How to Cope With SEM Staffing Shortages, Part 1

If you’re a marketer with a reasonably large staff involved in Internet marketing, you’re probably in the midst of a human resources (HR) shortage. Search any major job board, such as Monster, craigslist, or HotJobs, for “SEM,” “SEO,” “search engine marketing,” or “Google AdWords,” and you’ll find more job listings than there are SEM (define) professionals to fill them. The Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization’s (SEMPO) job board is similarly flooded.

The industry’s rapid growth has certainly been a primary driver of the qualified-staff shortage. Some listings specify a strong preference for organic SEO (define) experience; others seem more focused on Internet marketing managers with hands-on experience running PPC (define) paid placement search. Postings in the paid search area seem to seek that mythical SEM expert with “many years” of experience.

The PPC search industry will likely reach $9 billion this year. Given we started at close to zero in 1996, there won’t be many people who can fill the positions, particularly as search engines themselves are often the hiring firms. As a marketing executive, you may need to set reasonable expectations when hiring internal staff to manager or oversee an agency running PPC search.

Fellow columnist Gary Stein had some interesting thoughts when I asked him about the SEM industry’s HR shortage. One of his points is marketers already implementing best practices have a huge lead, partly achieved through technology. He postulated that a breed of search engine marketers — the sophisticates, as well as the super-sophisticates — have embraced best practices and technology.

“There’s the very strong potential those who deeply understand how to manage this marketplace, especially in the face of rising competition, will begin to pull ahead from the rest of the pack and will solidify their space in the top three positions on the best keywords,” he told me. “There’s obviously a strong desire to be in that elite group. And in order to get there, you need not just smarts but a lot of data, plus the ability to make decisions from it. That means software.”

Software alone hits certain limitations in scale and efficiency, making a great staff still more important. Robots can replace humans on many SEM tasks, particularly in the bidding-decision and creative-testing environment. But search engine listings require relevance. Machine-generated relevance only goes so far.

Applying search to an integrated marketing campaign requires understanding the interaction effects between search and other media/PR. Perhaps this is why Gary also mentioned an increasing pressure for advertisers to outsource SEM to an agency with access to both cutting-edge technology and a trained staff.

If you opt to build an internal team to manage search, you probably won’t be able to find one person with all the skills necessary to execute a best-of-breed campaign, even with help from the search engine account staff. As chair of SEMPO, I’ve had an opportunity to discuss the HR shortage with several agencies, as well as with my own team. Most agencies have elected to break the SEM process into functional segments. If you can find one person to do it all, congratulations. Remember, though, that your competitors are looking for the same guru you seek. You never know when you might lose the in-house person who’s the master of your campaign.

Many top SEM minds believe campaign complexity and staffing shortages are two key drivers behind the surge in outsourcing of at least some aspects of SEM campaigns. The engines will eventually become easier to work with. Here are some reasons complexity will likely continue for marketers trying to maximize profit across several engines simultaneously:

  • Targeting settings. The top engines don’t all use the same targeting settings in their campaigns. In a race to increase relevance and yield (money earned from a search), the engines have all take their own directions. MSN allows you to set campaigns and bids differently by age, gender, geography, day, and time. This results in thousands of possible campaign settings for a single keyword.

  • Match type differences. Engine match types are different. Google and MSN are similar, but Yahoo combined phrase and broad match into one setting.
  • Contextual network differences. Each engine is rolling out contextual marketing slightly differently.
  • Campaign structure differences. All the engines use different campaign structures with respect to what keyword groups share the same copy and landing page (or default CPC (define)).
  • API (define) implementations. Each engine has a different frequency limitation on API use for campaign administration and management.

If you haven’t chosen to outsource SEM, you need the right staff, trained and up-to-speed. You may want to split SEM into several competencies, as agencies have done.

In part two: Job titles an internal team may contain.

Meet Kevin at Search Engine Strategies in Chicago, December 5-8, 2005.

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