Danny Sullivan Interview

Danny Sullivan is without a doubt the most highly regarded, god-like figure in the search engine marketing industry. Somehow he always manages to get the scoops and insights first, and his Search Engine Watch website has remained the unchallenged leader in SEO news for as long as I can remember.

To use a cliche, he is the one man in SEO who needs no introduction.

John Scott: Hi Mr. Sullivan, and thank you for allowing us to interview you.

Danny Sullivan: You’re welcome!

John Scott: We all know you’re the man behind the wheel at Search Engine Watch, and the authority on search engines. But who is the real Danny Sullivan? What makes you happy? And what do you do when you’re not dissecting search engine algorithms?

Danny Sullivan: Well, I’ve actually just started my personal blog over at daggle.com. So if you’re curious about what I like or do beyond search, I’m talking about some of that stuff over there.

When I’m not dealing with search, I’m really trying to spend time with my two young boys and my wife, or reading a good book or playing with some computer games or gadgets. I especially love to travel, but it’s been a long time since I’ve done that. I travel for work but not for tourism much any more, but I hope to get back to that in the future.

John Scott: In 2005 we heard a lot of webmasters and search engine optimization professionals complain that Google is filtering bought text links, reciprocal links and sandboxing new websites. Some suggest that professional SEO will die out in favor of pay per click advertising. Where do you see SEO heading in the coming years?

Danny Sullivan: SEO isn’t going away.

I still see that there will a base level of organic results, the editorial content if you will, which provides a necessary balance to advertising. I expect that the bar will continue to be raised so that those without good content sites will find it harder and harder to do well. But having said that, I’m also sure we’ll continue to have loopholes or techniques that those who want to chase the algorithm can use.

Ultimately, my big message is rather than chase the web search algorithm, people should be thinking verticals. Vertical search results are going to grow and at some point, a switch will flip where they’ll be the default results you get. Do a search for something shopping related, and it will be shopping results you get first, then web search as backup. The smart SEOers will be looking at vertical now and succeeding there. Then when that switch flips, they’ll tap into even more traffic.

In short, Go Vertical, Young SEOer, Go Vertical.

John Scott: Do you see Google dominating search in the coming years, or do you expect serious competition from Yahoo and/or MSN?

Danny Sullivan: I think Google will continue to be a huge player and likely the biggest player over the next two or three years, easily.

Yahoo I think will continue to hold a solid second place position and perhaps pick up some share. Some of that will probably come from Google, as Yahoo’s doing a lot of great things. MSN will likely stay in third place, I suspect.

John Scott: Which search engine do you use?

Danny Sullivan: Like many others, I tend to start things with Google. If it fails, I tend to kick over to Yahoo, then Ask Jeeves and then MSN. It’s more habit than anything else.

I highly recommend the Groowe toolbar. It does pretty much everything the various search specific toolbars do, but it also makes it easy to rerun your query using any number of major search engines.

John Scott: Is it evil to buy text links? Do you recommend it?

Danny Sullivan: That’s a hard question.

Beginning of 2005, I would have said it was more black hattish to buy links specifically to gain search results. Whether it was evil would depend on several things. If you were a great site about cars and just not ranking, so you buy links to help boost your rankings, evil’s way too strong. You run some cruddy site about used auto parts with practically no inventory and want to do the same? Yeah, I’m not feeling you’re so wholesome.

However, 2005 was an incredible year in terms of the number of “respectable” sites that ended up selling links. We also got the idea of nofollow as something that any “good” link buyer should be using as a way to buy links but not be “unfairly” influencing search results. I mostly agree with that, but there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to jump totally behind that. This is because there are plenty of links being bartered, or backscratching types of things, or where linking is happening not because a site deserves it but because of some type of influence being involved. Shouldn’t all those links carry nofollow, as well? And if not, then why do paid links have to be so bad in comparison?

Overall, nofollow isn’t going to solve the link economy being polluted. It already is. What nofollow does is simply allow those who want to buy and sell links purely for link traffic to declare they aren’t trying to scam a search engine, so don’t hassle them. And that’s still a good thing, because there are plenty of people who want to buy links just for that traffic.

John Scott: If you could give one piece of advice to a novice SEO, what would it be?

Mr. Sullivan: Focus on having content that will keep me reading your page for more than one minute. Good content is compelling, makes me want to explore more and tell others about your site. All good things flow from that.

John Scott: Thank you for your time, Mr. Sullivan.

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