SEM Certification Programs


Lee Odden announced that The DMA is launching an SEO / SEM Certification. It looks like there is also going to be a SEMPO SEM Certification unveiling at SES Chicago. Are certifications necessary?


NO - Certification is not necessary!

I don't think certification will work because each of us relies on a somewhat unique set of methedologies for optimizing. Further, each niche or industry we work in requires different SEO/SEM strategies and therefore, different tools and tactics (influenced by client needs and/or niche benchmarks). Finally, each of us select tools and tactics that some will utilize or dismiss. Thus, it is my opinion that certification cannot work at this time. Moreover, one will have to carefully consider the real reason that a particular company or organization would be attempting to push certification.

Why would anybody even care about my opinion? I've been working in this field since 1998 for various start-ups, as a consultant, and currently for one lucky company. (-: I took my very first Internet Marketing class in early 1998 at San Diego State. SDSU's Marketing Department was one of the first in the US to offer an Internet Marketing class. I've been hooked since then!

p.s. This smells of the "ethical" vs "not ethical" tactics debate that prevailed a few years back, which eventually lead to the whole "white hat" "black hat" laugher.

Yes, I think many SEOs

Yes, I think many SEOs should be certified.

Right, now that's out of the way....

I have NEVER believed that SEO certification was even possible in the current SE climate, other than at the most basic level. Essentially, there's not a whole lot that's objectively verifiable, which makes it kind of hard to test.

Without a standardised testing process, there can be no true value in the certification. That kind of puts the mockers on it from my POV.

There are a few low level techy bits, and some process stuff that could be usefully taught, but I still don't see the intellectual content of that adding up to a meaningful certification.

That said, I think these programs will be successful, and are a good first step. It brings to mind early renaissance doctors, learning medicine from "doctrinally pure" sources (mostly Greeks who'd been dead for a millenium) and dissecting pigs... and then prescribing medicines containing "unicorn horn" :)


Why does this whole thing remind me of the movie Brazil with Robert DeNiro playing an "illegal" plumber ...

Re: Flashback

It's only a state of mind.


Not sure how certification will work considering ever client I work with has very unique and different issues and problems. SEO is always different for every client. Sure some principles remain constant those should be taught at courses in college. Not sure why they are not yet. Probably because no is there to teach them. I mean how do fresh college grads still build websites with the same title tag on each page?

An SEOBook Certification

An SEOBook Certification would carry more weight, as it would work off the book so people would know the person's approach to SEO. Ditto for a Google certification. SEMPO won't work because it means nothing. DMA means something, but I can't yet see how it relates to SEO.

The program seems very beginner focussed. So beginner focused that I feel it truly isn't for anyone that operates in the SEO field, but may (and that is at a push) be suitable for a junior marketing person fresh into their first job!

LOL @ Graywolf, I can not

LOL @ Graywolf, I can not agree more...

In order for certification to work...

In order for certification to work there has to be an authoritative body on the subject that the vast majority of us agree has the power to set a curriculum. I don't see this happening anytime soon.

Danny's next job?

In order for certification to work there has to be an authoritative body on the subject that the vast majority of us agree has the power to set a curriculum. I don't see this happening anytime soon.

SEM Certifier?

Just because...

...a person has a certificate in something doesn't mean that the holder is any good at it. This should be fairly obvious to anyone who has ever hired someone to do a job.


I am all for it... as long as they have an affiliate program with a healthy commission.

a contradiction in terms

Imagine a bunch of sprinters getting certified that they could in fact actually run. Or a certified Poker player? SEO is a contest, having a mass certification for a field where one strives to out do the competition makes no sense at all.

This pops up ever year or two. Personally I would be embarrassed to say that I am a certified SEO.

Personally I would be

Personally I would be embarrassed to say that I am a certified SEO.

Ditto here, littleman but that doesn't mean there isn't a market for it. I have never even seen Aaron's book, but I know from it's apparent popularity that there could be an SEO certification based on it. Of course I would not qualify.

Like I said...

Like I said in my first post,

I don't think certification will work



Anybody want to protest by creating a website? WWW.SEOANARCHY.COM & WWW.SEOANARCHIST.COM are available.


The never ending quest for credibility or the appearance of it

Here is my last comment on Lee's blog post:

"While I still believe that the DMA’s certification process has the potential to be a good thing for the reputation of the SEM industry, there are still too many unanswered questions.

