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December 22, 2009

Why Now Is the Time to Join SEMPO

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It’s nearly the end of the year, which marks another year that SEMPO has been a champion of the search engine optimization and Internet marketing community. For years, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization has been a support and resource for the search engine marketing community, offering research, trend-reporting and education to SEOs and the larger business community.

If you have some money left in your pocket after holiday gift giving, or if you’re planning next year’s budget, consider the offerings of SEMPO membership and the SEMPO Institute. It’s an especially good time to consider the benefits SEMPO has to offer because a 25 percent discount is being offered on all SEMPO Institute courses if you register by December 31 with the discount code DEC09.

At this point you may be wondering what SEMPO can offer you. I figured that one of the best people up to the task of sharing the advantages of an organization like SEMPO is the president herself, Sara Holoubek. I asked Sara some questions about SEMPO, coming from the perspective of someone who may be familiar with the group, but who’s still curious about “What’s in it for me?!” I also got her to go behind the scenes of the SEMPO board and to give up a sneak peak of what SEMPO members and the larger SEO community can look forward to in 2010.

What do SEMPO members really get out of their membership?

Sara: There are three tiers. There’s the individual tier and then there are corporate tiers — the General and the Circle. Obviously the SEMPO Circle is the tier that many companies like to go for for a few reasons. They get an additional 10 percent for a total of 30 percent off SEMPO Institute courses. And we have seen a really unexpected range of companies that are looking to educate their staff or even their clients. And we’ve seen SEMPO membership grow and change.

Obviously SEM agencies and agencies are involved, but we’re also seeing brand-side marketers. We’re seeing companies like LexisNexis building a staff and buying courses in bulk, so that discount for some members is really one of the primary motivators for the Circle membership.

Circle members also get a link from the home page — some people enjoy that, that’s really a perk. But in terms of those larger companies, they really get to gain more visibility. We have noticed with the global reach of many companies that the Circle members like to list as many offices as possible. Circle members get to list up to 20 offices in the directory, and this is actually a really important thing because many people forget that SEMPO is a global organization.

While it was started in San Jose in the U.S., we have members in about 40 countries, and we have local working groups around the world. So we definitely have people looking for services and vendors. Sometimes we have people offering special discounts for, say, a conference in another country. And unless you’re listed in the directory for those cities, you won’t get that news. So Circle members really like being able to flex their muscle and putting out all of their offices.

What about the smaller organizations, who may not need the bulk benefits, but who also have the Web designers and the PR professionals? One of the things that stood out to me when looking at the SEMPO Institute offerings is that the courses aren’t just for marketers.

Sara: When the Institute concept came about it was initially because there was a dearth of talent within the agency and marketer side, and we were blown away by the types of people who were looking to take SEMPO courses.

Search is an integral part of the way business is done, so we’ve seen everything from C-level executives having to take it to, we’ve had agencies where everybody had to take it. And again, organizations that you wouldn’t normally expect to want to brush up on their search skills. A lot of sales and account people, for example, within organizations that might be referencing a product or service that the company sells that has a search component — they’re being required to take the courses.

SEMPO conducts and publishes the Annual State of Search Survey. For a marketer, what do you think is the big benefit to having that data in hand?

Sara: You get the full report and you get it earlier. It’s really about early access, and for any of our research I would say the same thing. SEMPO members are tapped first and foremost to make sure that their voices are counted. Remember, those are the numbers that many of the major business publications quote when they quote the size of the search market, so we want to make sure our members’ voices are loud and clear since they control a significant amount of the search spending.

I would say the same thing goes for the salary surveys, which are extremely popular for obvious reasons. We tap our members and make sure that their voices are heard and then they get the report earlier than the community at large.

Have you gotten feedback from marketers about being able to take action on the kind of information provided in the State of the Search Survey report or the Salary Survey report?

Sara: On the salary survey, it’s really a personal FYI, and/or a corporate FYI. Different people use the numbers for very different reasons. The analysts that cover our space absolutely obsess over our report, and if you talk to any of the typical analysts they are looking at those numbers. So from a bigger picture, macro perspective, the data is absolutely essential.

