What certifications can search marketing professionals use to set themselves apart from their competition? How important are such certifications, how much do they cost, and how difficult are they to acquire? This post attempts to provide some concrete data points for comparing different SEO, SEM and analytics certifications. Training courses are not considered, unless they lead directly to certifications. Certifications are listed subjectively in approximate and subjective order of value to online marketing professionals.
How Common are Certifications in the Online Marketing Industry?
As a way of quickly determining awards that a typical group of SEOs and other online marketers might possess, we compiled a list of 956 Seattle-area marketers (digital and general) and checked their LinkedIn profiles for certifications.
12 of the 956 people listed a certification relevant to online marketing:
- Google Analytics Individual Certification (4 individuals)
- Google AdWords Individual Certification (3 individuals)
- Technical Communication
- Accredited Business Communicator (ABC)
- SEMPO: Insider’s Guide to Search Marketing
- HubSpot: Inbound Marketing
- Constant Contact: Accredited Solution Provider
Top Certifications for Search Professionals
Google Analytics and AdWords
Google Analytics and Google AdWords Partner Certification
For SEOs, being Google Analytics and/or AdWords certified continues to be the industry gold standard. It is generally assumed that an SEO cannot be a “pro” without passing one or both of these certifications. SEOs typically take the Analytics test first, while SEMs naturally gravitate to the AdWords test, but both are useful, especially for an SEM.
Most test-takers report learning a great deal from the technically-sophisticated videos, but that the actual exams are full of trick questions on rarely-used features. For the time being, the Analytics certification is only $50 and Google allows one free testing opportunity with Analytics IQ to gauge one’s skill level before taking the notoriously tricky test.
In September 30th 2013 Google changed its Google AdWords Certification process to require test-takers to be associated with a Google Certified Partner agency. Google’s new requirements are as follows:
- Best practices: Demonstrate that you’re maximizing your clients’ performance by implementing the recommended best practices in their accounts.
- Spend: Show that your agency has a healthy amount of activity by meeting the Spend requirements across your managed accounts. This is generally at least $10,000 in last 60 days
- Company profile: Set up and complete your agency’s Partners profile. Meaning that agencies must now set up a Google+ account.
The major hurdle is that an agency has to have spent at least $10,000 on AdWords in the last 90 days. This can represent a difficult obstacle to independent PPC providers with combined client adspend of under $3,400 per month.
|Cost:||To become a Google Certified Partner is now free and it is still $50 for Google Analytics Certification.|
|Course Length:||For Google Analytics, the test is 90 minutes and a person experienced with Google Analytics could possibly do it in 4 hours. A novice will likely need a couple of months to properly prepare. In the case of Google Certified Partner, there are 113 questions on the test with two hours to complete. You must have 85% to pass. It is recommended that one spend at least 25 hours to study for the test.|
|Format:||The courses are online and self-guided.|
|Good to Know:||There are many resources online and in print to help study and pass the exam.|
Accredited Solution Provider Certification
While Google AdWords is the search engine powerhouse, Bing/Yahoo still account for between 20-30% of all searches. The good news is that picking up a Bing Ads Accredited Professional certification is a breeze by comparison to Google’s system. It only takes about three days to complete and is completely free.
|Course Length:||There is a 100 question exam. Self-paced training includes about 6.5 hours of video and about three days to complete.|
|Good to Know:||The management system is almost identical to AdWords making it easy to manage both campaigns.|
Inbound Marketing and HubSpot Pro Certification
HubSpot been around for about 10 years and expounds the philosophy of inbound marketing, which they segment into four sections: Attract, Convert, Close, and Delight. The HubSpot program is well-known for proselytizing and training the implementation of content-based inbound organic marketing. The is explained in detail in the Attract segment of the training program.
There are two programs available: Inbound Certification and HubSpot Certification. The Inbound course is a general digital marketing overview and is available to everyone. Many of the program’s segments are instructed by other reputable companies. For instance, the SEO portion is taught by Rand Fishkin of SEO Moz and email marketing portion is taught by Eric Groves of Constant Contact. The other program is HubSpot Certification, which is geared toward current HubSpot customers to help them master HubSpot’s tools.
|Cost:||$499 for the Inbound Marketing Certification and $799 for HubSpot Certification.|
|Course Length:||Nine hours of training modules with one hour given to complete the test for the Inbound course. Twelve hours of training modules for the HubSpot certification.|
|Format:||Courses are available online and in the classroom and are about an hour long.|
|Good to Know:||HubSpot has many positive reviews but you may not want to invest time into learning how to utilize such a specific program if you want the freedom to utilize your own system.|
Online Marketing Institute
Digital Marketing Essentials Certification
OMI was founded in 2007 and has become a respected part of the marketing training community. Their clientele includes Fortune 500 companies, and their advisory board is comprised of a diverse group of prestigious industry leaders (Global Social Innovation Strategist from Intel; Global Social Media Director from Cisco Systems; Director from AOL/Huffington Post Media Group).
