Danny Sullivan: Q&A Session

Q&A Session: Danny Sullivan

Danny’s Q&A Session is happening on June 24th 2015 (4pm EST)

Danny’s expertise about search engines is often sought by the media, and he has been quoted in places like The Wall St. Journal, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, Forbes, The New Yorker and Newsweek and ABC’s Nightline.

Danny began covering search engines in late 1995, when he undertook a study of how they indexed web pages. The results were published online as “A Webmaster’s Guide To Search Engines,” a pioneering effort to answer the many questions site designers and Internet publicists had about search engines.

Danny works as the founding editor of Search Engine Land and Marketing Land, which cover all aspects of digital marketing, search marketing and search engine news. Danny also serves as Third Door Media’s chief content officer, which owns Search Engine Land and the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series.

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Danny SullivanFounding Editor of Search Engine Land – Transcript

Danny Sullivan is the Founding Editor of Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today. He is a leading expert on search engines, and has been quoted in Forbes, The New Yorker and The Wall St. Journal, among others.

The Q&A Session with Danny was held on June 24th, 2015. This transcript has been edited for punctuation, grammar, etc.

What is your most surprising find to date while running SearchEngineLand.com?

That there’s always so many new people coming into the SEO and SEM space. It’s easy to assume that everyone knows all the history, way things work and so on. But there’s huge turnover.

How did it feel when Matt Cutts said SEW was “must reading?”

As I was still running SEW at the time, very good. It’s nice to have someone of his stature giving the nod to an important industry publication. I probably need to nudge him to update that to saying Search Engine Land is must reading.

Have you ever hungout with Matt Cutts? Random. But curious what he’s like.

Many times. He’s very nice, very genuine, thoughtful.

Did the redesign have a big impact on readership and traffic?

Yes, helped increase our average page views a bit and our engagement much more. Plus just a lot easier to read. We’re about to go into another round of testing things.

Also when not reading about search…What else do you browse on the interwebs?

I read a lot about technology generally, as well as general news, politics and stuff. But sadly, I don’t do that much browsing, because after a day of working on it, I don’t want to still be on the computer.

What productivity tools or systems do you use to help give you the edge?

I love BusyCal for the Mac, Airmail for the Mac. Those are my main productivity tools, just a nice calendar and email program.

Do you recommend any reporting services or do you do all the metrics in house?

I don’t deal directly with all our reporting. For example, we use several tools just for social media measurement, which our VP of engagement Monica Wright oversees. Personally, I love Chartbeat for a sense of what’s happening currently on our sites.

What’s the worst press release that wanted to be posted on SEL that has ever hit your inbox?

There are so many, it’s hard to pick one off the top of my head. Usually they are things that just aren’t even targeted to us, like someone pitching homemade wallets or something. Crazy stuff.

Most read article on SEL?

That’s probably the one where Google accused Bing of copying its search results. I’d never seen anything attract so many views. It’s here: http://searchengineland.com/google-bing-is-cheating-copying-our-search-results-62914

What about Sergey and Larry?

I haven’t seen Larry or Sergey for about two or three years in person, one-to-one. Never hung out with them on a personal basis. Have had several one-to-one encounters in the past, especially early on in Google’s history. Both are intensely curious and interested in everything. What type of phone are you using and all that.

What’s the most effective way to tell a customer their website is bad and should trust your recommendations to make it better?

I don’t do client work like that, so not best to answer. Generally, I’d be honest. They’ve hired you to do a job. Tell them you’re giving it to them straight. If they don’t want to accept your message, that’s a good early warning it’s not a client you want a long-term relationship with.

How many times have people approached you to buy a link on your site? LOL

We get approaches like that almost every day through email, someone wanting to buy links. It’s crazy, clueless.

I think people approached Cutts to buy links. I saw it somewhere just forgot where.

Yes, he gets the same type of emails we get. This covers the type of idiocy that’s out there http://searchengineland.com/conversation-with-an-idiot-link-broker-14862

Does SEL ever do product/SAAS reviews or is that up for other blogs?

