"I think it's becoming more common," said Tanya Rietze, worldwide search engine optimization program manager at Hewlett-Packard Co., of the trend toward specialization.
A year ago, Rietze was handling search as one component of her job. "I was doing content development and other online marketing activities" for the printing and imaging group at HP, she said. Now, she is strictly handling search engine optimization strategy and has a counterpart at HP who handles keyword bid management and paid search strategy.
The surge in search spending is driving the creation of specialist titles. Advertisers spent $5.75 billion last year on search engine marketing in North America, a 44% increase from 2004, according to the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization. The nonprofit group projects search marketing spending in North America will increase to $7.19 billion this year and reach $11.0 billion in 2010.
"I don't think the metrics can be ignored," said Barbara Coll, CEO of Webmama.com, a search marketing consultancy. "The amount of time companies are beginning to invest can't be done by a multitasking, grassroots kind of person. The premise that [marketers] are getting more serious about this is certainly something I see."
Sapna Satagopan, a research associate at JupiterResearch, agreed. "The number of marketers who are recognizing the need for a dedicated person to handle search is increasing," she said.
Coll said she sees both in-house hires as well as companies hiring outside agencies. "Whether those people are internal or external, the pressure is to grow up," she said.
SEO, in particular, is too effective a tactic to ignore because it offers conversion rates that are three times those of paid search, said Mike Hotz, manager of e-mail marketing at OfficeMax.
Marshall Simmonds is chief search strategist for the New York Times Co. and, like Rietze, is solely tasked with search engine optimization. Simmonds, who handles SEO for About.com, Boston.com, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times, stressed the need for a comprehensive approach to SEO.
"It has to be integrated and centralized, and it has to affect every level [of the company]," he said.
Mike Moran, distinguished engineer and manager of Web experience at IBM Corp., said that as companies' search strategies mature, they are incorporating organic search more often. "Paid search is easier to start with and show results, but a lot of people are finding that organic search marketing is more lasting and, even though it's hard-especially in a big company-it's kind of like `the gift that keeps on giving,' " he said.
Most search specialists today come from Web marketing backgrounds.
Rietze began as an e-marketing segment manager. "I was hired to do Web marketing for the small and medium-sized business segment for printing and imaging," she said. "Search engine marketing became part of my job after about six months."
Rietze was asked to run an SEM campaign to build traffic to the content she was developing. At some point, spurred by her own interest, she started to explore optimization and began to develop content with keyword search in mind. When the newly created job of SEO program manager came up, she went for it.
A recent JupiterResearch study, sponsored by search engine marketing company iProspect, found search engine marketers perform, on average, five job functions in addition to search engine marketing. Web design was cited by more than half (58%), followed by e-mail advertising (57%), print advertising (28%), direct mail (22%), radio (9%), television (7%) and outdoor advertising (4%). In addition, 26% of search engine marketers handle IT functions.