Professional Organizations and Hiring Search Professionals

I’ve mentioned the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, or SEMPO, briefly before. Now that the organization has a site up and is open to members, it warrants revisiting. The registered, nonprofit group aims to raise the profile of search engine marketing (SEM). The intent is to ensure potential clients understand what SEM is and budget money for it.

Full disclosure: Associate editor Chris Sherman and I are volunteer, unpaid members of the SEMPO advisory board. What’s that mean? If SEMPO is looking for advice on a particular issue, we’ll offer up our thoughts, based on our perspectives of search engine industry observers.

Certainly more companies are aware SEM is something they should do. However, that there are firms to help them with the task is unknown to some. A testimonial at the SEMPO launch meeting last month by one of SEMPO’s board members, Jessie Chase Stricchiola, put it best: “When I tell people that I’m a search engine marketer, I want them to know what that means” (or words to that effect).

Another board member, Dana Todd, has even higher hopes. “I want people to think that being a search engine marketer is as cool as being a Hollywood producer.”

Why would you want to join SEMPO? Do it because you think the profile of SEM firms can be raised and SEMPO is a means to achieve this goal through educational efforts. The site already offers case studies, a glossary of terms, and links to resources as first steps in its educational mission.

Why wouldn’t you want to join SEMPO? Don’t join if you think membership is a way to tell the world you are an “accredited” or “approved” SEM firm. That’s not SEMPO’s role. Some would welcome a group that accredits SEM firms. But others would immediately lambaste such a group for trying to impose SEM standards when the search engines themselves don’t agree on standards and have different rules depending on the type of listings you gain with them (free/organic, paid inclusion, or paid placement).

SEMPO is essentially side-stepping the standards debate that has bogged down other attempts to organize SEM firms. Instead, it’s mapped a course that will facilitate achieving goals in areas where there’s more agreement and consensus.

If SEMPO isn’t an accreditation body, what should you do to find “approved” firms that follow the “rules”? First, understand there are no universally accepted rules. In lieu of this, you might try looking at MarketingSherpa’s “Buyers’ Guide to Search Engine Optimization Firms,” which attempts to provide ratings based on its own criteria. This didn’t happening without generating controversy, as I wrote last year.

Another resource is the SEO Consultants Directory, which has its own set of rules on whom it will list for free. SEOPros.org is a fee-based listing guide with specific criteria. SEMList.com is open to listing any firm, without screening criteria. It’s published by Jupitermedia, the corporate parent of this publication. This does not mean the firms are editorially reviewed or approved. They aren’t.

Finally, members of ClickZ’s sister site SearchEngineWatch.com can access the Outsourcing Search Engine Marketing page, which contains a list of articles from Search Engine Watch and other sources about hiring firms. The archives stretch back through 1999.

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