While the DMA’s press release says: “..and complete ongoing recertification.” which is needed, it does not say how often. Maybe you can get the DMA to publish more specifics, Lee? It also says: “..designed to train and certify the level of competency of in-house and agency marketers.” This can be interpreted in many ways, so I’m hoping, Lee, that you can also get the DMA to have a print and online, clear, conspicuous, complete, and comprehendable disclosure as to what the certification means AND DOESN’T MEAN.

I’ve got to believe that the DMA will be giving out some sort of print or online “authority certificates” as proof of successful completion of the SEM certification. I know you believe, Lee, that “the word “certification” has more to do with DMA standard practices with their other training programs than it does to try and create an exclusionary designation.”, but some SEM’s may take liberties in exaggerating its meaning.

You also believe that: “The word “certification” is a lot more meaningful to the target audience for this program (in-house marketers and agencies) than many of the independent and small shop SEO/SEMs.”, but, again, competitive natures may cause some small shop SEO-SEM’s to use it as a competitive edge in closing sales for themselves."

I previously said: "..I have some concerns for the truth in what TallTroll said: “a certification program gives more second rate SEO’s an undeserved air of authenticity.” Or, worse yet, a 99th rate SEO like TP or 1p gets certified and hurts the Search Marketing industry even more than they already have."

Keep in mind that Lee will be one of the trainers at S.F. He will teach "Search Engine Basics", and I'm sure will do a good job.

I couldn't resist

After a bit of thinking about it, I registered Maybe I'll make it a blog, I dunno. The name get's me fired up. Muahahaha

Sucker Play

This has the potential to be a huge fraud on SEO customers.

This will not be about making the SEO market more professional, whatever the current intentions are. This will ultimately be about expanding the market, especially at the low end, by persuading customers that a "certified" SEO has all the skills necessary to do a professional job.

My guess is that that is highly unlikely to be the case in the real world.

The problem with SEO certification is that the skill set changes too often.

Imagine someone who got certified in 1997. They would still be hanging the certification in their office, and they would be flat out dangerous to their clients if they had not retooled in the interim.

So what you get with certification is someone who learns some buzzwords to impress clients with, who learns some safe skills that never go out of date and that never get you all the way to where you want to go ("Create a great site with great content"), who may have learned some skills that were ok at the time of the certification but are irrelevant or dangerous today (e.g., even white hat use of metatags circa 1998), and who may or may not be competent to serve clients in today's SEO world.

Unless you require annual recertification, and find some way to make the certification process both difficult and meaningful (cf. law and medicine), it all will end up being just marketing aimed at giving false comfort to the unsophisticated potential customer.

I agree with raycam

Even though "complete ongoing recertification" will be available, it dosen't mean that it is mandatory!

I said this, also, on Lee's blog: "I don’t think that the DMA is going to police the certified graduates to make sure that SEM clients are not negatively affected due to a SEM Certified Certificate proudly displayed by the wrong SEM. But, at the very least, I hope the DMA has a clear, conspicuous, complete, and comprehendable disclosure as to what the certification means and doesn’t mean. SEM Certifications can be a double edged sword for the reputation of the SEM industry, IMO."

What about the newbies?

As a May 2006 grad - I'm new in the search marketing /SEO business. From my perspective - this sounds like a great opportunity to learn core basics that will give me a foundation to start from. Like many other newbies on the block - I'm overwhelmed by the question "Where do I start?" I'm hungry - I want to know more, learn the right tools for the job and become an "all star" internet marketer. So, at this level at least, wouldn't a course by a professional organization be beneficial? Any advice for other methods/resources/strategies to learn? can be a good place to start

>> Any advice for other

>> Any advice for other methods/resources/strategies to learn?

Go to real life events, and learn who to listen to, then stalk them online, read their blogs, follow their blogrolls, and get involved in the online forums that you DIDN'T find the first time around

I would also recommend

I would also recommend, plus Rand put up a SEO Primer and Ranking Factors article that is essential reading.

Buy Aaron's Book

>> Any advice for other methods/resources/strategies to learn?

The SEO Book is well worth the money. Read that backwards and forwards a few time, and you are more than halfway there.

Listen to the SEO related podcasts at WebmasterRadio. A lot of their folks are really the top of the grayhat/blackhat world, and while they don't always spell it out verbatim if you listen carefully you learn a lot about what really works. Mr. SEO will be by in a minute, I'm sure, to plug his seo podcast, which is the podcast equivalent of sitting down over a slice of Ray's Original pizza in Brooklyn and getting seat-of-the-pants how-to advice from an indie SEO. (I will note that Mr SEO, and none of the superstars at WebmasterRadio, has the top slot on Google for SEO podcast; he actually has spots 1, 2, 4, and 5 on the SERPS showing up at my house today. Can you hear "Eat my dust, Rockstars" in a strong Brooklyn accent?)

