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Finding Recession-Proof SEM Jobs

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"The economy is now in a recession," Harvard economist Martin Feldstein told The Boston Globe over the weekend. "It will last longer and be deeper than the last two recessions, which lasted only 8 months from peak to trough. It could well be longer and deeper than the recession in the early 1980s that lasted 16 months."

Feldstein, a professor of economics at Harvard University, is president of the National Bureau of Economic Research, the group that's considered the official word on economic cycles. So, if he says the United States has already slipped into a deep recession, you can be sure the situation is bad and getting worse.

Traditional Marketers in Trouble?

In the past, traditional marketing budgets and jobs have been among the first to be cut whenever the economy hits a rough patch. So what should those marketing folks do this time around? One option is to come join their search marketing brethren, since search is expected to weather the coming economic storm better than most forms of marketing or advertising.

Last week, Steve Haar provided some great advice to in-house search marketers about "defending SEM during a recession." But, what if you currently have a traditional marketing or advertising job? Are search engine marketing jobs and budgets really recession-proof? And, if they are, will going to SES New York this week help you get through the most serious recession since World War II?

I ran these questions by Josh Gampel, the vice president of staffing services for Onward Search. Onward Search is a leading nationwide provider of search engine marketers, social media experts, and related internet and technology professionals to Fortune 1000 companies and internet marketing agencies.

Well, is SEM a recession-proof job?

"Absolutely," replied Josh. "Direct marketing spending increased in previous recessions because it was the most trackable form of marketing. And search engine marketing is the most trackable form of marketing this time around. In fact, we expect SEM spending will double by 2011."

And Gampel made that prediction last week – before SEMPO announced on Monday that North American SEM expenditures are projected to grow from $12.2 billion in 2007 to $25.2 billion in 2011.

According to Onward Search, this growth is creating jobs that did not exist eight years ago. For example, the term "search engine marketing" was only coined in September 2001. Today, the new Search Engine Watch Job Board lists positions like Search Engine Marketing Senior Associate and Director, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) in New York, New York.

But, according to a MarketingSherpa in-house SEM survey, conducted in July 2007, 58 percent of companies said finding SEM managers was more difficult than finding other skilled employees. And 64 percent said finding SEO specialists was even more difficult than finding other skilled employees. All around the industry, we hear about the current search marketing staffing crisis.

Ken Clark, co-founder of Onward Search, believes the shortage of qualified, credentialed, and skilled professionals who are available to support this growth is one of the major challenges faced by the industry. That's why his company announced at last month's SMX West that it will spearhead an initiative to address the national shortage of search marketing professionals and attract new workers to this rapidly growing segment of the economy.

"Since its inception, the predominant challenge facing our industry has been the demand for qualified search marketing professionals, which has exceeded the number of professionals available to the market today," Clark said. "Key strategies to address this shortage include developing new channels for education and training, embracing professional standards for this segment, and developing a range of career options for the search marketing professional in order to both redistribute existing talent and attract new workers into our industry."

There are many options for a marketer interested in getting some SEM training, both through online search marketing courses, and in-person training. Others have suggested becoming a search marketing apprentice.

Learning the Ropes at SES New York

In the meantime, can someone with traditional marketing or advertising backgrounds learn enough at this week's Search Engine Strategies New York conference to increase the odds that he or she could land such a job?

"That's hard to determine," said Josh. "For a lead spot where you're responsible for increasing ROI, probably not. Companies still want to know what you have done. But, if you're willing to take one step back in order to take three steps forward, then attending the conference could increase your chances."

So, if you're serious about finding one of those recession-proof SEM jobs, find a way to attend SES New York 2008 at the Hilton New York this week. Register for an expo-only pass, the one-day package to the Search Engine Strategies conference, or the SEM training classes.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that both SEMPO and SES New York 2008 are clients of SEO-PR.

Greg Jarboe is the president and co-founder of SEO-PR, a search engine optimization and public relations firm. He covers news search, blog search and PR correspondent for the Search Engine Watch Blog. Greg is one of the 25 successful online marketing gurus interviewed by Michael Miller for the new book, Online Marketing Heroes.


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