Search Marketing Survey ‘SEM Pro Series 2008’: Results

We are delighted to share the results of the first 4 surveys of the 10×10 SEM Pro Survey Series. A big “Thank you!”  to everyone who participated by sharing their insights, experience and thoughts on the state of search marketing.

Another huge thank you goes out to’s Jim Hedger and Dave Davies for taking the time to interview me to discuss objectives and preliminary results.



Setting the Stage


  • We received 254 completed surveys.
  • The breakdown of survey completion by top 5 countries was US (65%); Canadian (12%); UK (11%); Australia (4%), and New Zealand (1%). Other entries came from Costa Rica, a range of South American countries, South Africa, India and parts of Western Europe
  • 64% of entrants practice both SEO and PPC; 27% practice only SEO, and 8% of respondents specialize solely in PPC
  •  37% of respondents work for an agency; 29% are in-house specialists, 26% are self employed consultants and 8% are self-employed bloggers
  • 49% of respondents work both in office and remotely; 36% work in office always and 14% work remotely (significantly higher [75% more] than the 8% self employed bloggers)

The following three questions and respondents answers to set the stage are included in graphic format as they are less condensed, as taken together provide some interesting insights:

1. The responses to the questions regarding ‘[Your] level of experience.’ indicates that 67% of respondents have less than 5 years experience; 24% have 5 to 10 years experience. And 9% have more than 10 years experience:


2. The responses to the question regarding respondents ‘job position or description’  indicates that 53.51% classify themselves as senior search manager, search director or VP of search:

3. …and answers to the question on earnings reveal that 35% of respondents earn less than $50K per annum; 47% earn between $50 and $100K per annum. 18% of search marketers who took this survey make in excess of $100,000 per annum.

Insights based on answers to the preceding three questions:

  • Just under one third (33.1%) of respondents have more than 5 years experience.
  • Just over half of respondents (54%) classify themselves as senior search managers/directors/VPs.
  • A third (33.3%) of respondents earn $80K or more per annum, leaving well on 2/3 of all respondents earning less than $80/a.
  • Less than 18% of respondents earn more than $100K per annum compared to 20% of respondents with more than 7 years experience.


When asked ‘How did you get into SEO?’ the range of answers was interesting:

  • An equal number of respondents cited that they were involved in web marketing OR web design and development and ‘sort of drifted into it’ (37% each).
  • 24% of respondents got into SEO ‘by accident’, and
  •  Only 3% got in because ‘I wanted to be an SEO’!

(The survey did not ask ages of participants, but the next series of surveys will include the option to state a birth-date range.)


When asked ‘Did you stay in school, or decide to get into the working world fast!’, The current stats provide us with the fact that nearly 50% of practicing SEO’s have a bachelors degree:

What is of interest is that 16% of respondents have a masters or bachelors degree and 18% of respondents earn in excess of $100K. Perhaps a further survey might tie the two together, or dispute any correlation. Perhaps previous working experience has played a big role in attaining top salaries, or perhaps it is simply some experience amalgamated with a previous related or unrelated business or arts degree? Perhaps the time is ripe for a real search marketing diploma to assist new market entrants?


What Search Marketers Say About Search Marketing Practices


When asked which of onpage, offpage or ‘other’ elements were most influential regarding rankings:

  • 48% cited backlinks, and
  • 38% cited onpage elements

Other ‘other’ answers included (See Note [a] below for further insights):

  1. Depends on project
  2. Trust
  3. Useful consumer content
  4. Depends on vertical and search engine
  5. ‘both’


When asked: ‘What do you consider to be the single most important on-page SEO element in terms of rankings effect (assuming everything is accessible to the spiders)?’, most respondents replied as expected, ‘the Title Tag’ (51%)…

What proves to be interesting, and enormously positive as a reflection on the SEO industry, is that a third of all respondents cited ‘copy’ as the most important on-page element.

‘Other’ responses included a mix of title and copy with another variable, though one considerate respondent added the following; it’s a bit of a weird question – you should rank them from high to low rather than just pick one – I’d never just do one of these so it’s a bit of a silly question (sorry)”.


When asked: ‘Which of the following do you think is the biggest challenge facing SEO’s today from a sales perspective?’ The results speak for themselves:

‘Lack of mainstream knowledge’ compounded by ‘undefined expectations’ pose a significant problem according to a whopping 79% of respondents.


Taking the same question from a different angle and asking; ‘Which of the following do you think is the biggest challenge facing SEO’s today from a deliverables perspective?’…

While ‘undefined expectations’ is the top of the list, it is closely followed by ‘changing SE protocols’. Also of interest – 12% of respondents cited ‘lack of cross discipline support’.


