Exclusive: Danny Sullivan About Personalization, Privacy, Not Being Impartial and SMX

Exclusive: Danny Sullivan About Personalization, Privacy, Not Being Impartial and SMX

5th April 2012

Note: this interview was done before SMX London 2012. At this moment SMX East (New York) is about to start. Read more about that conference here.

I had the chance to sit down and talk to Danny Sullivan. It was a really nice talk in which Danny really took his time to discuss many different topics. We talked about how he does his job, how he doesn’t want to be impartial and believes nobody is, we talked about Google off course, but also about Bing, Baidu and Yahoo. And we discussed topics like personalization and privacy, Facebook and off course SMX London.

You can listen to the entire talk (40 minutes) right here. Find below an extract of the topics discussed.

How does Danny do it?

In the first part we talked about how Danny does his work, he seems to be on top of the news and he seems to have more time than others. In his perspective thats not true off course, he feels he has a lack of time, like many of us do. But he now has a team around him which makes it a lot easier.

When it comes to keeping up Searchengineland has reached the status that in many cases they are pre-briefed. So before something comes out they usually already know about it and have seen stuff from it. They know about the background of it which makes it easier to write about it.

Search Plus Your World for example Danny already saw in a different form already about nine months before it was released. When it was launched he was one out of ten media reporters that had been involved on reporting about it.

Keeping your mouth shut about these topics is not hard Danny says, because if he wouldn’t he would never get the news again. His goal is not to break news, it is to fully explain why things are happening. That makes a pre-briefing important.

When asked about what advice he would give young writers is that they should focus on not just being different, but also being good about it.

Being a public figure

Next to being a journalist Danny is also a public figure within the industry. Is that difficult to combine?

Danny pointed out that he maybe a public figure within ‘the industry’ but that first of all outside the industry “you are nothing” and secondly: the industry is a lot bigger than some people think with all sorts of people looking at the topic but maybe not reading sites like Searchengineland, State of Search or visiting conferences.

He also sees that people treat each other differently online than they would face to face. Something which is a shame.

Not trying to be impartial

Danny off course knows many people and as said gets a lot of inside information. A journalist might be wanting to have an image of being impartial. Danny points out he is not trying to be impartial at all. Nobody is impartial.

He tries to be not unbiased, he tries to be fair. He likes people at Google and he likes Google, but if something sucks he will also write about that.

Personalization and privacy

When it comes to the future of search he feels things like Siri and Project Glass are indeed the future. In that matter the personalization at Google fits right in. Personalization has been there for many years and is the reality now.

With personalization come privacy issues, but Danny points out the privacy issues should also be looked at in the ‘regular’ world. Creditcards store data too, but we accept that.

People and also journalists should look closely at how things are discussed. The questions asked in a Pew Research survey might influence the way people look at issues for example.

He feels that most of this explanation is down to Google, but they didn’t do that well enough with their privacy statements. Google should have done that better. Danny in that makes a comparison with the Bill of Rights, something which came with the new constitution.

When it comes to journalists he believes that the typical reporter doesn’t understand the details and won’t be spending the time on it.


With Facebook updating their own search engine questions came up whether or not Facebook could be a Google competitor. Danny doesn’t believe Facebook will be a competitor. He thinks Facebook understands they will be messing up where they are ahead, namely social.

Also people will not be going to Facebook to search the web, but to find people or find topics which people are talking about. Search is more discovery for Facebook, which will not make them a Google competitor.

When it comes to Google’s competitors Danny doesn’t see many changes coming up. Yandex might have a chance in Europe and Baidu might grow a little, but first of all people will not be wanting to connect to Baidu who has been happy to benefit from the Chinese censorship.

Bing really is the only alternative, but then Google first needs to get into trouble.

Search in Europe

Danny this year for the first time since he left the UK is back in London for SMX. He has been traveling so much that in the past few years he decided to take that part a bit slower.

When it comes to search in Europe he doesn’t see that many differences except for the dominance of Google and the anti-trust issues with the EU.

He acknowledges that in Europe tactics might be different in some cases, especially when it comes to black hat tactics which tend to work longer in Europe or are sometimes seen as business as usual.

Note: this interview was done before SMX London 2012. At this moment SMX East (New York) is about to start. Read more about that conference here.

You can listen to the entire talk (40 minutes) right here.


Written By
Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.
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