The Day After & Many Thanks!

I hadn’t planned to post again so soon about my decision to leave Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Strategies, but the response from friends and readers has been so overwhelming. I deeply appreciate all the comments of well wishes people have left on my original post, and the reaction from around the search engine world has greatly appreciated (see Techmeme and Barry Schwartz’s incredible recap).

Personally, one of the biggest impacts has been on my wife. She’s been to only two of the SES events, both small ones outside the US and never actually into the shows themselves, since she’s been watching the kids during these times when a family trip crossed coincided with some conference work. As a result, she’s largely isolated from the search marketing community that I take part in each day online and in real life during trips. She’s been amazed by the outpouring from the community.

Now that I’ve read the many comments, concerns and questions, let me address some of the major ones.

First, I need to make absolutely clear that I’ve done well by SEW and SES. I haven’t struggled financially at all. Alan Meckler, who runs the company that used to own SEW and SES, noted earlier this year that I make “more money than most CEOs throughout the world.” Indiscreet, but I knew Alan meant is as a compliment that I’ve been successful not just in terms of personal satisfaction but also in pay.

In short, I wasn’t working for peanuts for Jupitermedia — and my arrangement with them carried over when my contract moved to Incisive. It was a great, generous deal for any contracted writer or conference organizer. I have no guilt over it, since I’ve known I’ve worked incredibly hard and provided good value with what I’ve created.

So why would I want more, and is it a case of being too greedy, as Nacho Hernandez wondered in his comment:

Personally, I hope your decision is based on anything else but greed. It has been said that “greed” is the biggest killer to any role model no matter what their past history has been.

I’m sure some might think so, perhaps especially Incisive. All I can say is that for me, it hasn’t just been wanting more money but rather receiving what’s fair.

As I explained in my original post, the sale of SEW and SES to Incisive changed everything for me. A long-standing relationship I’d had with one company entirely shifted, something that would cause anyone to do some reassessments. For all I know, tomorrow Incisive could decide to sell SEW and SES to another company. They could also decide to run things in association with the conferences I organize that potentially pull away from the core attendance, upon which my pay was based.

Incisive repeatedly stressed that they wanted to retain me and that they had no intention of cutting me out of future plans. Such reassurances are nice, but they aren’t binding. I simply was unwilling to transfer any further knowledge of the search engine and search marketing space to Incisive on the basis of verbal reassurances. There was absolutely no reason for me to do this. It would put me in a weaker position with the company.

If my departure was only about making more money, staying with Incisive would have been the more “sure thing” move. Goodness knows they’ve got no end to conferences they want to do, and I could have been involved in many more than I do already. But if I’m going to do something, I’m going to put my all into it, my entire being and soul. That meant I still wanted to spend a good chunk of time doing the Search Engine Watch site. It also meant that I couldn’t do as many conferences. Over the years, I’ve pulled back to only doing the US shows mainly because I don’t have the time to do more than that and do them as well as I’d like.

Instead, what I do next is unclear. I’m not worried. People have joked that my inbox must be full of offers. Fortunately, that’s actually the case. I’ll take my time to look through those, plus I’m still contemplating what I might do just on my own.

Over at Barry’s recap, Ross Dunn remarked that lots of the commentary on me leaving has sounded like there was a funeral going on (knock wood!):

What with the pictures and all this looks like a eulogy. I realize this is an important and profound change in our industry but the fact remains that Danny is very likely to continue molding the future of SEM – just from a different podium.

Exactly, Ross. I don’t know precisely what I’m going to do next or how I’ll be doing it, but it’s not like my voice is going silent. Those who aren’t sick of hearing it will still be able to tune in. The Daily SearchCast podcast carries on, and if I’m not writing at Search Engine Watch, I’m almost certainly going to be writing somewhere else. As I said yesterday, watch Daggle, and I’ll keep you informed.

At Rand Fishkin’s blog, he expressed this worry:

My primary fear is a selfish one – that the industry will turn corporate, faceless and cold without Danny keeping us firmly on track. In his position as head of SEW & SES, he was our leader not only in name, but in direction – operating the largest sources of information dissemination available to folks seeking to learn about search. My brief experience with other industries and the stories I’ve heard from those who’ve been to SES or involved in the search space is that our industry is one of the most friendly, unassuming, cordial and welcoming in the professional world. Without Danny, I fear for the survival of our culture.

Ah, shucks! Seriously, I know I’m a leader in the industry. I’m not the only one, and many people beyond me have helped shape it into being the welcoming, helpful place that it is. Search forums like WebmasterWorld, Digital Point, Cre8aSite, HighRankings, iHelpYou, Search Engine Forums and the Search Engine Watch Forums are all places where the newcomer is welcomed into the community.

