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SEMPO Institute Sees Early Success

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The online training programs for search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) offered by SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, have gotten off to a fast start.

The SEMPO Institute launched in January with its Fundamentals of Search Marketing course. It followed with Advanced SEO, launched in April, followed by Advanced Search Advertising in June.

So far, more than 100 students have taken the Fundamentals course, and registration for the two advanced courses is ahead of SEMPO's goals, according to Katie Donovan, business development manager at SEMPO. Perhaps even more importantly, students who have completed the course are already putting it to use, she said.

"We've had some early successes in the first few months. There have been a few students to get a second interview based on their having completed the course, and some have gotten a job as a result," Donovan said. 'We're not just doing education for its own sake. We want people to get employed, and we want companies to be able to find better employees as a result of our programs."

To create a world-class training program, SEMPO brought in a dean for the Institute, Terry Plank, in August 2006. Plank has been active in SEM consulting and training since 1996, and in other areas for many years before that. He ran an online training program for four years, and has two master's degrees himself, so he's quite familiar with higher education systems.

In putting together the curriculum, Plank turned to SEMPO members for contributions and oversight. All together, more than 35 authors contributed material to the courses. The Fundamentals course contains 14 lessons, the Advanced SEO course 15 lessons, and the Advanced Search Advertising course 14 lessons. The material is also going to be constantly updated, with quarterly re-evaluations of all courses, as well as spot checks on specific topics whenever a change occurs in the industry which might affect the accuracy of the material.

The courses, which are already written by an industry expert, are all peer-reviewed by other experts working with the Institute. This approach allows SEMPO to offer a strong breadth and depth of lessons, and a freshness of content and voice, Plank said.

"If you take the Fundamentals course and either Advanced SEO or Advanced Search Advertising, you'll have a complete foundation allowing you to enter the workforce with the required skill set," Plank said. "Each company will have its own way of doing things, so they can further shape the students, but they will be starting from a higher level of knowledge."

Students are evenly split into three categories of study methods, Donovan said. A third of students sign up for the course and complete it in record time. The Fundamentals lessons are expected to take an hour for each, so the average student can complete the course in 14 hours. About a third of students follow this path, completing the courses in 14 hours spread over about 2 weeks. The third group takes more time to complete the courses, finding themselves crunched for time and returning to lessons multiple times before completing them.

The students are also coming to the SEMPO Institute from diverse areas, Donovan said. Several students are either full-time university students, or people in a career transition. SEMPO is also talking to several universities to consider adding the course to their online marketing curriculum.

Other students come to SEMPO Institute via their employers. Several companies have made volume purchases for current and future employees to take the courses. Others are clients of agencies, where the agency paid for the course in order to better educate their clients.

The focus for the first year will be on these first three courses, Donovan said, though plans for the next set of courses are now underway. The group expects to meet in the next few weeks to further build its curriculum, with future courses likely to focus on niche topics within the SEO or search advertising categories.

"The goal is to make this a robust Institute that meets the needs of SEMPO members and the industry," Plank said. Some possible future topics include social search or mobile search. In addition, new modes of teaching could also be explored, with live distance learning or short, live courses potentially being offered in the future, he said.

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