10 Years Later, Do We Need SEMPO?

SEMPO10 years ago, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization — SEMPO — was formed. It grew out of a desire by search marketers who wanted to gain greater recognition and support for their nascent industry. A decade later, I’m not sure whether the group is necessary any longer.

SEMPO started with the best of intentions. It grew out of open forums at the conferences that I oversaw, eventually being launched on August 20, 2003. I remember most Jessie Chase Stricchiola, one of the founding board members, emotionally explaining to the first formal meeting how she hoped, in part, that SEMPO’s work would mean she wouldn’t have to try and explain to her parents what she did for a living.

That might sound dumb — who would get emotional over something like that? But search marketers were doing great work and yet were still relegated into having to defend every dollar won for that work, in a way that traditional marketers never seemed required to do. That was all despite the huge returns they would bring. Plus, no one really seemed to understand what search marketers — SEOs and SEMs alike — really did.

SEMPO hoped to change all that. One of the key things was doing an annual industry survey, and that’s probably been the biggest success the group has continued to do each year. You can see the reports over the years here.

Aside from that, it’s pretty quiet. When it started, there was talk of doing lots of media outreach to raise the profile of search marketing. There was huge debate over whether standards or certification needed to be established, especially against black hat SEO tactics. Many other ideas were discussed.

Instead, what’s happened is that (for those who go through the financial records and board minutes) revenue has been dropping and membership is effectively stagnant. The activity that the group does also seems stagnant. Consider the press release page:

Press Releases - SEMPO

Only five noteworthy events in 2012, and two of those are just about electing officers. Only three noteworthy events so far this year. Contrast this to the Direct Marketing Association, which has had six noteworthy events in the past month.

Don’t get me wrong. There are very dedicated, hard-working people involved in SEMPO. I’ve been to some local SEMPO meetings, and I’ve felt those especially have had great value.

But 10 years on, I guess it’s kind of depressing. SEMPO itself doesn’t even seem to remember that today it turns 10, and that speaks volumes. I would have expected by now a large recap of all the group has done and where it plans to head in the next decade.

Maybe search marketing no longer needs an industry group to prove that it plays in the big leagues — though as I tweeted today, given the Advertising Week schedule, it still feels pretty forgotten:

Or if it does need a group, maybe SEMPO or some other organization needs to have a fresh look at what exactly that type of group should be providing?

What do you think?

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | Internet Marketing Industry | Search Marketing Column


About The Author: is Founding Editor of Marketing Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search marketing and internet marketing issues, who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • RyanMJones

    maybe we need to rename it to “InboundPo” to get people to take an interest?

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Sempo should have pushed for standards

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    That probably would have killed it dead.

  • http://www.paulbruemmer.com/ Paul Bruemmer

    there’s your answer.

  • disqus_Xaj08UB0Dl

    wholeheartedly agree

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    We’ll never know, but this industry desperately needs standards or it will continue to experience algorithmic upheavals that become increasingly worse.

  • http://www.economania.co.uk Bill Kruse

    I remember when it started. I thought it would be good to have the recognised industry standards which I thought they were going to be introducing. I was concerned to see the entry criteria, potentially resulting in one’s being able to declare oneself to be a Search Engine Professional, were not exactly stringent. All you needed was (IIRC) $150 and a photo. There was no testing at all, which meant anyone could declare themselves to be an SEP and have an offical emblem on their sites too. I remember debating whether or not to send in the money together with a photo of my friend’s parrot, just to see if he was declared an SEP. In the end I didn’t, and now it seems that it’s SEMPO itself in danger of toppling off the perch. Not before time, I’d say.

  • robdwoods

    One of the major hurdles for SEMPO and any nascent SEO organizations is it seems that as soon as one starts dozens of high profile SEOs start piling on about how the organization doesn’t speak for them and never will, how it’s trying to corner the market on SEO, and how they will NEVER be a part of the organization. Want to get an instant kick in the teeth? Just try starting an SEO industry organization. Search marketers probably won’t be taken seriously until there is an authoritative body or two to advertise and advocate for the industry but there are too many individual practitioners to allow it to happen yet. If the current consolidation into larger search marketing agencies and brands continues, and a majority of those brands can get together, there “might” be a chance for something like a DMA for search in the future but the discipline is not mature enough for it yet.

  • Matt McGee

    Well said, Rob. I generally agree with that.

  • RyanMJones

    we’ll never have standards. One camp sees it as giving away their “secrets” while another camp will blatantly ignore them in favor of whatever works best for their clients at the time, and several others will fight for power over who can be the ones to dictate them. It would be a giant mess.

