Danny Sullivan Interviewed by Eric Enge on July 30, 2007 | Perficient Digital

Danny Sullivan Interviewed by Eric Enge on July 30, 2007

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Danny Sullivan

Widely considered a leading “search engine guru,” Danny Sullivan has been helping webmasters, marketers and everyday web users understand how search engines work for over a decade.

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.

The positive reaction from both marketers and general search engine users caused Danny to expand the guide into Search Engine Watch, where he served as editor-in-chief through November 2006. Now he heads up Search Engine Land as editor-in-chief, taking it into the next generation of search coverage. Danny also serves as Third Door Media’s chief content officer.

Interview Transcript

Eric Enge: Let’s start with what your expectations were when you launched Search Engine Land, Search Marketing Expo, and Search Marketing Now?

Danny Sullivan: I expected that it would be a lot of hard work. I was pleased that we had many people immediately come over and form a community and readership develop around it. But, at the same time, you still have to build a lot of the awareness in the market so that people know that there is something new out there. For example, there are people who come to talk to me about SES Chicago, and they don’t realize that I am not programming that show. I’m going to be a speaker there, but they are confused and because I was associated with Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Strategies for so long, it’s difficult for some people to understand that I am doing something different.

Eric Enge: They are getting used to the switchover it seems.

Danny Sullivan: It’s just funny to watch this un-bundling happen. I still get things addressed to me about Search Engine Watch. But then, you have a lot of people who understand that there’s been a change. One of the nicest things as far as the biggest expectations I had was that when we launched Search Engine Land, I was really trying to come in with a very fresh light design, something that I felt like was coming out of say 2007, as opposed to Search Engine Watch that at the time still had a design from 2004. Of course, Search Engine Watch has updated their design to try to make it lighter and airier as well.

Eric Enge: Did you try to do some things deliberately to make it different, just so that it won’t be more of the same?

Danny Sullivan: Actually, I didn’t. It’s funny you keep having people who would ask why Search Marketing Expo is going to be different than Search Engine Strategies, and I am thinking well, Search Engine Strategies has been a really successful conference series that people have liked. We are continuing on doing that as a part of Search Marketing Expo, and to me, the question wasn’t how Search Marketing Expo would be different, but how is Search Engine Strategies going to maintain what it had without us doing it.

It’s been interesting to watch because now that Kevin Ryan is on board, part of the answer seems to be that they plan to do something different. I was happy about that because now I can stop answering why Search Marketing Expo would be different. Having said that, there are some differences. One of the key things we thought going in was, people really want to have good food and a good experience, and that is part of what we did with Search Marketing Expo Advanced. That’s going to be a hallmark of any of the shows that we are going to do. We joked about having a box lunch with a circle and a slash through it.

We really had a big focus on making sure that we had organized parties and networking events, and that’s going to continue. We are going to continue on having outstanding sessions. I think that you’ll see different sessions on an ongoing basis. Whenever I was programming an SES show I was always constantly looking to find different sessions that were out there.

So, when I am asked how is Search Engine Land different; it has one less letter and it had a lighter appeal to it. I kind of joke about that, but I mean that Search Engine Land was simply a place for me to continue to deal with the team that I had been working with at Search Engine Watch, and do lots of things that we were doing before. Some people like the in-depth analysis of the long articles that I do, and so you can still find those; you just find them in Search Engine Land and not in Search Engine Watch. Some people like the kind of heavy news blogging that we do; both sites are continuing to do that obviously.

We also have a big emphasis on Search Cap, which is our recap of everything that went on in search. So, those are things that will be the hallmarks of Search Engine Land. I think the main difference between what we are doing at Search Engine Land and what I was doing in Search Engine Watch is we are running columns, and we have happily borrowed the idea from Search Engine Watch.

We had a great reaction. We’ve had all kinds of columns coming in, where people are able to go along and dive in and are very energetic. We have a whole range of those. So, that’s definitely a big change from what you had at Search Engine Watch when I was doing it, when we just didn’t have columnists. That would have been a long overdue thing. It’s one of the fun things about starting over from scratch, you think about stuff differently than you have done in the past. You are open to new possibilities that you had closed off before because it’s not that I would have closed off columns as an idea. It just happened that it hadn’t occurred to me because we were so busy doing other stuff. We are also looking at having a lot of variety of people and hiring more staff. Greg Sterling is a great example. In the past, I tended to have correspondents, and that was a little more hit and miss, where a correspondent might pick up something or not pick up something. Now it’s more like, I am going to do this and you’ll go into a little more depth about it, and you know it will get done.

