Bill Hartzer

Grant Simmons on SEO for Large Websites, Partnerships, Indexing, and Ranking New Websites

On the latest episode of the Digital Marketing with Bill Hartzer podcast, I spoke with Grant Simmons from Homes.com. We talked about SEO for large websites, the importance of partnerships for traffic, and search engine indexing. Also discussed was creating new websites and how to pages from new websites to rank well in the search engine results pages.

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Here is the (unedited) transcript:

Bill Hartzer (00:03):
Hi, this is Bill Hartzer and this is the digital marketing podcast with Bill Hartzer. Today I have the pleasure of having, Grant Simmons from homes.com here. Hi Grant, tell me about yourself and your background. And how long have you been in digital marketing?

Grant Simmons (00:22):
Sure. I’ll be in marketing a long time. came to the States in 92, obviously I’m a proud American with a funny accent. You could probably do that. and 94 went to work for a traditional marketing agency that was digitally advanced, I would say, but zero digital pocket. you know, we were still faxing PowerPoint, presentations back and forth. It’s actually all this PowerPoint back then or all this power or something like that. And, then we had, GE plastics decided they wanted to have a website. And that was the only one with a technical background, having been a programmer in the eighties. And, so it fell to me. And then after that, one of our clients that of Santa Monica was looking at shying up San Juan Kotel, Santa Monica stores. And, I looked SEO was really new back then in the mid to late nineties at sucked down everything I could and I was hooked.

Bill Hartzer (01:24):
So what kind of, when you build sites back in the, in the nineties, you know, I, I use, I remember using, you know, basically I start off with notepad and actually, you know, kind of custom doing HTML, but what kind of, you know, what kind of, you know, we, obviously, we don’t didn’t have the CMS that we do, you know, and, and custom CMS like WordPress and WooCommerce and Shopify and big commerce and even custom custom CMS is now. But what, what did you use back then? Do you remember?

Grant Simmons (01:56):
Sure. So it’s kind of interesting, cause it wasn’t really that much choice start off doing the hand coding and just learning HTML. And then there was a great Wiziwig, one of the first on the market, which was go live cyber studio that then was bought by Adobe, you know, Adobe had page mill and other stuff like that, but go live was brilliant. It was the first real dragon drop type, page builder. And it really allowed us as generally anyone to design websites that work. And, you know, one of the best things was you could check the internal link and make sure it wasn’t broken or change one link and everything without the automatically it was great. Loved it.

Bill Hartzer (02:36):
Yeah. I do remember, Microsoft, you know, using Microsoft front page, but there was all sorts of extra extensions and so forth. And, and in fact there are some still websites out there that are, built in front page. there’s not many of them, but they’re still, you know, it’s, it’s, there are some out there I’ve seen, it’s amazing that even, you know, some sites, but, you know, even with the, when we get back down to, you know, custom HTML or, you know, or just more raw HTML, those pages and those sites will load a lot faster, you know, then necessarily relying on a database and, and hitting a database, you know, even like WordPress would do every single time, you know, I page loads. so I remember, you know, going back to, you know, pages that, that really, you know, are, are just raw HTML, raw HTML, and CSS, that, you know, and, and I still fancy, creating some of those sites now to see how literally how fast, you know, I can get them to load. and that’s certainly an issue we have to deal with. Right.

Grant Simmons (03:52):
Sure. Yeah. I mean, look, go live, add bloated pages, a crap ton of code that you can really get rid of. and then WordPress, you have plugins that basically export static, HTML for that less data driven websites. And sometimes that’s the best option. You know, everyone talks about some of the modern technologies of react or Gatsby or other, you know, Java script frameworks. and you know, it still comes down to what does Google see? And, you know, the speed is one issue, but you’ve always got to make sure the speed and the usability is there as well.

