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Interview With Search Legend Danny Sullivan

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I recently had the immense good fortune to be able to talk to Danny Sullivan about search. He has not only been around the industry since its formation but he runs a series of conferences called SMX. He took time out from his extremely busy schedule in the run up to SMX London to talk to me about what he does.

JUDITH LEWIS: Hi Danny - Thanks so much for taking time to answer a few questions. I know that most people in the industry know who you are but for The Huffington Post readers, could you briefly talk about your history in search marketing and how you came to be regarded as a world-leading expert?

DANNY SULLIVAN: I started looking into how search engines work back in 1995, when I was working for a web development company. We wanted some straight answers to use for our client work. I found the topic interesting beyond that, however. Being a former journalist, it made sense to me to publish information about search engines to a broad audience. I started doing that in 1996 and found myself with a new career of covering search engines and search marketing.

JUDITH: Does this mean you have secret insider knowledge about Google and how search works plus what changes are coming?

DANNY: Like many journalists who cover a beat for a long time, I get off-the-record information and sometimes briefed about coming changes. If you think about when a new phone comes out, and there are suddenly many reviews before the actual release date that happen the same day? Those journalists are given review units and a date when they can write about things. With search, I sometimes effectively get access to a review unit.

JUDITH: In the wake of the recent updates which I believe are called Penguin, do you foresee changes to the search marketing industry?

DANNY: SEO will remain as important as ever. Anyone who thinks that Penguin suddenly made SEO outdated simply doesn't have any history of the space. People who are hit are expressing doom-and-gloom comments exactly, and I mean exactly, as you could find expressed after the Florida Update in 2003. If SEO was supposed to have been killed by that, how on earth did it "come back" and survive to be killed by Penguin?

JUDITH: I suppose search will always be important despite the frequent changes. SEO as an industry seems to have a bit of a bad reputation. There has been a trend for search marketers to start calling themselves "inbound marketers". Some posit that this is a sign of the industry maturing & joining the larger marketing discipline rather than staying a separate specialism. What do you think about these changes to nomenclature?

DANNY: It's similar to the trend we saw when you had SEOs wondering if they should be doing paid search, when that became widely available. Some did, and they didn't know if SEO still covered what they did. "Search marketing" worked as a useful umbrella term for people who did both. Now you've got search marketers doing social and other types of marketing. "Internet marketing" or "digital marketing" has long served as a useful umbrella term here. But if you're only doing unpaid or "earned" digital marketing, there's no easy term for that. So some have proposed "inbound marketing." Works well enough for those who really want it, but the important thing is that if you're doing SEO, and you're happy doing SEO, you don't have to think you suddenly need to expand to become an inbound marketing. I also covered this more in a still recent column: http://marketingland.com/the-name-game-does-sem-equal-paid-search-1196

JUDITH: So SEOs have been changing and adapting to changes within the industry. As search professionals have changed, what about their responsibilities to the businesses they work for? There is no single body regulating search in the UK, with the IAB covering paid search advertising but no regulatory or trade body for SEO. Do you feel the industry needs regulation?

DANNY: I suspect that SEO still falls under advertising guidelines. If someone's being knowingly misleading with their SEO efforts, they might get impacted not just by the IAB but existing advertising and trade laws.

JUDITH: Finally, as I volunteer for London Girl Geek Dinners, I am aware of the current balance of gender in search marketing. Where once there were few women, the balance has absolutely shifted towards parity. As you have watched the industry evolve, would you say there was anything particular which has led to this? Also for women (or men) considering a career in search marketing, what education & training should they be sure to get to better their chances of being hired?

DANNY: Actually, I think the space has long had a high percentage of women working in it and being visible in it. When I think back to my first search conference in 1999, I had some panels that were all-women or with more women than men speaking. I don't really know that there is anything in particular women need to do versus men to increase their chances.

JUDITH: Thanks so much Danny - you are a legend in search & we appreciate your taking the time to talk to us.

For anyone who would like to go to the conference, you can find information about it and tickets at http://searchmarketingexpo.com/london/