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The Sullivan Show

This oak was heard falling in the forest. Danny Sullivan’s departure by year’s end from Incisive Media’s Search Engine Watch news site and the Search Engine Strategies conference has devastated bloggers in the search space. Just check out the elegiac postings on Britain-based Mr. Sullivan’s blog at http://daggle.com.

Mr. Sullivan’s decision was the result of failed compensation negotiations. The back-and-forth minutia are not known, so let’s assume that Incisive Media thought it could do without Mr. Sullivan’s hand on the wheel. Time will tell. History shows us strong brands outlive strong individuals.

It is widely acknowledged that Mr. Sullivan has done more than any other individual to evangelize and educate marketers and vendors on the ins and outs of search marketing. He has a devoted following among the techies. Maybe the SES shows didn’t attract enough marketer-side attendees, maybe it was too basic for some, maybe it was too long, but it sure served a need. That’s the job of every well-positioned trade show.

There is no doubt Mr. Sullivan will land on his feet as he contemplates other writing, editing, consulting and conference gigs. If you rank him as a search brand, he’s up there with AltaVista, Yahoo, Overture, Google and Ask Jeeves as a pioneer in the industry.

In a way, Mr. Sullivan’s move reflects the growing ferment in the search marketing industry. As it is, there was very little employee loyalty in this young business. And now the poaching has reached endemic proportions. We’re losing track of who’s at which search firm.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many midranking and senior executives are spending one to two years and even less at search engine marketing and optimization firms. The line between opportunism and career advancement is blurring.

This is not good – for the companies involved or for the industry’s stability. Expect more mergers and acquisitions next year, especially as the cost of labor goes up and more marketers turn to in-house solutions.

Search is the fastest growing, most scientific marketing channel of all the options available today. But it evolves with new technology to better anticipate queries online from a smarter consumer. You need seasoned hands to navigate this terrain. That explains the dismay over Mr. Sullivan’s departure from SES and Search Engine Watch. He sunk his roots there for 10 years.

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