Eric Enge: Having dedicated people is a big advantage obviously because you can count on them to do things in a certain way and in a certain volume.

Danny Sullivan: The other big change is that when we launched we had comments. We didn’t do that on Search Engine Watch because we ran a forum and it was difficult to do the moderation of a forum, much less to moderate the comments which you had on a blog as well. It also was confusing for people -“where am I supposed to be interacting with your community, at your forums or on your blog or on both”? It was nice to immediately launch and have comments because you get a lot of useful information that come out of comments and from people giving that kind of feedback. Of course, then Sphinn came up, which was always part of the plan, and the idea was not to divide the way people would communicate, but we would have a system that would allow people to both comments on our own stories plus contribute a comment on stories that are happening across the web.

Eric Enge: Were there any surprises in how the things have turned out since the launch?

Danny Sullivan: Let’s see, it’s a lot of work.

Eric Enge: That wasn’t a surprise, remember; you projected that part.

Danny Sullivan: Yes, but I didn’t project how much work it would be, but it’s because you are bringing everything together from scratch. You don’t have your about pages, you don’t have your contact pages, and you do not have your privacy policy in place. You have to bring up all your themes, all your titles, all your descriptions. So, it’s a lot of this one-off stuff that you have to do, that you have to build up. One of the most interesting surprises, I think is probably watching the impact of social media on traffic. Search Engine Watch, for example, is a long established site that is a decade old. Your traffic tends to be dominated by Google, with Google News consistently sending tons and tons of traffic.

With a brand new site, you are literally seeing new sites that are sending you traffic that are interesting, unique and that you might not have noticed in the noise of the fire hoses of the other sources. StumbleUpon especially, I looked at StumbleUpon and said: “wow, there is really something going on out there”. That is what got me to write an article earlier this year in which I called the social media sites almost “kissing cousins to search”. I said that you really need to consider social media, because I was bringing up this brand new site while most people are thinking “you’ve got to do your Google, you got to do your Yahoo, you got to do your Microsoft and Ask’. I’m seeing traffic that shows Yahoo sending nothing, Google sending a small amount. Yahoo is certainly ranking us for certain things, but, the traffic just wasn’t flowing from it. In contrast, some of the social media sites, where a lot of the search marketers aren’t paying attention, are sending tons of traffic, more than what you would get off of Yahoo. That might make you think that perhaps I’ve got to be a little less worried about trying to be focused on Yahoo’s strategy and spending a little bit more time looking at some of the social media sites. The other thing is that social media has a similarity to search because you have people going to them that are exercising discovery behavior. Part of search is looking to fulfill a desire, so you go to search and you do the search and you find it.

But people who go to Google News are not just browsing. They are looking at Google News because they are searching for news in particular, which is trying to discover what’s interesting and going on at that time. The people at Digg or StumbleUpon are exhibiting the same kind of discovery behavior. What’s new, what’s happening, what’s going on, and that helps qualify the traffic in much the same way as search does.

Eric Enge: With today’s search environment, it’s hard to get a new site ranking for lots of difficult search terms in a hurry. This is just not going to happen.

Danny Sullivan: Right.

Eric Enge: With the Perficient Digital blog, I first began blogging last August, less than a year ago. I had no illusions about ranking for terms like SEO in the short term, but, getting lots of traffic from social media sites. It’s a great way to get a lot of traffic in the early stages of the site before the search engine volume follows.

Danny Sullivan: Yes. That’s been the other thing that has made me kind of sad, is that we came from this site that has this consistent search traffic that you absolutely know you can depend on, as much as you can depend on anything, but it is pretty consistent, and, suddenly you are sandboxed. Google can say that new sites can do well, but I would say don’t tell me the PR spin. I’m looking at a new site right now that has plenty of authority pointing at it, because so many people immediately linked to it, and yet, all it really ranks for is its name. So, it was nice being able to go back and identify with a lot of the people who launched new sites, and see what they are experiencing.

Eric Enge: I think there is a phenomenal story there for you by the way. Somewhere down the road, when the search engine traffic begins to become a stronger factor than it is now, you can provide a benchmark example of what happens with a site that gathers a lot of link authority quickly.

