you're either on one side or the other. And think about logically both sides. And it is a guide that mainly if these pages are ranking for that phrase that you want to go for, then maybe the average satisfies that intent.

Grant Simmons: Yeah, and I know that you said that with lots of guide routes in place as well and that's average is a guide. And look, there's other tools Inlinks from Dixon Jones, brilliant. What these tools are basically saying is this is what's ranking and so if reverse engineer in a caveman type club over a stick type stuff, you know, this structure, these headings, these entities, these sub entities, these topics and other things, this is what appears on pages that rank really well. Now take that and do better. And do better in the sense of whether it's media or the context or internal links to it, internal links away from it, mentions, citations, whatever it might be, you're trying to make it more complete. Still comes back to what is the most satisfying content for a particular query. With an understanding that Google is also imperfectly interpreting a query, how do you best disambiguate the page to make it unique and completely about a topic or completely about the main root of a topic you can then link off to other subtopic pages. So yeah, it's an imperfect answer to you. But hopefully it's the kind thing that we do have tools that help us build these guides now and that's probably as good or better than most SEO is looking to serve.

Mark A Preston: Right. So moving off the subject of content, I think we've covered that. So obviously you are now a freelance SEO consultant. Yes?

Grant Simmons: I am.

Mark A Preston: What type of clients do you work with? Is it still in the large brand space or is it unknown brands? Who do you actually work with now?

Grant Simmons: So I'm lucky enough that I've had a moonlighting job for the last four plus years as the director of SEO for an agency out of San Francisco. So I maintain that relationship, and that gives me four to eight clients. Most of those are in the startup space. A lot of those are business to consumer, and so that is a staple. And I've also leveraged some of those folks that are left from those companies and gone to other companies have reached out to me to say, hey, can you help us? And funny enough, some of the clients I have now, pretty big brands, most of them are series A, series B type funded companies. And they've come to me during interview processes because obviously I like being freelance. I've also been looking around at opportunities, and a couple of those people have said, we can't hire you, but hey, do you want to do some work from a consultant standpoint as opposed to full time? And that's worked out pretty well.

 

Also, once I was on the market, a few people reached out to me and said, can you help? Can you give some advice? And that's been pretty good. And then a few agencies of friends wanted to get some understanding or some insights into what maybe they could be doing better. And because I have both the brand and the agency side, it gives a unique perspective of how you should deal with clients as an agency and from an agency standpoint. I know what brands are looking for, so client retention and things like that, it's really important from a level setting of expectations standpoint, to have that insight. So that's been pretty good. But as of today, I'm working on a food site, which is a food delivery site, big one. I'm working on a circus site.

 

Mark A Preston: WOW!

 

Grant Simmons: Which is one of the largest circus equipment manufacturers. I'm working on some solar projects for solar companies. I'm just looking through my list here. I'm working for some furniture companies, so pretty diverse E-com informational as well as traditional BDC type stuff.

Mark A Preston: So you said you already worked on a consulting freelance basis for an agency while you were in your full time job. So for anyone that's thinking of just packing in their full time job to go freelance, because lots of people have just told them, when you go freelance, will give you lots of work, that scenario. So that transition, obviously, when you're in the full time job, you can't actively market yourself online. So what advice do you give to anyone that's asked, well, what's the steps between the big full time job and going freelance? What needs to be done in order for that to happen?

Grant Simmons: Well, that is such an amazing, amazingly deep question. I'm probably going to answer him perfectly, but I can give you the ideas and scenarios. So first off, whether you're working full time or not, you should always be open to helping people. I know that sounds like giving away the milk for free, but my thing is, I did a lot of conferences representing the company. I was quite visible in things like this, being interviewed and stuff. And I built somewhat of a reputation. There's different levels here. You got lot of people up here, a lot of people like me down here and you got a billion people down here. And it's not a hierarchy or structure of knowledge. That's just visibility, which is really interesting, a whole other conversation. So always try and be visible, always try and write, give back to the community in the knowledge you learn.

 

So whether that was talking about big sites, getting over pander, penalties and things like that, I was doing that at homes.com, that was  very nice to let me do that.  But like I said, I had this moonlighting that was after hours, weekends. I had limits to that and so I did have that cushion. So not everyone's going to have that cushion. Not everyone is going to give you the job and the work that they said they would once you go freelance. But I think the key thing there is LinkedIn is pretty good resource. I never did the out work route or anything else like that ever. But LinkedIn is pretty good resource for making connections. I make connections and I give free advice. When that free advice works out, then people want to pay you for more advice because you've set yourself up from a limit standpoint. So the steps and the most important steps that most people don't realize is we are SEOs. We're not financial analysts or anything else. So the first is to set up something that does your invoicing and proposals and contracts because I have many times done work above and beyond an agreement and had nothing to go back to and say, I've gone above and beyond this agreement.

