Building A Career In Search Marketing
So, you’ve decided that a career in search marketing IS for you. Sure, your friends, parents, and significant other have no idea what you’re talking about when you describe the profession, but there’s money to be made, and you want your share!
But, where to begin? Wanting the job is one thing. Being qualified for it, and even finding the right job, are quite different matters. Though it may seem atypical, a career in search marketing requires knowledge and skill. Unproven, you are not bringing much to the game, and since search work is usually tied to measurable performance, being able to perform is essential.
It’s important to remember that even though chatter abounds around six-figure jobs, you cannot show up to an interview, spout off some industry jargon, and land one. At that level, there is an expectation of performance which must be backed up by past performance. When the job listing asks for two to three years of experience, it’s not because the company doesn’t want to give new folks a chance, but rather because there’s a responsibility to show a return on investment.
Showing up with a document that states you took an online training program is all well and good, but most companies will likely never have heard of that program, so they will attach little importance to it. After all, technical competency is expected, not hoped for.
Sadly, since training in search marketing is not available through most typical post-secondary educational institutes, what are you to do? Choose carefully. Do not let cost be your sole factor in determining the value of the training program. Look instead at overall value and of the positioning of the group/organization offering it. Are they simply a training company, offering this dedicated training, but nothing else? Do they have a profile in the industry? Does the industry recognize them in any way? Find out who built the program and who’s involved with the group offering it. Industry thought-leaders are always a safe bet to follow, so if the names attached to the program have a high profile in the industry, at the very least there’s some experience backing up the course material.
Do I have a recommendation? You bet—but full disclosure—I’m personally involved with this one, so shop for what’s best for you. For my money, the SEMPO Institute training is tough to beat. I know this because the folks involved with the project are some of the best in the industry—people who have been doing this work since the beginning and make their living by being successful. [Editor's Note: For more on it and some similar programs, see SEMPO Search Marketing Training Celebrates First Year & Recapping Various SEM Training Options].
Chances are if the training was built by people with years of successful experience, you’re going to learn the right things to get you started. No guarantees, but then again, most universities are teaching from material years out of date anyway.
So, at this point, let’s say you’ve got some training under your belt. Next you want to gain some experience. But how do you gain experience? Well, you could always start your own website or blog and experiment. I’ve done this and learned a great many things firsthand this way. You could also volunteer to work on websites for non-profit organizations in your area. Many would like to see more traffic to their website, yet have no budget to pay for help. Just be careful that you do deliver results, though, as you’ll want to be able to list them as a success in your work portfolio.
You might also take a job in a marketing function with a company, then work on positioning yourself as an in-house asset for search marketing. This is a much longer path to developing search marketing experience, but if the scenario works out for you and your company, it could easily be the ticket to a full time gig as an in-house search marketer. From personal experience, I can tell you such a transition can be made. I started as a Marketing Manager at my last company, then after a year or so, began transitioning into a more dedicated search marketing role. After another 6 months or so, we hired someone to manage all the media buying and non-search marketing functions, leaving me to focus solely on SEO/SEM.
Fast forward several years and my experience, industry involvement, and exposure has lead to my current in-house SEO role with Microsoft.
The path is easy enough to see, but let’s not forget the next critical step: finding the opportunity.
Many companies right now are looking to fill dedicated SEO (organic) or SEM (paid search) jobs. I’m willing to bet there are even quite a few 6 figure jobs up for grabs. But how do you find them?
A bit of careful thinking can help you narrow the field, since there will be jobs out there from entry level analyst positions, right up to Director level slots for the right person. The usual job-posting websites are your most likely starting point, so we can skip mentioning them in detail. Check Monster and Workopolis. As two of the largest job-centric sites online, they will inevitably attract search jobs by the simple virtue that many companies don’t know where else to post these highly specific jobs, or because the company is covering all its bases – either way, they remain a source.
Next up, check SEMPO’s job posting section. The quality of the jobs posted there are decent—a good mix of entry level and high-experience-required types. The bottom line here is that it’s almost certain that the only jobs in this list are search marketing related.
The folks over at at Marketing Sherpa have a great section with marketing-centric and, specifically, e-commerce and online marketing jobs that is regularly updated.
Other sites to watch include:
Another interesting read is Matt Martone’s Job|Search Marketing blog. Matt does Media Sales Strategy for Yahoo’s HotJobs site, so he’s got an insider’s perspective.
Even with those resources at your disposal, though, one of the single biggest assets you can access is your own network. I’ve written before about how important it is to build your own network, but when it comes time to find a good job, or seek advice on one you’re considering, nothing beats being able to speak to professionals who do this stuff for a living. To that end, if you are not already on LinkedIn, get moving. It’s an excellent professional networking resource—though be careful to bring value, as blindly asking for introductions to key people and asking strangers to recommend you is not the best way forward.
In the end, finding a really good job opportunity will require a coming together of many factors. Building your own skill-set and experience will put you in the best position to capitalize on opportunities that do come your way.
Having just wrapped up the in-house SEM salary survey for SEMPO, I can tell readers that salaries into the 6 figures are absolutely true. There are even individuals in the industry with in-house positions with compensation packages that exceed $200,000 per year, so if everything comes together, a career in search marketing can be very lucrative. The flip side is that the vast majority of jobs available are much more entry level, and offer significantly more “realistic” compensation levels.
When you begin looking at opportunities, keep in mind that you possess a unique skill-set, so if you can afford to, be picky about which opportunity you choose. Finding a good job in search marketing is getting much, much easier, but finding the perfect search marketing job for you will require patience and no small amount of work on your part.
Duane Forrester is an in-house SEM with Microsoft, sits on the Board of Directors with SEMPO, can be found at his blog where he speaks about online marketing and monetizing websites and is the author of How To Make Money With Your Blog. The In House column appears on Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.
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