Danny Sullivan: Well, it’s funny when we got our PageRank defined, and I think we got a PR7 in the end, people were going “look, look”. I didn’t even notice, I don’t like to pay that much attention to it, but, I suppose it was nice since you have a lot of places that try to rate blogs, and one thing they look at is your PR ranking. So, yeah all right I’ll take the 7, but I’d take the PR8 I had.

Eric Enge: Well, you’ll probably get that over time.

Danny Sullivan: It wasn’t a surprise to me and it was very much as I expected. The nice thing is I know that we have good content and I know that the content is continuing to grow and that the rewards that any site gets when they focus on the content in the long term should come to us too.

Eric Enge: Right. The way you are getting traffic now is enough to keep you going, so you have the best of both worlds. What about goals for the original three businesses, Search Engine Land, Search Marketing Expo, and Search Marketing Now?

Danny Sullivan: Well, Search Engine Land’s goal was really to continue doing what we’d already been doing, which was to keep people informed about search and search marketing. To me, it forms the core of what we do, and it gets us the audience that the other things can leverage. Search Marketing Expo again was intended to allow us to continue doing the conferences that we had been doing before. 2007 is kind of a weird year because we have this transitional period that makes sense to both us and Incisive Media to finish out the SES shows. Anyway, we were doing our planning, and we knew that the SES shows in 2007 weren’t going to go away. So, it didn’t really make any sense to have our own general purpose shows come up against them.

2008 will be a different story. We’ve announced our show that’s going to happen out in San Jose or Santa Clara and that will be a general purpose event for the people who want it similar in style with what we’ve been doing, but with good food and a nice experience. A lot of people looked at the SMX Advanced show and got confused or misunderstood our longer-term intent, and concluded that SMX is really for advanced people. So yes, SMX advanced is for the advanced people, and then we have vertically targeted shows for people who want to dive in deep in particular areas, and we’ll have a general purpose show as well.

Search Marketing Now has been a lot of fun. That’s really the baby of Chris Elwell, our President who has been with Jupiter Media for years. He was the person who actually orchestrated the purchase of Search Engine Watch to begin with. He is the person that got the first Search Engine Strategies to show going and it’s great to have him come back to it. He’d say you really want to have visibility for people to go online and take part in these kinds of experiences, to get a good education on the stuff that’s happening in the market, because not everybody can make it to a conference, and not everybody can afford some of the conferences that are out there.

In many ways our different sites reinforce each other, you could probably keep up on news and learn a lot on your own. Search Engine Land provides that to you. If you want to have somebody to talk to you and understand more about what’s going on and get more formal instruction in a particular area, we can provide that to you. If you want to go to the conferences where people could do the impersonal type of stuff, we can to that as well.

Eric Enge: What about your profitability goals? Do you have a timeframe in mind that you could talk about?

Danny Sullivan: We probably do, but my job is Chief Content Officer but Chris Elwell is President and he oversees the revenue and operation. I check in with him from time to time and he says we are doing fine, so I believe that. We had a goal for our first show which was to hit a minimum number of visitors, and we exceeded the goal and sold out, and that set us up very nicely. I think we look more at our conferences right now based on attendance and having a nice growth curve there. Some of the advertising was already sold for the year anyway, so we are well set there. The hard thing in terms of advertising for a new site too is that you don’t have any traffic when you start. It is very difficult to project what will happen, so sorry to say we projected our traffic in a really conservative way, and we are above the estimate so far.

Eric Enge: Let’s talk about Sphinn. How do you pronounce it?

Danny Sullivan: I pronounce it “spin”. What happened was that we were going to call it “Spinn”. We were thinking that we would have this site so that people could comment on Search Engine Land stories. Then we thought “let’s use the gear icon that we used in Search Engine Land as part of the logo that we have”, and, we thought “wouldn’t it be funny if the gear spun around and then quickly said to ourselves: the gear really could spin, and in fact we could tell people to tell us their spin on the story.: That was how the idea of “Spinn” started. But, then, of course, we couldn’t get the domain spin.com. Spin.com on one end wasn’t going to be had, it was going to go for a hundred thousand dollars, and we just decided that was maybe ninety-nine thousand more than we thought it was worth.

