Keynote: Don't Forget SEO
With MSN set later this year to introduce a Web crawler that will compete with those from Google, Yahoo and Ask Jeeves, marketers need to complement their advertising campaigns with efforts to appear prominently in search indexes, Sullivan said.
"Search engine optimization is not going away," he said. "It's only going to get more complicated."
Speaking at Jupitermedia's Search Engine Strategies show, Sullivan said the search industry needs to clean up search optimization practices to gain it the respect it deserves. Too often, he said, optimizing Web pages to be found easily by Web crawlers has been treated as "a black art."
"We have got to deal with our reputation problem," he said.
Search optimization firms look to increase Web pages' rank in search engines' "free" or organic listings. Top search engines have kept the firms at arm's length because the industry has been tainted by the questionable practices of some firms using tactics like hidden text, doorway pages and link farms to fool search engines.
"I do think it would help to have industry codes of conduct," Sullivan said. "I want the search engines to be part of it. I don't want them to sit on the sidelines."
Both Google and Yahoo publish guidelines for Webmasters about making their sites easily found and catalogued by their Web crawlers. Yahoo, through its Overture Services subsidiary, also lets advertisers pay to have Web pages included in its index through its Site Match paid inclusion program.
Sullivan urged search engines to go beyond this and give more information on what practices are allowed by search optimization firms. He said search engines should offer businesses the opportunity to pay for customer support and warn them when they undertake major index refreshes, such as the notorious "Florida" update Google put in place last holiday season.
"It's not in the interest of the search engine marketer to screw up the search results," Sullivan said. "You do need to be able to interact with the search engine."
Kevin Lee, CEO of New York search marketing firm Did-it.com, said he empathized with the dilemma search engines face in keeping their search indexes free from influence.
"They've got to leave some mystery," he said. "Otherwise, the system would be gamed."