Why would anyone want to become a SEM (define) professional? Well, if you're reading this, you are either already one, interested in becoming a search marketing pro, or in need of one.
The joy of SEM: it's a hot, growing, in-demand field. Everyone wants a piece of it: corporate clients, interactive agencies, investors, search engines, and traditional agencies. What piece they want and how they're going to get it differs. Those who are trained and prepared can step in, close the talent gap, and benefit everyone involved.
SEM is a fun and satisfying career choice. Unlike Web developers of the late '90s (churned out right before the tech bubble burst), search marketing pros enjoy a strong Web ecosystem. The on-ramp right now is your own autobahn to the limited access SEM highway. Plus, the fast lane is just starting to speed up.
Becoming a Professional
How do you become a professional in SEM? Perhaps a better question is, "How do you become a professional in anything?" You need to become your own expert. Because SEO (define) isn't exactly a major in college yet, it's up to you to figure out how to become an expert.
In a world without university-structured learning about SEO, you can wait for inspiration (hoping the search guru will appear), or you can be proactive and get the necessary training to learn anything and everything about SEO.
Is Training Necessary?
A formal class -- online or in real life -- isn't for everyone. However, for beginners, it's the most efficient way of absorbing a great deal of information about SEO.
Sure, you could scour the Internet, spend a month reading every blog and forum post, subscribe to 50 RSS feeds, and drive yourself mad, but once the madness sets in, you wouldn't be a very effective professional, and you still might have missed some of the basics. Is it necessary? In the interest of time: yes. Feel free to discuss.
What's Your Learning Type?
Online training for SEO offers many options. There are workshops and seminars you can travel to for training and networking with other professionals, structured in-person classes, classes based on posting to a list, pre-packaged classes, good old-fashioned printed paper, and everything in between.
Identify your learning style before embarking on the learning adventure that is SEO.
Do you want to work at your own pace or keep up with a course? Do you want to travel or learn from the comfort of your pajama pants at home? Do you need a structured classroom environment or do you blaze your own trail? Based on your own style -- and budget -- picking out a program should be relatively easy.
Most coursework offers some kind of certification for completing the curriculum. This means you're certified in that particular program of study. There are no real standards or established best practices for SEO.
All these courses are similar to some degree. Many will have a unique approach. You may like the idea of having some kind of certification on your resume to make yourself more marketable. Certification may give you an advantage over other applicants when you go for a job interview.
Now you're aware of the basics of what courses are out there. Next, I'll dive into some of these online SEO courses, and then in-person SEO training options to give you an idea of what I -- and many other people -- think about prices, effectiveness, and overall necessity.