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Searchmetrics X SEJ Interview Series: John Doherty of HotPads

Searchmetrics X SEJ Interview Series: John Doherty of HotPads

As you may know from my other interviews with Anne Ahola Ward of CircleClick and Eli Schwartz of SurveyMonkey, Search Engine Journal has partnered with Searchmetrics to host a one-day, invite-only executive marketing event in San Francisco called SEO, Content Marketing, & Analytics: The Three Pillars of Online Marketing Success in 2014.

My third interview is with John Doherty, the Head of Online Marketing at HotPads, a rentals subsidiary of Zillow. He will be on the keynote AMA-style panel.

As the head of online marketing at HotPads, what differences have you noticed in the SEO landscape for the housing market industry over the last few years?

I have been leading marketing at HotPads since October 2013, with my focus on SEO while I build the full inbound marketing team. The SEO landscape in real estate and rentals has changed in the same ways as other verticals in the last three years, which means we have to think about local intent as well as national intent. As far as what “works”, we’re moving away from aggressive anchor text to a holistic marketing experience that benefits SEO. With a strong site comes the need for solid on site technical SEO, but Zillow has proven that great data and storytelling plus outreach is a formidable combination for achieving great organic traffic. We’re just getting started on this at HotPads!

What are 1-3 proven strategies that have worked for Hotpads that could translate into other John Doherty of HotPadsindustries?

One of the biggest challenges to a site like HotPads, with millions of pages, is indexation of important pages. Every site in every industry needs to think about how Googlebot (which is one of your personas) accesses your content. At HotPads, we’ve been investing in cleaning up our site architecture to allow the search engines to access our content more freely. It’s working!

Before HotPads, you were at Distilled NYC, a search agency. You recently wrote a blog post on the difference between agency and in-house life. Do you still approach search strategy the same way with HotPads as you did with several different clients? Or did that have to change as well?

I still approach the tactics of SEO in the same way (I’ve learned what works), but the strategy for getting them done has definitely changed. With several clients, my time was never focused on one client for a meaningful amount of time so I was never able to do much more than make recommendations, provide justification for what I thought it would get them, and then leave it to the in-house team to get things done. In-house, I work much closer with the engineers to get things done. I focus a lot more on building relationships than the recommendations now.

Your personal blog and website branded under your name has a lot of great content about search. How important do you think individual branding is for search professionals and others in the digital space?

I think personal branding is incredibly important for any professional, whether it is as a search professional or a banker. When I first started blogging about search/marketing, my goal was simply to teach others. I gradually gained a following which has enabled me to do a lot of cool things over the past few years and ultimately got me to where I am now. I always recommend that new online marketers spend time on Twitter and the various online communities (Moz,, comments on various industry blogs) because you will learn a ton and connect with a lot of really interesting and smart people.

The Reddit AMA style panel taking place at the Searchmetrics events is a new format. What place do you think Reddit has (if any) in marketing?

I think Reddit can be incredibly effective. I have received great feedback on content ideas I was thinking about from the Reddit crowd. Reddit is often known for trolling, but if you find the right subreddits you can get a lot of great feedback, drive great qualified traffic, and even meet some influencers along the way who will write about you and become your champion. I definitely recommend at least experimenting with Reddit in your online marketing once you have put good time into your other channels to grow them.

Bonus Question: Besides your own, what are your favorite blogs right now?

To be honest, most of my reading these days is not about marketing. My favorite websites right now are The Atlantic and The Atlantic Cities. Any marketing material I save or read I come across on Twitter, and it is usually on sites that I know and is written by people I respect, like content on sites like Moz and Search Engine Land.


Featured Image: Sergey Nivens via Shutterstock

Category SEO
Kelsey Jones Marketing Consultant, Owner at Six Stories & StoryShout

Kelsey Jones is a marketing consultant, writer, and owner of and Kelsey has been in digital marketing since ...

Searchmetrics X SEJ Interview Series: John Doherty of HotPads

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