Offering relevant course topics like, “How Pinterest Can Help Your Brand,” “Building the Ultimate Dashboard,” and “The Business Case for PPC,” this certification provides practical, immediate applications for the user. Broken down into digestible units, students can expect to find an information smorgasbord at their fingertips.
|Course Length:||Self-paced course with 4.4 hours of instruction modules. Average time to complete is two days.|
|Format:||100% Online Self-Guided|
|Good to Know:||Over 150 Classes, 8,000+ Students; Instructors include executives from NCR Corporation, Search Mojo, and All Inclusive Marketing Inc.|
Certified Practitioner and Certified Master
Market Motive is a well-rounded course that covers all of the basics as well as SEO project management and optimization for mobile devices. This course rates particularly well for those with prior experience and had even been adopted by colleges and universities. Although it is a little pricey, you will get your money’s worth for a full quarter of education from the well-known Todd Malicoat.
|Cost:||$299 a month for the self-paced for “Practitioner” level. $3,500 coached plan for “Master” certification.|
|Course Length:||Three months of coached instruction for the “Master Certification” and self-paced for courses for the “Practitioner Certification”. They say you may be able to complete self-guided certification in 6 weeks.|
|Format:||Course is online with both webinars and faculty lead online conferences.|
|Good to Know:||The program has been endorsed by Moz (formerly SEOmoz).|
Search Engine College
Certified Search Engine Optimizer
Most reviews for this institution are very positive other than it is not as useful for the intermediate and advanced user. It is however, about half the price of Market Motive and may be an ideal place to start for the novice SEO student on a budget.
Independent study and instructor-administered courses are available and customer support is very responsive. The majority of the course work has been created by the experienced Kalena Jordan, who has been in blogging about search since 2002 and has been teaching since 2004. The course work is also available for download so you can refer to the lessons well after your membership ends.
|Cost:||Individual courses are free with a monthly membership of $99. The certification fee is $295. Your total may cost about $1500 on average.|
|Course Length:||About 60 Hours with 12 months to complete (although it won’t take that long with a regular schedule).|
|Good to Know:||70% is needed to pass for all areas of study. There is also a seven day money back satisfaction guarantee, making this a low-risk investment. Personal guidance is available.|
Online Testing and Landing Page Optimization Certifications
Meclabs is a marketing research company that has been around since 2001 and boasts that they have conducted statistical testing on over 10,000 landing pages. They also offer training for email marketing campaigns much like Constant Contact. Their SEO training is much more focused on dealing with landing page and content optimization.
The two SEO related certifications they offer are “Online Testing” and “Landing Page Optimization”. They are geared towards more advanced SEO practitioners and marketing managers that wish to fine-tune their skills to develop better conversion rates and obtain more scientific analysis by learning how to better conduct statistical research from their analytics profile. Some chapters from the “Landing Page Optimization” course include: “Learn how to identify and remove friction elements that negatively affect landing page conversion rates” and “Learn how to calculate the Return on Incentive”.
|Cost:||Each course offered is $695.|
|Course Length:||The Landing Page Optimization course is 3 hours and 49 minutes. Online Testing Course is 3.5 hours.|
|Good to Know:||If you are not satisfied with a particular purchase, you are able to return it within 30 days for a 100% refund of the cover price and any state taxes you may have paid.|
Quirk Certificate Course in Search Engine Optimization and Web Analytics: Foundations and Application
Quirk Education is located in South Africa and relatively new to the scene having started offering certification training in 2009. The two main SEO courses they offer are Search Engine Optimization 1: Foundations and Application and Web Analytics: Foundations and Application. Quirk is another great beginner’s course for another reasonable price at $599 or 6500 Rand for each course. All the course content is very current and has even been given an endorsement by Cambridge University. Quirks staff also gets high marks for great insight and quick response to questions.
