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Master of the search engine
Master of the search engine

HALF ART, HALF SCIENCE, search engine optimization (SEO) is the new mantra of Internet commerce. By placing the right keywords on a site's homepage and massaging its underlying code, skilled SEO consultants improve a site's natural search order ranking, dramatically enhancing its visibility to those searching for goods, services, and information online.

It's no wonder, then, that people like Marshall Simmonds '95 are in such high demand.

Since 2005, Simmonds has served as the chief search strategist for the New York Times Company. In this role, he orchestrates search engine strategy to yield maximum traffic and search engine exposure for the Times and its other online properties, including the Boston Globe, About.com and the International Herald Tribune. Simmonds is cofounder of Bend-based Define Search Strategies; the company's other clients, including Hearst Corporation (Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Popular Mechanics, and O, the Oprah magazine) and Time Inc. Interactive (Time, Sports Illustrated, People) make him one of the world's elite SEO consultants to the fast-growing online media industry.

During his time at PSU in the early 1990s, Simmonds had no idea of the incipient power of the Internet. Then, one afternoon, he saw the light. "I remember sitting in an apartment and seeing the Netscape browser for the first time," Simmonds says. "And it blew me away."

Simmonds majored in psychology, with minors in sociology and communications. After graduation, he went to work at Portland's Parry Center for Children. But at $7.32 an hour, he had trouble paying off his student loans. "I really wanted to learn more about computers," Simmonds says. "I figured the best strategy would be to work somewhere they built them."

Simmonds took a job with CompUSA, taking every opportunity to introduce himself to and network with the businessmen who came in. "That's how I met my future boss," Simmonds says. "He talked me into moving to Bend to work for this small company he'd started."

The company was the Multimedia Marketing Group, or MMG for short. Simmonds started out in MMG's SEO/search marketing department. One of the company's clients at the time was Intel; Simmonds helped to ensure that its new processor, the Pentium II, received maximum Internet exposure.

While at MMG, he started a discussion list, the ISearch Digest, that quickly grew to more than 7,500 users. "Its purpose was to encourage discussion about how to work with search engines," Simmonds explains. "It became pretty popular and established me as an expert in the industry. That's how my current employer found me."

Recently, Simmonds worked with the Times to put its entire 13 million—document archive—articles dating back to 1851—online. "We convinced them that we could leverage the archive much more effectively by making it freely available, rather than putting it behind a wall," Simmonds says. "And the Times will be able to monetize through online advertising. It was quite a project."

As one of the most sought-after SEO industry speakers in the world, the Bend-based Simmonds still puts his PSU communications training to regular work. How does he stay on top of the latest developments in his fast-paced industry? "I do a lot of reading, and I go to a lot of conferences," Simmonds says. "And to be honest, we dictate a lot of what's happening in the industry through what we're doing."

By Jeff Kuechle