Up Your SEM Knowledge Now!

A large portion of unwashed masses in the search world are struggling to get a better handle on search knowledge. They want to know about the ever-changing world of search engine marketing, optimization, and everything in between.

For the first time I can recall, those on a quest for search self-improvement have choices. Options, if you will, to better their knowledge on the specifics of optimization. Today’s environment no longer raises the question of how, but when, and which one?

The Direct Marketer’s Association (DMA) has a certification course. The Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) is also offering a training course via the SEMPO Institute. Hundreds of other firms offer training of some sort. Here’s the lowdown on the search education hoedown.


Remember when the only training one could get was from that guy “Bob” in the IT department? Bob may have read some guidelines about search and became the designated company expert because no one else had any desire for such a designation.

Chances are, Bob really liked to read blogs about search and may have even come across the occasional rant authored by a nameless black hat or worse, an ill-informed nube with a penchant for blogging nonsense.

In the old days (read: more than two years ago), being a certified search marketing practitioner meant that a search marketing company was endorsed as a selling agent for a particular search engine.

Only search providers like Google and Yahoo! (at the time Yahoo! was still Overture) provided search engine advertising education. These training classes brought one up to speed on internal best practices, but it was up to the individual to pull it all together.

We Have Come a Long Way, Baby!

Sure, there are more options today. But more isn’t necessarily better, so let’s start with what not to do. Generically speaking, avoiding search marketing training that comes with a guarantee of top rankings is a safe bet. In fact, it’s a good idea to avoid the same worst practices when hiring a search marketing agency or expert.

Avoid claims of “training” being able to unlock “Google’s” secrets. The only secret you will find is how quickly you can part with your annual training budget.

For the most part, search learning is offered in one of two formats: an in person day or multi-day seminar or the “go at your own pace,” distance learning model. Since each has its own benefits with costs being all in the same neighborhood, consider the best option for your personal needs.

If you can’t sit still for more than 45 minutes (a blessing I know all too well), an all day seminar approach is not for you. Additionally, there may be travel costs associated with the seminar. A decided advantage of this experience is the potential networking opportunity.

Then again — with the demand for search practitioners being so high — the seminar model could also be a great opportunity for your employees to network their way to a salary increase or a new job. Conversely, recruiting could be a good side benefit, but I wouldn’t sign up for a course with recruiting in mind.

The distance learning model is great for those who can’t break away or meet the schedule of seminars around the country.

“All You Can Eat” Is a Personal Challenge

The two third-party industry organizations with the most gusto behind them and the most apparently solid platforms are SEMPO and the DMA. SEMPO launched the SEMPO Institute in November, 2006, and has classes compiled by industry experts and reviewed by industry peers. SEMPO offers three tiers of search learning: Fundamentals, Advanced SEO (natural search), and Advanced Search Engine Advertising (paid search or PPC).

The DMA’s “Search Marketing Certification” model is of the SEMPO ilk in that classes are compiled by industry experts and delivered via an unbiased, non-party or private-company aligned organization. The DMA provides the equivalent of an academia-style peer review as well.

Of course, the training seminars are everywhere (Disclosure: SES offers SEM Training Seminars), one need only search for SEM or SEO training to find the listings. Scrutinizing the offering, along with the timing and costs, will determine what’s best for you.

Worth the Paper It’s Printed On

Don’t expect to walk away from a search class knowing it all. There is a reason for ongoing curriculum changes and the disclaimers surrounding each industry organization’s offering. Each has a disclaimer offering no guarantee whatsoever toward adding credibility for firms or individuals who participate in these “certifications” or classes.

SEMPO’s disclaimer reminds us that SEMPO is not an accreditation body for search marketing firms. The DMA’s certification only “indicates that a person has met the specific requirements of the certification process, but is not a guarantee of competency, accuracy, or any particular result.”

At the end of the day, both SEMPO and DMA are to be applauded for their efforts in advancing the industry. Search Engine Marketing as a discipline is well on its way to graduating from the misinformed adolescent stages of development into the charging young adult stage.

Personally, I can’t wait for the jaded old bitter twit stage of development, but I think that might be a few years off.

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