YOU STUDY restaurant options on your smartphone. You Google that book you heard about. You hope searches for “perl district pet store” lead customers to your shop. Whether you know it or not, your consumer and business life relies on search engine marketing, or SEM.
As a trade, SEM involves helping websites surf atop the Internet tide, through relevant search terms, coding tweaks, algorithms, and deft use of social networks like Facebook and Twitter. A geekfest? Yes. “The industry started as a bunch of one-person shows,” says Hallie Janssen, president of SEMpdx, an association of more than 200 local SEM professionals. “It was a lot of guys working in their basements.”
Many of those guys are still down there—but Janssen aims to change that. She works as vice president of Anvil Media Inc, a Portland firm with a lengthy client list. Beyond the office, she’s shaping SEMpdx into a social outlet and a professional boost to a local industry worth as much as $50 million. “Our goal is to put SEM on the map of Portland,” she says, “and put Portland on the map of SEM.”
Besides social hours, workshops, and periodic parties (the association’s website solemnly promises to triple the bar staff at September’s annual rooftop bash), SEMpdx produces SearchFest, considered the industry’s best regional conference. The annual gatherings attract as many as 400 attendees, and speaking rosters are studded with industry leaders.
All this action makes SEMpdx a clearinghouse, where Portland businesses recruit talent to optimize their sites. Ironically for this semi-invisible online business, face-to-face “social networking” remains key.
Janssen relishes her role as catalyst. “In high school I did every sport, I was always in student council, I was in girls’ choir,” the 36-year-old says. “I love learning new things from other people. I find that to be thrilling.” She certainly has energy to spare. Married, with two young boys, Janssen wakes well before dawn to train for her “hobby” as a competitive marathoner. She placed fourth in this year’s Eugene Marathon, qualifying for the US Olympic Trials with a time of 2:45.
“The marathon shows up in my life in all kinds of ways,” she says. “I can power through stuff.”