Of course, I have tried to do my part to keep the search marketing space from turning into a community-less business enterprise. One of my goals, had I stayed with Incisive, would have been to figure out a way for SEW and SES to remain that way even if I eventually departed or moved on to a new role. As I contemplate new directions, one of the most attractive ideas is figuring a way to establish similar institutions that would have that respect for community as part of their core nature.

Conferences are, of course, how many members of the community gather in real life. The hardest thing about leaving SES is that it’s been a fun, exciting gathering place that I and others have looked forward to during the year. But just as with my writing will likely come back another way, I’m also fairly sure you’ll see me get involved with putting on at least one type of big search event in 2007.

Finally, I can’t express enough how SEW and SES is more than just me. I’ve clearly been the leader for the two and made a major impact. I certainly think I could have helped both thrive going forward. But Chris Sherman and Elisabeth Osmeloski play huge roles.

Chris is a friend, colleague and someone with huge stature in the search space. He’s been a big reason behind the success of both SEW and SES and frankly deserves getting a long-term incentive to stay with Incisive as much as I wanted. I couldn’t have done as much as I have at SEW and SES without Chris.

Elisabeth is also a friend and colleague who deserves so much praise. Two years ago, Search Engine Watch lost its forums virginity when we created the Search Engine Watch Forums. Elisabeth came in to run them, and they’ve been her baby — a baby that’s grown into a thriving community of over 11,000 people talking about search. As I said in a discussion there on my departure, that forum has been a discussion home for me, as well. I still expect to post there and support it as my time will allow. And it will thrive without me being the overall editor-in-chief as long as Elisabeth and the hard-working moderators there are kept happy.

I wish I could simply whisk everyone away with me, but I can’t, at the moment. So I wish them all the best and success. As for myself, I know I’ll find a new role and place that suits me going forward.

Postscript: See I Work For Search Engine Land, Not Search Engine Watch for my status since this post was written.


Comments

  1. Barry Welford says

    It may take months to shake out, Danny, but I’m sure that the Internet Marketing world will be an even stronger place by your launching another ship. Increased competition usually means the ultimate customers find better choices. Best wishes.

  2. Nacho Hernandez says

    You see Danny, there are two sides of the coin when greed exists in any negotiation. Greed is a zero-sum game, when it does exist. But don’t get me wrong, greed doesn’t have to exist at all in the process. I’m pleased to hear that your decision is not based upon it.
    When I say “role model” you should also consider that Incisive is trying to play *that* exact role in our community by means of owning the two most important brands showing leadership. I hope Incisive has a voice to express their position publicly at some point. Personally, I hope their decision is based on anything else but greed.
    As you know, there are many of us who want to see SES grow, especially to new markets such as SES Latino. We shared the same vision for the industry. You are one of the most important reasons why it exists today. I hope that in your future plans you continue to push for the globalization of our search marketing industry.
    “The World is Not Enough”

  3. Starburst says

    Danny your leadership has help establish and increase the credibility for our industry. I think this change will be all good. Good for you (you need a rest!) and good for the industry. As others have stated this will only expand the value and opportunity for the industry – and for us all.

  4. SEOprotege says

    Hey Danny. Obviously, me andmy blog are just peanuts to you. But you have done more for me and my career then you could imagine.. I have a “tribute” to you at my itty bitty blog if you care to read it. seoprotege.blogspot.com Keep up the great work wherever you end up! Thanks.

  5. says

    Danny – Although Nacho’s a good friend, I have to strongly disagree and be a bit Gordon Gecko here. Greed is good. Greed should absolutely be a motivation, be it greed for influence, greed for power or greed for money. I’m someone who consistently turns down business and money, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize the great power that greed has (and should have).
    I hope you make whatever decision you select with greed first and foremost in your mind. You should recgonize that your influence, charisma and persona is too valuable to go to waste toiling away for an entity that doesn’t share your passions and vision for the future of the industry. Whether you join another organization or found a new one yourself, the key is to make sure that your greed is monstrous – overwhelming. Anything less than a massive stake monetarily and vast influence over the world of search and search marketing is selling yourself short.
    Not just that – it sells all of us short, too. My favorite part about you is that I know that at the end of the day, if you’re leading this industry, it will be going in the right direction. I’m not kissing ass, here – I’m being selfish. I love what I do and I love my company and I believe that without you at the helm, this ship could easily go off course and I might not love those things as much anymore.
    So please – get greedy, stay greedy and be the leader we need. No one else is capable of shouldering this responsibility.

