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Interview With Terry Plank SEMPO Institute

Posted on Jan 2nd, 2008
Written by Lee Odden
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    The opportunities in the search marketing industry are as good now as they’ve ever been. With a new year many people working for agencies, just getting out of college or the military will be looking for careers and training that fits their need for a technical yet creative job that also doesn’t stagnate.


    To help fulfill the growing demand for training and education in the search marketing industry, SEMPO Insitute has been created to provide structured, peer reviewed educational opportunities. The Institute is led by dean, Terry Plank and Online Marketing Blog is pleased to provide readers with this interview about how SEMPO Institute was created as well as the challenges and opportunities facing the search marketing industry.

    How did you get involved with search marketing (and the SEMPO Institute) and where does the intersection of search and education come into play for you?

    Thinking about beginnings, it was almost a birth of triplets: Web, search engines, search engine marketers.

    I launched a website the first year the Web went commercial. Within that first year I had to run to keep up with developments in the search industry to become successful with my sites and the ones I was developing for others.

    Usually in an industry there is a time lag from its inception and the development of training and education. But, the Web is one of those unique industries that necessitated an immediate need for training and education.

    There was not much training or education initially, you had to jump in the water and learn to swim or you drowned.

    As you well know Lee, the need hasn’t lessened, everyone must keep up on changes in the industry to be successful whether you just having one web site, work for a company with one or many, or are employed in an Agency.

    In previous careers I was involved as an educator so it was natural for me to team up in 1999 with Robin Nobles to form one of the first online training companies in SEM. After 4 years I returned to focus on my SEM consulting until the SEMPO Board of Directors hired me in August 2006 to oversee the development and launching of SEMPO Institute. Now with Katie Donovan or Business Development Manager taking on everything else I’m able to just focus on the curriculum and overseeing the professional content authors.

    Can you describe how the SEMPO Institute program was built? How did it work with content authors and peer reviews? How will the content stay updated?

    I’m glad you asked that Lee because this is one of the major strengths of our education and training; professionals teaching others from their own experience and expertise. With SEMPO Institute training you aren’t getting just one person’s perspective or expertise, you are getting a complete faculty.

    4 prominent SEM professionals in SEMPO developed the first lesson outlines: Dana Todd, Paul Bruemmer, Fionn Downhill, and Anthony Mueller. I enlisted a handful of top SEM professionals to add to those outlines what they thought might be missing.

    Then with the SEMPO Management Team we selected over 30 working SEM professionals associated with SEMPO. They wrote first drafts in their specific area of SEM expertise. These drafts were sent to a different group of peer SEMPO professionals to edit, evaluate, and make further recommendations for additional content.

    We finished with a professional editor editing every lesson to ensure consistency within the lessons before I passed them on to a development person to create each lesson and publish in our robust online Learning Management System.

    A final group of SEM professionals went over the finished online product to edit and make any final recommendations for changes.

    As for updating, that’s been going on from the first students until now. As students, graduates, and some selected evaluators recommend areas that need attention we make updates when appropriate.

    Two times a year we will perform a more formal updating of the lessons to ensure that everything is still correct based on changes made in the industry since the last updating.

    Once a year we are going to return to each lesson and determine what new areas have arisen that should be added into the lessons. We will go through the same process as I outlined before when we make those changes. You don’t want to do that too often or too quickly because new things that come up in the industry have to get some “legs” before you want to start teaching people about them.

    From the web site, it seems the SEMPO Institute course material is targeted towards people that want to become search marketers. Have you seen any trends in distribution of students in terms of being client side, agency side or independents? Who is the ideal candidate for this program?

    The original idea for SEMPO Institute was to meet the need of our general and circle SEMPO members who could not find a big enough pool of trained search professionals for the openings they had and continue to have. So the web site is targeted towards individuals who want to get into the industry.

    During this first year we have learned much. One lesson is that agencies, eTailers and corporations have a need to purchase courses for their current employees and interns who are entry level as well as the experienced search marketers. With our three courses, we do have a course that fits all these demographics and the ones you mentioned.

    Fundamentals of Search Marketing is a perfect start for someone who plans to become a search marketing practitioner but has little or no experience/knowledge. We have full-time students and career changers who have taken or are taking the courses on their own in preparation to enter the job market.

    Others who benefit from this course are people who are not the day-to-day practitioners but whose work is associated with search, i.e. agency sales reps, account managers, client services, and marketing managers who outsource search and search advertising.

    Advanced SEO, designed for people who have some understanding of search marketing, is the course search optimization practitioners and the people who want to become practitioners would take. Agencies have purchased this course for employees to bring new employees up-to-speed quickly while establishing a consistent level of knowledge for all search optimization practitioners. Agency personnel, in-house personnel, and independents have taken the course with agencies personnel representing a slight majority.

    Advanced Search Advertising is comparable to the Advanced SEO course. It is designed for the practitioners or soon-to-be practitioners in paid search. Once again, people employed at agencies, corporations, and independents have taken the course, but agency personnel have taken the vast majority of this course.

    What are the goals for SEMPO Institute for 2008 in terms of content offered and students?

