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Monday, February 13, 2006

SEMPO Facecs SEM & SEO Industry Problems

SEMPO (The Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization) represents the Search Marketing industry's attempt to develop a unified voice.

The Search Marketing industry is young, and awareness of what SEMs do is poorly understood by the public at large. When the major media do write something about this industry, the coverage is often sensationalistic. A recent example was a Newsweek article offering to take its readers "inside the shadowy world of SEOs." Another example was Wired Magazine's story entitled "How Click Fraud Could Swallow the Internet" which predicted an apocalyptic battle of "search giants against scam artists in an arms race that could crash the entire online economy."

While sensational stories on the sneaky antics of blackhat SEOs, click fraudsters, and search spammers might sell lots of magazines, they don't accurately describe the overwhelming majority of the people in this business, who behave ethically, run sensible companies, and are genuinely passionate about Search's promise for marketers.

To combat such misperceptions, and to increase awareness and promote the value of Search, SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, was formed in August of 2003. Currently, SEMPO's memberships consists of some 286 SEM and SEO firms, both large and small, in-house search marketers, and search professionals at publishers making it the Search Marketing industry's most influential trade group.

SEMPO's 13 board of directors are elected each February, so Mr. Frog thought it would be a good time to inspect the platforms of each of the 22 people hoping to claim a spot on its board. By studying these platforms, he hoped to get an inkling of what SEMPO feels are the industry's greatest challenges for 2006.

Issue #1: Putting Search on the Marketing Map

While the majority of candidates agreed that SEMPO has made good progress improving the search industry's image and raising its profile among marketers, several acknowledged that much work remains to be done. Kevin Lee, Executive Chairman of Did-it Search Marketing and current SEMPO chairman, noted that "even with the fantastic growth we have enjoyed, paid search and SEO are nearly invisible in the upper echelons of major corporations."

In a similar vein, Sara Houlebek, former Chief Strategy Officer for SEM firm iCrossing, stated that SEMPO should be "courting brand marketers to encourage a line item for SEM within the annual budget" and "reach beyond the industry to influence brand marketers who have yet to establish a line item for SEM." Echoing this view was Acronym Media's CEO Anton Konikoff: "The time is right for SEM to move beyond being a niche market and take its place as a fast-growing and proven contributor to the global advertising ecosystem."

Issue #2: Continuing Research

Several candidates stressed the importance of SEMPO beefing up its research products, the most important of which is its annual "State of the Search Industry Report" issued each December.

SiteLab's co-founder Dana Todd called for SEMPO to conduct "more focused studies" capable of developing more granular data than permitted in its annual survey. Sara Houlebek noted that developing "year-on-year data will be critical to assessing the value of SEM," especially in terms of evaluating the long-term ROI of organic SEO.

Also stressing the importance of SEMPO's role as impartial research was Enquiro President's Gord Hotchkiss, who called for the organization to "leverage current research being done so that SEMPO can act as a driver of primary research." Noted Zunch communications Chairman and CEO John Sanchez, "these studies add value to the membership and also help to bolster the image of the organization as a whole."

Issue #3: Searching for Standards

Although SEMPO does not consider itself a standards-setting organization, or one whose role includes awarding a "Good Housekeeping"-style seal of approval to its membership, several candidates clearly wanted SEMPO to do more in the area of defining the outer limits of industry behavior.

Red Dog Interactive's Director of Search Marketing Paul S. Breummer wrote, "I would like to spearhead a process that will allow the search marketing industry to continue increasing its value, authenticity and integrity by identifying standards and supporting ethical business practices. I would also like to set a process in motion to authenticate and demystify organic SEO because I believe too many marketers ignore this valuable strategy at their peril."

"SEMPO needs to help develop neutral standards for marketers to evaluate potential agencies, benchmark campaign success and overall best practices," wrote Global Strategies International's Bill Hunt, a view echoed by Spidersplat Consulting's Senior Consultant Alon Y. Cohen: "I'd like to see SEMPO become known as the main arbiter for SEO/PPC/SEM-related complaints. (It might even) have a profile with number of complaints similar to what the BBB (Better Business Bureau) has."

Issue #4: Continuing Outreach

Several candidates suggested new ways for SEMPO to expand its influence by providing more hand-holding for its constituents, who can already avail themselves of extensive educational resources at the SEMPO website's "Learning Center," an area providing online Webinars, articles, editorials, case studies, and a lengthy list of links to SEM-oriented Blogs, discussion forums, and offline resources.

Wrote PRWebInternational VP Mike Jolly: "I would like to see SEMPO create a pool of members that are willing to act as mentors trying to grow their own businesses. This mentoring process could continue via audio downloads, teleconferencing, and monthly messages focused on the quality growth and professional development of SEMPO members."

SEMPO Looks Ahead

Overall online advertising is still in its infancy: according to the Online Publishers Association, less than 6 percent of media advertising dollars are allocated to online channels. As media spending shifts, the need for a group to serve to give the Search Marketing industry a coherent voice grows greater. As noted by Sara Houlebek, "the engines' recent forays into video, mobile and radio suggest that as all content is digitized and served based upon a consumer-initated action (akin to a keyword query), SEMPO will have an opportunity to influence a much larger trend." And as Kevin Lee notes, we are entering a world where "the public, and even the government, needs to understand the Search Engine Optimization Company."

If you are not yet a SEMPO member, you may want to consider joining this group of influential search professionals and making your voice heard.

About the Author:
Mr. Frog is a leading Search industry visionary. Mr. Frog is a member of the Did-it Search Marketing team which accompanies him to most major marketing conferences.