 

So getting something in place that does time tracking. So, you know, not necessarily for a client. There might be that has proposals that you can easily get out, because that takes a long time to do a proposal. If you have a template or a system that can help you with it, that's great. Contracts, invoice, payments no one originally goes into SEO freelance and says, I've got all this sorted out. I say no one. Obviously it depends, but not many people do. And that's the first thing that ends up not happening. You end up getting enough work and you end up not billing for it or not being able to track the time. I use a great tool called Bonsai. It's made for freelancers and it does everything that I want. I've used them for probably four or five years. And so you got to find something like that, a platform that makes sense, that can do it. Then you've got to have brilliant follow up. And the knowledge you get as a client or as an agency is that you have to follow up. Because if you're a brand side, you're used to good agencies following up consistently. If they want your business, they will be nurturing you.

 

So you've got to learn that as a freelancer to nurture it's not a waste of time. And then you got to learn that follow-up with value is more important than just a follow-up for a touch base. So I do that a lot. I'm very much an online person. I'm very much a quick responder to any kind of inquiry or any kind of can you help? Or anything like that. And I'm very good at gating off and this is a learned skill at gating off time that's free versus time that's paid. Because you can give away free, everyone wants free and you can get 1000 clients for free. But if you can't pay the bills, then it doesn't matter. So you got to understand that you give away a little bit and then you make it very clear that there's a charge or there's a cost to something more. One trick I do is I send an invoice for free stuff with 100% discount. And that way it shows that there is a cost to the time. And you just try and do that. Be honest, be upfront, have integrity, always deliver, always over deliver just enough. Once again, like I said, I'm not brief.  I talk a lot. Mark, I'm glad this is what you said. It's 4 hours.

Mark A Preston: That idea is gold. Actually, if you're doing any work sending your normal hourly or whatever invoice or they understand if you want to work with them. They already know how much you charge. Again, I've never heard that before. People do.

Grant Simmons: But I'm unique. How's that? I'm like content.

Mark A Preston: Well, we are. We're all different in different ways. That's right.

Grant Simmons: And now, hey, look, there are lots of improvements to what I do. I don't always. Sometimes I send an invoice or a notification too late because you just chat to someone online or something. There is no perfect in anything I've done. But hopefully the stuff I've learned makes the imperfect less regular.

Mark A Preston: Yes, I know. One question I get asked a lot is what percentage of your time as a freelance SEO has to be split between actually doing the work and then doing all the business stuff, as well as the legion and sales?

Grant Simmons: I am somewhat spoiled because I haven't had to do sales too much. I have to do a lot of follow up. But the process of actually getting yourself out there and getting yourself visible when writing something on LinkedIn or posting stuff on Twitter or being part of a Twitter chat or something like that, the stuff that gives you visibility, that can take time. And I think that's really important because personal branding and branding around focus topics. So for a while I was a big site guy. I like it, I'm good at it. And that focus gives you an insight into people with big sites. That's your target customer. Then I've looked at agency helping agencies. That's been pretty good as far as coming in doing a kind of SWAT team and looking at agencies and saying yeah, this is out of process. You don't have a process for this. This is where potentially retention is a challenge. And so you focus on something like that and you're able then to promote yourself, to position yourself as an expert in that through content and everything else. So that can be time consuming.

 

Writing is not something I sit down and it takes me ten minutes and I've got an article, it takes me a few hours to write something, but it's worthwhile doing it, definitely. As far as that business side, I've seen, find a platform, there's enough of them now, they give you a lot of templating. That saves a lot of time around the business side of it. Now, the biggest thing, and I've seen this a lot, lots of people when I spoke to other freelancers, kind of freelancing with the freelancers. Join groups that help in your specific niche or vertical. So there's lots of SEO groups out there that will help you. You can throw questions at them. It depends on your niche. But that's important to have a support group so you can solve problems a little bit quicker because everyone's had those same problems. But the ideal mix for me is just enough. It's the same as saying how long should a piece of content be? You've got to make sure you send out your invoices consistently. So I have that automated. So the start of a project and invoice goes out at the midpoint or whatever. Three weeks later, it triggers, it sends out the next one. If it's something monthly, it goes down monthly and you just have to tweak stuff otherwise so if there's something where it's not quite aligned with the invoice, just go and tweak it.