Bill Hartzer (04:28):
Sure. so I know, you know, a fair amount about large websites I’ve been doing, you know, I’ve done a couple, audits, a couple of different, you know, large websites, one, some being e-commerce, you know, with millions of products, but also some others that are real estate, you know, websites. And that’s certainly something that, you know, the big issue is, is, is, you know, page load speed and so forth because, you know, certainly we do have to rely on pulling that information typically from a database. but you know, as well, but how do we get, you know, when we’re dealing with millions of pages or even thousands of pages, you know, how do we get and make sure the sites are, you know, can get crawled properly and, you know, and crawled and indexed. And that seems to be kind of a theme that I see over and over, you know, in the past several weeks or past several months that, you know, Google actually doesn’t like to, you know, crawl as many pages and they’re kind of, you know, they they’re kind of hesitant to, to crawl.

Grant Simmons (05:35):
Well, I think one of the key things here is we have to understand the concept of core budget and understand that Google has finite resources and wants to allocate resources effectively. So that’s mean that large sites have to really be concerned about their cool budgets, small sites, you know, less than a thousand pages, probably not as much. but definitely for launch sites, you’ve got to make sure that the internal linking is really clean. You’re focusing on the core pages that make sense. You got to make sure that there’s a good hierarchy of structure that can be understand by users and search engines to understand topic relevance of different silos. And you’ve got to make sure the site speed, as you said, is, is really key. you know, with JavaScript frameworks, you really gotta make sure you present enough information so that it can see what the page is about.

Grant Simmons (06:27):
And then generally load dynamically. Some of the interactive elements, it’s an art and a science. And I think that, you know, Google has some great resources around, you know, Josh get frameworks out there, but at the end of the day, all we are trying to do is serve up a page fast to Google and users. And so if we just look at it from that context, you know, it doesn’t matter what platform you use. And like you said, I just need more pages clean as sometimes the best place to serve up. And that’s all you’re doing with JavaScript. Frameworks is you’re pre rendering or server side rendering. So you’re serving up something static. So it’s fast. I think a lot of people, certainly there are people get lost in the weeds down, but at the end of the day as SEO folks, we’ve got to tell, tell out there, we’re just looking for site speed and that might be contactable buying as many, four point 11 saw that in the new core vitals, our reporting and Google search console center, that’s going to be more of a ranking factor. Is that user experience, the user perception of the speed of a pike?

Bill Hartzer (07:31):
Yes, definitely. So organic, organic SEO and rankings are one way to get, you know, certainly traffic, but, you know, are there, I know that there are other ways, through, you know, referral traffic obviously, and, and clicks and so forth. And as well as, you know, paid social, you know, face, you know, we’re talking about Facebook and Twitter ads, Instagram ads, and so forth. And then traditionally, you know, Google ads and Bing ads, but, you know, and, and maybe affiliates, are there any other ways, you know, other than, you know, organic, you know, traditional, organic SEO to, you know, to, to get, to get traffic?

Grant Simmons (08:12):
Sure. So, you know, my position@homes.com, I’m the VP of performance marketing. So my goal is to look for how we can drive more traffic that converts and how we can, get visibility off sites so that we can generate leads off site or generate more traffic. the key thing there is a paid search still works really well. Facebook advertising works really well, you know, depending on the messaging as always, depending on the audiences always, and then we also, form strategic partnerships with other large websites or large networks, to look at how we can position our data on their sites. So for example, we aggregate millions, tens of millions of listing data of homes. And so we see how we can present that on other folks site to be able to drive traffic back to homes.com or put a search form on other sites.

Grant Simmons (09:05):
So we have a relationship with some large newspaper networks that do local newspaper websites, and by putting a search for mail or count of listings, we can position homes.com you know, off of our site, potentially drive trumpet bank through a search experience or through identification of carousel, whether click through to a distant property. So I think finding strategic partnerships is really key and it’s also great for SEO. More traffic is always going to be great for SEO, especially if that traffic engages and sends positive signals back to your search engines around or authority and quality and things like that.

