Last week, I read the news that Danny Sullivan is shifting away from his role as Chief Content Officer of Third Door Media, and is taking an advisory role.
I was shocked.
Sure, Danny isn’t the first “first generation” search marketer to step away from the industry (I believe my first business partner, Jill Whalen, was the first.) But, he’s the biggest. He’s called the “Godfather of SEO” for a reason.
Danny’s been neck-deep in this search engine stuff since the very beginning.
And, it’s because of Danny that I got my SEO start.
Once upon a time, in the late ’90s, Jill Whalen and I published a newsletter called RankWrite. She wrote about SEO. I wrote about content. The newsletter did well, and we grew our subscriber list fairly quickly.
Back then, there were only a handful of “SEO experts.” Heck, back then, most folks didn’t know what SEO was! The old guard included Greg Boser, Bruce Clay, Disa Johnson and Shari Thurow.
And of course, Danny was included too. He had already published A Webmaster’s Guide to Search Engines and was reporting on the industry.
Because of Danny, my first industry speaking gig was with Jill Whalen in Amsterdam (I believe Danny’s wife was due soon, and he didn’t want to fly.) I was as green as could be, completely freaked out, and I was convinced I’d be gonged during my presentation (yes, the moderator would hit a big gong if the speaker ran overtime.)
I am so grateful the video of my presentation is no longer online. :)
That conference changed my life in so many ways. It was the first time I traveled internationally by myself and the first time I spoke to a huge crowd.
And despite my speaking glitches, my presentation gave me the confidence to know that I was on the right path. I had found my passion.
Plus, I had more to look forward to! Danny had invited Jill and me to speak at Search Engine Strategies (SES) Boston a couple of months later. Back then, SES was THE SEO event. First Amsterdam, then Boston. I was on a roll!
However, life likes to throw you a curve now and then.
Two days after I returned from Amsterdam, my husband committed suicide. I was left virtually penniless, in shock, and wondering what to do next. If it weren’t for Danny’s pre-existing invitation (and a lot of help and encouragement from Jill — thanks, Jill,) I would have passed on the Boston conference. I would have stayed home and licked my wounds.
But, I went. And I had fun. Life felt a little lighter.
Because of that event — and the opportunities that came from it — I built an income. I built a brand. I turned a crappy situation into a wonderful career.
Danny continued to invite me to SES conferences. Because of him, I was able to travel the world and talk about what I love. I met amazing people, and had incredible experiences. The “old-guard” SEO folks –the first and second generations — are like family to me. We grew up together.
I wouldn’t have found my family — my tribe — without Danny.
(As a quick shout-out to Danny, he always invited smart, female speakers. Women like Shari Thurow and Christine Churchill rocked the house back then, and they still do today. We may have been outnumbered, but we never felt tokenized.)
Along with Disa Johnson, I even got to visit Danny when he was living in the U.K. and meet his family. I’ll always remember an early-morning trip to Stonehenge, which still ranks as of my coolest memories ever.
I have a lot of cool memories.
I have to admit: I cried when I read Danny was transitioning to an advisory position. Immediately, my brain cycled through 19 years of search memories, places and faces. I don’t know why I reacted like that. I’m happy for Danny.
But, the emotion still hit me. Hard.
I know Danny’s not going away, and he’ll excel somewhere else. If anyone deserves to take time off and to reflect, well, that’s Danny. He’s done a lot over the last 21 years.
How many other careers did Danny launch? How many people can track their success back to Danny’s help? How many times have we been frustrated with Google, and we’ve relied on Danny’s calm, in-depth take?
For many of us, Danny has been a part of our lives for over two decades.
I know it’s not goodbye –Danny’s “taking a break.” But, the news does feel like the end of an era.
Thank you, Danny, for everything.
Your help, encouragement and support changed my life.
Update: Kim Krause Berg wrote a wonderful post about Danny’s role in her life and career. You can read it here.