Some of our columnists occasionally review tools as part of overall stories. Our staff doesn’t, because it’s very time consuming and best done by people actually using tools.

Which “title” do you feel best represents you: journalist, marketer, entrepreneur, search _geek_?


What’s the best tip you have got from your SEL tip page?

Honestly can’t recall. We should start compiling stuff like that. The whole thing about the weird Google Maps results recently was interesting.

Which SEO tool are you the most impressed with?

I don’t look at them all, but I do like Google Search Console.

How do you describe SEO to any ‘non-computer people’ that you meet?

“You know how when you search on Google, people want to be on the top? I write about that. That’s SEO.”

Do people often see you at conferences and know your face but forget your name?

People at our conferences generally do know me by name. It’s sometimes the opposite where they might not recognize me in an elevator or something.

Thanks for doing this! Besides the knowledge graph eating up SERP real estate, do you see any other trends gaining momentum that maybe are flying under the radar that more SEO’s should really be paying attention to?

Mobile, both in considering apps, considering deep linking and especially considering how the mindset of people who come to pages via mobile might be different than from desktop.

What is your opinion on blog tags from both a user experience POV, and also from an SEO POV?

You mean like tagging stories in WordPress? Not a big deal at all.

Just using blog tags in general, tag clouds, etc. – do you think they still have a purpose? And if they do, is it purely for SEO and not UX?

It’s a UX thing.

How do you keep yourself at the cutting edge of search technology; do you have insider access/moles in Google, Bing, etc.?

We get tips. We talk to people both at the companies and in the industry. We see a lot for ourselves.

Does Google ever send you tips… that they wouldn’t want to announce?

It’s really rare for any company to do that. Easy for them to get in trouble if they’re trying to point at say someone else or seen as instigating a story. Has happened, but very rare. Much more common are pre-briefs ahead of a formal news announcement.

What is your opinion on Broken Link Building, finding a home to traffic that would go to a 404 with manual outreach to a webmaster. Do you think this is different than PBN and other uses of expired domains? Interested to hear your thoughts on a controversial topic.

I think the fact that you even mention PBN as a tactic worrisome and indicative you’re perhaps on a terrible path with SEO. You want to attract great links from great sites because you have great content. You don’t want to be chasing low-quality links from the nooks-and-crannies of the web. They can work short-term. They can severely hurt long-term.

What’s the biggest value-add of putting on SMX? What are your thoughts on conferences in general (i.e. too many, too few, not enough in industry x, etc.)?

We put on SMX because people like in-person conferences, and they help support our overall business. We’re the only major event focused on search marketing, so it’s a nice spot to be in. I think conferences can be useful to many people.

Is your main source of income SMX?

I don’t know the contribution overall to our company, Third Door Media, but it’s significant. We’re not entirely dependent on them, however. That’s the nice thing. Our company has several revenue streams.

Where do you see the phone/SMS heading in terms of marketing? What sort of things do you expect to be added into phone systems?

I think so much is already embedded in phones, including search. The growth to me will be our phones getting better at predicting what we want and proactively offering up information.

Needa update your title tag on http://thirddoormedia.com/

Well, it does say the name of our company. There is much more we could and should do to the company site. But it’s rarely visited. Our efforts go into the brand sites.

If you were asked to share one SEO tip/tool in a room full of industry veterans / peers what would it be?

It’ll be boring, but it would be to focus on content. That the more you’re doing something because you think it’s only for SEO reasons, the more likely you’re going offtrack. You want links, right? But not for SEO, but because links from good places bring good audience. You think that way, you align with the type of links you want for good SEO. You want a sitemap to feed search engines, right? But that’s because you want to ensure they know about all the pages you want human visitors to find. If you think sitemaps are a way to sneak in pages just for the search engines but not for humans, then you’re misaligning your SEO efforts. Hope that makes sense.

