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How to Build a Great SEM Team

daveragals082011
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sem-dream-teamFor years, managing search engine marketing (SEM) was the domain of the sole proprietor, the in-house expert, the one guy or gal who knew what they were doing. As those pioneers succeeded, visibility of their efforts was raised, a larger industry was born, and more resources – and scrutiny – were put toward it.

All of this is a good thing. SEM is a truly professional business that requires very specific skill sets.

It has also moved from being a one-player sport to a team sport, not just because of the amount of work, but because of the diversity of skills and experience required.

How do you build a great SEM team? As with anything, putting together a championship team requires:

  • Understanding the positions you need to fill.
  • Identifying the skills and experience to fill those positions.
  • Finding a great coach or manager to bring it all together.

Your Lineup

Just as you can’t win the World Series with a team full of shortstops, you can’t succeed at SEM with a bunch of people who all do the same thing and have the same skills. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, the skill set is too varied for any one person to handle effectively. You can’t be a mile wide and a mile deep, and, let’s face it, with all that’s going on in the industry today, you need depth and breadth – and lots of both.

Secondly, you need to create opportunities to develop people’s skills further. If they’re all working on the same thing, they’re more likely to step on each other’s toes. Back to the baseball metaphor – nine people chasing the same grounder leaves you with no one covering first base.

So what “positions” does a winning team have? It can vary some depending on your goals and internal structure, but overall you need some combination of creative, quantitative, marketing, and management.

The Skills

The most overlooked position is the quantitative expert. This isn’t just an analytics person. This is a highly analytical thinker with a deep love for data – intellectual curiosity paired with an eye for details. Your quant guru regularly loves diving into the data head-first. Most of this diving leads to extremely tactical recommendations (which can provide great value). But occasionally, true ‘pearls’ of wisdom result and can drive huge gains.

They may not even be marketers (yes, I said that), as the skills match up well with finance and economics backgrounds as well, and the skill of isolating and defining business goals to SEM data is integral for success.

Finally, a skill set in statistics is also extremely helpful. The ability to separate useless noise from true statistical significance in daily results as well as controlled tests is important to supporting paid search marketing organizations.

As for the creative and marketing roles, depending on the size and complexity of your account, they could potentially reside with the same person. Ultimately, it’s someone who knows the SEM landscape, can stay on top of new programs and policies from the engines, and who understands how pulling one lever, such as new copy or landing pages, can impact the overall effort.

This usually means someone with the dedication and interest to be tied into the SEM community – a subscriber of trade pubs, a reader of industry and engine blogs, a frequenter of events and conferences. Someone needs to be responsible for knowing about new features and trends and hearing about success stories from others.

They also need to know a lot about your business, who your audience is and what messages resonate with them. This means someone who can understand the parlance of internal marketing meetings, who knows where and how to get your promotional calendar and, perhaps even more importantly, can educate others on how effective the SEM program is, why it deserves the credit it deserves, and how their team’s role fits into the bigger marketing picture.

The Manager

Any good team has a good manager. The key to a good SEM manager is someone who knows enough about all sides of the business.

Managers don’t have to be a “quant head,” but they need to understand what goes into being one and what kinds of results one can produce. They don’t need to know the details on each and every creative and keyword, but they need to understand how a culture of testing can produce the strongest accounts.

SEM has come a long way since the pioneering days. It’s no longer something companies “take a flier on.” It’s an investment. And as with any investment, someone needs to be accountable for it. That person is going to want to be surrounded by a strong team.


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