Now if you’re a company owner, frequently folks are looking to benchmark, and they’re saying, “Well where do we sit in this mix? Where do our clients sit in this mix?” For example, if we’re seeing an increase in spending on SEO, that’s an indicator of where the CMO is placing importance, so the agency would want to know that. Likewise, a CMO would want to know that.

On the in-house and salary reports we definitely see individuals using that to negotiate their salary, but we also see companies using that for investment cases. So if I’m debating whether to bring search in-house or use an agency, I’m going to use those numbers as benchmarks and sort of standards to say, “If I were to build this in-house it would cost X, if I were to outsource this it would cost X.”

You mentioned that the fact that SEMPO is a global organization is often overlooked. What do marketers outside of the U.S. stand to gain from membership to SEMPO? Do they have that same network of resources?

Sara: The State of Search Survey is open to anyone. We do get global respondents. That being said, the fact that it is in English is a bit of a challenge. So we definitely are looking at new ways to collect information and deliver that back to the communities that aren’t necessarily in the U.S. or don’t speak English.

We have working groups, and the structure is such that we have a global committee, and then we have a regional committee, so APAC for Asia-Pacific, Europe, we’ve got a North America working group. And then we have cities and/or countries that roll up under those regions. So for example in APAC you’ve got SEMPO Singapore, SEMPO Japan, etc.

Any country, if they so choose, can actually fund their own research. We are looking at different ways to conduct the survey in other languages or give folks the tools to do so. And we have had some countries be very aggressive and conduct their own research.

We’ve also done some ten-point temperature checks in particular markets. For example, Brazil, where there’s a thriving search community, and we’re really just starting to get the number of members up and interest from the typical sponsors. So we did a ten-point survey just to see who’s out there. I believe we had over 170 answers, which is a lot of people to respond in a market where most people aren’t even aware that there’s such a big search marketing community.

What has the board been working toward this year? What can members look forward to in 2010?

Sara: One of the important things to note is that there’s 25 percent off all SEMPO courses before the end of the year. It’s a good thing to gift to your employees, it’s great to gift to your clients that might need some education, or for yourself.

As for the board, number one, board elections will be happening in early 2010. The board is elected every two years and officers are elected every year, so we’re just finishing it. The board year starts April 1, so it goes April 1 to March 31. In the early part of 2010 we will open up the nominations.

I am very eager to see new names join the candidate list. So if anyone is interested in shaping the future of the search industry and helping SEMPO as it develops infrastructure, literally around the world as well as in your neck of the woods, I would really give it deep consideration — or if you know somebody who should run. And I would like to see even more representation beyond the United States. I really do hope to see some new faces join SEMPO and I really do hope that folks take that seriously because there’s a lot going on.

So what specifically are we working on? I’ve mentioned a few times the global nature of SEMPO but two years ago we started a little pilot with SEMPO Arizona which is a local working group in Arizona where folks could meet up and it was extremely successful.

We have since started local groups literally anywhere where we have enough members who are eager and volunteer to chair a local group. So if folks are not aware of their own local group they can go to the Groups and Communities page at SEMPO.org and they can see if there is one in their region. If there isn’t, they can contact the global chair or the regional chair in the region and get something started.

And I think it is really this local activity, where people get to meet face to face, they get to learn, they share ideas, they find partners, they find clients, they find vendors, they find colleagues. This is really the heart of SEMPO going forward and we’ve been working a lot on this, the infrastructure behind these groups, how do we support them logistically, financially, through sponsorships, and then through education and materials and content. Getting involved through a committee a local group or the board is the best way to make sure your voice is heard in the search engine marketing industry.

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2 responses to “Why Now Is the Time to Join SEMPO”

  1. @steveplunkett writes:

    Virginia,
    How many SEMPO courses have you taken?

  2. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Hi Steve,

    I haven’t taken a SEMPO course, however Bruce Clay, Inc. is one of the major contributors to the Advanced SEO course content, and I had a hand in helping to compile parts of that content. So in a way, I can attest to the quality of SEMPO Institute courses! :)



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