Recently an old marketing friend asked me a question I often get asked: "How do I break into search engine marketing?" And who can blame her? In a recent press release, SEMPO (the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization) released data from its 2011 salary survey showing that search engine marketing commands a high average salary in a fast-growing industry.
But if you've been a traditional marketer, how do you enter the search engine marketing fray? Here are five steps I suggest to get your search marketing chops.
Step 1: Online Training Webinars
There are many groups that offer online training and webinars, and most are low cost or free! It's a matter of knowing where to find the best resources. Here are some that I like the most:
Step 2: Online Blogs and Publications
In addition to webinars and online training courses, there are a multitude of written content resources available as well. For example, in the early days, before webinars were prevalent, I got my training from Danny Sullivan's original lessons on Search Engine Watch. And honestly, it was the best professional investment I ever made for a membership, considering all I've gotten out of that original training!
Some resources I recommend as online training resources include:
Step 3: Google AdWords Certification
If you want to learn PPC, and specifically Google AdWords, there are not many basic training resources as good as Google's own training videos for Google AdWords Certification. The certification videos offer course modules that walk you, step-by-step, through many facets of Google AdWords.
And if you're planning on shifting your focus from traditional marketing to search engine marketing, it won't hurt to already have your Google AdWords certification under your belt to add to your resume. There are two exams to take to receive an individual certification; each costs $50. I believe it's a great way to get a leg up for search marketing positions -- I've rarely had job applicants that already have their certification achieved.
Step 4: Conferences
Conferences, of course, require a bit more of an investment than most online resources, but if you plan your trip well, you can get some great tips and do some fantastic networking. Even with all of the experience I have in search marketing, every conference I go to always leaves me with at least one great new idea I want to implement when I return to the office.
As an owner of a search engine marketing agency, I send each of my employees to one conference per year. My favorite conferences with good sessions for beginning search marketers include:
These conferences also often have "workshop" courses either before or after the event itself, typically focused on one topic for an in-depth day of learning.
Another Option: In-Person Training Courses
While I have not personally taken either of these in-person courses, I can vouch for their instructors, two SEOs I highly regard: Jill Whalen at High Rankings and Bruce Clay at Bruce Clay, Inc. I've been following these two for many years, and they are two resources I would certainly trust for SEO training.
What About Colleges and Universities?
Many colleges and universities have not really updated their curriculum to include search marketing -- at least not in much depth. I live in Virginia, and when I talk to students graduating from marketing programs at universities around my state, I find many have little exposure to search engine marketing. There are, however, several exceptions.
Still, if you're already a traditional marketer, is there a college course you should take to refocus on search engine marketing? I personally think that seasoned traditional marketers will have a better experience with online resources and conferences than with college or university courses.
Step 5: Get Some Practical Experience
All of this training is great, but I find putting what I learn into practice helps me solidify the skill. One method I've seen my friend Dr. Theresa Clarke at James Madison University employ with her Internet Marketing students is to have students create a blog and then use SEO techniques to optimize those blogs. Students also promote their blog content with a small PPC project using Google AdWords.
So start with your own blog. If you don't have one, create one. Then use the skills you've learned to optimize that blog. Be sure to benchmark your blog rankings and traffic data before you begin optimizing, so you can recognize the results of your optimization efforts. Also try your hand at PPC advertising as well. Perhaps even work with the websites of family members or friends to help them optimize and advertise their sites. Just keep in mind that the goal is to put theory into practice!
Word of Caution: Beware of Certifications
Search engine marketing certifications abound on the Internet, but are they valuable? The challenge with search engine marketing is that, while there are some basic fundamentals that the industry agrees on, there are many nuances and strategies that separate one search marketer from another. And as a novice search marketer, how can you tell which certifications are valuable and which are not?
As an experienced search marketer, I don't put much credence in most third-party certification programs. I also don't find that many employers are impressed or looking for third-party certifications when hiring search marketers. So with the exception of certification exams from the engines themselves, like the Google AdWords certification exams, I wouldn't put much emphasis on attaining search marketing certifications.
Next week I'll cover some practical ideas on how to gain visibility in the search marketing industry to find a job.