  6. says

    now we’ve all had a chance to express our shock and best wishes several times, we should get to the important stuff. Could you please promise us that whatever you do will
    a) never, ever, use nofollow
    b) maintain a healthy sense of scepticism
    c) always have free drinks at the bar
    I think we would all rest a little easier if we could be assured of that.

  7. Red5 says

    Danny, I sent you my thoughts about your influence a couple of months back via email (and yes, you replied), so I’ll not repeat it yet again. I’m pleased that you have such a good understanding of your position in the search community, and that you now have hard evidence of the respect the wider community has for you.
    Just remember that for so many of us, you are the guiding light in our industry. Please keep holding that torch!
    Thanks for all you’ve done, and for all that you will do in the future. Good luck!

  8. zapgerms says

    Hi Danny,
    I officially joined the SEO industry in 2001 after having dabbled in it for several years, and met you at the SES Frisco conference that year. As many others have stated, I was — and remain — grateful to you for being a “regular guy” in your dealings with your colleagues. That attitude is so rare in business, that it shines like a bright light. You’ve definitely set a fine example for the industry.
    Best wishes for your future — I’m sure whatever decisions you make, your devotion to the SEO community will ensure that those decisions will benefit the community and the industry.
    It’s also nice that your wife and kids are able to view this outpouring of respect and appreciation — while you’re still alive! Most families hear such accolades only during a memorial service.

  9. says

    I know what Danny is up to. He’s building a time-machine. He shared a glimpse of it with Vanessa, Elisabeth and I after one of the SES parties.
    The search engines may have trimmed the generation of their SERPs down to .07 seconds, but without time-constraints, Daggle Search can command a 100% market share.
    On a more serious note, I truly believe you made the right move. I know you are being tempted with some lucrative offers right now, but I’m rooting for your to start your own thing again.
    The next 3-months will go fast–they might even seem like time-travel, but I wanted you to know:
    Wherever Sullivan travels, we will follow!

  10. Professor Print says

    Danny:
    I have been a reader of your newsletter since 1997 and watched it evolve from a SEO tip sheet to the definitive voice in the world of search marketing.
    Congratulations on whatever you choose to persue next and on having the fastest PR jump of any blog in history. I bet you go from a 4 to an 8 in a week!
    I have added Daggle to my blogroll as well as used your example to write a post warning to business owners not to confuse their packaging with their substance. While you graciously give credit to the people around you who helped make SES a success, at the end of the day you are the brand.

    I hope you find a second to read my post and enjoy the good wishes sent by the many people are affected by your decision!
    Earthquake – Danny Sullivan Fired

  11. says

    Hi Danny,
    We’ve already been in contact on some of these specifics. But based on your latest post, which explicitly links to the Incisive Training post-SES which seems to have been a bone of contention, I thought it important to clarify where those of us participating (at least me) stand in relation to that.
    I was contacted by Incisive to participate in this brand new thing. My first thought was far from “uh oh, this is something that is going to antagonize Danny.” In fact, for whatever reason, I assumed that it was your idea, and that you – with Incisive – planned it with a view to offering more drilldown possibilities for topics that are tough to cover in a short period.
    Like many extracurricular activities, one always weighs whether something is giving away too much of my expertise and time and effort, for relatively little (and in many cases zero) money. In the majority of cases I have said yes to speaking events of substance – not just for the exposure or from an indirect financial standpoint, but for the goodwill, human contact, learning opportunity, and because it keeps me on my toes.
    Frankly because I did not want to disappoint, I spent much time holed up in my room in San Jose, preparing. So – I wouldn’t want anyone to be under the impression that involvement in these longer sessions was some kind of jab, or act of disloyalty. Quite the contrary! I’m sure you could ask Greg, Shari, and Dan, and hear back that we agreed because we aim to please.
    As it turned out, in spite of the limited sleep all week, the session turned out to be a joy. The opportunity for live interaction and drilldown into campaign issues was a real plus for me, and I hope for attendees. I was already considering specific ways the session could be improved on.
    The bottom line is, we are all working hard in this business and it goes without saying I can’t think of anyone I respect more for work ethic, leadership, and even-handedness than Danny S., which is why it’s so important to make it clear that it really should not be portrayed, even slightly, as a case of somebody “siding with” Incisive over Danny. As most of us haven’t been privy to the internal politics, Jupiter and now Incisive have been (as far as the shows go) been our “bosses,” as far as we know. In the end, the strength of both Danny and Incisive/Jupiter is recognizing that the audience is boss. Which is why it’s such a shame that the two (Danny, the founder) and Incisive (the new owner) cannot be viewed as one and the same, and in fact have decisively parted ways. Frankly, it’s confusing for all of us. Many of us really don’t know what to do next.