So, then I thought well why not try “Sphinn”. You could still pronounce it “Spin” if you put the emphasis on the “sp”. That’s what we went out with and we thought it might not be exactly right, but it’s a Web 2.0 world. I really didn’t anticipate people calling it “Sfin”. Actually, we very quickly decided to get a hold of sfin.com, which we did. It’s funny there was a little bit of a debate. I think some people decided that they were going to keep calling it “sfin”, and as far as I am concerned you can call it whatever you want as long as you are coming to it.

Its funny ClickZ went through this. People were sort of ClickZ is “Click Z”, but it was actually supposed to be pronounced “Clicks”. But, people started calling it “Click Z” and so it kind of got turned into that name.

Eric Enge: What are the goals for Sphinn going forward?

Danny Sullivan: We will keep adding on a lot of features and build out the community. I was just thrilled at the number of people who came in initially and then especially who are not just submitting stories but are talking about them. I go in and it seems like really great value-added comments are being made, where people talk about the current hot stories, but also those that were already submitted before.

In the beginning, I had four different goals, but if all it did was turn into a place for people to comment and talk about Search Engine Land stories, I was happy. We also hoped that the idea of voting on stories and submitting in a Digg-like fashion would take off because some people wanted that. I wanted the site as an alternative for people who liked the recap info we provide on Search Engine Land but want some additional alternatives as well. Barry and I pick up the stories we want to highlight each day, but there is always more than what we highlight. What if we miss a story? Sphinn provides another way for those stories to get exposed.

We also wanted people to have a forum. We didn’t have that when we launched. People who know Search Engine Land, or know our conferences, or want to be part of this community that revolves around them, need the ability to do that right on our site, and I think that that’s already working. You just need that. I learned that with Search Engine Watch.

I also feel like in search marketing we have a lot of fragmentation. We have people who are at Webmaster World, or on the Search Engine Watch forums or HighRankings, or they are on FaceBook, or some other social networking systems. It’s hard to keep track of who is doing what, where and why. That was part of the idea as well, let’s at least get people, if they are not at Sphinn to actually network, or take part in the discussions, or at least they can create a calling card so you can easily find out where they are at if they want to share in that way. That was part of building up the network aspect. It’s also meant to help a lot of the people who were going out to conferences, our conferences or anybody’s conferences, who don’t know anyone.

Now we have the ability to simply go into our calendar, see what shows are happening, and say “I am going to be going to it”. We want to build that out as one of our next features, where you can say “hey, let’s get together at a certain time and let’s talk about a particular topic or I am looking to meet somebody who is interested in this particular type of thing”, and make those plans in advance.

Eric Enge: I think it’s a great start to the site, so congratulations on that. I also think it provides a way for people who are producing great content to get visibility and exposure.

Danny Sullivan: I must say we wondered if it was just going to be all the same people who are already A-listers talking about stuff. But, I am seeing a lot of new people, I just didn’t know were writing, and that are finding interesting things, and I am just thrilled by it.

Eric Enge: Let’s switch into some broader search industry topics. Let’s start by talking about the impact of universal search. What are your thoughts on that?

Danny Sullivan: For one, I feel at a loss now as I’ve been trying to tell people for the past few years about vertical search and personalization, but now both of them happened in so short a period of time. I kept telling everybody “look out, vertical search is going to become more important, you need to pay attention, so stop worrying only about your Google rankings just off of web search”. And, I also have been talking about the personalized picture for a long time, and now we get both of them, and I am like “okay, what do I tell them now”?

Universal search will have a big huge impact. People will have great opportunities if they’ve been paying attention to vertical search areas such as local or video, to suddenly get into the top results where they may have felt they were locked out before. I think that’s just going to ramp up even more. If you needed that slap in the face that you can’t ignore vertical search, you should be totally getting it now.

Eric Enge: Do you think that Universal Search might drive more adoption of the pure vertical search properties, just because people get exposed to them, suddenly discover that you can see things like, for example, the “I have a dream speech”, and then go looking for more stuff?

Danny Sullivan: Maybe, but even now I don’t think they do a particularly good job of exposing that they have these vertical things. I think that they need to take a two tier strategy which includes continuing to have the vertical standalone properties. Perhaps you promote some of them more strongly. So far I haven’t seen any people saying that “I didn’t even know that they had blog search, but now I have seen it because it is showing up”.

Some of these verticals are really well known, such as YouTube, Google Images, and Google News. But, blog search is not, and you’ve got to really hunt to find it.

