October 31, 2005, 12:00 AM

Searching for Searchers

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With a new natural-search unit, eBags will have a full-time manager, who used to spend half-time on search and who will concentrate on drafting and implementing new strategies; a specialist promoted from within who will write search copy and track keyword density and site optimization; and a web developer who can work with the IT department to make changes to the home page and product pages based on natural search results.

EBags went inside because it is putting its new natural-search program on a development fast track and didn`t want to spend time conducting a national search or hiring an outside agency. "Search is changing so fast that the best employees to bring to the new natural search unit were people we already had ­in-house," says Christopher Seahorn, eBags senior director of marketing. "We found the right people internally and that`s important because they can grow as the new unit grows and they already know the ins and outs of how we operate."

Today if retailers can`t find enough seasoned search engine marketing professionals or aren`t able to promote internally, they look to another alternative: hiring ­promising, but inexperienced, employees and training them from the ground up. Oneupweb, a search engine optimization company, frequently hires ­talented newcomers and trains them to be account executives and ­marketing managers with good results, says director of marketing Rachel North. "A year ago we hired an ­advertising sales representative, trained him on our system and paired him with someone who is experienced," North says. "Today that employee is a search engine marketing manager who is responsible for several accounts and doing very well."

Drs. Foster & Smith is also filling all of its search positions internally. It has three full-time employees working on search engine marketing, including a reports ­manager, a search analyst and a pay-per-click ­specialist who also functions as an e-mail campaign manager. And not all came from search--or even marketing--backgrounds. Matt Stelter, paid-search coordinator, who conducts the company`s pay-per-click campaigns and maintains the inventory of keywords, used to work in Drs. Foster & Smith`s warehouse and is a professional dog handler. "The fact that he worked in distribution gave him an excellent working knowledge of our company and who better than a dog ­handler, who shows dogs professionally, would know how to bid on keywords and phrases that would pique the interest of pet ­owners," Magee says.

The right general traits

Drs. Foster & Smith hired its search unit based on an employee`s skills and interests. For instance, the employee who coordinates and puts together search-related reports using ­various database and spreadsheet tools already had a background in writing and researching catalog codes. The e-mail coordinator also works on search-related analysis based on her knowledge and use of web analytics and customer segmentation. "With search engine marketing you can train people for new positions, but the trick is looking for employees with the right general characteristics who are up for a new challenge," Magee says.

Search engine marketing is expected to change at a dynamic pace in the years to come and that means web retailers and interactive marketing firms will continue to hire professionals at a brisk pace. "There are constant changes happening with language, algorithms, vertical search and tools," says Robert Murray, president of search marketing company iProspect.com Inc. "There is a good opportunity for those who want to learn and keep learning these new skills to advance to higher positions."

IProspect plans to hire at least 10 search engine marketing professionals in the short term, including paid and natural search specialists, and as many as 30 in the next year. Most of the openings for specialists will go to general candidates with good customer service and business backgrounds who want to learn search engine marketing.

New specialists receive about a week`s training on search engine marketing basics and spend about three months learning and working on iProspect`s proprietary search engine bidding and campaign tracking technology platform. "The hardest part of the program is recruiting," Murray says.

A huge rush

Attracting search engine talent with more money and other perks is one way to find qualified ­professionals. Overstock, for instance, uses ­performance-based bonuses and stock options to keep its search engine marketing professionals content.

But search engine marketing is also a developing profession that`s attracting more ­specialists and managers who want to be a part of a new and evolving ­marketing channel. "Whether you are a search engine marketer or an account executive, there is a great sense of satisfaction in being able to quantify your contribution to a company," Sundahl says. "There is a huge rush in ­looking at the quarterly financials and knowing that you had an impact."


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