Search Marketing Skills: Tips, No Tricks

In response to my recent column about a reader's personal experience breaking into the search marketing world, I received an interesting e-mail from another reader. She positioned herself as a potential apprentice and asked me to answer the following question: "What skills do I need to demonstrate to break into the search business?"

In my correspondence back, I highlighted three key areas of necessary exposure (at minimum):

  • Using data to tell a story and make strategic marketing decisions.
  • Basic knowledge of how search engines work (paid and organic listings).
  • How search fits in with broader marketing strategies and initiatives.

To these three bullets I added a caveat. It really depends on what job someone wants within the search space.

Jack-of-All Search Trades?

This got me thinking about how this reality is often overlooked. I'm not sure why so many search teams are built with a jack-of-all trades mentality. In a single week, the same employee might on successive days:

  • Build a keyword list.
  • Manage bid strategies.
  • Determine the best creative test plan.
  • Present the client with their next quarter initiatives.

I've yet to meet anyone who can bring the same amount of passion and expertise to this diverse set of tasks -- at the same point in time that is. Over time, one could definitely build their career having done all of these things. Yet despite this reality, many organizations are asking their people to know and do it all.

Or Master of One?

In an industry growing as rapidly as ours, and with the known talent shortage, it seems an automatic response to segment like skills/functions. That allows individuals to master them and provide more immediate value to your organization (and your client's if relevant). Not to mention, this enables each individual to find greater fulfillment in their work.

When focused on mastering a limited set of skills, you see progress more quickly and are encouraged to keep learning and growing. I played tennis for many years growing up. My first lessons had me spending hours feet from the net just learning how to hit the ball over it from someone tossing the ball towards me. I didn't learn how to serve with slice for years.

Or Master of One?

For search marketers to earn and then retain the proverbial "seat at the table," we better make sure we have the right people to fill those chairs. The right role/person is entirely dependent on the situation. I can tell you with certainty (based on my own experience) that when done wrong, there's more work to do than just undo a meeting.

First impressions do matter.

A Knife to a Gun Fight?

If I'm tasked with preparing a presentation for the CTO of an organization, you can count on the fact I'm at least bringing people who have a much deeper understanding of Web site architecture and code structures to the meeting.

If I'm meeting with a CMO, I'll either bring a seasoned marketing professional or, because of my personal background, handle it myself. The point here is that the obvious statement, "we all have strengths and weaknesses," must not be all that obvious to the many people creating search marketing teams.

The reality: there are a handful of unique and different roles, each requiring a unique set of skills, within search marketing. Of course there are common traits (such as my three bullets above), but don't let this fool you into thinking that your teammate who creates top flight bid strategies is equally capable, or for that matter equally desirous, of presenting this information.

For all those looking to break into this space, and for those managing a search team, don't think of search as a one-size-fits-all solution. There are opportunities for many skills and many roles as long as you create them.