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Danny Sullivan Leaves Search Engine Watch

31 August 2006 No Comment

Yesterday Danny Sullivan announced on his blog that he is leaving Search Engine Watch. This was big news in the web developer and marketing communications community, but so far it has prompted little comment in the PR community. This is surprising, when you consider the impact PR, including the lowly news release, can have a search engine visibility. You would think that PR people might have paid more attention to the departure of the person whose name has been synonymous with search engine optimization strategies.

I first came across Sullivan's search engine work nearly 10 years ago while researching my master's thesis on website promotion. I sent him an email, which he promptly answered. Later we talked at some length on the phone. Here's an excerpt from what I wrote in June of 1997:

There are two reasons web promoters should know about Danny Sullivan. The first is that he simply offers the most complete guide to search engines and directories to be found anywhere. The second is that he is a good writer and reporter, and so his guide is readable, entertaining and comprehensible–even to the somewhat technologically challenged.

Sullivan was an English major at the University of California, Irvine. He became a reporter for the Orange County Register and later the Los Angeles Times. He went into web development, then used his web knowledge and reporting skills to become a search engine specialist.

In a telephone interview (June 10, 1997), Sullivan said his language skills and reporting know-how have been useful resources for his web enterprise. “You need to be comfortable with computers, too,” he said. “The more you understand computers, the more successful you'll be on the web. On the other hand, it's not so much your educational background as your attitude that determines your success.”

The most important attitude change people have to make when they move to the web, Sullivan explained, is to really accept that this is a new medium, requiring new thinking. “You've got to understand it's a different medium,” he said. “It's not radio. It's not TV. It's not print. You need to be willing to look for new ways to do things. You always have to ask, ‘Is this going to work on the net?'”

I think the most important attitude that Danny Sullivan brought to the net is the willingness he demonstrated to share his knowledge, and his time. He wasn't in it just for the money, and as a result he made a lot of money. He takes time to talk with students and other neophytes about the net. To share the joy of being part of a thing so new that even to this day the experts are constantly having to learn new tricks.

I had the privilege of talking to some of those early pioneers when the web was still new even to them: Danny Sullivan, Eric Ward and IAOC's own Steve O'Keefe. They each took a different path, and focused on a different need: Sullivan on search engines, Eric Ward on links, and O'Keefe on book publicity. And to this day, they seem to continue to take pleasure in being learners and teachers.

I'm sure we'll see more of Danny Sullivan in the future. I'm betting his departure from the corporate world will lead him back to the entrepreneurial world where he so obviously thrived.

Don Dunnington

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