Bill Hartzer (09:45):
Yeah. So we definitely, you know, have to look at, you know, I’ll say partnerships that, you know, a partnership may be, you know, something that maybe a competitor cannot get, you know, so for example, if you have a strategic partnership with, you know, one particular company, then most likely, you know, it would be a, if you’re thinking about just on the link side of it, sure. There may be some links that you can get that through that partnership, from, you know, that you do that maybe your competitor cannot necessarily do. I know that, you know, in, in larger organizations, you know, they’re more about looking about, you know, the traffic and so forth and, and, but even so even if we’re talking about just link building in general for, you know, even a for example, a mom and pop site, you know, a local business, you know, they do a partnership, essentially on a smaller scale. You know, those might be some links with that, that they can get to their website. That may be one of their competitors might not be able to get

Grant Simmons (10:52):
sure. So there is, back in the day I was on the board of the local convention visitors Bureau and the local, you know, business entity. And so from that standpoint, yeah, everyone could get a link back from the chamber of commerce, you know, and, and that’s certainly something it’s often valuable. you know, it’s an authoritative site location based. It can be good, but then if you make a, a partnership with maybe one of the other people within the chamber of commerce, so one of the other members that no one else can, or it’s unique, like a, you know, a coupon based approach or something else where you can make that relationship happen and, and you position it as, look, I love doing business with you, but really this is going between me and you please don’t take it. Anyone else? I think those kinds of things can be really, really valuable. And, you know, that’s all the business entities and then these kind of chambers are about it’s, but building those relationships then thinking about whether it could be good for your life growing up. So think about what this kid from a traffic, partnership effort, but really traditional marketing and digital marketing. It’s really just a different form. It’s the same kind of tactics and strategy.

Bill Hartzer (12:03):
Yeah. And there’s a lot of still, it comes down to a lot of connections and networking and so forth. And, you know, you can’t necessarily just, you know, you do have to have, you know, the networking part of it. you do have, you know, there are people behind websites. And so, you know, you do have to do that networking and reach out to people and so forth, as, you know, as well. And, and, you know, it certainly should be good for both sides. Both parties definitely

Grant Simmons (12:38):
well, traditional outreach or guest posting or anything else that when done in moderation is part of an overall link strategy is really about seeing whether win-win is, you know, in the old days it was on paying you for that particular placement. Now it’s candy provide valuable content or data or something that will drive traffic to them, and then directly, and then don’t drive, they drive traffic to you or drive or authoritative, or authority, or, you know, a collaboration or a connection between the two sites. That’s, that’s what it’s about. And we’ve got to look at that value component and link building these days, or what we want to, what do we want to call it, promotion or partnerships or anything else. Now, some of the goals is sometimes a link now, you know, as a, as a large brand and working with large brands, really not mandating specific anchor text or mandating specific, no follows that follows on that follows. I know that’s kind of heresy heresy, you know, but at the end of the day, we’ve gotta be careful if someone wants to give you a link as follows. Terrific. If they want to know for it. Oh, so fine. You know, Google is this massive connection engine and creating those connections and through that affinity is really key.

Bill Hartzer (13:52):
Yeah. So what I I’ve always been even back to when they first instituted no follow that I I’ve, my theory has been, and that’s just my personal theory is that, you know, Google or any search engine for that matter, you know, being as well, you know, they can look at no follow and use it as a suggestion and that, you know, even if it’s a no-follow week and I’ve, I’ve Ted, you know, prove to myself that I’ve read, you know, rank the page, literally that had only no follow links. but they were good. They were really good links. And so, you know, that had traffic and people clicked on them. And so I have a theory that now that even when it comes down to that is, it is a suggestion and Google knows that, okay, if this is a very good trusted website and they’re leaking to another trusted website, for example, that, you know, they may, you know, just kind of ignore no follow on and say, okay, you know, even though there’s a no-follow tag on there, you know, that, that, and there is, you know, traffic and so forth, they might get pass some credit or whatever you want to call it, you know, pay, drank, or link juice or whatever, you know, whatever you want to, whatever we were.

