Corporate SEM FAQ

  |  February 16, 2005   |  Comments

What you’ve always wanted to know about being, working with, or working for an in-house SEM specialist.

It brings me immense joy to receive so many responses to some of the columns I’ve written for ClickZ. Although we’re all watching the revised Google algorithm percolate through its vast distributive architecture, I thought I’d take a couple moments to answer a few of the more frequently asked questions that have landed in my inbox... and elsewhere on the Web.

Please note no individual or company names or email addresses are used to respect correspondents’ privacy. Some of the questions have been paraphrased into more general queries.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Several individuals who own and operate small SEO (define) firms are thinking about making the leap to corporate search engine marketing (SEM) positions.

Q. How much should I expect to make in a corporate SEM position?

A. Salaries for corporate SEM positions vary by title, the organization’s location, and size of the corporation and industry. Typically, base salaries range from $60,000 to $125,000 for a management-level SEM position. East and West Coast companies tend toward the high end of that range due to cost-of-living adjustments.

Corporations with less than 1,000 employees or annual sales under $100 million typically land on the low side of the salary range. Larger corporations are, of course, higher. As for industry, it’s only natural that e-commerce-oriented enterprises tend to pay more, as much of their performance on the Web is directly affected by a competent SEM manager.

Other compensation essentials include the ability to write your own bonus plan or participate in a profit-sharing program. It’s not uncommon to tie up as much as 20 percent of gross earnings in one these different types of reimbursement plans. All told, first-year compensation for a tenured SEM professional with a successful track record ranges from $72,000 to $150,000.

Fire Starter

The throng of responses to "Search Engine Spam? You’re Fired!" reiterates the delicate relationship between good and bad optimization tactics, and how these strategies reveal the difference between principled and unscrupulous SEM firms. Many ClickZ readers; SEM bloggers, pundits, and forum posts, ask:

Q. If you’re an in-house SEM specialist, why would your company outsource SEM?

A. As an in-house corporate SEM specialist, I typically juggle anywhere from 18 to 25 active projects at any one time. Small projects include managing pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, optimizing press releases, and an SEM review of a potential acquisition. I usually handle these small SEM projects quickly and efficiently by myself, in between the myriad meetings large corporations like to have every bloody day of the week.

Other projects are more time-intensive and require a great deal of research and analysis. Organic SEM projects can require 80 percent research and planning and 20 percent action to implement and monitor. There isn’t enough time in the day to handle more than a handful of organic projects by myself, so I turn to trusted SEM vendors that can facilitate the research and create an effective action plan. Once we’ve agreed on the strategy, I sell the plan to departmental stakeholders, so I can pilot the SEM project through to implementation.

Finally, there are the monster projects, things such as overhauling a site completely, switching a content management, or implementing a rewrite module to transform dynamic, unindexable sites into a logical listing of static links and optimizing these links. If the in-house IT staff or Web design personnel can’t handle the task’s technical specifications, I’ll bring in a trusted SEM vendor to champion the project past internal skill-based barriers.

Just because I work for one corporation doesn’t mean I deal with only one site or just a handful of PPC campaigns. My former employer operated over 100 Web properties. My current employer manages more than 160 domains just for operations in one country alone. These corporations are self-activating; in any given year, these entities can acquire a dozen new companies and their respective Web sites, or introduce a dizzying array of new brands and services. As an in-house corporate SEM specialist, I don’t work in a one-company-equals-one-site environment. Partnerships with trusted SEM vendors are necessary to get the job done.

Help! I Need Somebody

The most frequently asked question I received in response to just about every column I’ve penned for ClickZ, including "Learning From SEM Blunders," is:

Q. Any chance I can get some advice for you on specific SEO firms? I’m interested in hiring an SEM/SEO firm to optimize our sites for search engines. Do you personally do contract work? If not, can you please recommend a reputable firm or individual?

A. Yes, I can offer some advice based on my experience. No, I cannot accept contract work at this time. You can try This list is another starting point, if you disregard the self-promotion of the firm that houses it. The Search Engine Strategies conference is a great place to find an SEM vendor that suits your company’s business goals. I can offer some limited guidance based on my professional experiences with some of the best SEM firms in the business. The final decision depends on your own good judgment.

Meet P.J. at Search Engine Strategies in New York City, February 28-March 3.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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P.J. Fusco

P.J. Fusco has been working in the Internet industry since 1996 when she developed her first SEM service while acting as general manager for a regional ISP. She was the SEO manager for Jupitermedia and has performed as the SEM manager for an international health and beauty dot-com corporation generating more than $1 billion a year in e-commerce sales. Today, she is director for natural search for Netconcepts, a cutting-edge SEO firm with offices in Madison, WI, and Auckland, New Zealand.

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