Government to Classify Search Marketers: Uncle Sam Needs Your Help


If you haven’t heard the news, Search Marketing professionals are the focus of a new government initiative. No, it’s not a nationwide crackdown on Black Hat SEOs. The US Department of Labor (US DOL) asked SEMPO to help them find industry experts and professionals who can assist in the creation of a new O*NET classification for Search Marketers through an Occupational Expert Questionnaire.

This initiative will require the input of seasoned professionals (just like you) who can comment on the nature of  the jobs held by Search Marketers. You can contribute to this effort by opting in to participate here: All you need is to work for US company and have more than 5 years of Search experience.

So why should you care about this and why does this matter to Search Marketers? (They do just fine without classification, thank you very much!) To find out more about why this initiative is so important and what’s behind it, I asked Dana Todd, Chief Marketing Officer for Newsforce, Inc., and Kathleen Fealy, Website/Search Engine Strategist for KF Multimedia & Web, Inc., for some insight. Dana and Kathy are both Co-Chairs of the Education Committee at SEMPO and were happy to answer some questions about this new effort.

Q: How did SEMPO get involved in this O*NET initiative?

Kathy: The SEMPO Education Committee Co-Chairs were contacted by the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) working on behalf of the United States Department of Labor’s (US DOL) O*NET Program in January. I believe SEMPO was contacted because as an organization, SEMPO represents many professionals in the search industry and conducts the Annual State of Search Engine Marketing Report. RTI was seeking to better understand what criteria should be considered when identifying Occupational Experts (OE) who perform the role of Electronic Commerce Specialists and wanted to know if they were on the right track.

Dana: The O*NET classification originally had search marketing as an alternative title for and/or skills sub-set of the title “E-commerce Specialist” – we were really happy that they contacted SEMPO as the representative body of the industry because we certainly had some feedback about this! For starters, we disagreed with this classification, and petitioned them with a detailed list of requested changes. This included a request for a unique title “Search Marketing Strategist” completely separate from any type of reference specifically to e-commerce, since SEM is practiced across all types of Internet-enabled content and business models (including mobile and non-Web applications).

Q: Why has an O*NET classification for Search Marketers not been created yet?

Kathy: Search is still a relatively new field and the classification process undergoes several stages and takes many years to reflect current industries and professions. The petitioning, review and classification process takes years and it appears that this is the first opportunity to receive a classification since the 2000 Standard Occupational Classifications were announced. (See for more information)

Q: What were the motivating factors behind the DOL’s initiative to create the new O*NET classification for Search Marketers?

Dana: The review and classification process is done every 3-4 years, depending on the industry. We jumped on it quickly so that we wouldn’t miss this opportunity to file an opinion. As part of the US Dept of Labor’s goal to more clearly understand how to classify jobs for many different reasons, they want to get as much detail as possible from the people who are practitioners. They were truly unaware of the arcane specifics of search marketing and their understanding is important because this information is used as far up as the OMB to help estimate the various economic activities in the US, and may also be used in government contracting, etc.

Q: Do you think the DOL’s initiative will lead to a wider acceptance of standards for certification in the industry?

Dana: While classifying labor, job titles, and skills is not the same as certification, it’s certainly a nice start towards a continuing acceptance and knowledge regarding our unique industry. One of the concerns we had in writing our appeals was that we wanted to properly position search marketers as highly skilled strategists, because we’re different than perhaps regular software programmers or clerical workers. That matters when it comes to valuing jobs, setting compensation structures, and expectations of training/experience.

Q: Beyond easier bidding on government contracts, how will this classification benefit Search Marketers?

Kathy: I think the DOL initiative will lead to a better understanding of what jobs in the Search industry entail and provide a level of legitimacy to the profession. Many businesses still don’t understand Search and its many facets. This classification provides a tool for businesses that hire or contract Search professionals. It can also aid those individuals who perform many of the related tasks as part of their current jobs.

Q: Is it too late for volunteers to step forward and help out?

Kathy: No, please lend your voice to this process. We have had approximately 300 individuals respond to our request for Search Industry Experts but would like to have a larger response so that the industry is better represented.

Any individual who would like to influence the US DOL’s O*NET classification by participating in the Occupational Expert Questionnaire should opt-in by going to the following link: Requested qualifications are professionals with 5+ years of experience and working for a US company. The Research Triangle Institute will contact qualifying individuals, and upon completing the questionnaire, participants will receive $40 compensation.

Many thanks to Dana and Kathy for providing such fantastic information about this classification effort.

So what are your thoughts on this? Do you think it will spur any major change? Leave a comment and let us know.

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  • singapore seo

    Is good to hear this as there are too many unethical black-hat SEO people around, hope this help to make it more clean :)

  • AK Works

    I am against any gov’t involvement, particularly in my field of profession and employ. In particular, I hate this current Regime in the WH.

    One of the things I hate is the attitude that Singapore SEO has “there are too many unethical black-hat SEO”. I say “Who says?” What makes Singapore SEO think he/she is “ethical”?

    What was unethical once used to be perfectly ethical until it was abused. Link-building? Link farms, running board (footer) links were perfectly ethical until others started abusing it.

    Oh and guess what? “Black-hat” techniques WORK! So if you feel slighted, get over it!

    The smart SEO looks at this landscape of supposed chaos and forges trust, confidence, and results for his/her clients.

    But as for the gov’t – I hate this classification. What’s next? The gov’t then calls for all search marketers to be certified like a CPA? Spend costly $$$ to go through another gov’t ponzi scheme. Fall under the rule of a nebulous, oligarchical gov’t agency?

    I hate that possibility.

    Singapore SEO should know, should something like this happens, if he/she is based in Singapore, he/she will have to get certification – or may not even be allowed to do business in the US.

    So think twice before supporting more gov’t interference.

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