Bill Hartzer (15:10):

Grant Simmons (15:11):
Oh, we could have whatever we want. That’s a great thing about ACR. It’s mostly opinion, but I, I, I’m not disagreeing with you at all. I believe that this giant connection engine looks at all authority as something that you can give like a handshake. and although we always talked about links as being, you know, I, I vote for the other site. I think if we can’t say that there is a, a web of connections that, you know, bestows or authority on folks beyond just a followed link, I think we’d be kind of silly because that, that can’t be how Google looks at it. And you know, that they’re smart. And as you’ve said, most things we’ve taken as gospel have been more recently noted as suggestions, like no index and things like this. And canonicals, you know, anytime you’re going to Google search console and you see, this is the canonical you put, and this is what Google thinks is about economical. You know, they’re going beyond just a, you know, an implied connection. There’s got to be something there that, that that’s a little bit more as a suggestion and a mention as value

Bill Hartzer (16:19):
the, but what I still kill back regionally too, if we put, take, you know, kind of before the search engines, you know, look at the old Yahoo directory and that it was about, you know, that people went in the nineties, we went to the Yahoo directory to find, you know, find websites that had been vetted, and you know, to links. And that’s how we got our, our traffic. And, and it was literally traditionally about, you know, one person linking to another. And, and you know, they give that trust and that vote if you will. and now it’s, you know, now, it’s changed a lot. And, and I know that, you know, Google understands a lot more about, you know, intent and so forth. there are still some fuzzy gray areas that, you know, that I know that people can do some things to manipulate, links. And I think that, you know, that as the search functions become more, sophisticated, if you will, then you know, certainly there will be those out there that will try and, you know, take advantage of, you know, I’ll loophole or some, you know, something, you know, or something like that.

Grant Simmons (17:41):
Yeah. I think that, how you position SEO is the key to how you attack SEO or address SEL. And I really think it’s about, helping sites that deserve to rank show up where they deserve to rank. And if you look at it from that standpoint, all you’re trying to do is improve the user experience through better information, connecting with a specific query by answering fully that particular question, satisfying the user so that they are positive about the experience and whatever signals that generates, whether it’s social signals or, or longevity, or coming back to the site or clicking the next time you see that you’re sending the syrup. I think that’s it. When you look at it as, as manipulation, and we’ve all stuck keywords, we’ve been in the business long enough that yeah, the Microsoft website had 30 mentions in, in the keywords type for exactly the same keyword we’ve all done, but these days it is about how do we create the best result. and affiliates have got this down to a science where, you know, it, it is a good experience most of the time, yes, they might need, but eight, there might never be PBNs or our other link tactics that we’d consider great. But at the end of the day, they are producing great quality signals most of the time that allows them to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars. And that, to me, you know, SEO is, it’s the same thing. We are just an affiliate marketers on a different scale.

Bill Hartzer (19:14):
Yes, definitely. So I know that you’ve been working on a couple of different other, you know, other projects. Are there, are there any kind of, you know, for example, if we’re going to put up a new website, you know, are there a certain air, you know, what are some tips or tricks or, you know, recommendations that you have that, you know, for new websites to write quickly, is it about the content or do we need some links or w what, what, what are your recommendations?

Grant Simmons (19:44):
Sure. So, funny enough, the wife, just wife and I just purchased a business that has vintage Virginia photos handy. You’re always taking over an existing business and existing business. The, the owner wanted to keep our website, their URL. So we’re starting from a new URL from scratch. I chose an exact match URL just because I think sometimes that’s a user focused decision. and then, we negotiated as part of the deal to have two pages. What I lost an earbud, excuse me, two pages from the current website would go away and we’d redirect just those relevant pages. So I made sure to put that spot in negotiation, we then built out a very simple structure that was very easy to navigate, and, with two pages that exactly matched the intent of those two pages on the current, the old website.