 

And then there's reminders are sent out consistently because it's great doing the work. If you don't get paid, it doesn't really matter. So I have a lot of triggers that follow up with reminders. Once it gets two days before payment, date of payment, two days after payment, a week after payment. And at that point you pick up the phone. But there is no exact measure of how much time you should spend on the business. But the main thing is spend time on how you're going to get paid and spend time on making sure you do get paid. And the time tracking side of it. Once again, everyone will do over time. If you're good at what you do and passionate about what you do, and I know you are and I am, you spend more time than you think doing something. So I log it. And once again, if it's over the invoice amount, I will discount it, but I will show the number of hours I've worked on it, set expectations, because next time say, hey, well, last project, I actually did, like, 4 hours over. How about we look at upping the time for this particular project, and I think we'll be better. And if you've done a great job and you've over delivered without charging them, most people generally say yes.

Mark A Preston: Fantastic. Right. Moving on to the industry overall. Obviously, both yourself and me have been in the industry quite a while in that time as an industry. How do you think it's changed?

Grant Simmons: It's a really good question. This is called unscripted because I did not have these questions before.

Mark A Preston: Neither did I, because I've just thought of it now.

Grant Simmons: Even better. All right. So, as an industry, how we've changed. I think we are much more focused on the mechanics of how search works, and I think that's much more fulfilling for most SEOs to understand why something happens. We've become much more data driven because traffic is not the only data metric that we should be looking at. So I think SEOs have gone much, much more into the performance side, whereby you're looking at what helps the business, as opposed to just saying, this is traffic. So beyond the click, I definitely think that there's an, as I said, that I've risen to the top. The lily ray and folks like that, that have really focused in on one particular thing, and a lot of those folks are really leading what's happening in the industry.

 

The Glenn Gabes and folks like that, they're looking at large data sets and coming up with something. And I think there's less of the fly by night from the industry. I say that from this corpus of folks that would be considered the industry. There is still a lot of offshore workers that are even doing for $500 a month. You'll get five pieces of content, ten links and stuff like that. That stuff is still out there. And unfortunately, there's still small business owners that are taking those folks on. That doesn't mean that won't move someone in a small town with a single location business. It just won't move the needle as much as it could have done. So I think the industry as a whole has moved more to the data driven, it's moved more to the platform. Not the massive platforms, but tools have improved massively since I started. I think the first tool I had for SEO was Raven. That was pretty broad across different metrics. But I mean, the first tool I actually had was Adobe Go Live before it was Cyber studio Go Live Cyber Studio, which was for building websites. Anyway, so tools have come a long way.

 

There's lots. In fact, there's too many. That's why I mentioned a few of the good ones, because there's so many out there that you can sign up for. And I probably as a freelance guy, I probably have 15 subscriptions. Different tools, but they're for different things. And sometimes there's overlap, sometimes there's not. So that the quality and the quantity of tools has changed a lot in the industry for good and bad enterprise tools,  conductors, bright edges, search metrics. These are great tools or great enterprise, but also a great cost. They say with great functionality comes great cost. Was this Spiderman that said that?

Mark A Preston: I mean, with the tools, there's just loads and loads of them. Obviously not a lot of people are privileged to just subscribe to many tools. What do you think should be the core Tool base or functionality of the tools for each SEO to use as a minimum?

Grant Simmons: You have to have a crawl tool. So, a tool for crawling and you can use platform based tools like crawlers like SEMrush and they have a crawler built in that would do some basic stuff. Screaming Frog is obviously probably a non-negotiable for most people. For crawling and analysing. I use Sitebulb and Screaming Frog. That's one of those overlap tools, different functions with visualization some of. The UI and the output from Screaming Frog is X. It's a spreadsheet CSV from Sitebulb It's a little bit more robust spreadsheet, but it's a lot more information done. A brilliant job with Sidebulb, so that'll be number one. A cruel tool that makes sense. Link tool Ahrefs I use over majestic. I don't think. You have to have both but one and I've been a proud user of Ahrefs for so long. I'm grandfathered into whole pricing.

 

I have Semrush through the agency, which I use for content gap analysis and everything else. I don't think Ahrefs has great content tools. Still prefer to use Semrush. I've been using Semrush, I was going to say over ten years now. So I'm quite familiar with the tools they keep adding things that don't necessarily add value. And then I do use a variety of tools online tools like, for example, static checker and things like that, just to understand lazy chain or how redirects might be working. So redirect checkers and status checkers for 200, 400, whatever, just to make sure. I'm trying to think what else I use on a daily basis. I think that probably covers those things. Then I use in links for content and SEO search for content and also for entity analysis and things like that.  Wow, you put me on the spot, so I can't think of a daily basis. That's about it. I mean, I use chrome plugins and things like extensions and things.

