I've mentioned SEMPO before briefly in some past newsletters, but now the organization has an actual site up and is open to members, so it warrants a revisit. SEMPO stands for the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization. The registered, non-profit group aims to raise the profile of search engine marketing, so that potential clients will understand what SEM is and budget money for it.
Certainly more companies are aware that search engine marketing is something they should do, but the idea that there are firms able to help them with this remains a mystery to some. I think a testimonial at the SEMPO launch meeting last month by one of SEMPO's board members Jessie Chase-Stricchiola put it best: "When I tell people that I'm a search engine marketer, I want them to know what that means," she said -- or words similar to that effect. Another board member, Dana Todd, has even higher hopes. "I want people to think that being a search engine marketer is as cool as being a Hollywood producer."
Why join SEMPO? I'd say, do it because you think that the profile of search engine marketing firms can be raised and that you see SEMPO as a way to help do this, through educational efforts. The site already offers case studies, a glossary of terms and links to resources as a first step in its educational mission.
Why not join SEMPO? Don't join if you think this is some way to tell the world you are an "accredited" or "approved" search engine marketing firm. That's not what SEMPO is about. While some would welcome the group trying to fill this role, there are also others that would immediately lambaste it for trying to impose standards about search engine marketing when the search engines themselves don't agree on standards or have different rules depending on the type of listings you gain with them (free/organic, paid inclusion or paid placement).
To be successful, SEMPO's essentially side-stepping the standards debate that has bogged down other attempts to organize search engine marketing firms and aiming to achieve goals where there's more agreement.
FYI, I and associate editor Chris Sherman are volunteer, unpaid members of the SEMPO advisory board. What's that mean? If SEMPO is looking for advice on a particular issue, we'll offer up our thoughts, based on our perspectives of watching the search engine industry.
If SEMPO isn't an accreditation body, then what do you do to find "approved" firms that follow the "rules." As said, there are no universally agreed rules. In lieu of this, you might try looking at the MarketingSherpa Buyers' Guide To SEO Firms, which did attempt to provide ratings based on its own criteria. That wasn't without controversy, as my article from last year explains, SEO Guide Expands, But Ratings Upset Some Firms.
The SEO Consultants Directory has its own rules on who it will list for free, so you can also look at that resource. SEOPros.org is a fee-based listing guide with specific criteria. SEMList.com is open to any firm to be listed, without any screening criteria being used. It's published by Jupitermedia, which also publishes Search Engine Watch -- but this does not mean that the firms are reviewed or approved by Search Engine Watch. They aren't.
Finally, Search Engine Watch members have access to the Outsourcing Search Engine Marketing page, which contains a list of articles from Search Engine Watch and other sources about hiring firms, stretching back through 1999.