When asked how respondents ‘learned’ SEO, the responses were a pretty even mix of forums, blogs and ‘friend or colleague’; however, the ‘learning’ method that came in top was:

  • ‘Practical trial and error’ according to 30% of respondents.


SEO at Work


Keeping title tags to a minimum is good because:


Considering the maximum character count of Google in terms of ‘visible characters in the SERPs’:

  • 63% of respondents think it’s 65 characters
  • 21% think is it 70 characters
  • 5% think it is 75 characters
  • ‘Other’ responses varied between 65 and 70.


Should title tags exceed visible character count? Responses…

Apart from the fact that 30% of folk realize that Google indexes the lot regardless of display, 38% of respondents cite ‘usability’ in their concern for title tag use.


When prompted by the question: ‘I use Meta Descriptions…’:

  • 68% said always
  • 21% said mostly
  • 11% said sometimes
  • no-one said ‘never’ or ‘seldom’

For those who use Meta descriptions, when asked ‘Why are [they] most useful?’, the results were overwhelmingly skewed towards enhancing click-through rates.:



The Meta keyword tag has bad press. You say ‘Meta keyword tags …’


Regarding NoODP and NoYDIR tags:

  • 26% always use them
  • 21% never use them


Regarding NoFollow tags:

  • 59% say you should use them for eternal links you are unsure of
  • 23% say for external links to non-company pages
  • ‘never’, and ‘for all external links’ tie at nearly 10% each.


Regarding Flash and Ajax:

  • 94% of respondents say you can use them in an SEO friendly manner.



  • 78% of respondents consistently test their sites on all major browsers.


Brower Use – Mac:

  • 35% of Mac users cite ‘Safari’ as their browser of choice, followed by Firefox (33%), opera (14%) and IE (10%).


Brower Use – Windows:

  •  An equal number (37%) of respondents cite IE and Firefox as their preferred browser, followed by Chrome (11%) and Opera (10%), with Safari and Netscape well under 4%.


Preferred Brower According to SEO Survey Participants When Asked To Choose:

Some interesting Chrome insights indicated that 69% of respondents think it’s ‘OK’ or that they  ‘expected more’, 6% think it’s ‘great’ and 6% think ‘it’s bloody awful’.


When asked: ‘What Keyword Research tools have you used? (tick 3)’:


When asked if: ‘I routinely structure my IA around keyword research’:

  • 83% said yes


 We asked: ‘What do you really think of PageRank?’:


When asked if: ‘I routinely practice PR sculpting’:

  • 35%  practice PR sculpting on non-essential pages
  • 31% do not practice PR sculpting
  • 23% exclude the shopping cart


The biggest SEO support issues arise due to:


When asked: ‘What Analytics Programs have you used? (tick all that apply)’

  • 41% have used Google Analytics
  • 16% have used Omniture
  • 14% have used WebTrends
  • 9% have used ClickTracks
  • 8% have used StatCounter

 (Other stats programs used can be found in Note [b] below).


What About Search Marketing Conferences?


We asked: ‘Do you think conference attendance is important?’

  • 9% of respondents felt the sessions were of value
  • 17% feel that conference attendance is not important
  • 83% feel that attendance is important


We asked: ‘Which conferences have you attended in the last 2 years?’

  • SES and SMX came in tied with an equal 33.68% of respondents
  • PubCon followed with 18%
  • Marketing Profs,, eMetrics, ScarySEO, FacebookCamp (Montreal), WOMMA, SEOMoz Pro, Big World Expo, OMS and FITC were also mentioned.


We followed this by asking: ;’If you could attend any search marketing conference, which would it be?’:

  • SMX beat out the competition with 39% of respondents wanting to attend an SMX event. The most popular was SMX Advanced (16%) due to ‘advanced session material and expertise’; followed by SMX East (2%) due to location.
  • PubCon followed with 28% of respondents wanting to attend this event due to ‘networking opportunities’ and ‘sheer number of experts in attendance’.
  • SES events (no specific venue was mentioned) came in at 13%, followed by ScarySEO at 5%

A number of people mentioned that PubCon was ‘too big’, many seemed to prefer SMX over SES due to smaller size. A number of respondents mentioned that they prefer smaller more intimate conferences. Some cited cost as a prohibitive factor.


