SEO Mailbag: Search Engine Spam and SEM Salaries

Reader requests to address innumerable SEO (define) issues come in many shapes and forms. Some questions are site specific, search-engine specific, campaign specific, or even search-result specific. Other queries regard more general search industry trends. When similar questions begin to accumulate, I take the occasion to address them here.

Tattling Tales

Q. I think one of our key competitors is spamming the search engines. Should I report them for it?

A. Some search marketers feel reporting search engine spam is an entirely legitimate means of displacing unfair competition. Others say the search engines themselves are wholly responsible for keeping their results free from algorithmic manipulation. Those who embrace the latter rationale wonder if the search engines really want help constructing timely spam filters, why they don’t put a bounty out on spam sites?

Many search marketers believe it’s everyone’s responsibility to report search engine spam when they see it, competitor or not, to help make search results more relevant overall.

If a competitor uses spam tactics to attain top positioning in the major search engines, it’s indeed in your best interest to report the site. But you’ve got to be very certain spam tactics are in play, have proof of which tactics are being employed, and make certain you understand what constitutes spam on each of the major search engines.

Google’s Webmaster Guidelines provide clear guidance about what sort of tactics constitutes spam and makes it easy to report abusive sites. Yahoo provides equally informative Search Content Quality Guidelines and has posted an easy-to-use, six-step spam report form.

MSN Search provides Site Owner Help that features guidelines for successful indexing, along with a trio of techniques it discourages. To report a problem site, search for phrases the spam site is ranked on and click the link near the bottom of the search results page that says “Help us improve.” This link takes you to a feedback form where you can submit your spam report. You can also send detailed information about a particular site through the MSN Search Helpful Information form.

It’s uncommon for the major search engines to provide feedback to a spam report. The onus is on you to figure out if the search engines responded. Even then, if the reported site loses positioning, you’ll never really know if it was due to you reporting the site or if the search engines’ spam filters finally caught up with the culprit.

Reporting a spam site shouldn’t be a key component of your SEM (define) strategy. Algorithms ebb and flow. Spam techniques change. Spam filters flux over time. A long-term, successful SEM strategy requires a heck of a lot more than picking off competitors that manipulate results.

If you’re going to report spam, be consistent. Report all occurrences to all the major search engines as they occur. That way, everyone’s search results can be made more relevant.

Show Me the Money

Q. What’s considered a typical salary range for non-management and management positions in the SEM industry?

A. I sort of addressed the money question early last year, but that was specific to how much someone could expect to earn in a corporate SEM position. As far as SEM agency salaries go, earning potential is, for the most part, “commensurate with experience.” Consequently, many firms seeking SEM professionals don’t post salary details in job listings.

Based on information gleaned from the few firms that publish salary ranges in their job openings, several compensation trends appear. An entry-level SEM position tends to range from $30,000 to $45,000, for example. I did come across one firm, though, that sought an SEM marketing analyst for $10 an hour. You had to answer the phones, too.

If you possess three- to five-years experience in the industry, salaries range from $50,000 to $75,000. This includes the majority of the salary information published for online marketing account managers. More tenured, expert-level paid and organic search optimization specialists can garner $75,000 to $90,000 a year.

Senior management salaries tend to range from $70,000 to $120,000, while SEM directors can earn $95,000 to $150, 000. Of the few VP-level positions that post salary ranges, the most common offering is from $100,000 to $200,000 a year.

Compensation plans vary dramatically in the SEM industry, as do the responsibilities that go along with the job. Money isn’t everything. It’s equally important to enjoy what you do, where you do it, and who you do it for. It’s hard to put a price on quality-of-life factors. Take all these things into consideration when determining what your SEM skill set is worth.

That’s it for today. Keep ’em comin’, folks.

Please note: no individual email addresses are published to respect correspondents’ privacy. Some questions have been paraphrased into more general queries to provide broader responses to more readers.

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