Search Marketing Organizations: A Road Map

Talk to any Internet marketer, as well as most journalists and many Wall Street analysts, and you’ll find they agree on this simple fact: Once an industry can support conferences bringing in thousands of attendees and generate annual revenue in the billions of dollars, that industry is well on its way. Search engine marketing (SEM) has grown to this point. So it’s no surprise industry groups aiming to represent SEM are popping up, too.

At Search Engine Strategies (SES) San Jose in mid-August, a new SEM organization was launched — SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization. I’m on SEMPO’s founding board of directors because I feel the industry is unique and large enough to require its own nonprofit trade association. SEMPO is focused purely on the SEM industry and profession.

In addition to SEMPO, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the Association for Interactive Marketing (AIM) are great interactive marking organizations. Both have committees devoted to search, on which I serve. Together, these three organizations will help mold the industry and will affect the future of organic search engine optimization (SEO) and paid SEM.

Given SEMPO’s recent birth as an organization, I thought it high time to review each of the primary organizations’ roles in the growth and development of the industry and explain how they all fit together.


The first organization to put together a search engine committee was the IAB. The IAB is “dedicated to helping online, interactive broadcasting, email, wireless and interactive television media companies increase their revenues.” To raise publisher revenues, the IAB must educate, develop research, advocate, set standards, and help prove online media is an important part of an overall media plan. The IAB’s Search Engine Committee has more specific goals relating to SEM, including:

  • Development of Case Studies that articulate the value of search media buys.

  • Development of Terms and Conditions for Search Buys.
  • Development of Creative Standards for Search.
  • Development of Trademark Handling Standards.

As expected, many of these goals are publisher-centric and require cooperation between publishers. Yet they’ll have a profound impact on advertisers.

The IAB has recently emphasized events as well. The Search Engine Committee is co-chaired by Google’s Tim Armstrong and Overture’s David Karnstedt; they’re joined by approximately 40 top executives at search engines, portals, and enabling organizations (typically agencies and technology companies). Committee members represent the major players and communicate IAB findings to their organizations, in addition to guiding the activities of the committee.


AIM is a division of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and operates the Search Engine Marketing Council (SEMC). The council comprises mostly search marketers, though search engine companies are involved as well.

AIM’s site indicates it “serves diverse corporate interests from email marketing, e-tailing, online marketing, content provision, e-commerce, customer relationship management, market research, broadband access and the rollout of interactive television.” That’s fairly broad. Marketers are heavily represented in AIM membership, and the education and agendas are marketer-centric. Agenda items focus on best practices and articles written by experts. The co-chairs of AIM’s SEMC — iProspect’s Dr. Amanda Watlington and SuccessWorks’ Heather Lloyd-Martin — come from the marketer side of the equation, and the AIM staff is quite active in managing and facilitating projects. The SEMC will have a presence at the DMA Annual Conference in September.


Finally, we have the new entrant into the nonprofit arena, SEMPO. SEM professionals have witnessed the power of search engine traffic for years and want to make sure every business with an Internet presence understands the importance of SEM.

Barbara Coll, SEMPO president and board chair, has been the driving force behind SEMPO. Three times a year at SES, Barbara initiated efforts to brainstorm about an SEM organization, and she got those involved in discussions quite excited. At SES Dallas in December 2002, the discussions reached critical mass when we talked about the fact SEM professionals are a diverse group and the industry probably needs its own industry organization.

At the first meeting we brainstormed about the name of the organization, as well as the role the organization would play in the industry. Everyone agreed certain industry needs weren’t being met. First, even with the major portals showing up in the news almost every week, marketing managers are often unaware of where SEM belongs in their integrated campaigns. Also, misinformation has made the rounds within the industry over the years, both in paid search marketing and organic SEO.

To meet these needs, a board of directors evolved, joined by a board of advisors, and SEMPO was “official.” However, some credit for SEMPO’s success thus far must go to Danny Sullivan (my fellow ClickZ search columnist). He’s been a SEMPO advocate within Jupitermedia, ClickZ’s parent company, which graciously provided meeting space at the SES conferences.

As a newly formed organization, SEMPO will evolve based on the guidance of its members. Early membership in particular will shape how SEMPO will look in the next five years, what educational initiatives are undertaken, and determine which primary and secondary research is sponsored or co-sponsored by SEMPO.

SEMPO has no plans to become a standards organization, nor does membership convey any industry approval rating or approval of member practices. It does, however, wish to clarify industry terms and vocabulary (with a glossary of terms), as well as lead by example with articles and case studies. Already SEMPO has some serious momentum, with growth occurring at both the corporate and individual levels, indicating a void that needed filling.

Whether you and your firm choose to join SEMPO, AIM, the IAB, or some other organization will depend entirely on the fit between the organization and your firm. My company belongs to all three. All strong industries have strong organizations supporting them, through advocacy and education as well as community building.

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