  1. What are you most proud of in your career? 2. What do you spend most of your working day doing? 3. Any non-profits/charities you’re involved in?

giphy and im done

and im done (343KB)

lol bad .gif

I’m probably proudest of pushing on the FTC about better disclosure of paid listings and paid inclusion in search results. Wish I could say it helped. It really didn’t. They didn’t seem to care. Eventually, they issued updated guidelines that were so wishy-washy as to be a waste of time. But I tried. I’m also proud of the Periodic Table of SEO as a framework that I hope helps people understand SEO better. And overall, I’m just happy to have been able to help educate people generally about search marketing.

Most of my day is spent running through email, then dealing with strategic plans and stuff for Third Door Media, working with my staff on tactical plans that are underway, then reviewing various things for future articles. And writing whenever I can.

I’m not personally involved in any charities, but I make donations. Wounded Warrior, The Red Cross and the USO are some of the big ones.

Scenario: Amit Singhal has left Google and you’re unveiled as the new SVP of Search; you’re at your first press conference… “So Mr. Sullivan, where would you like to take Google Search?”

I’d want to push to be more transparent with publishers about how information is gathered, used and ensuring there’s a fair exchange of benefit back to them. I’d continue to the push toward predictive search that’s happening with Google Now. I potentially might open-source the Google web index for anyone to use, since if I was at Google, that’s supposedly all about open sourcing everything, that should be on the table. I’d accelerate plans to tap more into social signals for relevancy to get away from links. I’d stop penalizing sites for gaining bad links and simply discount them. I’d spend a lot of time listening to the smart people already there on what should happen next. Then I’d use one of those nap pods and contemplate how to get out before I screwed everything up.

Is this the first AMA you’ve done on Slack? How are you feeling about it so far?

It is, and it’s pretty nice.

The nap pods are nice. I think the Chi office has them on the top floor, which I’m super jealous of… Do you think that all these search changes are leaving SMB’s out in the cold? If I’m an SMB, moving to a responsive site, getting my maps updated, reaching out for reviews and getting a social following can be too much of a hit on the (nonexistent) marketing budget.

No. I think SMBs continue to get huge amounts of traffic from Google all for free. I do think that the free traffic is going to get less across the board. But I also think there’s plenty of it and especially for smart companies that keep looking for new spaces… And yet those same SMBs will keep spending away on print yellow pages ads. Plenty of SMBs start Instagram accounts, deal with Yelp and understand that this is just part of being a business now. I get that it can be overwhelming for some and harder than in the past. But it also gives them new opportunities, as well.

I saw the report that smbs are pushing ppc ad spends through the roof… Do you get tired of reading and hearing general search platitudes like “content is king,” “something something engagement,” and how do you sort out the signal v. noise factor?

It’s more I’m tired of saying them, because I fear people are tired of hearing them. But they’re true, and people too often fail to do so.

If you were starting a one-person digital marketing firm from scratch today, what would your focus /niche be?

I think it would be interesting to focus on unique social media campaigns. Not running social media accounts but coming up with unique campaigns to run on social media.

What are your thoughts about the AD-Tech industry ? This is in response to yesterday’s article on MOZ calling out online advertisershttps://moz.com/blog/online-advertising-fraud

My thought is more has been wasted in the traditional ad world where poor measurement means people believe the magic pitches that something was seen or converted. Yeah, there’s fraud in digital. Digital is growing despite this and wouldn’t if the fraud were significantly more than the benefits.

What’s the one big achievement that has of yet eluded you (across anything personal or business)?

It would be nice to write a book about search. In some quarters, authoring a book helps you be seen as an authority in a space. I’d like to think I’m a fairly decent authority in search. But a book could help, plus it would allow me some time to reflect on trends and changes in the nearly 20 years I’ve been watching the space. Just haven’t had the time.

You might consider checking out http://bookinabox.com/

Not for me. I’m a writer. I have to write stuff myself.

Can you talk more about what you find interesting in how mobile users interact with landing pages, deeplinking, etc? What would be a really stellar experience for a mobile user, from your experience?

There’s no right answer. The best experience varies but depends on making sure you know what a mobile user typically wants. You’re a news site? Easy to read articles. Online florist? Easy ordering.

Thanks, everyone. Wish I could stay longer but have a hard stop right now!Enjoyed doing this!

Thanks for hanging out for a bit!


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