Danny Don’t Surf: Danny Sullivan’s Keynote on What’s Happening and What’s Next

Desktop surfing isn’t over, but search has changed

Danny Sullivan
Danny Sullivan shows digital marketers the signposts for the SEO future at State of Search

State of Search keynotes are getting entirely out of hand, y’all. We started with Danny Sullivan. You know who he is. Search Engine Land Supreme Overlord/Founding Editor. The man Ken Auletta called, “the closest approximation to an umpire in the search world.” The guy who makes you jealous with his sunset shots on Twitter.

He came with the bad news, then the good news, then the inspiration. Because that’s how we do it at DFWSEM.

There was a little housekeeping to take care of before Danny took the stage. DFWSEM President Scott Vann started out by reminding folks who aren’t using the app (You are using the app, aren’t you? You’re clever like that.) how to get wifi goodness, crucial for a room full of digital marketers. Even more importantly, he introduced the members of the DFWSEM board — because we want you to know who to talk to in case of problems. State of Search takes harassment seriously, so if you have any issues, come find a board member. They all have silver stars on their name tags, and they’re here to help.

A shout-out to title sponsors Yext, the providers of coffee and excellence, and Danny was ready to roll.

Coffee Cart for State of Search
Yext loves you. Yext gives you coffee. Yay Yext!

Who’s #1?

He started out with a little game of Find the Firstie. What is the first result on a page? The first ad? The first organic search? Does that question even make sense in a mobile universe? Bad news, kids: SEO is dead.

Ok. Not really. But it got a big laugh.

What is dead is the idea of ranking at #1 or being among the top 10 blue links as the holy of holies. But fear not. A changing search landscape leads to changing opportunities.

So what’s changed? Pretty much everything.

The Google contract

There’s a sort of unspoken contract between all of us — marketers, mommy bloggers, motorcycle retailers — and Google. We agree to provide great content that answers questions, and they agree to send folks along to our pages. Then commerce happens. Then everyone’s happy.

As is the nature of unspoken contracts, it can easily be amended. And Google is amending the heck out of things. Not out of evil, but out of a desire to make search work for the searcher. So as the searchees, we have to contend with some changes.

Entity search is great. It understands conversations and provides quick, easy answers in the form of knowledge snippets. But these knowledge snippets, even if they foreground the content written by your skilled and delightful copywriters, don’t necessarily send anyone to your site. A couple of years ago, only about 15% of of searches returned snippet-y goodness. Today that’s up to around 30%.

Danny says it’s no cause to panic, though. Google simply can’t turn every search query into a direct answer. People looking to buy won’t be waylaid. The wheels of commerce can still turn.

RankBrain is, of course, another huge change. Forget what you’ve heard about it being the beginning of Skynet. Artificial intelligence is your friend. RankBrain teaches itself to recognize things. The downside? There’s no way to SEO for the weirdest search queries RankBrain allows searchers to use. If someone asks, “How do I stack 10 folding chairs in the back of my Honda Civic because I was never any good at Tetris?” Yeah. That’s not something you can write content for.

Again, don’t panic. If you have great content about storing folding chairs on your site, Danny points out that that type of content will be folded in to the Google matches for funky searches. Take a deep breath. It’s gonna be ok.

Mobile? Yep. That’s a change. And a big one. “Mobile-friendly” design is straight up outdated. You need to be mobile-first. And c’mon. Click to call is easy code. Put it on your mobile goodness. Make it easy for people to reach you and give you their business.

What’s on the horizon?

Bots, baby. And home assistants. And most impressively, Google Home, which is basically like having Stephen Fry in your house to answer all your questions. (Hey, Google, get on that. We need a Stephen Fry-voiced home gizmo like yesterday.)

Google Home is smart. Google Home is convenient. Google Home is deeply difficult to stump. It is a true household companion that can do tasks and answer queries and do pretty much everything but make toast — and it can even tell you how to do that. Quite aside from how amazing this is going to be for folks with some disabilities, it just makes stuff easier.

But what about credit?

Google Home tells you where it’s snagging your answer from, but as Danny points out, mentioning Mashable is not the same as taking eyeballs to Mashable. No ad revenue there, kids. No traffic.

This is a major disruption in the making. And we’re going to have to find a way to deal with it. But panic-worthy? Nope. And here’s why.

Your job as a search marketer is not to game Google. Your job isn’t even to keep the wheels of commerce rolling. No, your job is vastly more important than that. Your job is curiosity. People will always ask questions because people always have. Our desire to learn, to experience, to know is a fundamental part of what makes us human. So there will always be a role for marketers that help people answer questions. We just need to figure out how best to do that.


Stephanie_StuderStephanie Studer is a writer, editor, cook, and massive nerd who calls Dallas home. A social and content marketer, she’s deeply in love with all that language can do. She tweets at @Editrix_Steph and posts entirely too many pictures of dishes she’s made on Instagram. Don’t ask her about ukuleles or comic books unless you have nothing to do for the next several hours.