Yes, Mom, Search Marketing IS A Valid Career Choice
If you’re an in-house search marketer, you may have had the experience of awakening one morning and realizing that you have a legitimate career. Wow! Your high school guidance counselor never mentioned this gig, I’ll bet. Only a handful of years ago, in fact, this career path never existed. Most folks would have simply labeled you a computer nerd—today they know better. You are not a nerd. You are a geek—a search geek, in fact.
Your mornings are spent staring intently at a curious mix of screens, surrounded by fresh coffee, stale coffee, and a few books with odd titles. On some tabs—you know they’re tabbed because you use Firefox—are myriad websites sharing the very latest news on the world of search engines. Everything from what people thinks makes them tick, to who bought whom last night while you slept for 3 hours… shame on you.
Tab over a bit and you’ll start to see the vast array of online tools available to you, a career search geek. Everything from XML sitemap builders to keyword research tools. Heaven help you the day you forget a password—you’ll be all theory and no action.
Colleagues swing by and ask what’s new, only to regret it seconds later as you launch into why keyword research should be the cornerstone of any project and how the latest tweaks to Google’s algorithm not only help sort more relevant results, but last night helped you fine-tune the perfect latte on your countertop Easy Latte 2000.
“There goes Jimmy again, speaking that weird language of his,” they whisper as they scatter like spiders on a fresh sitemap.
From time to time you may wonder about your future. Is there truly a future in being a search geek? I mean, it’s not like colleges and universities around the world are clamoring to add any kind of search training to their curriculum. In fact, since the last internet boom in the late ’90′s, the number of Ecommerce-related degrees have fallen dramatically. Sadly, those still around today are not really what you needed to get to where you are, anyway.
In the end, you’re determined to make a career of search. You’ve been to the conferences and heard folks talk about so-and-so, who just snagged a big 6-figure job at *insert brand name here.* You immediately take stock. You’ve got the same experience he has, plus you’ve taken online training that helped you learn the basics of many concepts. Your quest is then, from that moment forward, cemented and aligned in one direction:
You shall have a lucrative, successful career in search!
Manage your digital footprint
If that’s your goal, it’s time to get smart quickly. As a savvy search geek, you know that pages can float online almost forever. So, what are you going to do about those newbie questions you asked years ago in an online forum? You know, the ones that showed you didn’t know a meta tag from a price tag. This is your digital footprint, or part of it, anyway. How you manage this is becoming more important every day. More and more employers are finding it helpful to quickly search a prospective employee’s name to see what comes up.
Unless you’re a celeb, don’t expect any volume of searches on your own name, but I always think it’s a safe idea to own your own name as a domain—www.yourfullnamehere.com. At best, it might prove useful. At worst, it prevents anyone else from having it and perhaps harming your rep. Obviously if you have a common name, it’ll be harder, but with common names comes what I like to think of as SERP static—there are so many items being returned that it’s difficult to see the forest for the trees. Even if you cannot cover this base, there are so many others coming up in the results that you get lost in the mix. Anonymity can be safety.
The next level in managing your digital footprint deals with what you do right now online. Do you have multiple user names—one for every forum? How about when you join someone’s blog? Might want to rethink that and just go with one user name everywhere or even just your own name, plain and simple. This will dramatically help people understand it is you who’s speaking. In the case of a common user name (one you use everywhere, and is unique to you), it can help a potential employer quickly locate good things about you. If you give them the user name and suggest they search it, the results showcase your knowledge sharing and ability to interact with others easily.
Ramp up your networking
Having a common user name or using your own name helps immensely in networking, too. These days, with sites like LinkedIn allowing us to reach out to others at an unprecedented rate, having that singular presence allows you to easily gain credit for all the good things you’ve done online. Offline networking still remains one of the best ways to help build your career, though.
No doubt about it—buy a person a drink (or several) at a conference and you can expect to get a return on that email you need to drop this week. Spend some time in the lounges at the conference hotel and mingle. Yes, it’s like elementary school all over again, just not as cerebral. Seriously, I’ve met some great folks by approaching a knot of people at the bar and offering to buy a round. It’s a pretty cheap way to meet people and build relationships.
Join a group, too. By joining groups, either online, locally, or through places like Facebook, you are immediately surrounded by fellow search geeks every bit as into things as you are. The relationships you form here could be invaluable in your future. I’ll give you a personal example:
I recently accepted a new job. Still in-house, but with a big name company. Months ago when I was considering the opportunity, I asked someone I trusted, and who I knew had experience, if he thought the position was good and worth pursuing. His only warning came that the company, being large, sometimes took longer to get things done than smaller companies. This advice floated back through my addled brain last week when I was stressing about the length of time it was taking to get an offer letter. His advice allowed me to see things from another, more experienced, angle, which was just what I needed at the time.
It was also nice to hear that when I decided to leave my old employer and was waiting for this opportunity to be finalized, that if I ever needed a job, I had several—that’s the power of a good network. Treat it like a Chia pet—a bit of nurturing every now and then and it’ll grow and flourish, being there when you need it—not that anyone needs a Chia pet, but you get the idea!
Seek out training and experience
I tend not to worry too much about the educational components asked for in job postings. After all, it’s not like any of us learned search marketing at university. We learned by doing, and if we were really lucky, came across a course to study that helped point the way. It’s the ability to do the job successfully that employers want. More and more are realizing this, though job postings continue to show specific degrees listed as “required”—I say if you’ve got everything except that degree, go for it. If they don’t want your experience because of the paper, their loss. You will need some form of post-secondary education, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not like trying to snag the Chief of Surgery job sporting a high-school diploma.
Manage your expectations
Armed with all this information, what’s your next move? To hit the job boards? Maybe, but better take a minute to set your expectations to a lower level. Best to start off by reviewing things like what types of experience and lengths of experience do employers typically want in a search geek. What titles tend to float around? No sense wading in with one year’s experience and trying to find a directorship. Don’t simply set your eye on a big salary, either. Consider the broader range of issues at hand—benefits, perks, salary, signing bonuses, performance bonuses, savings plans, stock options, and don’t forget more immediately beneficial items like work-from-home options and extended health benefits options.
Most of all, you should approach your career as what you’ll be doing between now and when you retire—assuming you don’t contract a computer virus and reboot early. With that much time to fill, building a solid career takes planning, forethought, and effort. It also takes knowing how to build relationships and being honest with yourself. If you need to wait a couple years to build more experience, don’t sweat it, it’s worth it.
There are quite a few six figure search jobs out there now—many open as I type this article. Be realistic about building your knowledge base and your resume, and any one of them could be yours.
Duane Forrester is an in-house SEM, sits on the Board of Directors with SEMPO and can be found at his blog where he speaks about online marketing and monetizing websites. The In House column appears on Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.
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