SEM and Affiliate Marketing


While less than 50% of respondents to the survey are involved in affiliate marketing, we did gain some interesting insights: 


According to respondents, the top three issues faced by affiliate marketers are:

  1. Compensation models and levels (39%)
  2. Trademark bidding (17%)
  3. Lack of industry regulation (11%)


When asked: ‘Should the term ‘affiliate marketing’ be changed due to negative connotations’:

  • 58% said no
  • 23% said yes
  • 19% were undecided

We wanted to know which industries affiliates found the most profitable in terms of their time and investment; this is what we were told:


PPC Methodology


When running a PPC campaign I:

  • 23% of respondents think that the content network is ineffective at driving converting traffic. 17% of respondents said that the content network was excellent for driving brand awareness and exposure despite the fact that it impacts negatively on preferred PPC KPI. 
  • 2% of respondents say that the content network should be avoided entirely.
  • 5% feel that it is indeed effective at driving converting traffic.


 Of those who do make use of the content network:

  • 59% target the sites on which they want the ad to appear
  • 25% target the industry
  • 16% ‘just switch it on’

The variety of feedback indicates clearly that effective use of the content network depends on the industry and PPC campaign objectives. The general consensus appears to be that it is not effective with 54% of respondents switching it off.


Respondents are running PPC campaigns primarily for:

‘Other’ feedback included by respondents; travel, large corporate, doctors, ecommerce and local business sites. 


‘If you have to pick one specific benchmark (not a combination) for PPC success, which would it be?’:

  • Interestingly, there was a tie between ‘maximum profit per conversion’ and ‘minimum cost per conversion’ at 32% each.
  • 9% of respondents cited maximum exposure (measured by CTR)
  • Other KPI suggested by respondents included mentions of maximizing ROI and/or ROAS


What Do Our SEM Respondents think of the Future of SEM?


Regarding the recession, respondents think that SEO will:


And in order to stay on top of the game:

  • 32% of respondents are targeting local search
  • 26% are targeting mobile search
  • 68% think video is the way to go…


In helping to train the next generation of search marketers, we asked: ‘If you were to mentor an SEO newbie today, which three resources would you recommend as essential?’:

We received an enormous variety of responses. The top ten individual resources that SEOs recommend to ‘learn about SEO’ are:

1.       SEOMoz (16%)

2.       SEOBook (11%)

3.       Search Engine Land (10%)

4.       Sphinn (6%)

5.       Practical trial and error o your own blog or site (5%)

6.       Webmaster World (4%)

7.       Conferences (3%)

8.       Twitter (3%)

9.       Search Engine Watch (3%)

10.     Bruce Clay(2%) 


And that’s it for our first round of the SEM Pro Survey series!

Thanks again to everyone who took part for your time, insights, input and feedback. We hope to tap you again in the new year with another round of questions!









a. I will speak to each here in the effort of explanation.

1.Depends on project’. If the respondent means that the KPI need to be considered, I agree. If it is about pure brand exposure vs. pure converting traffic, then there is some room for validation of that statement. However, brand exposure in the natural rankings needs to speak to the brand with some veracity or the brand will show up for totally useless results (remember when eBay was trying to sell nuns via PPC)? Same principle… Therefore, if a brand wasn’t valid exposure, that exposure will likely need to be converting exposure, even if the conversion is ‘assumed’ simply by the hope for ‘future recall’. This is a very condensed consideration of this answer, which may well warrant an entire commentary.

2.Trust’. True. BUT the ranking algorithm affords ‘trust’ to sites via a number of means including backlinks, onpage relevance and reviews (to name a paltry few of the elements included in their calculations – which I am not privy to.)

3.Useful consumer content’. Yes, all on-page content should be useful or informative. Thank you.

4.Depends on vertical or search engine’. True – to an extent. But as Google holds majority share it makes sense to optimize for Google (which incidentally doesn’t make you ‘un-optimized’ for other search engines), unless your niche is totally Live Search crazy, and you know it.

 b. Other stats programs mentioned


  • awstats
  • azstats
  • core metrics 
  • CrazyEgg
  • EasyStats
  • Enquisite
  • GetClicky
  • Hitbox
  • HitLens
  •  Hitslink
  • hittail
  • index toold
  • NetTracker
  • new Yahoo stuff
  • quantcast
  • seo toolset
  • sitemeter
  • SmarterStats
  • surfstats
  • urchin
  • visitat
  • visual sciences
  • visual workstation
  • web side story
  • webceo
  • woopra
  • yahoo web analytics

Spread the word:

We'd be honored if you'd help support SEMI by Stumbling us or voting for us on Sphinn.

Stumble it!

125 Comments so far... perhaps you would like to leave one?

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.