|Cost:||$599 or 6,500 Rand for each course.|
|Course Length:||The “Landing Page Optimization” course is 3 hours and 49 minutes and the “Online Testing Course” is 3.5 hours.|
|Good to Know:||Upon graduation, Quirk provides Alumni with a life-long learning newsletter and forum|
Professional Internet Marketer Certification
eMarketing University used to be known as Web CEO University but has undergone a re-branding. This program is very affordable at $295 for certification but probably not the best choice for someone who is planning on becoming an SEO professional. This program is probably most suited for webmasters and consultants who need to know the basic principles in order to do work on their own sites and to promote buy-in for management and customers to invest time and money into SEO. Unfortunately, there is a requirement to renew your certification each year and this is not really an industry recognized certification.
|Cost:||$97 for the basic course and $295 for Professional Internet Marketer.|
|Course Length:||With 120 lessons organized into 6 stages and accompanied by 8 video demos and 19 assessments, usually takes a couple of weeks.|
|Good to Know:||If you need to train more than one person for your organization, they offer a group rate for $499 for up to three people.|
Direct Marketing Association
SEO Strategy Certification (Formerly SEMPO Certification)
Well-known and respected SEO industry professional association SEMPO offered a certification course through the SEMPO Institute from 2008 to 2012 but this program has now been directly handed over to the Direct Marketing Institute. This is still a very well-rounded and serious program with plenty of useful lesser-known information for beginners, intermediate, and advanced SEO students.
Competent and pioneering instructors Matt Bailey and Todd Malicoat have both made a name for themselves in the SEO world. Matt Bailey’s firm Site Logic Market has received an endorsement from Rand Fishkin and Todd Malicoat provides instruction at Market Motive as well. This is a serious course with a substantial investment in time and money, but is one of the most recognized and so may well be worth the investment.
|Cost:||$1,399 for members and $1,699 non-members.|
|Course Length:||20 to 30 hours over three months.|
|Good to Know:||Traditional classroom courses are available in New York City.|
http://marketingland.com/10-years-later-sempo-56409 (2013) Industry thought leader expresses negative opinion on SEMPO
SEO Tool Set
SEO Tool Set Certified Analyst
There are many glowing reviews for SEO Tool Sets’ tools and founder Bruce Clay’s workshops. The price is a little steep at $1,795 for a three day course. You are required to demonstrate that you have used their tools for at least 30 days before you are able to receive your certification, so this course is specifically for those who wish to master this particular program. This is not such a bad choice considering that they have been in the business for 17 years in a relatively young field.
|Cost:||$1,795 for 3-day Basic Training. $1,195 for 2-day Advanced Class. $2,990 for the combined 5-Day Course.|
|Course Length:||20 to 30 hours over three months.|
|Good to Know:||Upon completion, you will be added to the directory of SEO Tool Set Certified Practitioners.|
SEO Certified Professional
SEO certification.org was founded in 2005 and has not done a particularly amazing job of progressing in those 9 years. While they are fairly easy to find as a purveyor of certification (given the url), there does not seem to be very much positive press. The very next site that shows up on the SERP is “You Are a Certified Sucker” http://seobullshit.com/certified-sucker/. This is a scathing review posted on August 25th 2010 where the author points out not only that SEO is not really a certifiable skill, but that the company hasn’t even applied the most basic SEO on their site as demonstrated here:
Since this post is a few years old, further investigation revealed that they have not rectified this simple mistake. The article also fostered a lengthy forum of ridicule and personal hardship.
At a glance the 175 page course outline looks respectably relevant despite a few odd word choices. After calling customer service line to find out more about their program and how long it would take to become certified, no call was returned. The firm’s Facebook page contains fabricated comments such as “Very nice company”, but at the top was this comment from a very frustrated customer they have not yet edited out:
Based on the overwhelming evidence, it appears that all one gets for $89 is a certificate for your wall, trust symbol for your website, and the hard learned lesson that if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.
|Cost:||Certification costs a minimum of $89 per year as a professional. There are reduced rates for 2 and 3 years. A trainer registration is a one-time fee of $675. To register as a company is $325 per year with reduced rates for multiple years.|
|Course Length:||There is 175 page book of self-paced study.|
|Good to Know:||Memberships included you in their directory of affiliated members.|
Adobe Marketing Reports & Analytics (formerly SiteCatalyst, even formerly Omniture)
Aside from their excellent, universal graphic design and publishing software, Adobe also offers web analytics tools and courses on how best to master them.
Adobe Marketing Reports & Analytics (formerly SiteCatalyst, even formerly Omniture) is an enterprise-level analytics software. This robust and expensive certification covers how to implement, optimize and use the software, from a tactical and strategic level.