It’s even worse at Microsoft. I have tracked down Microsoft search properties that I’m wondering if they even remember that they still have. I remember them launching yet I couldn’t find links to them from their toolbars, or from their navigation within their site itself. So, I think a lot of verticals are being neglected or ignored.

Eric Enge: I spoke to Peter Norvig and Marissa Mayer at different times at the announcement, and one of the things that came out to me from those conversations is that Universal Search was not easy to do. There is this whole process of normalizing the relevancy scores across all these different vertical properties so that you could compare them to one another and decide how this video compared to this text webpage, to this image, to this news release, to this blog, etc. I think that this is not going to be easy for other search engines to replicate.

Danny Sullivan: That’s a key aspect of this. The other services, Yahoo and Ask for example, naturally said “big deal”. We already do this, we already do shortcuts, we already do that, and I was saying that’s not what Google is doing.

What Google is saying is that when they have thirty different resources, thirty different verticals that they want to include, they will selectively pick the right ones and get the most relevant stuff in there. They can tell that this video search is more relevant than that particular web listing.

However, it might be more than what you actually need. In fact recently when I was doing searches in both Ask and Google’s universal search, it disappointed me when I was doing a search for the London bombing attempts that had happened. I wasn’t using the words that perhaps they were thinking, but the words that I thought should have figured in some of the news articles. But, I didn’t see them coming up in either place.

I also looked for Paris Hilton, because she was disinherited. I did a search on Ask and I wasn’t getting the news, so their algorithm didn’t seem to find it. Google did show it, but it looked just like a regular one box result. So, whatever super, wonderful, supercalifragilistic thing that they had going on, I didn’t see it really that much of a big deal. It was kind of old school to me, I just have to think it’s going to get better down the line.

Eric Enge: Is it really going to help improve relevance for users?

Danny Sullivan: It has that potential when they finally put the switch on, so for example when I do something that is obviously a news query and they give me eight news results. That’s the thing that I find still disappointing, there is stuff that they know are news queries. They can see a spike that happens, and they know people are not trying to search the entire web for something, but they are looking for the latest breaking news, and you still get web search results in a local one box.

Eric Enge: What about personalization? How much data can they leverage in order to implement it, how far they will go with it, and then how far will they go with tweaking their results?

Danny Sullivan: I find personalization very compelling. For one, it’s the perfect reinforcement for people who try to determine if a search engine is relevant by doing an ego search. That’s a terrible way to determine the relevancy of a search engine, but it’s commonly done. As a result, Google personalized search is beautiful, because you are always going to your own website. Since you are always going to your own website, suddenly your own website starts ranking better in Google personalized search. It is just brilliant.

Other than that, it really does tend to start bringing up other sites that I tend to go to into the higher end of results and I think that that does increase my perception of relevancy. It’s not doing it to the degree that people are freaking out, like with Amazon, where I ordered Mariachi music once and I keep getting Mariachi music recommendations a year later.

Eric Enge: Do you think the privacy concerns will become serious?

Danny Sullivan: I think they are already serious. You are basically building out a very intimate search history of each person, and then it will be very scary if that stuff ever leaks out. It’s something I think about and I think other people will probably start to think about it a lot more. The real concern is the security of this data, and how people might be able to access it. Google had security problems already, saying that it’s not inconceivable that something like this could happen, and that could happen with any other search engine as well.

Eric Enge: They announced that they were going to reduce the cookie expiration date down to 18 months instead of sometime in 2048. If I’m not mistaken that presumes that if you wanted your cookie to go away without manually deleting it, you would have to not use Google for 18 months.

Danny Sullivan: Right. But, I mean that’s the PR thing, I mean that’s what is so annoying about all this. First of all the whole issue of Google having a thirty-year cookie meant nothing. They picked that simply because that’s the longest that they could set it to. They would have set the cookie to be a hundred years if they could have. This issue was really popularized by Daniel Brandt.

It’s not really an issue that the cookie lasts for a long time. The bigger issue that he had is that it is a personal cookie, and that could be linked back to the individual. But the duration of the cookie was an easier thing to get people to understand.

People picked up on it, so finally Google says all right, if you are freaking out with a thirty year cookie, which is, by the way, the same period of time that Yahoo! has their cookies set for, and way Ask has a cookie for ten years, and Microsoft has a cookie for 18 years, we’ll address it and change it to 18 months. But, that doesn’t change the fact that they have a real personalized history for you, and that can really be very carefully identified with you. That’s something more than they could deal with.