  12. says

    > But based on your latest post, which explicitly links to the Incisive Training post-SES which seems to have been a bone of contention, I thought it important to clarify where those of us participating (at least me) stand in relation to that.
    Yes, the training program was an issue with me, mainly because it had come largely out of the blue. But understand I have no issues at all with those who participated — not at all, Andrew. It wasn’t a “siding” thing in any way. Moreover, whatever I do going forward, I really don’t want people to feel they have to take sides in anything. I want people to do what they think is best for themselves or for those they will be interacting with.
    And I’m glad you all did your best in preparing. You’re all excellent people, and I wouldn’t have expected less :)

  13. says

    OK, I’m relaxing now. :) Looking back on that SES it sure seemed like business as usual. I suppose most everyone going forward will carry on in a professional manner, just as you did in San Jose with all the sessions, keynote, etc. etc., even knowing things weren’t settled with your contract.
    I think I’d be up for doing the training again in Chicago. I have to admit again – even in a groggy state with a bad neck from trying to golf through an injury the day before, it was pretty awesome. One student had her photo taken with me, and a couple of others asked me to sign a copy of my book. Try getting that kind of celeb treatment out of a 12-minute presentation at regular SES! ;)
    Have a great weekend, people.

  14. haniff says

    Danny I regard you are the first prominant person on the search engine scene. It’s very important I feel you keep your focus here.
    Absolutely do not fall for any job offer or any corporate bullshit.
    I recommend you develop your brand further and control the conferences and your own brand.
    This way you will always be in control of your destiny, your brand/business will have greater value. You’ll also get incredibily rich very quickly, but you aren’t doing this for the money, or are you?
    Either way, absolutely get everything outside of your mind except developing your own brand.
    You clearly have no idea how powerful your brand is to this day, you don’t need jupitor or invision or anybody else. You can generate plenty of traffic on your brand-strength alone.
    I’m quite happy to advice you regarding this, but please make the right decision. Don’t go wasting your time with corporate bullshit and getting ripped off again. You will need to considerably change your mindset first, I suggest you read books like “Rich Dad Poor Dad”.
    You don’t know it yet, but this is the best thing that ever happened to you, and the best thing for the Industry, it all hangs on you now making the right decision.
    Don’t think anything else but:
    Danny Sullivan Consultancy ltd
    Danny Sullivan Conferences Ltd
    Danny Sullivan Associates Ltd
    Build, your IP and your brands, forget about making other people rich.
    I just hope your realise that if you go for “job=just over broke” and developing other peoples brands making other people rich, you’ll have made the wrong decision, you’ll just end up where you are now later.
    Just think back how you strated. Start again, and this time don’t sell it to anyone, unless you are retiring of course then you can take your millions and have fun. But until then, keep focus on your brand.

  15. says

    Danny I regard you are the first prominant person on the search engine scene. It’s very important I feel you keep your focus here.
    Absolutely do not fall for any job offer or any corporate bullshit.
    I recommend you develop your brand further and control the conferences and your own brand.
    This way you will always be in control of your destiny, your brand/business will have greater value. You’ll also get incredibily rich very quickly, but you aren’t doing this for the money, or are you?
    Either way, absolutely get everything outside of your mind except developing your own brand.
    You clearly have no idea how powerful your brand is to this day, you don’t need jupitor or invision or anybody else. You can generate plenty of traffic on your brand-strength alone.
    I’m quite happy to advice you regarding this, but please make the right decision. Don’t go wasting your time with corporate bullshit and getting ripped off again. You will need to considerably change your mindset first, I suggest you read books like “Rich Dad Poor Dad”.
    You don’t know it yet, but this is the best thing that ever happened to you, and the best thing for the Industry, it all hangs on you now making the right decision.
    Don’t think anything else but:
    Danny Sullivan Consultancy ltd
    Danny Sullivan Conferences Ltd
    Danny Sullivan Associates Ltd
    Build, your IP and your brands, forget about making other people rich.
    I just hope your realise that if you go for “job=just over broke” and developing other peoples brands making other people rich, you’ll have made the wrong decision, you’ll just end up where you are now later.
    Just think back how you strated. Start again, and this time don’t sell it to anyone, unless you are retiring of course then you can take your millions and have fun. But until then, keep focus on your brand.

  16. says

    “Don’t think anything else but:
    Danny Sullivan Consultancy ltd
    Danny Sullivan Conferences Ltd
    Danny Sullivan Associates Ltd”
    Yes, running your own company with your own brand is the best option. Then you could still contract with Incisive or whatever company with better control.