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Those who oppose standards don’t understand what standards are all about. They certainly have nothing to do with certifications and “secrets”.

    It would be better for a small group of people to come together and develop core standards and promote them to the rest of the community. It will take a few years to get everyone on board but standards are the only way to end the madness and stupidity that are SEO today.

    Then you won’t have any more nonsense correlation studies arguing that Google uses +1s in its rankings.

  • RyanMJones

    But then we get into the issue of almost every independent SEO thinking they’re more qualified than everybody else to be on this small group. Sadly, we’d never agree on that group.

    I think the best way would be to align ourselves with larger marketing organizations. We keep trying to separate SEO from marketing, but I think we can benefit from the rigors and structure that traditional marketing offers. We are, after all, just one more aspect of marketing. We can’t exist without it and it can’t exist without us.

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    “But then we get into the issue of almost every independent SEO thinking they’re more qualified than everybody else to be on this small group.”

    Which is why standards are so important. Standards are not for the people who create them or claim them — they are for the people who use the services of the former. With standards the public will better understand what to expect from SEO service providers.

    That’s a win-win for honest providers and customers alike and helps ferret out the snake oil purveyors.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Yes. That exactly what happened to SEMPO in its first year. It barely survived that. But after that first year or two, that dropped aside largely as a concern. I haven’t really seen that come up, lately.

  • http://www.highrankings.com/ Jill Whalen

    Google has finally created their own standards by actively penalizing sites that don’t comply. No outside body necessary for that. (Of course there never was, as far as I was concerned.)

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Standards cannot be defined by Google’s guidelines. A standard might include complying with Google’s guidelines but that’s a totally different thing.

    Until we can get everyone on board with what is acceptable behavior, though, consumers will have no idea of what to expect from an SEO.

  • http://www.seoperks.com/ Nate Dame

    No outside group will ever be able to set standards and stay ahead of Google.

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Your comment underscores just how poorly people understand what standards are all about. No search engine, not even Google, can set standards for an industry — not even for search engine optimization.

    Standards are not about how you tweak pages and links for any specific search engine. They are about how you manage the processes that improve Website performance for ALL search engines, including site search.

  • http://www.seoperks.com/ Nate Dame

    Well I’m thinking specifically about organic search. The fact remains that the SEO industry shares a co-dependent relationship with search engines who, at the end of the day, reserve complete control over the RESULTS our work produce.

    Not a perfect example but: Not too long ago there were hotly contested debates about just what percentage “exact match anchor text” is safe. If SEMPO were to have established a standard – either an exact % or a formula, or even simply a guideline – subsequent search engine changes could have immediately made such a standard irrelevant, even harmful.

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    The search engines cannot EVER define standards for organic search engine optimization. It just does not work that way. Standards don’t tell you “what is safe to do” for a specific medium. They tell you what is required to deliver consistent, predictable performance (and that is NOT “performance in the search results”).

    Standards for SEO would need to address research, reporting, accountability, communication, measurement, forensic analysis, preventive strategies, depth of practice (e.g., number of search engines, queries, Websites handled in a campaign), and things that all beyond the control or direct influence of search engines.

  • http://www.seoperks.com/ Nate Dame

    I think we agree in principle, but even if SEMPO were to give broad direction to “tell you what is required to deliver consistent, predictable performance”, consistent and correct application by membership would be a large concern. Some (a majority?) of members mis-apply the standards or simply don’t have the patience to do what it takes, claim “SEMPO doesn’t work” and revolt… It’s a hairy mess.

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Making excuses for not adopting industry standards only insures that the industry remains stranded in the “no-fly zone” of public esteem.

  • http://www.seoperks.com/ Nate Dame

    Why should we push for performance standards that may not or won’t deliver?

  • Belmond

    I was just considering a membership, now I am rethinking thanks to Danny’s post

  • http://www.samueljscott.com/ Samuel Scott

    I just checked out the site out of curiosity, and there is no Israel Group. Perhaps I’ll join and see if I get all the inbound marketers here in Tel Aviv to help and make SEMPO something worthwhile! Are any of the other local groups active — and if so, what do they do?

  • http://www.samueljscott.com/ Samuel Scott

    Maybe not standards or best practices (which is debatable and controversial), but general information and wording to present to the world what SEO/inbound marketing is (and is not) and what good consultants and companies should be doing?

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Standards do not fail to deliver. People fail to deliver.

  • http://www.seoperks.com/ Nate Dame

    You should get in touch with Aaron Friedman over there too! He just moved to Israel, not sure exactly where though.


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