The Next Frontier for Search Marketing Standards

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I believe it is time to introduce an additional topic into the standards dialogue that to date has been largely ignored. Currently there is no recognized standard for assessing the skills and knowledge level of the search marketing professional. This not only increases the difficulty for employers to accurately identify the talent level of the professional workforce, but also impacts the ability of our industry to achieve its forecasted growth.

In the next several years, literally thousands of new search marketing jobs will be created as part of the industry’s growth, and this will consequently drive an influx of new talent into the workforce.

In this environment, a company’s ability to accurately and quantitatively assess and compare the skill level of potential, as well as existing workers, changes from a best practice to a mission-critical requirement. Skills assessments are effective as a tool for screening new employees as well as evaluating where to set training and development priorities for existing employees.

The basic criteria for search marketing skills assessment include:

  1. a goal to validate a candidate’s knowledge, as opposed to measuring his or her tactical approach;
  2. frequent and regular content updates to adjust to changes in the search marketing environment;
  3. using a quantitative, and therefore comparative, measurement to assess an individual’s skills.
  4. providing different assessments for each search marketing discipline, i.e. SEO, SEM, analytics, etc.

Today, many employers are forced to spend significant time and effort developing custom tests, evaluations, and other methods to validate and evaluate a future or current employee’s search marketing skill and knowledge level. This however is counter-productive for most companies unless it is specifically tied to their core competencies.

Why? Even if a company develops a very thorough assessment, it is unlikely the company has the internal resources to keep it current, accurate, or relevant over time. Not only does this fail to meet the company’s original intent, but it also is unfair and potentially punitive to the search marketing professional who is being assessed.

If you want to envision what the content of these assessments might resemble, I believe there is already a solid prototype available today with the SEOMoz SEOQuiz.

As an employer, if you had two candidates with similar resumes but knew that candidate A received a 91% on the SEOQuiz and Candidate B achieved a 68%, would it make a difference in your hiring decision? You bet it would! A skills assessment would work in the very same way.

This concept is not at all unique to search marketing. Every professional industry has developed tools for skills assessment so hiring organizations can accurately assess the professional workforce. For example, in healthcare, hospitals routinely test nurses on their subject-matter knowledge prior to hire (this testing is above and beyond what is required to obtain a nursing license). One company, NurseTesting, has built a battery of skills assessments and is widely recognized as the “industry standard” and is used in hospitals across the country. In IT, the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certification has become the standard for Windows administration and is an example of a series of tests that I view as not just a formal certification but also a skills assessment tool.

A common thread is that the standard for skills assessments is rarely dictated by a centralized organization, but instead determined by the market. I would expect the same to occur in the search marketing community. If tomorrow three different tools for assessing the skill level of search marketers became available, the best one over time would become the de facto standard. It provides an exceptional opportunity for an aspiring entrepreneur, existing company, or a third party organization to take the lead to make this concept into a reality.

Integrating this idea into the standards discussion is important to supporting the increased growth and job creation that is going to occur in the search marketing industry over the next several years. Developing a skills assessment standard provides benefits to both the company that is trying to locate and retain talent and the search marketing professional who is focused on growing his or her career.

I’d love to hear your feedback and comments. Feel free to email me at kvclark@onwardsearch.com.

Ken Clark is the Executive Vice President of Onward Search, the Leading Provider of Search Marketing Jobs.

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