The Digital Analyst course is a separate and more in-depth overview of online marketing, providing insight into general digital marketing strategy and how best to set a website up for success. There appears to be some overlap between the two courses, so the seasoned veteran may not benefit from taking both, but there are many positive reviews about both courses.
|Cost:||$299 for Adobe Marketing Reports & Analytics (formerly SiteCatalyst) and $850 for Adobe Digital Analyst.|
|Course Length:||Two day course to prep for the Adobe Marketing Reports & Analytics test. The test is 68 multiple choice questions. Need 80% to pass. Five days are needed for Adobe Digital Analyst.|
|Format:||Online study, but the test is taken at a testing center.|
|Good to Know:||Adobe offers 24/7 customer support for its analytics tools (as opposed to Google which only has forums)|
IBM WebSphere Commerce (formerly Coremetrics) Technical Professional Certification
IBM’s certification site is difficult to navigate, and eventually leads to another test-proctoring vendor, (Perasonvue.com). Preparation for the test is lengthy and the test is difficult. There is little info on the web to help study for this certification. The Coremetrics (sometimes called “Digital Analytics”) product, which appears to be losing market share to Adobe, is part of a large software suite sometimes referred to as “Enterprise Marketing Management (EMM) group”.
|Course Length:||Very challenging: At least|
8hrs of videos plus 8hrs of documents to prep for the test. The test is 57 multiple choice questions, over 90 minutes. Need 70% to pass.
|Format:||Online study, but the test is taken at a testing center.|
|Good to Know:||http://blog.crossview.com/coremetrics-certification-test/|
Marin Software Certified Agency Program
Marin is consistently rated one of the best or the best Enterprise SEM platform. With major Fortune 500s using it, Marin individual certification is well worth acquiring and not too difficult, as long as one already has access to a Marin account.
|Cost:||Free, with Marin account|
|Course Length:||Approximately 5 hrs interactive video and tests|
Kenshoo Search Pro, Social Pro, Local Pro Certification
Kenshoo is a close runner up Enterprise SEM platform to Marin. (The other major alternative is Acquisio, which appears to have no certification option) Kenshoo offers Search, Local and Social “Pro” certification, in three knowledge levels:
- 100 Level – Onboarding and Launch
- 200 Level – Campaign Management
- 300 Level – Advanced Optimization
Once individuals study the educational resources, they can test their comprehension of each level through an exam to achieve Kenshoo [Pro] status. Agencies with more than 20 percent – or a minimum of five people – passing all three levels can earn Kenshoo [Pro Agency] status
|Cost:||Free but available only to Kenshoo clients.|
|Course Length:||Users have option to complete the prep video with a one hour time commitment or they can review the videos by topic in small bite-sized chunks (3-5 minutes for each video).|
|Format:||Prep materials are in the form of on-demand videos, online content, and collateral. The exams are multi-choice and accessible online via KenshooU.|
Accredited Solution Provider Certification
Constant Contact, first launched in 1998, is a leader in email marketing solutions for small businesses. CC began offering a certification program about a year ago called “Accredited Solution Provider”. This program gives their clients a chance to better use their tools and prove their proficiency to clients.
While this certification is not specifically about SEO, email marketing is a very powerful tool to have in one’s online marketing toolkit.
|Course Length:||Three days.|
|Format:||The course is divided in three parts. Business Development and Best Practices are held on line while the final Product course is in a classroom|
|Good to Know:||Member benefits include:|
1) A Solution Provider Resource Center offering sales and market resources.
2) Access to an expanded Constant Contact product suite and services spectrum, providing new cross- and-up-sell opportunities.
3) A demand generation kit, including prospecting emails for Constant Contact online marketing tools, a tele-prospecting guide, a customizable prospecting deck, and brandable sell sheets and white papers.
- http://www.davidnaylor.co.uk/seo-training-courses-for-seo-certifications (2011) Extremely useful – the author actually took all classes
- http://www.skilledup.com/learn/marketing/seo-certification-roundup/ (2012) Very useful and comprehensive.
- http://www.seo-theory.com/2009/12/21/seo-certification-is-seo-certification-for-real (2009) Out-of-date theories about industry.
- http://www.marketingpilgrim.com/2006/10/shhhhthe-dirty-little-secret-about-sem-seo-certification.html (2006) Old but interesting info about industry
- http://www.searchenginejournal.com/formal-seo-higher-education-options/66914 (2013)
Recent Changes to Google AdWords