Universities Are Failing the Next Generation of Great Internet Marketers

By Janet Driscoll Miller | Jan 15, 2008
More Articles by Janet

Today I was fortunate enough to speak to an Internet marketing class at my alma mater, James Madison University (JMU — Go Dukes!). While search engine marketing is only a component of this class, it’s nice to see that some colleges and universities are beginning to understand the importance of Internet marketing in general as its popularity continues to rise at the cost (often) of traditional marketing media, such as print, radio and TV.

However, JMU is more the exception rather than the rule. Many candidates I interview for positions at Search Mojo have little or no exposure to Internet marketing through their college studies. This begs the question: Why are so many universities failing to cover such a popular, growing and effective area of marketing?

I think the answer is simply this — search engine marketing, as well as Internet marketing in general, change at such a rapid pace, it’s difficult for the professors to even keep up. As a search marketer reading this blog now, you’re likely doing your daily download of search marketing news and tips. And perhaps you only focus on search marketing. For professors however, they may teach many subjects in a particular field, such as market research, buyer behavior, etc. as well as Internet marketing. Internet marketing may only be one area they have to keep abreast on.

Not to mention, it’s ever changing. Most of us keep up with blogs daily, trying to stay on top of the latest search changes and news. Unlike traditional marketing, which can still be taught with a traditional textbook, Internet marketing’s ever-changing landscape makes it impossible to capture in a textbook. By the time the textbook is printed, Internet marketing has already changed dramatically. The only “book” I’ve ever found on SEO that was truly up to date is Aaron Wall’s SEO Book, which is really more of a blog, but treats each day like a new lesson.

So where does this leave us? Recent college grad candidates often come to us with little exposure to search marketing, depending on their respective universities. We certainly do our best to expose students when we can, but the universities need to make a commitment to search marketing too. Search marketing is a great source for well-paying, interesting jobs, and right now, there seems to be unlimited job growth in the field. Universities need to help their students be prepared for the jobs that are in demand — in search and other forms of online marketing. The world is changing — even in marketing. It’s time that more universities sit up and take notice.

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  • arnie

    You might be interested to know that we conducted a study on this topic and posted the results at:

    We searched the web and listed colleges and universities that offered good SEM & SEO courses. You will be pleased to see that James Madison is on the list.


  • incrediblehelp

    My issue is why the core SE principles are not taught? Things crawlable architecture, title tags and readable content never change. Sure new ideas and concepts come along all of the time (link bating and social media) and it would require a professor that is a basically in the community of SEO/SEM to keep up and update his/her curriculum. I used to be one of those guys that said it is not possible, but I truly think it is time for at least the core principles to be taught alongside web design.

  • vpinsd

    I agree that we are not progressing nearly fast enough to keep up with the current (much less future) demand of search marketing education. The Internet is so much a part of our global society now and will only continue to touch more of everyone’s daily life, even if indirectly.

    In order for today’s and tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and marketing professionals to succeed, search marketing has to be an integral part of their business models. But if we continue to primarily rely on blogs, social networking and Wikipedia to fill that educational need, then I’m afraid many will eventually fail, or at the very least pass on bad practices to future generations, and thereby degrade the business and marketing value of the Internet.

    I am pleased to see that some educational centers are trying. The Vertical Measure’s list of schools (http://www.verticalmeasures.com/education.html) offering search marketing curricula is highly encouraging. Where I live in San Diego, free continuing education classes have been offered for years to those wanting to learn computer programming or web design, and now search optimization and marketing has been added to the mix.

    I recently came across a really interesting program collaboration between UC Irvine Extension, the University of British Columbia Continuing Studies and the Web Analytics Association, that is offering a certificate in Web Intelligence (I love that title!), all online of course, and includes a variety of analytics and marketing courses (http://unex.uci.edu/certificates/it/web_intel/).

    So I think there is hope for us yet. But what I really think it’s going to take to get the search marketing education “movement” to charge ahead (and be innovative) is a grassroots effort by some of the professionals in our field. Most of us (at least the ones that have been doing this for more than 3 years or so) learned what we know the old-fashioned way, by reading and doing what others have done and learning (sometimes the hard way) from our mistakes and successes. We didn’t learn this stuff in school, so it’s easy for us to fall into the trap of continuing to rely on this method and expecting the next generation of search marketers to do the same.

  • http://www.ppchero.com Pat East

    There’s a big one left off the list from Vertical Measures! The one I teach at Indiana University! ; )

    Last year’s syllabus is below. I’m teaching it again this year, but with an updated version of course. Registration doesn’t start for another 3-4 months, and we already have more students express interest in it (which is why we’re offering it again) this year than we had registered students last year.


    IU has one of the top 10 SLIS (School of Library and Information Science) departments in the US, so I think the fact that they have an introductory SEM course (covering SEO, PPC, social media, and analytics, among other things) is a good sign that SEM is becoming more widely adopted across the nation.