10 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:
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:
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) August 20, 2013
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?