The Digital Point forums are also good. I also like the Sitepoint forums, although it seems I may be the only one who does. There are a zillion more. For pure white hat, with a focus on using content, Jill Whalen's forums have a devoted following.

On the PPC side, Google offers a ton of training leading to a certification (but you have to spend money to get the actual certification). It's a lot of info and a lot of work, but it's all there for the taking. If you want to work for an agency, it's good training to work through.

You have to go forage to find it, and you have to remember that what works today may not be what works tomorrow. In general, this is not a field where you can get it spoon fed to you. This also not a field where the old hands have any edge on the new kids on the block. It changes all the time, and the edge goes to the folks responding most appropriately to today's algorithm, with a weather eye on what tomorrow's algorithm might look like.

If your college - like my college and my graduate school - viewed their first obligation to be to teach you how to think critically, you are in great shape. Go read, think, learn.

But don't for an instant be fooled into believing that anyone's certification means all that much with regard to anything other than your marketing efforts.

Yeah, what Raycam said and

Yeah, what Raycam said and then email people you meet on SEO forums and ask for help. Just ask. And offer something in return... whatever you have that you think might be helpful. They may just tell you what to do and that is the help you need taht isn't in the above resources.

no..not anarchist..


My gut instinct tells me

My gut instinct tells me this is a good idea and as Brendon puts it a necessary part of the industries evolution.

Now, that’s not to say that it something 99.9% of the membership here need concern themselves with, however I think it is good for the search marketing industry to build relationships with existing bodies such as the DMA, CIM and so on.

In a practical sense, as someone who has been responsible for hiring many SEO’s over the past 4 years or so, what would I rate higher when I read a CV? A DMA qualification or practical experience? Of course the experience. A deep understanding of search engines can only be gained over time and hard work. However a 2 day course, or however long this is, can be a good first step for many.

Thinking about SEO service delivery, I think we’re a long way today from the days of an individual being able to provide a one stop shop solution for larger clients, covering all areas of analysis (keyword, competitor, website…), strategy formation, consultancy, training, link development, online PR, social media optimisation, etc. Agency teams will grow as will extended networks of specialist consultants/providers.

Sure, the entrepreneurial side of the internet will always thrive off the medium, but the corporate side will grow, and require junior employees (the seniors of tomorrow) with a basic understanding to carry out basic work.

From my position, these courses are not necessary – we can provide the training in house to any juniors we may chose to employ. However, I can see how some companies can benefit from this. I have trained several inhouse web and marketing teams on the fundamentals of SEO and frequently consult with dedicated inhouse search marketing professionals and am pleased to see the benefit they get out of it.

If anything, maybe I should be bothered that big organisations are cutting in on territory that has traditionally been the preserve of specialist agencies, but I’m not. It all helps to raise the profile and credibility of the industry.

Perhaps the controversy surrounds the word “certification”, and “training” would be more acceptable to all (though might not sell as well).

On a related note I have been surprised at the number of job ads I’ve seen recently asking for GAP qualifications, though I suspect that this is down to either Google’s relationships with agencies requiring employees to be GAP’s or not-so-savvy recruitment agents.

One SEO Job Seeker's Experience

This 9/10/06 comment on SEO Rockstars is why SEO Certification done by the right organization and implemented properly (good disclaimers) with excellent follow through could bring the appearance of credibility (but no guarantees for either party) to SEO job seekers:

"I tried applying for an SEO job
They asked for experience in a company I work for. Unfortunately my experience is more on design and development. I was then to show sites I made with my own personal clients to show them how well it is doing in the SERPs, and just before I was about to show how strong it is in the target market, they were not even interested in seeing them and just moved on to other questions in the interview.

They ask about my training, and I mentioned that I listen to SEO Rockstars all the time. I said I read SERoundtable and SEW. I go to Digital Point, I sometimes read Matt Cutts’ blog. And I guess this answer was not sufficient.

I wanted to show my work to prove my skills, but they are not interested in looking at my work. They ask my training and they seem to be looking for some school where you trained for SEO. But then again, I do not know if every company is like this. And I am sure companies where the person interviewing you is an SEO, knows SEO and is up-to-date in SEO, the story may have not been like this."

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.