DMA Offering Search Marketing Certification Program

The Direct Marketing Association has announced a new certification program in search marketing, which is to launch at its annual conference next month. From the press release:

Driven by DMA's Search Engine Marketing Council (SEMC), with cooperation from the major search engines Yahoo!, MSN, and Google, the program has been developed in response to the nearly daily changes in this dynamic marketplace that profoundly affects the tactics and knowledge used by today's search marketers.


DMA's certification program is the first program developed by a major marketing association designed to train and certify the level of competency of in-house and agency marketers. Members of the DMA involved with program development include marketers, media properties, and search engines.

The program will include two levels of certification:

  • Level 1: Designed for individuals able to work under the direction of an advanced search engine marketer. These individuals would know and be able to employ current best practices in organic or paid search marketing.

  • Level 2: Designed for individuals who are capable of devising, creating, and managing effective search engine marketing programs within agencies or as lead members of in-house marketing teams. At this level, individuals can seek advanced certification in organic or paid search

A new site for the program,, currently directs over to this page, which makes it seem as if certification is only through attending the DMA conference. That's not the case, as covered further below.

Search marketing certification has long been suggested (and see also this), but the issue has generally raised concerns within the search marketing community itself, which doesn't agree on standards. That controversy and debate is a major reason why the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization avoided pushing for certification program when it began back in 2004. It was a morass SEMPO didn't want to step into.

The certification gap has largely been filled by the search engines themselves. Both Google and Yahoo offer programs designed to help search marketing firms and agencies present themselves as certified, accredited or professional in someway (though Canadians are overlooked by Google's program). These programs focus only on paid search, however.

Now DMA is stepping forward into the space, promising certification for both paid and organic search. Here are some questions I had for them, along with answers:

Q. Exactly what cooperation are the search engines providing?

The search engines have members on DMA's Search Engine Marketing Council (SEMC), which is driving this initiative. This participation has resulted in tremendous support, including to access to some of their training own materials. As the program is still under development, the extent of their involvement will also continue to evolve.

Q. Are the search engine endorsing this certification?

There are no specific endorsements. DMA's intent is not to compete with existing certification programs, but to encourage DMA members and the direct marketing community at large to take advantage of the opportunity to leverage the expertise of industry leading interactive marketers as they continue to utilize search interactive technology more effectively within their own marketing programs.

Q. Any concerns that existing search marketers might be concerned that this effectively makes them "uncertified?"

There are several opportunities for search engine marketers to pursue professional development and certification. DMA's certification program reflects the training of the marketers DMA member companies and agencies employ and we also intend to provide a training path for their junior marketing staff. We are excited to offer a program that enhances the performance of DMA members as a service to them and the entire direct marketing community and intend for this to exist as resource.

Q. Is the only way to enter the certification program to attend the first four modules as part of the conference?

We are launching the program at in San Francisco at DMA 06 as a preview. Marketers interested in DMA's certification don't have to attend these modules to enter the program. They can send in an application at any time and then take the coursework.

So far, I haven't seen a ton of reaction to the announcement, either positive or negative, though it has only just come out. Jennifer Laycock over at Search Engine Guide writes:

I can understand that it might lend some credibility to search marketers that are just starting out and have yet to establish a reputation for themselves, but I'm hard pressed to believe that successful search marketers that are already in the business are going to go through the trouble of taking the courses required to earn the certification. I see this as something similar to Google's certification program for AdWords....

Time will tell how this gets received by the community. There was certainly a time coming where someone needed to step up to the plate and offer some type of certification, but I'll be curious to see if the DMA is the one that is able to actually pull it off.

I agree -- it's very much watch and see. I certainly believe there are plenty of good basics that can be learned, to the degree people can say they've been trained or educated in the area. Certification still feels like a charged word, however -- suggesting those without it are perhaps subpar.

Then again, if Andy Beal can join SEMPO after being so dubious about the group initially, maybe the times are a changing and ripe for certification to be successful :)

Postscript: Threadwatch reports that SEMPO is apparently to launch a training program later this year