Eric Enge: It’s easy to identify you using this data.

Danny Sullivan: Exactly. What’s harder is that supposedly you walked into it and you don’t want that to necessarily have your data deleted down the line. But anybody who gets your username and your password can get into that. We’ve had other Google accounts where people have found ways to get in and find some information. It’s just not inconceivable that somebody might find a way to get into somebody’s account and see their personalized search info that way.

Eric Enge: Personalization also gets messed up by the reliance on cookies doesn’t it? You could have multiple users using one machine or you could have one user with multiple machines, or people coming through corporate networks, all of which complicate the process. When you are logged in, then for someone else could be using your account, I suspect that the degree of error is much less.

Danny Sullivan: The really difficult thing is if you don’t agree to share your information, you can’t participate, and each individual has to decide.

Eric Enge: Ultimately, most of us will want the features. We are going to trust that the corporate interest is not to have our data get exposed because of the weight of public opinion, and that’s probably a better thing to trust in than in government regulation, but we might get both.

Danny Sullivan: Right.

Eric Enge: Is anyone going to mount a real challenge to Google’s dominance in search?

Danny Sullivan: Well, I thought Microsoft’s little bump that they got recently was interesting. Whether it will help them in the long term remains to be seen. As for Google, I don’t know that someone is going to surpass them anytime soon. I think that they are going to cruise along for a year to three years without much difficulty. Longer term it’s hard to say, I think they will remain a very big powerhouse because they are the established brand and they do a good job with it. There is no particular reason for people to abandon them.

Eric Enge: One of the things that could possibly happen is that they might find some way to blow it with a huge PR blunder like releasing all the private data for example.

Danny Sullivan: It could, but that’s not what killed AOL. AOL has lost their traffic, but I don’t think that’s really why it happened.

Eric Enge: Right. I think it was more a matter of relevance. Also, for example, you can’t really speak of the downfall of Microsoft, but you can speak of their losing the edge as the number one player, and it’s because the turf they still dominate became less relevant. It was a major market shift that moved the industry focus to a different place. But, Microsoft stuff still makes more money than anybody and has more cash than anybody.

Danny Sullivan: They do, but I think the sands are very much shifting under their feet. For example, there has even been talking about making Microsoft Works an ad-based program. Google changed the market on them, and the hard thing with Google is that they are not just doing a search and not just doing ads, they are going after the applets, and they are going after the kinds of stuff that people weren’t expecting. People used to look at Google and say, “we are now coming after them in search”, both Microsoft and Yahoo said that. People thought that Google wouldn’t touch email, but then Google came out with Gmail and put a ton of pressure on those companies in yet another space.

Eric Enge: When your competitor is fighting against you, you are going to fight against them too, just to keep pressure against them. It was also very interesting to see the bid that Google put together with the FCC for the wireless spectrum. $4.6 billion I think that they put up. Of course, that stirred up some hornets at AT&T among other things.

Danny Sullivan: They did, but I think Google got a lot of good PR off of it; it’s interesting they want to put that much money into it now. What’s surprising is that Microsoft didn’t sit up and say oh okay, we will bid $6 billion.

Eric Enge: I think at the end of the day there is not really any expectation that Google would win such a bid. I think it was more a thing to just make sure that it was a truly competitive environment that would be favorable to consumers and hence Google’s interest rather than expecting that they’d actually win the bid. I don’t know that Microsoft would try to go out and actually win the bid either.

Danny Sullivan: Right.

Eric Enge: Although it seems like they should do something. You did mention that they did make some progress recently, but what can they do to get a serious foothold in search at Microsoft?

Danny Sullivan: A good vertical probably. I think it was bit sad that they forced Virtual Earth, which had a great name, to take on the Microsoft Windows Live / local whatever it would be called, and now they seem to not want to do that. They need to constantly keep working on a web search I suppose, but that’s just a tough thing. To really make progress, they need to be much better and much different than what you get on Google. If you use Google you can keep using Google. It’s just hard to make that sort of jump from that level of search. Some of the other things are underwhelming on Microsoft, such as when you do a news search. When I was doing my review and suggesting reasons why people don’t want to use them, the reason is that there is nothing compelling there. Don’t use their news search, because it’s not really news search.

But, Microsoft does do some innovative things, such as their image search. They have done a great image search interface; really it’s better than the image search that you get in some of the other players. So, every time I do an image search I start to think about doing a search over at Microsoft. One of the key things they need to do is to pretend that Internet Explorer doesn’t exist. One of the most irritating things I find is when I go over there and it just does not seem to work on Firefox.

