The search engine marketing world is filled with innovators and entrepreneurs. The seemingly overnight explosion of search engine advertising into a billion dollar industry has also afforded quite a few unsavory characters that we could all do without.
Some guidelines exist-- most definitely best practices provided by search providers or publishers, and a precious few have stepped forward to address the issue of taming the Wild West we call the search marketing space. Yet, for a whole lot of good reasons the issue of standards has been left unkempt for the most part.
The Direct Marketing Association's (DMA) Search Engine Marketing Council (SEMC) has taken on the responsibility of search engine marketing standards, but will the initiative gain any ground? Search engine marketing certification by a neutral third party may be the latest step toward doing things right in search.
Implementing any level of training or certification on the industry level has resulted in failure after failure. To be fair, publisher-based certifications have existed in many forms since the dawn of paid search. These programs often impart some sound advice with one small problem: upon completion, an additional qualification is an inherently biased sales perspective.
Natural or organic search engine optimization "best practices" have been thrust upon us by the occasional search marketing organization, and a few search engine marketing firms offer "ethical" search engine optimization training. The information provided by privateers can be solid, but it also presents a level of bias and probably doesn't help with industry credibility.
Of course, one can purchase guides from research firms or receive training from industry experts, but, again, these activities only serve as band-aids on the industry's bleeding artery.
Are you catching on to the need for a third party accreditation?
Cure the illness, don't treat the symptoms
The Direct Marketing Association plans to offer a two-tiered Search Engine Marketing Certificate program that is aimed at one of the sources of the industry problem: training for those who practice the search engine marketing trade. The certification will be assembled by industry experts but overseen and administered by the DMA
"Search marketing has become more complex since the early days, and we need to provide a coherent expectation level for the practice," says Amanda Watlington, Ph.D., founder of Searching For Profit. "There are 10 training modules for Level One, and Level Two will include 15 training modules."
Dr. Watlington is heading up the strategic direction of the certification program and overseeing the development of the curriculum. Total training will be 30 hours for Level One and 30 hours for Level Two. To date, four modules have been completed and a preview of the certification was offered at the DMA's recent trade shows.
In a nutshell, the first level of certification offers an introduction to search marketing for those under immediate supervision of more advanced search marketers. The second level is designed for more senior players who can operate independently and are actively involved in providing strategic direction along with tactical implementation.
Each training level is designed to provide both search engine optimization and search engine advertising intelligence.
Standards for the standardizers
Among the initial buzz of excitement about the certification course were questions from curious industry onlookers such as, Who is certified to be certifying the DMA? And, of course, the inevitable, Who is writing this search marketing course anyway?
Doctor Watlington is no stranger to curriculum development, having taught in the Ohio Community College System for 20 years. The search engine marketing certification curriculum tackles a series of objectives and the quality control comes from a peer review of sorts.
Both training modules and the curriculum are reviewed by a panel of experts. Watlington seeks industry talent for module development from all over the industry-- some of whom are DMA members and some are not. Once a module is completed, it is reviewed by said experts and members of the DMA.
Administrative tasks such as processing tests and application forms will be performed internally by the DMA.
"One of our objectives is to keep the testing and accreditation process fair and balanced," reports Michael Bloom, director of marketing infrastructure for the Direct Marketing Association. "We also want firms seeking accreditation to know information will be kept confidential and those reviewing tests will be unbiased."
Where do I sign up?
Your competitors will not be reviewing your tests, and the DMA is committed to removing any bias that one firm or individual might possess. Level One certification is slated for a January, 2007 launch and Level Two will follow shortly thereafter.
There is a non-refundable application fee of $299 for DMA members ($399 for non-members); Level One will run you $1,599 for DMA members ($1,899 for non-members) while Level Two training costs $1,699 ($1,999 for non-members).
Only a short time ago the practice of search engine marketing did not exist; now search is starting to show signs of growing up. The Interactive Advertising Bureau is working on defining clicks, and the Direct Marketing Association is helping us move beyond adolescence.
The DMA's certification is another step toward forcing the unsavory or unethical sorts who are simply exploiting the confusion and disarray caused by the rapid growth of search back to their garages to sell used computers. While there will always be an unhappy mix of short-term system gamers and those in it for the long haul, my money is on any industry level effort that seeks to bring a bit of order to our disorganized world.
Kevin Ryan is the chief executive officer of Kinetic Results. .