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Study: Search Marketers Wear Too Many Hats

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Most search marketers perform an average of five job functions in addition to their core responsibilities, according to new research from iProspect and Jupiter Research.

The iProspect Search Engine Marketer Job Function Study, a survey of more than 275 "qualified" search marketing professionals, asked respondents to identify all of the job functions they were involved with. While the most frequently cited job functions were search engine optimization (88%) and paid search advertising (77%), fully 58% also said that they were involved in web site design and 57% with email advertising.

This makes sense—search marketing initially evolved as a webmaster task, and today, close cooperation between site designers and search marketers is essential for success in natural search engine results. Promoting a site using email is also a long-standing search marketing technique.

Other commonly performed tasks include marketing communications (49%), market research (44%), competitive intelligence (41%) and several others.

The report says that this likely means that the search marketing industry is less mature than many industry observers would have thought. While it's true that search marketing is still a relatively young industry with few firms large enough to have developed specialized divisions focused on particular functions, I suspect there's another possible explanation for the finding.

Before I became a search analyst, I was a management consultant, specializing in helping companies optimize their organizational structures. A key focus, even more than a decade ago, was to encourage multi-functional teamwork and operations. Putting people into functional silos often led to organizational sclerosis; allowing them to be versatile in their work made the organization more nimble and responsive to competitive challenges and change.

Search marketing is a complex activity, with constant change. Perhaps allowing people to wear multiple hats keeps their knowledge and skills fresher.

Another finding was that 26% of search marketers perform information technology functions. iProspect says that this implies a quarter of search engine marketers most likely work for the information technology department rather than the marketing department.

If this is the case, those firms are neglecting traditional marketing know-how within an organization and putting themselves at a disadvantage. "The fact that search marketing at some organizations is being managed as a technology tactic and not a marketing strategy is disconcerting, and seems to make as much sense as having the person managing your wide area network also write your press releases," the report concludes.

Search marketing isn't being as well integrated with traditional marketing and advertising as it could be. Just 28% of search marketers are involved with print advertising, 22% with direct mail, 9% with radio, 7% with TV and 4% with outdoor advertising.

The iProspect Search Engine Marketer Job Function Study makes for interesting reading, but I'm not as convinced as iProspect that the findings suggest the industry is still immature. There's no question many search marketers are wearing multiple hats, but whether this is a strength or weakness isn't obvious. Search marketing isn't like manufacturing, where assigning people to narrow, specific tasks makes sense and often improves productivity and efficiency.

On the other hand, it's also clear that search marketers could benefit from emulating the best practices of successful organizations operating in other industries and sectors.

The iProspect Search Engine Marketer Job Function Study is available in PDF format as part of the company's growing library of search engine marketing research studies.

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