The DMA pushes SEM training

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I was pleased to read that the Direct Marketing Association has announced that it will launch a certification program at its upcoming Annual Conference and Exhibition in San Francisco.

This announcement is good for the search marketing industry for a number of important reasons. First and foremost, it confronts one of the central issues in our industry, which is being unable to find enough qualified people. This issue is critical, given that a recent SEMPO survey found that two-thirds of responding marketers planned to run their search marketing campaigns in-house in 2006. The people running these in-house campaigns typically do not have much dedicated search marketing experience; in fact, SEMPO found extensive overlap between their SEM tasks and other jobs, including Web design, e-mail marketing, and other marketing-related jobs. The need, therefore, for a certification program, and search marketing education in general, is strong.

Having more people trained about the promises and pitfalls of search marketing is good for another reason. I am consistently amazed that many marketers continue to run their search campaigns manually. In my view, this is the equivalent of believing that a 1912 Stanley Steamer will keep pace with traffic on a 65 mph interstate highway. Manual campaigns might have been adequate 5 years ago, but competition has exploded in the search marketplace, and automation can make the difference between an ROI-positive, market share-building search campaign and one that bleeds marketing dollars without a payout. Any public education efforts that illustrate the benefits of using automation are welcome, because these tools, if used wisely, provide such an obvious improvement in campaign efficiency.

Having an influential industry group such as the DMA riding point on a certification program is good for another reason. To date, this task has fallen to representatives of the engines themselves. While these efforts all have value, and frequently offer valuable insight into campaign best practices, it's also true that an engine rep will spin the discussion in the direction of the engine he or she reps. In the real world, however, search marketers know that it is perilous to hitch the fate of one's campaign to one particular engine.

Instead, marketers must focus on buying the best available media at any given time, and this means buying search media from a mix of engines. Different engines have different advantages and pitfalls for marketers, conversion rates differ markedly, and issues such as click fraud must be discussed frankly and without bias. It is essential, therefore, that a certification program be conducted under the aegis of a neutral third party such as the DMA, which can impartially address the benefits and pitfalls of using each individual engine, as well as the best way to conduct multi-engine campaigns, and multichannel marketing campaigns (both online and offline) using search as a driver.

Search marketing is becoming a cornerstone of any modern, multichannel marketing campaign. Someday, and it might be sooner than many expect, search marketing will be taught at business schools, undergraduate institutions, and perhaps even in secondary schools. Until that day arrives, however, the search marketing industry must take the lead, set the curriculum, and drive public education efforts. My hope is that by disseminating current, accurate, and well-researched knowledge about search more widely, this industry will continue to grow and thrive.

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