Mark A Preston: I mean, do you work a lot in the structured data?

Grant Simmons: So the structured data and schema and stuff like that, I use in Links for to look at that and from a structure standpoint, I don't use anything for that. I just implement and from schema.org and then I basically validate with Google's structured data tools. Like I said, the scheme of the same as stuff and things like that. I use some InLinks.

Mark A Preston: Right, great stuff. Now, people who are new to the industry, I mean people like me are going to retire sometime. Right? Hopefully. Right. So we need new people to come into the industry. Right. So for those people, what do you think they should be thinking about? Not necessarily, what are the three top things that you could take? What do you think they should be thinking about?

Grant Simmons: Okay, I think the first thing is go through Google's basic SEO information and then go through how search works to understand how information architecture and how crawlers work. Those kind of insights are valuable because a lot of people come in from the, oh, I write content now, a lot of people come in from a developer route, and they're looking at maybe technical SEO. But not everyone has an idea of how information architecture should come about, and not everyone has good information. Not everyone has an understanding of how Google is looking at pages and the topics and entity type approach to SEO. So, once again, answering a topic completely, answering a query, and satisfying completely, is about understanding how Google is understanding what the query is about, then how they're matching it against their corpus of data, and how they're then ranking and re ranking the search results so it makes sense for users.

 

You can learn or how it works from presentations that Google have put out there, presentations people have put out there, industry folks and the Google support docs, and just talking to people, that to me, is what I would say, is position yourself to understand how search engines work. Right. That doesn't mean getting into. Scott Stoffer, who's created his own search engine and market brew. I mean, it's really valuable, the stuff he puts out. He's a really smart guy. He's a search engineer, build search engines. It's really smart stuff as well. Learn that stuff. You don't have to be an expert, but you have to learn how Google is passing a query, how different language models affect that, how Google is taking that, simplifying it so that it can actually match against other documents, that it has also taken and understood what appeals about, because that's what we have to do as search people. And I think that knowledge is often missing from folks. They focus on one particular tactic or discipline. They don't understand the bigger picture. So that to me would be and there are some great courses out there. Nothing springs to mind because like I said, I haven't prepped for this, but there are some great courses out there. Architecture from a simplistic standpoint, but also there's great resources from Google and that how Search Works section of this site.

Mark A Preston: Right, I'm going to throw you on here.

Grant Simmons: Oh, man. I've already stumbled a couple of times.

Mark A Preston: Ah, listen. This is the old point. I wanted to create something that were real. I didn't want it to be scripted or that's the old point of this. So here we go. If you personally could change one thing in the industry, just one thing, what would it be?

Grant Simmons: I think it would have to be the stranglehold of some ideas that have persistent, regardless of the data that's available now. I think that John Mueller and other folks within Google often give exact answers that aren't exactly right. No disrespect. To Danny or anyone because they can't. There is an algorithm that does not have transparency. So there are some persistent ideas, like word count that always pops up. Like the other day, I was just working with a client and I said, we do three or two because it's temporary. And they came back and said, well, why wouldn't we do that? Because they've obviously looked it up and they said, well, this is permanent. I said, well, the information we have, it's not. So there's lots of resource out there. That a small piece of information that people were held on to as being exact or right and things like exact match domains and elements like that. There's still a business. We know through data that anything can work, and I mean that in a distinct, narrow funnel scenario. And so people hold on to those ideas. And, well, I did this and it worked.

 

I added in keywords Meta tag, and look, it worked. Yeah, we hold on to things in this industry that have been proven not to be as valuable as just getting great content that answers a queries satisfying an intent completely. We know that. It's just we still hang on to these little things as an industry, and it's pitched by some people that should know better, that perpetuates. And unfortunately, people come into the industry not knowing the truth about a lot of different elements. Big sites, like you said, we started off. Big sites you can make a small change and you can see the effect, so you can get data that shows you what the outcome might be, but then you get another big site with a completely different business model, a completely different audience, and you can try the same thing and it won't work. And so there is nothing apart from great content that's discoverable, indexable, crawlable that disambiguates and is exactly aligned with a particular topic, entity or sub entity, whatever you want to say, those are the key things. The rest of it is a lot of BS that might work for one site but won't work for every site. And really as an SEO, especially it annoys me that you come up with a cookie cutter approach, unless it is about the core fundamentals, it's just specific to an industry, a vertical, a topic or a particular point in time.

