I recently had the opportunity to speak on a brand new session introduced during the Search Engine Strategies San Jose conference entitled “So You Want To be a Search Marketer.” The session explored ways that budding SEMs can educate themselves as well as get started in the industry.

I approached this topic from the perspective of one who learned and applied SEM techniques to one of our own sites before ever deciding to take on paying clients. I thought I put together a post on what I spoke on as well as include the actual PowerPoint slides for those who would like to view them.

Is There Money To Be Made?

I was going to start off with some statistic on how much money is flowing into this industry, however my colleague, Pradeep Chopra of OMLogic beat me to it. Therefore I skipped through that portion of my presentation but thought I’d present it here in this post.

SEMPO’s “State of Search Engine Marketing” report revealed the following:

  • North American Advertisers spent $9.4 billion on SEM in 2006.
  • 63 percent increase over the $5.75 billion spent on search in 2005.
  • Spending is projected to grow to $18.6 billion by 2011 in North America.

If you break that down into categories we find the following:

  • $8 billion, or 86 percent went to paid search.
  • $1.1 billion, or 12 percent went to SEO.
  • Spending on SEM technologies, including leasing, agency solutions and in-house development, accounts for 1.3 percent of overall spending, or $122 million.
  • Paid inclusion accounted for 1.0 percent of spending, or $94 million.

Now if you think that Google earned most of the 8 billion that was spent on paid search, you are probably correct in your assumption. However I would like to point out that a portion of those funds most likely went to firms and consultants who actually managed client’s paid search campaigns.

The bottom line is that there is a lot of money to be made and it is only going to continue to grow. In fact, we are seeing a trend where companies are pulling advertising budgets away from traditional media and allocating them to search. I am not saying traditional media is going away by any means, only that companies are beginning to notice the importance of search marketing.

Birth of a Search Marketer

Now I actually stumbled into search marketing. In other words, I did not originally plan to become a search marketer but fell into it after experiencing success with one of our own niche sites – The Arizona Builders’ Zone.

I had purchased our first computer in 1996. Before that I was completely computer illiterate. After 6 months of learning Windows 95 and being introduced to the Internet, I thought to myself that there had to be a way to make money in all of this.

In April of 1997 I attended a seminar on that very subject and signed on as an affiliate of a web design company. My job was to secure the business and then the web design company would develop the sites. I would earn 35% commission from the initial development costs as well as any residuals derived from things like hosting, updates, etc. Not a bad deal for someone who didn’t know the first thing about designing a web site.

Shortly after joining this new affiliation, we decided to launch a niche web site in order to attract a specific clientele. My wife, who is also my business partner, decided on a contractor directory and resource site. At the time, she was working with contractors to help them get licensed and set up their businesses so it seemed a natural fit.

Now we had our niche but what we did not have was money to advertise it. We therefore relied completely on the natural search traffic that engines could send us. I then applied what little information and technique was available to the Builders’ Zone site and within short order we were drawing traffic for a variety of search terms and quickly dominated our niche. Oh, and we were able to design quite a few web sites for construction related companies as well.

I have to add here that shortly after launching our niche site, I divorced the relationship with the web design company due to the fact that they became much more interested in signing up affiliates at seminars than doing actual design work. They began to lag severely in the time it took them to complete sites so I ended the relationship and learned how to design myself.

Now as a result of our success with our own niche site, we started applying search marketing techniques to any site we developed. The problem however was that we were not charging anything additional for these services. Once I awoke to the fact that this could become an additional revenue stream, we began to offer “search engine submission” programs (submission? – remember this was back in 1998) and the rest is history.

The main idea here is that I learned and applied SEM techniques to my own site first before offering them to paying clients. This is a practice I advise to students of search marketing often who want to enter the field as a profession. It is one thing to have “head knowledge” but even better in my opinion to have “hands-on” experience. It provides the confidence of not just knowing theory but actually knowing “how” to apply search marketing techniques to a real working web site.

Gaining Hands-On Experience

Today we have many ways to learn about search marketing, however that was not the case back in 1997 when I entered the game. In fact the only real resource I can remember utilizing was Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Watch. There may have been an eZine and/or newsletter here and there but in general, information was pretty scarce, mostly because it was a brand new industry.

Not so today. In fact there is an abundance of information available for a person to learn everything they ever wanted to know about search marketing.

  • eBooksSEOBook.com, Small Business Guide to Search Marketing
  • Online CoursesSEMPO, Search Engine College, Bruce Clay

Even with all the resources that are available to learn about search marketing, nothing replaces being able to apply that knowledge to a real working web site, in other words gaining hands-on experience.

The first step obviously is to establish a web site in which to work with. If you the reader are looking to enter the exciting industry of search marketing and do not already have a web site in which to apply the techniques you have learned, then follow these steps.

  • Choose Your Niche
    This could be something that interests you but not highly competitive, or something that may help establish your business as The Arizona Builders’ Zone did ours.
  • Secure a Domain Name
    If new, you then you will have the hurdle of actually “establishing” the domain (i.e. getting links pointed to the domain, getting search engines to index the site, etc.). Therefore an old domain is better but can require some work and money to obtain.
  • Establish Web Site
    You basically have three options – design it yourself which is what I did, hire a professional designer which is what I wish I could have done or use automated solution such as Flare9 for example.

Once you have a site established, the next step is to apply a search marketing strategy which should include the following ingredients –

  • Conduct Keyword Research
    This lays the foundation for your search marketing effort.
  • Apply Organic Search Techniques
    This involves applying what you have learned to date which should at least be basic SEO (search engine optimization) and link building techniques.
  • Set up Paid Search Campaign
    This was not a possibility for me as paid search did not exist back in 1997. However today, even with a small budget, it would be beneficial to set up a campaign so you can at least learn how to work within an ad management console as well as learn basic things like setting up ad groups, writing ad copy, measuring ROI, etc.
  • Track Progress
    Analyze visibility, traffic, and even conversions where applicable. Most of all learn from successes and failures.

If you have come this far then you have a good running start. In part 2, I discuss how to effectively network and brand yourself, how to stay on the cutting edge and keep up with this fast-paced industry and finally point out some mistakes you will want to avoid.

David Wallace

David Wallace

David Wallace, co-founder and CEO of SearchRank, is a recognized expert in the industry of search and social media marketing. Since 1997, David has been involved in developing successful search engine and social media marketing campaigns for large and small businesses.

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