Grant Simmons (20:40):
And we launched just with a very small, website with just a few pages in the XML site map. And we let that shake itself up a little bit until we saw those pages were ranking a little bit just to start. and then we added some unique content. Then we gradually introduced more pages, via Google search console into the XR site map, submitted those pages, just selectively, not trying to do anything on mass it’s that slow process. And within three weeks we were ranking in the top 10 for some of the terms. and then we expanded out to some of the other terms. So where the original website was ranking for vintage, photos of Virginia Beach. We started introducing words like, you know, old photos of Virginia Beach, old Norfolk photos, historic photos. So we’ve gradually built out through the semantics or through, through similar words so that we rank mail for a larger Corpus of those keywords.

Grant Simmons (21:45):
And it works really well. Now that being said, you have an existing website and you take it over. So that was one of our options, but I decided to go the other, other route. I ran a crawl on their website before I, I decided whether I wanted it or not. the main challenge was thin content to be good content, often pages, slow pace, speed. You know, these are both WordPress websites, but I’m using caching, plugins and everything else. And, and really just, I could have taken his website and made it better. there was a lot of basic core SEO challenges that they had around technical SEO content. And sometimes it’s better just to start from scratch and take some equity. I then did a couple of pieces of outreach to existing folks that were linking to those two pages I transferred over, or the two page content and said, would you mind changing it to the new URL? Hey, we’re just taking this business and we’re more than happy to do it. So I think the thing is, slow Shaw can get fast results. I don’t think you want to launch with 2000 pages and get 2000 pages ranking. What you want to do is link the most relevant pages around the key core topics, and then gradually build out and by build out, I mean, gravely submit more pages, you know, improve, see how they’re going, iterate and build that way. And it’s worked pretty well.

Bill Hartzer (23:12):
Great. Are there any, you know, common mistakes you’re seeing, as you know, you look at sites that, you know, I, you know, I see a lot of, you know, still a lot of things like, you know, when I’m doing audits, I see, you know, mega menus and, you know, basically your site where every page likes every page and, you know, in the navigation, for example, and I see, you know, duplicate content issues and so forth. what, what are you seeing, you know, typically when you, you know, are anything,

Grant Simmons (23:46):
any, anything that common when it comes to common mistakes, if you will show so, you know, unfortunate homes.com, but any SEO consultant gets asked questions all the time. So I certainly do help out a few folks. and, so there was a company called, boss, which is Boulder outdoor survival school. So, so it’s a great organization. It’s a boss, hyphen inc com. you know, they take people out to the world 14 days and seven days, whatever. So when I looked at their site, they, they didn’t have any mention of survival school apart from in their name, they called it outdoor pursuits or whatever it might be. So water not, I think there’s always a misalignment between what people think their businesses about what people are searching for. I think that’s the most common mistake unless they’ve, they’ve had some SEO folks tell them in the past, or they have some kind of understanding.

Grant Simmons (24:48):
The second thing is that there is, well, you mentioned it, it’s pretty, pretty normal trying to link to everything from either a menu or from the home page. The home page is your juice pocket. And you want to be very selective about what you link to. And I think a lot of people think they should, they should link to a lot of the pages I look at what are the top level categories and how can I let people self-select so that we understand their intent. We can, we can tailor the second landing point second landing page to that intent. So maybe one is, let’s just say a B to B and a B to C a candidate. One says, Hey, are you a customer? Are you a business? That’s simple search selection can help. And then using a relevant anchor text on the homepage can really help drive that relevance to the online pages.

Grant Simmons (25:37):
The second thing is only linking to relevant pages. Once you get down into the belly of your website, once again, preservation of, of, if we want to call it link juice, we can preservation that authority for the site to make sure it’s focused on like topics. I was just talking to someone online today, and one of the groups were members of how many, just saying, if you have a links to many different countries, you know, should they appear in the top nav or [inaudible] or wherever I say, should they appear on every page? I think the answer is they should appear on the home page. Definitely. And there may be you interlinked between European countries. Once you get down to that level or North America, Canada, Mexico, and the U S but you don’t want to link to everything on every page. So that’s always a common mistake that people don’t my last thing.