 

So that maybe I almost got passionate there, Mark, as in there are people that perpetuate these things that have no clue about big sites or B2B or whatever E-com. They're just pushing stuff out there that has worked once and will never work again. So hopefully that gives an idea of where I'm passionate at. I think you should learn knowledge that is applicable across every site. And that means it's not tactics, it's learning a strategic approach to looking at a site. And then you can apply the tactics that will work for that site, that industry, that vertical.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, I think that there's lots of people that just want a checklist and they just want to work through that checklist over and over again on any site they work on, regardless of anything. But obviously the industry is not like that.

Grant Simmons: Well, certain parts of the industry is. Like I said, it's not something that I think is savvy knowledgeable, people that have been around a long time do. But look, I have checklists, but it's checklist to make sure I'm not forgetting something. And the checklist is not necessarily task based. It would be run across things like that. It's just a list of obviously the challenge of one person. You have limited hours. If you want to scale. You've got to be able to hand off something to someone else. They've got to know the basic checks to go through the interpretation of data. You can say, look at this, look at this, look at this, look at this. But once again, every site is going to be different and so the tactics are going to be different. So checklist, look, there's a place for checklist, there's a place for temporary, there's a place for having a distinct process. You go through all that is feasible, but it still comes down to there's not one size fits all. And if there's not one size fits all, then every check should be a guide as opposed to a definitive, I change this and this is going to happen, doesn't happen.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, that's it. It should be a guide, not an action. So, on that note, is I'm going to let you relax a bit now and there's no more curveballs, don't worry. So, for people watching this, is there anything that they can do to help you with anything at all in the industry?

Grant Simmons: Good question. As a freelance guy, I don't expect to be freelance forever. I expect to probably go in house or go help an agency or something like that. I've got a good 10, 15 years left in me, as you said, seasoned, not burnt, and not burnt out. I really enjoy what I do. So there's a couple of things I think from a visibility standpoint, is obviously follow me on Twitter, that with me on LinkedIn. And just amplify the stuff I push out there or discuss with me whether I'm wrong or right or whether it works for particular site. Industry, vertical engage, basically number one. Number two is if you have an event and you need to speak up, I'm available. I like traveling, I like meeting people in industry. I think the person to person, face to face, being on stage and having access to many minds is brilliant. I love speaking events, and I'm doing a couple this year, but always open to speak at more events. So reach out to me. Connect, I think. Anything else? I don't want to ask for business because I think there's a lot of people out there that maybe really need business.

 

They need business to pay the bills, to pay the next bill and I'm very fortunate I'm not in that position, but I'm always up for interesting projects. And once again, connect and engage with me and we can see if there's a good fit. And if it's not, then I can perhaps refer you to someone that it might be. But yeah, I think that's probably how we can help. The big thing for me is having an active network with you, Mark. You and I touch base every now and then. We don't necessarily do the same things, but we're in the same industry, and I think there's always opportunity to help other people, and I appreciate this kind of visibility. It's easy to be forgotten in SEO. If you're in house and you're not able to get out and speak, you're able to write, you're not able to engage on social just because there are criteria within a large company you have to follow. So lucky enough to do five or six speaking gigs a year, that's probably the most I want to put my face out there just because people get sick if you don't have a new message. But that would be helping. Can help me. Visibility, connect, engage, tell me when I'm wrong, tell me when I'm right, amplify the message and let's chat. It's always fun to chat.

Mark A Preston: Fantastic. Well, I'd really like to thank you for your time. I know we're all busy, but thank you so much for coming on. And I'm going to say, just as the final thing, from my point of view, from everything that we've discussed, there's been a couple of really big snippets in there, light bulb moments. And I'm sure there'd be lots of light bulb moments for everyone that's watching this as well.

Grant Simmons: Thank you. I tend to light up everyone's life.

Mark A Preston: Yeah, it's all then photos of you on the beach that does it.

Grant Simmons: Well, people follow me. We'll have to look at some of those. Sorry about that. One of the big things, just to finish off that one. First off, thank you for your time, too. It's unscripted and ungags, too. I'm really grateful. I'm grateful. Thank you for connection and your friendship in the industry. I'm really grateful for this industry, the people that have helped me along the way, and I'm also grateful for friends, family, my wife and everything else who put up with me. But gratitude is where it's all at in the industry. I think a lot of us have had a really tough couple of years with the Pandemic. I was very grateful that it didn't really touch the housing market too much. But I think that actually, gratitude keeps me going. Beach walks keep me going. Nine people like you keep me going and nine I'm an industry that actually cares keeps me going. So thank you to everyone out there who indirectly or directly has helped me and hopefully I can help them too.

Mark A Preston: Fantastic. Well, we'll finish on. Thanks, Grant.

Grant Simmons: All right. Cheers, Mark. You have a brilliant Friday. All right, take care.

Mark A Preston: Cheers. Thanks. Bye.

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