Danny Sullivan Interview

It has been a little quiet on the interview front but I managed to get Danny Sullivan to answer a few questions in his spare time. So here we go….


Things change rapidly in the search field, so unleashing your crystal ball what do you think will be the next big thing in search?

I’m still urging search marketers to focus on vertical search properties. I firmly believe that at some point, you’ll do a local search on Google and get back 10 Google Local results even though you didn’t go to Google Local specifically. After that, Google will suggest you fall back to search the web if you haven’t found what you are looking for. I think all the search engines will go this route, serving up news results, shopping results or other vertical listings by default, in the right situations. Web search will remain important, but rather than chase that web search algorithm, many site owners would benefit themselves by thinking more about the vertical services. My “invisible tabs” article talks more about this: http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/article.php/3115131

The SEO is a considered to be a big dodgy, a bit of a scumbag. What can be done to help get that image changed, after all not every SEO/SEM is a cowboy (Noun. A person who is unscrupulous and unqualified in business. Often with regard to ‘cowboy’ builders.)?

Last year, I called (http://forums.searchenginewatch.com/showthread.php?threadid=7872) for everyone take a strong stance against automated link spam, inserting links into guestbooks, blogs, forums, you name it. I think that’s given us one of the worst reputations, because it really helps no one except the person running the link program — and even then, it doesn’t help them that much. People equate SEO with spamming blogs, basically.

You’ve also got different flavors of SEO. I think those doing Content SEO, can help change the attitude by reaching out more to designers, to help them they have a common goal in getting web site found. Those who do aggressive SEO, who want to walk the spam line or go over it, there’s not much they can do to change things. I trust, hope, that those creating really crappy scraper site content simply get wiped out with future algorithm shifts. Sorry if I upset anyone with that type of site, but when I hit your sites, they rarely help me and generally distract me. They do worse when my wife hits them. If you’re going to be aggressive, at least be more creative or somewhat useful.

It also doesn’t help that you can have people of whatever hat providing work with no results — taking money but giving no real payoff. I do hope that organizations like SEMPO and SMA might help educate SEO/SEM clients to be more careful in choosing firms. Many clients with bad experiences don’t seem to have done basic things like ask for references. Hey, we’ve got builder cowboys. Yes, we could regular builders more, and that might help. But you can also protect yourself but learning more about the type of services that are offered plus getting and actually following up on references.

You are a prolific writer, what with your blog, search engine watch forums and other community posting, you clearly love the subject, so what got you into it in the first place?

I used to be a newspaper reporter but jumped out of that in 1995, because the web was exciting, and I wanted to be part of it. We were building web sites and had some client who couldn’t understand why he wasn’t ranking well on the search engines. So, I started looking into it. At that time, there was little information about search engines out there. I discovered things like how some of them didn’t crawl near as often as people assumed, along with basic ranking factors. It was really interesting to me, so I published it all out for others, as a way of sharing back with the web to make up for what I’d learned from others. That got a great response, so I kept at it. Overall, search engines fascinated me, especially this entirely new industry that was literally growing and evolving from week to week before my eyes. I do love the subject, so it’s great if that’s still coming through for you.

How can the SEO/SEM industry get the respect they deserve and get more of the marketing spend from large companies, instead of them just wheeling out the techies, and thinking “it is clearly just a problem of the html or something”?

More awards would help. Yahoo recently did some, but that was more on the paid advertising side. I’ve always wanted SES to do some — Best Orange SEO Campaign! — but havent’ had the time to do more with it. Aside from awards, getting more clients to tell their stories would help. But it’s also already coming. I mean, I loved when David on The Apprentice was telling Martha Stewart to her face that she wasn’t ranking well on search engines. That was prime time television in the US! That was some degree of respect. Overall, I think we all need to be better ambassadors for our industries. Tell your stories to your various local publications; help people understand this great new medium that you’ve helped build.

How would you describe your skill set, are you technical person, into analysis, an algo chaser, an overview type person or..?

I’m a content person. I’m all about building great content, because I think the algos are designed to reward that. Great content gets links, has natural copy, gets visits, gets a lot of things the search engines are trying to model. I’m definitely not a programmer, and I got pretty jaded about the analysis/algo chasing way back when we had things like WebPosition trying to give you a database to create the “perfect page.” When so many pages were clearly not perfect, it just seemed the wrong way to go or advise many of my readers. Some like doing the chase, and some are successful with it, so carry on if that works for you. But I think it’s overkill for many people and often makes them forget the basics.

There may well be a groan from the back, but what are your thoughts on the sandbox phenomenon. Where is your camp situated and do you care to share some practical examples as what you have seen and how it can be avoided as best as possible?

To me, the sandbox is when a brand new domain fails to rank as well as you’d expect, when all the other factors say it should. And I mean really good factors that you know should make it rank well. I’ve seen sites that I know must be sitting in a sandbox or suffering from SITATMSLASB — things that seem like a sandbox, as Matt Cutts suggested: http://www.seroundtable.com/archives/002809.html.