That comes from having developed a system for IE, to begin with, but many major influencers are using Firefox. I think they really need to think about Firefox and give it a lot more support and make sure that when I go over there, things are just humming along for it. Just pretend you don’t have your own browser, because your search engine future is not going to be successful because you have designed everything for IE, but because you’ve created a different search engine. You need to be open for anybody that has whatever web browser that they were using.

Eric Enge: It’s something that you’ve mentioned a couple of times and I want to highlight it, which is this business of managing the influencers. As with Google and Personalized search, and this notion that people do ego searches or vanity searches, and if they start coming up, they decide that your search engine is relevant, and that’s what they end up using for everything, and that’s what they end up telling everybody else to use. In the search world, the influencers are using Firefox. So, get over it and deliver the best Firefox experience of anybody out there.

Danny Sullivan: Right.

Eric Enge: What about Microsoft going after sites like FaceBook?

Danny Sullivan: Social networks are important these days. We had this funny thing where you had somebody interviewing a teenager. They said they’ve got email but they don’t use it; they say they use FaceBook for everything, which kind of made me laugh thinking, so when you opened your FaceBook account, what email address did you provide because you didn’t get the FaceBook account without one. So, don’t tell me you are not using your email, I think you are probably using email more than you think.

Having said that, I think there are opportunities there and that maybe there is more that they could be doing to put search into some of these kinds of spaces. Digg, while I don’t want to buy into the hype, probably does need to be purchased by somebody. It is that kind of a new model that would help one of these other players. The difficulty is that if Google or Microsoft buys it, then some of the leadership there may feel like they don’t like it as much anymore. Maybe they’ve just got to look at some of the lessons from these other players and integrate that more into what they are doing themselves.

Eric Enge: Or catch something at an earlier stage than where FaceBook is right now, because why would FaceBook sell itself right now?

Danny Sullivan: At the same time, I think that you can look at Yahoo and see how easy it is to get into the trap that just because people want to be social in one aspect doesn’t mean that they want that in search. Yahoo would say that with Flickr people share, so based on that we will have My Web, and we’ll have people sharing the search results. I don’t think people want to share any search results, they just want to search.

Eric Enge: Right.

Danny Sullivan: My Web didn’t go anywhere. Yahoo! Answers is a different story, there was a social component that actually has been very successful for them.

Eric Enge: Yeah. They’ve got some interesting properties. Yahoo! Answers, Flickr and del.icio.us. They have an interesting stake on the social side of things, but I am not sure how they are going to pull it all together.

Danny Sullivan: Yes they do, but it wasn’t the case that because these models work in this particular social aspect that it’s going to be the same thing for everything else we do. So, even though everybody is on FaceBook, does not mean that everybody really wants to search off of FaceBook. I think you have to explore it, but I think it could be dangerous if you suddenly shifted everything over radically. FaceBook is a new environment, so you have got to adjust to that.

Eric Enge: At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t necessarily need to be all about search, they can find new platforms on which they can put and sell advertising, such as social media sites. As I understand it, there is pretty good potential in the FaceBook audience for an advertising environment.

Danny Sullivan: Oh, sure. I was thinking of search in terms of how you build up your market share. In terms of advertising, well, by and large, a lot of that stuff to me isn’t search either, but that’s just ads. But, these companies are more than delivering on search ads of course.

Eric Enge: I have just one last critical question to ask.

Danny Sullivan: Sure.

Eric Enge: When is the Tree House going to be complete?

Danny Sullivan: It’s going to be done before I come up to San Jose, because I’ll be gone for about a week and a half, and so I want the boys to be able to play on it while I am gone and feel like it’s coming along really well, I’ve got the framings of the second floor up now and I am like wow, it’s really there. They are going in and out these little trap doors that I have built which is great. That’s why I wanted to finish it off because you can start playing with it already. So, it certainly turned out to be more than a week-long project, but I keep sneaking off to work on it.

Eric Enge: It looks like good fun. It’s interesting that you like to do some things with your hands as well. It’s a very different sort of thing.

Danny Sullivan: It was a nice change of pace for me, and it gets me off of my chair for a bit.

Eric Enge: Well great, thanks!

Danny Sullivan: All right, that was great, it was fun.

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