SEM careers offer greater earning potential than your current dead-end job
By Kent Lewis
I suppose my own career in search engine marketing (SEM) started the day I first inserted META keyword tags onto a client’s Web site in 1996. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to hire, train and manage teams of SEM professionals at multiple agencies, which has provided me insight into the fundamental steps required to start an SEM career. By following the following steps, you too, can start a successful career in search engine marketing.
The first and most important step in building an SEM career is reading. Due to the Web-based nature of the SEM industry, a plethora of valuable content is readily available online for free. Most SEM professionals are self-taught, and rely heavily on SEM industry Web sites, blogs and forums for the latest insights. Popular SEM resources include Marketing Pilgrim, Search Engine Guide, Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Land and SEO Roundtable. In recent years, many books have been published on various aspects of SEM, including search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) and link development. My personal favorite book is Search, by John Battelle. For eager learners and seasoned SEM pros, premium services like SEOmoz, Planet Ocean and SEOBook are essentials.
Watch and Listen
Once you’ve painted the landscape with reams of articles, online discussions and books, the next logical step is to expand to learning events. Monitor event calendars of the top tier industry resources mentioned earlier for Webinars, podcasts and streaming video presentations on the latest search marketing trends, strategies and tactics. When it comes to streaming radio, the one stop SEM shop is Webmaster Radio. While many Webinars are initially real-time events, most are archived and accessible on demand. Additionally, look to attend SEM industry events on a local and national level. Local events tend to have greater networking than learning value, whereas national events are often the inverse: tremendous learning with networking as a value-add.
At Anvil Media, we appreciate anyone who has completed the first two steps of the educational process, as it gauges self-discipline and interest in SEM. When we come across individuals with valid SEM certification, however, we give them serious consideration. Aspiring SEM professionals can acquire a wide spectrum of industry certifications, each of which has its own merit. For in-house corporate and large agency positions, formal training is highly coveted (as opposed to first-hand experience valued most by agencies). Online certifications from SEMPO Institute, SEO College, Bruce Clay and the DMA all carry weight. For those that prefer an in-class education, Search Engine Academy and learning events at large industry conferences like Search Engine Strategies and SMX are a better fit. An increasing number of local colleges and universities are now offering SEM curriculum as well.
With a solid SEM foundation under your feet, the next step is to develop your network. This can be accomplished relatively easily online via industry-specific social networking sites and forums on sites like Search Engine Watch, Webmaster World and High Rankings as well as general networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. The highest value relationships typically occur via in-person contact at local, regional and national events. In Portland, Oregon for example, SEMpdx offers monthly networking and learning events, as well as an annual conference, SearchFest. For cities lacking a dedicated SEM professional’s trade association, regional events like SMX and Search Engine Strategies offer the most diverse network and educational opportunities. At a local level, connect with SEM professionals via informational interviews. Also consider volunteering your time to local marketing trade associations to gain peripheral connections.
The most critical step in kick-starting your SEM career, however, is to apply your education in the real world. The obvious starting point is with a Web site. If you lack the resources or interest in creating and optimizing your own site, reach out to family, friends or non-profits that will appreciate the help as you apply your new trade. Ideally, identify a real business to which you can offer your services in-kind or for a reduced fee. Telling a potential employer that you’ve been compensated for your work goes a long way. As you refine your site optimization skills, take on additional projects to expand your portfolio. For bonus points, implement your own social media marketing (SMM) campaign by creating profiles on social networks, start a blog and participate in online communities to build visibility, credibility and connections.
The speed with which you build a career in SEM depends primarily on your own available bandwidth and resources, but it really comes down to your level of interest and commitment. While timing, and arguably luck, can play a factor in the trajectory of your career, you can get started today for free and ramp up surprisingly fast. In a matter of months, if not weeks, you could be making good money and enjoying a productive career in search engine marketing.