Danny Sullivan on his passion for search

This article first appeared in issue 227 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

If you work on the web, you need to know about search. With more than 350 million registered domains and counting, the idea that “If you build it, they will come” has never rung so hollow; without a good understanding of how search works, you’re dead in the water. And if you want accurate, up-to-date information, Danny Sullivan is your man.

Sullivan has been reporting on search since 1996; 10 years after that, he founded the news and analysis site Search Engine Land. It’s since become the go-to place for learning about new developments in search – such as Google’s recent controversial ‘Search Plus Your World’ update, which was accused of favouring Google+ results over other social networks.

Sullivan was among the critics of the update. “I felt like these were search results that could help people better if they were including the other social networks,” he argues. “To me it felt much more self-promotional, not very relevant and surprised me.”

That said, he rejects the notion that this was a Google ‘conspiracy’ – and feels that even ‘cock-up’ is too strong, keen as ever to consider things from Google’s point of view. “My contacts at the company stressed that they’re building up a product that’s in its early stage and will get better,” Sullivan says. “While there are issues in terms of including the other social networks, they say that if they can get better deals then they can do it.” But does Sullivan believe them? He responds cautiously. “Some of what Google says is true,” he says. “It is early. They potentially are going to build this out to be better. And the other social networks do limit them in some ways. However, from what I’ve seen, I think there’s enough data that Google could have built this out as a more inclusive service from the start.

“I don’t think they were conspiring to keep the other social networks out,” he clarifies. “I just think they didn’t take the extra step to try and include them. Google seems to be in a place now where they look at Facebook and Twitter and are like: ‘Oh, you don’t want to provide us with data in a way that’s easy for us to access? Then we’re not going to bother worrying about trying to get it.’”

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