As SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, embarks on its fifth year of existence, the group is growing into a mature, global organization.
Where early days were marred with infighting and criticism, and recent years have been marked by growth, SEMPO in 2007 is looking forward to a year of growth and stabilization, according to Jeff Pruitt, VP of SEMPO and president of search operations at iCrossing.
SEMPO's efforts this year will focus on three main objectives: launching and expanding a search marketing training program, expanding SEMPO's global presence, and continuing to build on its industry-leading research.
The new Web-based training program, dubbed SEMPO Institute, debuted this week with an introductory course. "Fundamentals of Search Marketing," is intended to provide a high-level understanding of search marketing essentials in a 14-lesson course.
Search marketing agencies are in need of well-trained search marketers," Pruitt said. "We want to provide members and outsiders one place to go to get the knowledge they need."
The "Fundamentals" course will cost $499, but full-time students and military personnel will get a discount, as will SEMPO members. Two advanced courses will be offered beginning in March: "Advanced SEO" is a 15-lesson course at a cost of $1,750; and "Advanced Search Advertising" is a 14-lesson course at a cost of $2,250.
The course outlines and framework were created by volunteers from SEMPO’s Education Committee, led by co-chair Fionn Downhill, president of Elixir Systems. Downhill and her team worked with several SEM and SEO agencies, as well as the search engines themselves to create the curriculum.
A peer review process for each of the courses further ensures all courses reflect best practices in the industry, and curricula will be periodically reviewed, to ensure the courses evolve with the industry.
Establishing and strengthening its global presence is another key initiative for 2007. The group has grown its worldwide membership base to more than 500 corporate and individual members, up more than 37 percent over the 373 members at the end of 2005. The split between individuals and companies is about 60/40, Pruitt said. More than 100 of those members are outside the U.S., in 20 countries
"Search is growing globally, and there is no other organization focusing on search at a comparable level," Pruitt said.
For SEMPO, global expansion starts with individual members in a given country or region. Once there are at least five members in that area, they can apply to form a working group, to bring those individuals in closer connection to the parent organization. In 2005, there were geo-specific working groups in the UK, Japan, Europe and Asia. Last year, four more groups were formed, representing Latino countries, Canada, India, Spain and Scandinavia.
The groups bring value to all SEMPO members, not just the ones in that country or region, Pruitt said. "The local groups focus on issues specific to their region, and provide a commonality for promoting the awareness of search to local advertisers."
Focus on Research
The global groups also share critical insights with members of the larger organization who may be interested in entering those markets. For instance, a study is currently underway in Europe, shepherded by the European working group, which will provide insight into the state of the search industry in Europe.
"We're looking to establish the size of European corporate spending on search, and map out any coordinating trends," Pruitt said.
The survey, which will collect data until the end of this week, is being conducted by Jupiter Research in five languages: French, English, Italian, Spanish and German.
As with all of SEMPO's research, including the U.S. State of the Search Marketing Industry report, the goal is to provide a foundation for industry growth, Pruitt said.
"It's one of the three pillars of SEMPO: to continue to influence the industry and work with search engines; to provide information about the industry; and to build relationships," he said.
SEMPO is looking outside the search marketing industry to build relationships, working with broader online marketing groups like the IAB, and attending events like Ad:tech. Some interactive agencies that are not pure search players are joining SEMPO as members, including VML and Avenue A/Razorfish, he said. Several other large agencies are considering joining as well, or are working closely with SEMPO in other ways, he said.
"SEMPO is about promoting search, and fostering what works for search marketers. That means all kinds of search, natural and paid, but also a holistic approach to search marketing," Pruitt said. "The way people search from different digital touchpoints differs by age, demographics, and other factors. Search marketers need to understand those touchpoints, and recognize the relationships between search and offline conversion, for example."
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