Lee Odden

DMA Announces SEO SEM Certification

The Direct Marketing Association has officially announced their Certification Program in Search Engine Marketing today. The first modules are being offered at DMA06 in San Francisco in October. There will be two levels of certification focused on agency and in-house marketers:

  • Level 1: Designed for individuals able to work under the direction of an advanced search engine marketer. These individuals would know and be able to employ current best practices in organic or paid search marketing.
  • Level 2: Designed for individuals who are capable of devising, creating, and managing effective search engine marketing programs within agencies or as lead members of in-house marketing teams. At this level, individuals can seek advanced certification in organic or paid search.

Here are the four Level 1 modules (out of ten) that will be available at DMA06 and the corresponding trainers:

  • Introduction to Search Marketing – Jeannette Kocsis of Harte Hanks
  • Search Engine and Directory Submission/Inclusion – Detelev Johnson of Position Technologies
  • Site Indexing Challenges and How to Fix Them – Matt Bailey of Sitelogic Marketing
  • Search Engine Basics – Lee Odden of TopRank Online Marketing

Overall search engine marketing certification content strategy and planning is being performed by Dr. Amanda Watlington of Searching for Profit. Here is a quote from the press release from the DMA:

Search engine marketing is the fastest growing direct marketing channel, with 40 percent annual growth and over $5.7 billion in search advertising spending in 2005,” said John A. Greco, Jr., president & CEO, DMA. “There’s a growing need in the search community for training that is both credible and that enhances performance of DMA members practicing search engine methods as part of their multichannel marketing strategies.”

No major association has launched a search marketing certification program before and this announcement is sure to generate some interesting dialogue. All I can say at this time is that the DMA is very enthusiastic about this program and I am very much looking forward to participating in the program. There’s an awful lot of disinformation out there about search marketing, both organic and paid, so a structured program could be a well-needed resource for in-house and agency marketers.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. And who trains the trainers? SEO is not like teaching finance or HR. What a laugh. Do you hire the person with the DMA certification or the person who demonstrates a list of sites with good rankings in competitive categories.

  2. I think that this certification is a step in the right direction, but by no means the answer to every prospective SEM client’s prayer. I just hope that “something” really is better than “nothing”.

    Since no SEM can legitimately give meaningful ROI guarantees, and there is no real protection for the SEO client against the possibility of “sandboxing” or “banning”, even with the most honorable and well intentioned, certified SEM, I am hoping that the SEM client gives himself, and is given, enough upfront and ongoing education to have his expectations set REALISTICALLY. The client’s ignorance could even cause him to complain due to his misunderstanding.

    That said, congrats, Lee, on teaching the “Search Engine Basics – Lee Odden of TopRank Online Marketing”. I’m sure you’ll do a great job (as long as you don’t have too many students in one class – big smiley face).

    For SEO, I like Todd Malicoat’s bullet #4 in his SEW Forum post that says: “Ask for referrals from folks with top rankings – My new personal favorite – Do some searches for some medium level competition searches (2 word phrases not HIGHLY sought after). Call up the companies in the top spot and ask them about their SEO company. Don

  3. David, you make a good point about who trains the trainers. I am not aware of the specific criteria the DMA used. What I do know is that each of the trainers are active with the DMA, have been in the search marketing business at least 8 years, some more than 10, are good public speakers, and all have already done this kind of training in other scenarios.

    Being able to achieve great results with search marketing is one thing, being able to communicate that process to a wide audience is another.

    I know many top notch SEO and SEM practitioners, many of them very well known in the industry and would not put them in front of an audience for any amount of money. And there are some speakers at industry conferences that are very charismatic but couldn’t SEO their way out of a wet paper bag that I would never hire.

    What the DMA is doing has not been done for search marketing by a major association. Companies are looking for a structured source of information about search marketing and the DMA aspires to offer a resource for that just like they offer certificatation for other disciplines.

    We’ll see how the program goes next month. There will be ups and downs but I think it’s a good move for the industry.

  4. Lee,

    apologies for my overt cynicism. I guess I still see that part of the charm of the SEO world is its frontier mentality.

    I train people to use SEO and PPC. Its the certification that smells of regulation.

    By the way, nice blog. I really must tidy mine up.

  5. Your point is very valid David and I think the use of the word “certification” has more to do with DMA standard practices with their other training programs than it does to try and create an exclusionary designation.

