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How to Become a SEM Strategist

Do you love digging into the results of a well-executed campaign? Are you always learning how to better connect with consumers online? A position as a search engine marketing (SEM) strategist may be the data-driven, rewarding role perfect for you.

SEM strategists make recommendations on how to grow brand awareness, increase engagement, and drive sales online after tracking how consumers find and interact with a client’s webpage. They work closely with the marketing team to create a content strategy to achieve these goals.

SEM strategists must be experts in analyzing key performance indicators (KPIs) of websites, such as time on site, clickthrough rate, conversion rate, cost per click (for web ads), and bounce rate. Tactics an SEM strategist might recommend include paid search (PPC), email marketing, paid social ads, and more.

Sample job description

Are you knowledgeable in search engine optimization? Can you take a company’s ranking to new heights? If so, [Your Company Name] is in search of a search engine marketing (SEM) strategist. This candidate will be responsible for making recommendations on how to grow brand awareness, increase engagement, and drive sales online after tracking how consumers find the company webpage. Duties include working closely with the marketing team to create content strategy and achieve set goals, analyzing key performance indicators of websites, determining target demographics, and identifying real-time search trends and social media topics. The ideal candidate will be able to work well with a team, multitask, be organized, self-motivated, and a critical thinker. Attention to detail is a must, and knowledge of search engine trends is essential. This candidate must have one or more years of experience as an SEM strategist, or similar role, and the ability to understand SEO, search engine algorithms, and web traffic data.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Determine target demographics and campaign goals
  • Establish and report KPIs throughout digital campaigns
  • Collaborate with web developers to optimize the user experience and interface for search engine visibility
  • Develop an online content strategy to increase brand awareness and consumer engagement
  • Work closely with marketing staff to develop engaging, relevant content
  • Identify real-time search trends and social media topics
  • Research emerging industry trends and analytics tools to improve search engine

Education and experience

The position requires a bachelor’s degree in computer science, digital marketing, integrated marketing communication, or a related field.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Ability to identify KPIs for campaigns
  • Strong knowledge of web analytics tools
  • Expertise in search engine optimization
  • Excellent problem-solving and critical-thinking skills
  • Expertise in traditional and digital marketing channels
  • Solid communication skills

Preferred qualifications

  • 3-4 years in experience working in paid search
  • Certifications within Google Ads and Bing 
  • Knowledge of 3rd party bid-management tools

Typical work environment

SEM strategists will usually be located in an office and may work together with others within the marketing department. They will be seated at a computer the majority of the time and can be expected to work regular hours.

Typical hours

The work hours for an SEM strategist are typically from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday, in an office setting. However, longer or different hours may, at times, be necessary.

Available certifications

SEM strategists require extensive experience in search engine optimization, internet search trends, website analysis, and several years of experience before being eligible and considered for this position. Receiving further certifications can help set SEM strategists apart from the crowd. Here are two of the most popular ones:

  • Search Engine Marketing Course Online. This course through Brain Station offers a professional certificate in Search Engine Marketing, in an online classroom while teaching you to leverage industry tools to implement organic and paid search strategies, drive traffic, improve brand presence and support business growth. 
  • Digital Marketing Bootcamp. This course is offered by the University of Denver through a virtual classroom experience. In the Digital Marketing Bootcamp you will learn how to create and execute successful marketing strategy, gain real world experience using tools and technologies such as Google Analytics and WordPress, and benefit from a wide range of career services to help equip you for success.

Career path

The road to starting a career as an SEM strategist begins with earning a bachelor’s degree in a computer science or digital marketing field, such as information technology project management or integrated marketing communications.

The skills and knowledge needed to develop a robust search engine marketing strategy require years of formal education and training to obtain. Some universities and colleges offer SEM certification courses for candidates to further prove their bona fides to potential employers. Becoming Google Ads certified is a great way to demonstrate your expertise advertising on the world’s most popular search engine.

SEM strategists must stay on top of the emerging tools and trends in search engine optimization. Attending search engine marketing seminars and conferences (on and offline) is an excellent way to sharpen your SEM skills and stay relevant in the industry.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 13-1161

2020 Employment740,900
Projected Employment in 2030904,500
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 22% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift163,600 increase

Connecting consumers with engaging, relevant content is essential for any SEM strategist, but how users will find that content will keep evolving as Google perfects its search engine algorithm. Voice and visual search — as well as programmatic advertising and artificial intelligence (AI) — look to change the way SEM strategists think about consumer engagement.

With its changing algorithms and best practices, search engine marketing can be a difficult channel to master. SEM strategists will continue to follow the industry and share their expertise.