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November 20, 2006

Will SEW survive without Danny, Chris and Barry?

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In eleven days, Danny Sullivan will end his reign at Search Engine Watch. It’s industry-changing news, but it’s a departure we were expecting. What we weren’t expecting was for Barry Schwartz and Chris Sherman to leave Search Engine Watch to join him. But, according to Barry, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Rustybrick commented over at Threadwatch that he’s not on contract with SEW and that he will join Danny in leaving on Nov. 30th. Barry also revealed that Chris Sherman, who is contracted, will meet the boys over at Search Engine Land once his contract expires in January. For those keeping score, that’s two SEW editors and (arguably) its most personable blogger leaving the Search Engine Watch brand.

Two questions immediately arise.

One, what was Incisive thinking by not offering these guys a long term contract and two, will Search Engine Watch be able to survive the loss of three of its biggest names?

It’s unbelievable to me that Barry Schwartz wasn’t contracted for his work at Search Engine Watch. How can a company survive without at least thinking of the long term, especially for someone with as much authority and industry respect as Barry? Though I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised, they did let Danny walk away uncompensated.

And what about Chris Sherman? His departure is perhaps even more notable than Barry’s because it was believed he was being groomed to take Danny’s place. But with Chris now following Danny, who will takeover Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Strategies? Who has the same kind of name recognition of a Danny Sullivan or Chris Sherman? As the last remaining editor, perhaps Elisabeth Osmeloski will be asked to take over (though I doubt it). Maybe Greg Sterling? No one knows for sure.

To be honest, I’m less concerned about the conference series than I am the SEW blog. My personal opinion is that once Danny establishes his own conference, the big names in SEO will join him and SES will hit the fast track to obscurity. I’m okay with that because I think most of us will simply change the name in our conference calendar and life will go on as normal. It’ll be sadder for me to see the SEW blog become less and less relevant, because it’s a place a lot of users have developed a great respect for.

Sure, there are other writers at Search Engine Watch, but Danny, Barry and Chris deliver the bulk of content. A quick look at the SEW blog this morning shows 14 blog posts with only 5 of them not written by either Danny, Barry or Chris. Not to say that SEW’s other cast of players like Jennifer Slegg, Greg Sterling, Elisabeth Osmeloski aren’t capable of picking up the slack, but will their authority resonate the way Danny’s did? Can they help the SEW brand maintain the same kind of presence that it had under Danny?

Respectfully, I say no.

To be fair, no one knows what will happen to SEW or SES once Danny and the boys leave, but what we do know is that the future of both will depend on the presence and leadership of the person ultimately named as Danny’s successor. They will need to demonstrate the same kind of presence, heart and expectation of excellence that Danny did, and they’ll need to help Search Engine Watch evolve and compete against the competition of soon-to-be-launched Search Engine Land.

And don’t think that Danny is going to make that easy for them. You have to give credit where credit is due, and Danny has been very good about quietly shifting user focus away from Search Engine Watch and over to Daggle. He has also made Search Engine Land read like a seamless transition for users migrating over from SEW. I’m sure the similarity of Danny’s SearchCap and SEW’s SearchCast didn’t go unnoticed.

My personal opinion is that Incisive is certifiable for not placing SEW’s biggest players under contract. I think that the SEW and Search Engine Strategies brand will become less influential as readers flock to Search Engine Land in support of Danny. Part of me is excited to watch all this pan out, and the other part wants to hibernate until Spring to see how the dust has settled. I guess we’ll see, and it all starts Dec. 11th.

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