State of Search by DFWSEM’s goal is to promote digital marketing and increased return on investment for companies and their websites through best practices. We accomplish this through networking, education, and promotion of all forms of digital marketing.

Our members are a varied group of people passionate about online marketing, from highly skilled to those who wish to increase their knowledge and network of business contacts. We primarily focus on the areas of copywriting, web design, web analytics, social media (including paid social media), marketing automation/email marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), paid online advertising/SEM, internet application development, affiliate program development and strategy as well as emerging media.

State of Search by DFWSEM is dedicated to the following principles:

Educating businesses and marketing managers about the value of digital marketing.

Promoting the digital marketing industry and its members.

Recognizing the value marketers provide to businesses, advertisers, and web platforms.

How we started

Back in February of 2004, Bill Hartzer and Jim Gilbert invited a few folks to an informal meeting to talk search engine marketing (SEM).

“At that time we didn’t have the vision of an organization,” Bill said. “We invited SEM experts who had spoken at conferences and who were known in the industry, although, at that time, it wasn’t truly an industry yet.”

Twelve whole people showed up. But that’s ok. Even superheroes start small.

“We passed the hat to pay for the room. It might have been $49,” said Jim. “The group took a different direction than what we thought it would. We thought it was going to be very technical, but it’s become more about education.”

During the first meeting, Jim and Bill distributed a questionnaire in order to get an idea of the makeup of the attendees and found that they came from a broad range of backgrounds. Some were hardcore SEO types, others more sales-oriented, and others focused more on graphics, but everyone in attendance decided they wanted to continue to meet on a regular basis. The group decided that the overall theme of the organization would be to educate the Dallas/Fort Worth area about SEO, SEM, and other TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms).

“It was something that needed to be done,” said Christine Churchill, who has served as both vice president and chair. “Our industry was in its infancy. SEM didn’t come into its own until 2002, so we were lone techies with no one to talk to.”

In April of 2004, Jim developed the first draft of some bylaws. Bill reviewed them and presented them to the group in the much-missed Nedley’s Restaurant. They were approved, elections were held, and just like that DFWSEM had their first board: John Sanchez, president; Christine Churchill, vice president; Jim Gilbert, chairman; Rob Garner, secretary; and Doug Lay, treasurer.

DFWSEM restaurant-hopped for monthly meetings, with John Sanchez elected president in 2005, followed by Tony Wright in 2006. Rob Garner took the helm in 2007 and snagged a permanent meeting place for the organization at the Renaissance Dallas Richardson Hotel.

The presidential roll call is pretty sweet: Rob Garner (2008), Tony Wright (2009), Sean Jackson (2010), Mark Barrera (2011), Dan Sturdivant (2012), Brian Medina (2013-2014), Scott Vann (2015-2016), Beth Kahlich (2017-2018), Bart Peters (2019-2020), Julie Wagner Jones (2021-2022), Kevin Adams (2023), and Casey Watkins (2024).

How we grew

In 2011, the aforementioned Dan spearheaded the first Jingle Mingle. Nine great area organizations came together to host this benefit for the DREAM Fund, raising over $25,000 to “aid colleagues in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas and Louisiana facing an unexpected medical emergency or life crisis and in need of emotional support and financial assistance.” Because heroes help when bad things happen to good people.

In 2012, DFWSEM hosted its first full-day conference, organized by Mark Barrera, at the Hyatt Regency North Dallas hotel, new home of the monthly meetings. State of Search was off and running on a whole new level.

According to Mark, “DFWSEM had been holding our State of Search meeting each year where we invited speakers from Bing and Google to talk about the state of the industry. We felt this would be a great way to transition into a full-day conference. I came up with a plan and took it to the board in early 2012. They felt that the time was right and they let me take it from there.”

By 2015, State of Search was the premiere digital marketing conference in the southwest, attracting keynote speakers like Duane Forrester and Rand Fishkin. 2016 featured more badassery, with keynotes from Danny Sullivan, Maile Ohye, and Will Reynolds.

How we continue

DFWSEM, now known as State of Search by DFWSEM, was the first search engine marketing support organization in the U.S. It remains the longest-standing group and now meets monthly on Youtube for the World to Watch. So watch this space. There’s more superheroism to come. Possibly even spandex and capes.