Grant Simmons (26:24):
And I’ve drunk at this brief, sorry, I’m passionate about this one. Last thing is that the minor technical issues. Alright. Orphan pages, unbelievable. How many sites build pages and they’re never linked to them. Uh they’re in the XML site map, and it can drag down the site overbroad at simple fixes, you know, either they deserve to exist, so they should have a link to it or they don’t. Yeah. the second thing is, is generally duplicate content. And when someone uses a WordPress site, a lot of small businesses do it’s great. CMS is really looking at pay use. You’ve created that you’ve forgotten that all exact duplicates of Sonny you’ve done it as a test, and then you’ve created a different pipe, or you’ve created a page you’ve changed the URL. For some reason, someone said, just change yourself. And the pages is no longer linked correctly. so I think, I think there’s those challenges that we see that are most obvious and most prevalent. There’s lots of other things we’d go into bill, but yes, those are the most prevalent stuff I see.

Bill Hartzer (27:30):
Yeah. So I actually do see a lot of orphaned pages issues, and sometimes it’s even thousands of orphaned pages. and there’s basically two ways to kind of easier ways is number one is to, is to kind of, it’s looking at log files and you look at, you know, compare log files with a crawl of the website. and there are some tools out there certainly, that you can basically look at the log file data, take all the URLs from there and compare those with a crawl, the website, and you can get a list of, you know, you can get orphaned pages and there are some tools like, on crawl. I know that I use fairly regularly that basically an on crawl on site bulb and, you know, various crawlers that will actually give you that, you know, a list for the orphan pages and the same thing with comparing, even looking at, if you don’t use a crawler, or you could view it kinda manually is to take all the pages from Google analytics and compare those to, you know, a simple crawl of the website and certainly that, you know, that, and you’d be amazed.

Bill Hartzer (28:43):
Yes. I mean, a lot of, and a lot of companies will go through web designs. That’s the typical issue I see is that when they do a web design re you know, they redesign the site, they don’t necessarily kill all the old pages on the server. they may just leave them out there and there might be, you know, pages or URLs, that still have traffic. certainly, you know, we can look at pages and going to Google search console, you know, that may have traffic as well. So there’s so many different ways, you know, then, you know, then once you start all that, you really get going and started going into the rabbit hole of, of so many different, you know, things that you can find, you know, when doing, you know, doing those technical, reviews and audits and so forth,

Grant Simmons (29:32):
What you, you mentioned sidebar, but I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t both give the guys a big Pat on the back. That’s great. yeah, generally I do is I run a crawl of a website with the XML sitemap selected as well, and will automatically tell you what’s in the XML sitemap, it’s not linked anywhere. I didn’t, I didn’t put it a big spreadsheet with the Google search console URL. It’s like you said, that means anything that’s potentially showing up from an impression by, or that Tropic based and just see then, where, where the mess might be because often parameter driven or other things that aren’t really linked, but are still showing up. it highlights a lot of those issues as well. And that’s that duplicate content or some other thin page issue. So, yeah, it’s a bit different when we started bill. Some of the tools we had was just our brain and the quick fingers as a keyboard.
Speaker 3 (30:24):
Yup.

Bill Hartzer (30:27):
Alright. We’re just about out of time. So, why don’t you tell me a little bit how to get, get in touch with you. I know you’re on Twitter, is that the base place to get in touch?

Grant Simmons (30:35):
A Twitter is great at @simmonet LinkedIn, same thing, Grant Simmons. You can search me on Google Grant Simmons SEO, and I show up believe it or not. and also connect with me at any conference or, you know, just pay me, when we can get back to real world conferences. I’ll be out there. That’d be great.

Bill Hartzer (30:55):
Yup. Okay. Well, thanks for joining me this afternoon. This is, in the digital marketing podcast with bill Hart, sir, and I have a special guest today, Grant Simmons from homes.com. Thanks again for joining me this afternoon and we’ll see you online.

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