3 Questions to Help You Plan Your Search Marketing Career

SMS Text

I have been recruiting in the search marketing industry for over four years, and I am still intrigued by the individuals that I come across everyday. Search marketers possess a unique combination of both marketing and technology skills that are unmatched by any other profession. My experience has been that most search marketers are extremely smart and usually have very brilliant marketing minds, and represent the best-of-the-best that marketing has to offer.

Therefore, it probably does not come as a huge surprise when I tell you that one of the most common questions I am asked by people who are just beginning their search marketing careers is, “what skills do I need to acquire to be a successful search marketer?

I normally choose to answer this question by asking a couple of questions myself. My questions are focused around assessing the search marketers’ experience and where they see themselves heading professionally over the next several years, as opposed to defining specific skill-sets the search marketer should identify on acquiring. I do this because I believe what is most important to a search marketer is ensuring they have a strong base in fundamentals given the changing tactics of the industry.

1. Do you feel you are stronger with the analytics and data side of search, the creative side, or are you fairly well balanced between the two?

I believe most successful search marketers have a good balance between “left brain” and “right brain” thinking. While, I am simplifying this — and keep in mind I am definitely not a brain surgeon! — the left side of your brain drives analytical and logic thought processes.

Search marketing is a numbers-driven business. The ability to manage and interpret large amounts of data and then translate your analysis into an action plan is key to a successful search campaign. To be successful in SEO and SEM, you must be very “left-brained”.

The right side, which contributes more to your creative thought processes, is equally important for a search marketer. You can look at all the data in the world, but you still need to develop a page that is visually appealing and user friendly at the same time. When you develop that piece of content which drives high volumes of traffic to your client’s website, that is the right side of your brain at play.

I always advise candidates, particularly in the early years of their careers, to work on developing a portfolio of both “left-brained” and “right-brained” experience, so they have a base of experience to build on if they decide to specialize later in their careers.

2. Do you feel like you are an effective communicator?

To be a great search marketer, you need to be a good, if not a great, communicator. If you are skilled at interpreting analytics and / or designing a well-optimized page, it does not mean anything if you cannot communicate the benefits of search. Search marketers need to be able to evangelize your search strategy to your clients, communicate the technical changes to the IT team, and / or explain campaign results to your internal customers.

A typical search marketer touches all areas of the organization and might be talking to the CEO, VP of Sales, and CTO in the same business day. Developing your communications skills is not a nice-to-have, it is a must have. Also, focus both on your verbal and written communications. Both are equally important.

3. Where do you want your career to go?

This is the last, but most important, question. You would be surprised at how many people have not thought through a five or even “three year plan”. Knowing where a person wants to go with their career (or for that matter that they do not yet know), is critical for me as a recruiter to counsel a candidate on their next job or what skills they should look to acquire. This is all important given the rapid pace of new job growth in SEO today.

As I mentioned above, I typically recommend to young search marketers that they focus on career choices that build a strong base of diversified and fundamental skills in the early years of their career. This has a number of benefits:

  • You will understand what aspects of search you like and dislike. You might decide that management is the route you prefer or you know that being an individual contributor or specialist is what drives you.
  • You will have a clear picture of the aspects of search marketing in which you excel. You can deepen your specialization in those areas or focus on working on your weaknesses.
  • You gain more career option value. Search marketers will continue to be in very high demand. If you have diversified experience you will now be in the driver’s seat to decide which opportunity is best for you to continue to leverage your career year over year over year.

The bottom line is that you need to look at your current level of responsibility and the skills you have and are using. Do not worry about whether you are working on “the client side” or “the agency side”. Instead, focus on understanding what aspects of your experience are relevant and match up with your ultimate career goals.

I believe if you use these three questions in your own personal career assessment and continue to evaluate your goals every step of the way you should be in a good position to leverage your career as the search marketing industry continues to grow.

I’d love to get any feedback from you. Please feel free to contact me at jgampel@onwardsearch.com.

Josh Gampel is the Vice President of Staffing Services for Onward Search, the Leading Provider of Search Marketing Jobs

Josh Gampel
Josh Gampel is SVP for Onward Search, the leading provider of interactive, internet marketing and mobile marketing professionals.
Subscribe to SEJ!
Get our weekly newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!
  • Richard Ball

    Question #1 is a good one. I joke that a good SEM needs to be able to write code – and haikus (for Google ads).

  • Brian

    I want to be able to go to any large city in the US and be able to land a long term consulting position for $75 / hour.

    As of today, what are the specific skill sets of people who can do this?


  • Mark Sprenger

    Great article! I entered this field about 10 years ago. I started my school work int he area of art and grphic arts and finished with a degree in Engineering. When we hire search marketing techs we look specifically for individuals with a creative bent that have chosen technology as their focus.

  • Mendy Ouzillou

    Great article – though not a professional SEM, I do enjoy providing that service for my glass art and jewelry website. By day I am a director of product marketing and by night/weekends a glass artist. You can see my engineering background on my LinkedIn profile. My engineer friends don’t understand my artistic side and my artist friends don’t understand my nerdy side. Glad to see there is a community where my left brain/right brain self will fit right in!


  • jaypaul

    Josh, very Unique info about search Marketing Job’s Power.
    Main points of Question’s are communicator with search marketing and analytics.
    I got Grades from web stats, this is very useful area in marketing, i found and worked hard in analytics of sites .

    web stats is very interesting Area in search marketing or web marketing.

    Thanks Paul

  • Jean

    This is a great article! I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I started my life in search right after college. I graduated with a degree in IS Mgmt but ended up in marketing. I went from intern to Online Marketing Manager in 2 1/2 years. I’m glad to know I’m in an industry that is considered “brilliant” and “best of the best”. Question 3 really hits me. I’m at a point in my life where I’m trying to figure out if I’m going in the right direction for myself. Now I feel empowered to know that I picked the right road and a few other road options are ahead. Josh, I like the point about using left and right brain. I’m glad I use both and improving at the same time! My right brain likes to take over more often than not though. Thanks for a great article!

  • Larry

    Great article and I have seen many folks who have a technical and marketing background. I started in Computer Science and ended my education with Marketing as well.

  • Michael

    It is good to reconfirm to myself that I entered an industry that is considered one of the fastest growing industries. The opportunity to become an SEM came to me 2 years ago and I took it blindly. I had no idea of its potential.
    Coming from a finance & accounting background my left side of the brain is more developed then my right side. I do appreciate your insights of both the left & right side of the brain, and I plan to be more mindful of developing the more creative side of me.

  • Josh Gampel

    Thanks for the comments and the kind words on the post. I have received a ton of feedback today from people stressing their desire to find someone that has both sides of the brain and candidates looking to utilize both sides effectively. Please feel free to continue to comment or let me know if I can help you out in any way.


  • Semaphore

    Good Article
    I like your topic which should about Left and Right Brain for SEM person
    We have Provide SEO/SEM services and Also we provide IT Staff Augmentation Services to our company if you recruiting Search Marketer Industry then you may Visit our Site and contact Via Mail

  • Zoobie Joy

    Awesome Tips Josh..^^..it has been very helpful..^^

  • John Carcutt

    I have asked potential SEOs in interviews the following question… “If you could choose, would you rather be Superman or Batman?”

    First it lets me know how they react when caught completely off guard, and then I look for the “Batman” answer. Batman did not have any superpowers and relied completely on analytics and detective work. Exactly the mindset needed for SEO. I don’t need people on my team who think they are faster than a speeding search engine.

    Nice Article Josh.

  • Dave

    John Carcutt reply is perfect, In my head I answered batman