What the sandbox is not is a universal excuse for “I’m not ranking well.” Actually, that IS what it seems to be today. It used to mean that specific problem for a new site, but now people blame the “sandbox” for everything. Google dropped all my pages — it’s the damn sandbox! Well, actually it was probably because your server was down, you banned the spiders, you did other things — but you’re reaching for the sandbox as an excuse.

Where do you read to keep abreast to what is going on in the search arena, from a financial business angle right down to getting dirty with search engine foibles. What feeds are you subscribed to and where do you read daily?

A lot of my feeds are right on the SEW Blog in the blog roll, and I go through them throughout the day. I also do some keyword-based monitoring through Google News and Yahoo News along with taking the tech.memorandium.com feed. Watching our SEW Forums brings up stuff, plus there’s always readers who send things.

What are the big three doing right, right now, in terms of search and business and what are they doing wrong in your opinion?

Google’s probably doing right in some of the new services that it’s rolling out, which protect it against Yahoo and MSN. But I think they’re doing wrong in also doing too many different things. I think Yahoo’s doing right in releasing finished, polished products. They are doing wrong in chasing the social sharing aspect of search perhaps a bit more than the should, but time might prove me wrong on that. It is something all of the search engines need to explore, but it’s not quite the single solution they may think it is. MSN’s doing right with thinks like the search macros and universal scroll, things that are different and unique. I love Windows Live Local, especially for its scratch pads. They’re doing wrong in having a core web search that still feels like it’s 1999. But that’s also a result of being literally years behind the others.

Imagine this, you are the sole decider in a web awards thingumy, so who would you present these awards to and why?

a. Best search engine results
Probably still Google, but I’d be really debating Yahoo and Ask, as well.

b. Best search related blog
Can’t vote for us, right 🙂 OK, that’s tough. Search Engine Roundtable I wouldn’t want to live without, because it keeps me updated on the forums. Google Blogoscoped gets me a lot of really interesting things, as well. John Battelle’s SearchBlog isn’t as active as the others, but when it is, there’s stuff to pay attention to. Threadwatch has good stuff, plus you have to watch Matt Cutts and Jeremy Zawondy as well. I know you want an overall winner, but I can’t do it! But that’s a short list of some of the most active blogs I find essentially — though there are more than this, as wel.

c. Best added value feature on a search engine
That’s also hard. The site: command is something I find essential, but they all have it. I love seeing text-only cached view on Google despite thinking they should make this opt-in. I like it because seeing what a search engine has seen is incredibly useful. I think the Windows Live Search (ugh, hate that name!) universal scroll is slow but a great idea, as is Ask’s cutomizable toolbar. I loved

d.Best website

e.Best site in terms of usability.
Don’t really have good answers for these, so skipping

What do you think about the v7ndotcom elursrebmem competition, are you planning on having a go and do you think it is a bit like painting a massive target on your ass in terms of giving up the tricks to the search engines?

I joked that I wanted to have my own SEO competition, and none of this let’s all go for some made up term. Let’s put out a challenge to rank well for a really honest-to-goodness competitive term!

I suppose it’s interesting to see the various competitions, but the past ones have really felt like a game of who can get the most important links. Getting those links is more about being creative with your link bait — which I know is an SEO skill — but it’s only testing one part of it. The twist this time seems to be link to me for charity, of course. I don’t really think the contest gives much to search engines, but neither does it prove much in terms of who does the best SEO. That’s in part because today, SEO isn’t just get the traffic. It’s get the traffic that converts. I suppose the winners in the v7ndotcom elursrebmem competition really would either be whoever makes the most off of AdSense off of it or earns from selling contest merchandise. Do we have a T-Shirt yet 🙂


I will keep it simple, thanks Danny for your thoughts and time.

If you have lived in cave for sometime you may not know about Danny’s outlets. So when you get chance take a peek at Daggle, Search Engine Watch, and of course the SEW forum.

ukgimp out.

6 Comments on “Danny Sullivan Interview

  1. Great new interview from Danny, Gimpy. Very interesting read on his views of the whole SEO industry. I totally agree on the importance of having content rich and worthwhile sites, but it’s a case of monetarising them to make all the content worthwhile.

  2. Yeah, good bloke Danny. Switched on. Although I dont fully agree with everything (automated link spam) I do believe he is right in a hell of a lot he talks about.

    The verticals struck a cord, and if you think about it lots of little verticles make up the the entire coverage that a lot of people try and do. I suppose it is the old niche effect.

  3. It’s always great to read what Danny Says away from covering a specific topic – what he says about local reminds me of his presentation at SES last year. That was really worrying.

  4. Things are not worrying if you can see them coming though, that’s the way you should be looking at it imho.

  5. “It also doesn’t help that you can have people of whatever hat providing work with no results — taking money but giving no real payoff.” Wow, my admiration for Danny just went even higher!

    While dishonest clients can be just as bad, I really believe that if a workable basic model for some kind of “Pay For Performance” SEO compensation (I suggest it be based on “conversion actions”, but not “offline sales”) can be implemented on a selective, customizeable basis, where it is truly an ethical, long term “win-win” situation for both buyer and seller, it would go a long way in helping the “bad reputation” situation (plus cut down on some of the buyer’s educational challenges).