    The focus audience for the program is in-house marketers and agencies, so I don’t think it’s something too many SEO-SEM only individuals/companies would be involved with. We’ll see.

    Hopefully it will be a step in the right direction at creating some structure and order to the often chaotic world of search marketing.

  6. Thanks for your insight Bill. Agency-consultant and client communications is definitley important, in fact even MORE important with search marketing because there is so much disparate information out there. Setting exepectations is key with any marketing and especially with search marketing.

    I’ll take a look at your “reference search” post.

    For the module I’ll be doing on Search Engine Basics, I will do my best to provide the most up to date and accurate information I can. I am getting information directly from several of the 4 major search engines on this so it should be good. (I hope)

  7. Always nice to see our industry move towards “normalcy”, but on the other hand the lack of normalcy is why there is so much profit in organic rankings 🙂

  8. Anyone who has tried to hire and staff either an agency or marketing department understands the difficulty attendant with measuring the knowledge level of candidates for search marketing positions or developing a career/training path for employees involved in search. A certification program gives a structured way of measuring what the individual has been exposed to and learned.

  9. >> A certification program gives a structured way of measuring what the individual has been exposed to and learned.

    No, a certification program gives more second rate SEOs an undeserved air of authenticity. I can’t imagine any genuinely good SEO even considering taking the course, which somewhat dilutes it’s value, I think.

    That’s not to say I think this (or any other SEO certification program) is utterly without merit – but I suspect that the best that ANY certification program can hope for at the moment is to produce students who require less background traing before you start turning them into SEOs.

    I see this kind of thing as a necessary step in the industries evolution, but it’s a bit early for any backslapping, methinks

  10. Tall Troll, see my comment:

    “I think the use of the word

  11. First, I love Andy H’s open, honest, half kidding, but very true comment: “..the lack of normalcy is why there is so much profit in organic rankings.” I assume he meant certification processes.

    Second, I have some concerns for the truth in what TallTroll said: “a certification program gives more second rate SEO’s an undeserved air of authenticity.” Or, worse yet, a 99th rate SEO like TP or 1p gets certified and hurts the Search Marketing industry even more than they already have.

    Ben Edelman ( http://www.benedelman.org/bio/ ) did “Adverse Selection in Online ‘Trust’ Authorities” which was about “Trust Certifications” regarding websites and spyware in which he said: “The sites that seek and obtain trust certifications are actually significantly less trustworthy than those that forego certification.” I just hope that doesn’t happen with the DMA’s SEM certifications.

    I don’t think that the DMA is going to police the certified graduates to make sure that SEM clients are not negatively affected due to a SEM Certified Certificate proudly displayed by the wrong SEM. But, at the very least, I hope the DMA has a clear, conspicuous, complete, and comprehendable disclosure as to what the certification means and doesn’t mean. SEM Certifications can be a double edged sword for the reputation of the SEM industry, IMO.

  12. While I still believe that the DMA’s certification process has the potential to be a good thing for the reputation of the SEM industry, there are still too many unanswered questions.

    While the DMA’s press release says: “..and complete ongoing recertification.” which is needed, it does not say how often. Maybe you can get the DMA to publish more specifics, Lee? It also says: “..designed to train and certify the level of competency of in-house and agency marketers.” This can be interpreted in many ways, so I’m hoping, Lee, that you can also get the DMA to have a print and online, clear, conspicuous, complete, and comprehendable disclosure as to what the certification means AND DOESN’T MEAN.

    I’ve got to believe that the DMA will be giving out some sort of print or online “authority certificates” as proof of successful completion of the SEM certification. I know you believe, Lee, that “the word

  13. Thank you Bill for your very insightful comments.

    I will absolutely pass them on to the DMA. I will also post information about the program as I get it and will certainly encourage the DMA to engage in the blogosphere conversations that are occurring as a result of this announcement.

    Ultimately, it is up to them to do that in the midst of promoting the DMA06 conference which should attract around 30,000 attendees.


  1. […] On a related note, the DMA are now offering search marketing qualifications. The industry needs credible training and qualification programs, however SEO qualifications, or claims of SEO guru-ness, need to be taken with a bucket-full of salt. […]

  2. […] Today, I heard that the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) announced their new Certifification Program in Search Engine Marketing. Basically, people will be able to be trained by Search Engine Marketers (who all have long years of experience, according to Lee Odden) and then pass a test in order to be “certified”… […]