    First, keep the current three courses, Fundamentals of Search Marketing, Advanced SEO, and Advanced Search Advertising updated and current. As for additional courses, we decided to get the first three offerings firmly established before extending our reach too far. The final decision for new course offerings has not been made as of yet.

    There’s a huge demand for search marketers within pure play SEM agencies, other types of agencies expanding their services into search marketing and also companies that are building out their in-house search teams. Is SEMPO Institute designed to address the training needs of all those scenarios or just a segment?

    SEMPO Institute’s courses do not focus on where you work but on the goals of search and search advertising. Our courses cover everything necessary to understand the elements of SEO or search advertising that a professional needs to work individually or within an agency or an in-house corporate team. The specific strategies of SEM agencies and in-house teams are going to be unique to them and our graduates will be equipped to understand the specific strategies and techniques used. So, yes our training allows the search professional to be successful in whichever venue best fits his/her career goals.

    What mix of training experience would you say is ideal for someone brand new to search marketing? Conferences, online courses, blogs, books, forums, networking groups, associations, personal experimentation, on the job training, etc?

    The first thing someone new to search marketing needs is a base of understanding. Of course the industry has many means to get indoctrinated, conferences, courses, blogs, etc. Yet, there is no one size fits all in any industry for gaining knowledge. If you survey 100 search professionals about how they got started and where they learned the answers will vary slightly.

    A combination of formal and informal learning experiences is important for anyone new to search marketing. I recommend beginning with formal (SEMPO Institute specifically) because the industry is established enough that certain basic knowledge is not going to change.

    Learning on one’s own from resources like those I mentioned earlier and just jumping into experimenting with a site does not help with the core knowledge but is a great means to broaden and deepen understanding.

    I am a huge fan of networking as well. It helps learning as well as finding out more about the careers options available. How else can someone new to the industry find out about the differences between working at an agency or in-house unless through networking with the people who actually work in these settings? This is why SEMPO Institute established a SEMPO Institute Group on LinkedIn for our students and alumni.

    The question I’m often asked is how to get the hands-on experience that hiring managers prefer. One recommendation I make is to provide search marketing to one or two non-profit organizations that the student supports. It helps a cause you believe in while establishing hands-on experience.

    As a $10 billion + industry, you’d think there would be more SEM courses offered at universities. Do you think that will change and if so, how fast and in what way?

    It may take another five years for such courses to become commonplace but the changes will occur. I think we will see search marketing taught as a subset of other courses first, then established as a full course, and finally multiple offerings in various aspects of search such as SEO, PPC, and mobile search.

    SEMPO Institute’s Fundamentals of Search Marketing was used as a required resource in one college for a search marketing course this Fall and will be required at another this Spring for an eCommerce course. College and universities have not been the main focus in our business development but we are excited to work with them and welcome working with others.

    The fact that one school, Fanshawe College in Canada, actually has a course entitled Search Marketing and used Fundamentals of Search Marketing is very exciting. I believe we will see more and more schools establishing such courses whether part of their marketing curriculum, advertising curriculum, IT curriculum, or other curriculum.

    It’s a pretty big accomplishment to put together the program that’s currently offered through SEMPO Institute. So many people were involved, volunteering their time and have helped promote it. Do you have any “shout outs” you’d like to make? (sorry to put you on the spot 🙂

    You are so right Lee, until this last updating of lessons where we pay authors everyone volunteered their time except for me, a development person and our editor. I’d encourage everyone to go to and see all the people who should be honored but the list is too long to go over here.

    To single out just a few I think I have to say that Dana Todd, Fionn Downhill, and Jeff Pruitt should receive golden crowns for following the original vision with hundreds of hours working with me to get SEMPO Institute to the place of prominence we now have as one of the foremost SEM distance learning educational institutions.

    I guess the second group to get a big thanks is the 2006 and 2007 SEMPO Board of Directors you’ll find at These forward thinking leaders authorized a significant investment of capital to facilitate training the next generation of SEM professionals.

    There is one final group to thank. SEMPO has 19 committees who lead our professional organization. One of the committee’s is the SEMPO Institute Committee co-chaired by Fionn Downhill and Jon Schepke. There are 16 members in this Committee who are active in decision making on the Courses and their promotion. Your readers can see a list of those SEMPO Committees and the Members of our Institute Committee at

    What are some of the top online resources for search marketing would you recommend?

    A Well, let’s start with the search engines themselves. They have excellent and important information, even Microsoft. Our lessons refer directly to them repeatedly because we teach best practices acceptable to search engines. Just as importantly, the way they work must be integrated into our broader training in SEM because the search engines are the foundation of the industry.

    Next let me recommend that your readers go to for some important resources we supply in our lessons that the SEMPO Education Committee added to the SEMPO site.

    First, there is an excellent Glossary from our Lessons and links to other Glossaries that are important.

    Second, if you follow Resources and Links you’ll find many of the resources we refer to in our SEMPO Institute Lessons; Blogs (like your excellent blog), Discussion Forums, Newsletters, Tools and Software. This great resource area spins your head around as you realize how much is out there. One would have to read through much more if you didn’t take a set of courses like ours to orient yourself and be prepared for using these resources effectively.

    Thanks Terry!Â