An Interview with Danny Sullivan, Search Engine Expert | WebReference

An Interview with Danny Sullivan, Search Engine Expert

An Interview with Danny Sullivan, Search Engine Expert

By Lee Underwood

Search engine: A program that searches documents for specified keywords and returns a list of the documents where the keywords were found. [Webopedia]

Search engines are an important part of the World Wide Web. They are like a virtual Yellow Pages, helping visitors to find their way around. Businesses use them as a means of attracting potential customers. Because their use has become so important, it has given birth to a whole field of scientific study.

Danny Sullivan, Managing Editor of Search Engine Watch
Danny Sullivan, Managing Editor of Search Engine Watch

This interview is the beginning of a series on search engines. We'll briefly look at their history, and delve into some of the techniques of optimizing Web sites for search engines.

Today we're interviewing Danny Sullivan, Managing Editor of Search Engine Watch. Danny, a well-known authority on search engines, is widely considered the Internet's "search engine guru." In addition to the many articles he has written, Danny is also a frequent speaker at conferences.

WebReference: First, tell us a little about yourself. How did you get involved with search engine technology?

Danny Sullivan: "I was managing a Web marketing company back in 1995, getting people online. There were a lot of questions about how search engines operated but few real answers. So I looked into the situation and published the information I found in early 1996. That grew into Search Engine Watch."

Note: For further information on the background on the Web site, see History of Search Engine Watch.

WR: One of the biggest questions about search engines I see in our Web designer forums is regarding the use of the meta tags. What meta tags, if any, should be used for search engine optimization?

DS: "The meta description tag should always be used. I think the meta keywords tag isn't worth the effort, given that only Yahoo officially supports it — and even then, the tag provides little toward ranking boost. The meta robots tag should be used only if you want to keep pages out of search engines. That's it. I provide a rundown with more info at the How To Use HTML Meta Tags page."

WR: Is it possible, and useful, to use keywords in the document itself? How would something like that be accomplished?

DS: "It's not only helpful, it's one of the most important things to do. If you're selling running shoes, then you should be saying that right within the HTML body copy."

WR: How does the use of links on a page relate to search engine ranking?

DS: "Links on your page don't increase the ranking importance of that page. They can increase the ranking importance of the pages they point at. The text in the links is used by search engines to understand what the pages they point at are about. Link to Amazon and say "books" in the link, then search engines help boost Amazon for that word."

WR: What determines the importance of the link?

DS: "As for the importance of the link, that comes from the importance of the page as measured by links pointing to it."

WR: Are link reciprocation programs effective?

DS: "Automated ones, or reciprocation to sites not on the topic you want to be found for, aren't helpful, in my view."

WR: What are "robots"? Do they have any affect on search engine ranking?

DS: "Robots is a synonym for spiders or crawlers and refers to the part of search engines that goes out and gathers pages. How Search Engines Work explains this in more detail."

WR: Does either the robots.txt file or the robots meta tag aid in search engine optimization? If so, which is more effective?

DS: "Both are ways to keep pages out of search engines. Either is fine to use."

WR: How does the use of Cascading Style Sheets help with search engine optimization?

DS: "Some people use CSS to "hide" content that they want search engines to see but not human readers, such as lots of keywords. That might help if a search engine doesn't catch it — but if they do, they may consider you to have spammed them and drop or penalize the page."

WR: What do you see are some of the common mistakes made in designing Web pages with regard to search engines?

DS: "Failure to do simple things like think about a good, descriptive page title and having decent body copy. Information on this and more are available at Search Engine Placement Tips."

Danny has agreed to a follow-up interview after our search engine series is over. So, if you have any questions regarding search engine optimization, go ahead and send them to me and I'll try to include them.

Created: August 04, 2004
Revised: August 11, 2004