If you’re considering a career in digital marketing and want to know what skills you need, you’ve come to the right place.
There are plenty of different job roles that fall under the very wide net of digital marketing, all of which need a slightly different set of skills. Generally speaking, you’ll need to be a good communicator and be creative, analytical and technically-minded.
Here are the skills I think are most important, with my own experience of how I’ve progressed my career as a digital marketer.
Qualifications largely don’t matter
It’s great to understand the core principles of marketing, but do you need a degree in it? Probably not. I started my career in a sales and marketing administrator role, before becoming a client-facing account manager and PPC manager at my first digital agency.
Digital marketing moves fast, so if you begin a course at the start of the year, there’s a good chance a load of stuff will have changed. There’s plenty of great resources online, and you need to keep up to date to ensure you don’t fall behind on a regular basis.
That being said, most employers will want to check that you have certifications such as the Google Analytics Individual Qualification (GAIQ) or are Google Ads certified before you’re let loose. Again, you can complete these assessments online in your own time.
Of course, if you do want to pursue professional qualifications that support your marketing career, that’s up to you – it’s just never been a personal goal of mine.
Showing a genuine interest in digital marketing is arguably more important. Personal projects, like building a website, having a strong social media following, or running a successful Etsy shop – and the associated learnings – can sometimes count for much more than a qualification.
Generalist, or specialist?
There are a plethora of different roles within digital marketing and each of them requires a specific set of skills.
For example, if you want to be a technical SEO specialist, here are just a few of the core skills you’ll need:
- A good understanding of how search engine algorithms work
- The ability to identify, analyse and fix technical issues that may be affecting website performance using a wide range of SEO tools, and be able to audit content, and make recommendations on how to optimise it for search engines (on-page SEO)
- To be able to perform backlink audits, making recommendations on link building strategies and link removal (off-page SEO)
- A solid knowledge of HTML, and back-end website management including .htaccess, robots.txt, metadata, and site speed optimisation
This differs greatly to a SEO copywriter, but there is crossover:
- Be able to audit content and make recommendations on how to optimise it for search engines
- Be able to write optimised content
- Understand basic HTML (metadata, site structure)
If you feel that you are particularly strong in one area over another and want to go down the route of being a specialist, bear in mind that you will still need to have at least some idea of how and why other digital marketing disciplines work together as one to get the best possible results for clients. Working on projects in isolation rarely makes sense, as there is usually a common goal, whether that’s increasing traffic, conversions, or revenue.
I’d very much plonk myself in the generalist category. My first proper marketing role was in an agency where I was initially managing Google Ads (PPC) clients, as well as a fairly large number of SEO clients as an Account Manager. While I was hands-on with the PPC, on the SEO side of things, I had support from a tech team, link builders, and copywriters to focus exclusively on organic search.
In essence, other than reporting, my role was supposed to be acting as the day to day contact for clients, managing projects, and devising marketing strategy. But juggling loads of clients at once, while working alongside and co-ordinating tasks across a whole team was insane at times. Plus as search engines evolved, this fragmented approach to servicing clients stopped being as effective.
While technically I wasn’t supposed to have to roll up my sleeves and get stuck in, more often than not, I did to ensure projects were delivered on time – otherwise, it was me who got it in the neck from the clients.
Most of what I learned was picked up as I went. Was it an ideal way to work? No. Did I learn an absolute shed load of stuff out of necessity? Yes. It was incredibly stressful, but looking back, if it hadn’t been such a chaotic and reactive environment where I was frequently doing 10 hour days with no lunch breaks and quietly crying at my desk a lot, I probably wouldn’t have gained much of the knowledge I have today – let alone be able to understand it or apply it. Note that I absolutely do not recommend this unless you enjoy teetering on the edge of having a nervous breakdown on a daily basis. Pleased to report that working for Browser Media is a completely different experience to that of my previous agency!
If you’d like to follow the same path I did, a bit of pressure to learn new things is good, for sure. But if you can, set your own pace for learning new skills and focus on improving in one area at a time. I’m still learning new stuff every day.
Put your hands-on
No, I’m not talking about feeling people up or that song by Reef. The way I have learned almost everything is by doing. Reading or watching other people do stuff is cool, and some people learn better that way. But in my opinion, hands-on experience is invaluable.
Whether it’s learning how to build a Google Ads campaign from scratch, or uploading content to a CMS, do as much as you can to understand how each platform works.
Don’t try and go it alone
Because there are so many different specialisms within digital marketing, it would take ages to master them all. I’ve still got gaps in my knowledge when it comes to things like Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) and Google Ad scripts, because it’s not something I’ve ever had to work on directly.
There are some great people out there who are willing to share their wonderful brains to help you learn new skills. Don’t be afraid to ask. It’s impossible to know everything. It’s better to admit you don’t know than bodge it and risk doing something that has a negative impact on a client.
The 3 ‘Rs’
I hate the ‘three Rs’ because it’s stupid considering two of them don’t actually start with the letter ‘R’, but whatever. The basic skills taught in schools: reading, [w]riting and ‘rithmetic (UGH) are important in any job, but because your day to day role as a digital marketer can vary so much, you need to be strong in all three.
I must admit, I am not the best at maths. I do not enjoy it and basically think numbers are stupid jerks. But I’ve found ways to get around this, mostly by learning Excel formulas and double-checking any arithmetic I do using this funky new-fangled device called a calculator.
The reading and writing aspects are more important than ever, especially with so much of marketing now being focused on producing content. I’m also a firm believer that you need to have a bit of creative flair if you want a career of any kind in marketing. Being able to write compelling, informative copy is crucial if you want to reach and engage with an audience.
Personally, I enjoy writing, but I do have to be in the mood for it. Time isn’t always on your side, though, especially when delivering content to publishers who have deadlines. In those scenarios, I recommend espressos and music you can chair dance to. Content is a huge part of my job. But it’s not a case of going ‘errr I think I’ll write about this’ and just knocking out 500 words of fluff.
So, I’m adding a fourth important ‘R’ – Research.
You have to be able to have an in-depth understanding of not only what a client offers when writing for them, but who their target audience is. What are their pain points? What do they love and hate? What tone and language do they use? What keywords and phrases do they search for online? And what message does the client want to deliver to them? All of this research needs to be done with an end goal in mind.
The gift of the gab
Not all roles in digital marketing will require you to be a gobshite but, in my experience, it helps. I’m not saying that you should spend your whole time releasing a tirade of verbal diarrhoea but being a confident communicator is a massive plus.
Going back to the fact that a lot of roles are client-facing, and that a lot of strategies will be planned around content, you are, at some point, going to have to speak to humans, I’m afraid. Whether it’s being able to take a client through their monthly report in a way that they understand, pitching a sweet article idea to a journalist or communicating with a development team to beg them to implement technical recommendations, you have to be able to adapt the way in which you communicate.
In all honesty, when I first started at Browser Media, I was not at all confident on the phone when having to pitch content to journalists. I’m over it now, and will happily chat away to anybody, and if they are rude, I don’t get bothered by it.
Like all of the skills it takes to be a digital marketer, you’ll have strengths and weaknesses. Overcoming barriers to personal growth feels totally amazing, too.
So, to summarise:
- You don’t need a degree to do this job
- Immerse yourself in the job and get your hands dirty
- Learn new skills at your own pace – you can’t possibly know everything – and you probably never will no matter how brilliant you are
- Ask for help when you need it
- Develop your skills in the 4 ‘Rs’
- Build your confidence to become a strong communicator
I’m sure many people will disagree with this post, so if you fancy an argument about it, come at me in the comments.