I’m breaking the main rule of this blog by writing in the first person. We don’t do that here anymore, but this is a topic I feel benefits from a personal perspective.
I’ve been doing digital marketing for a long time. I started my first blog in the late 90s, which, I’ll note, is before we had a term for them. It was fun. I’ve done a lot of goofing around with various forms of digital media over the years. I never took it very seriously. Then I got laid off from a job I didn’t really like anyway, and my friend who worked in digital marketing told me about a job opening at her office.
“You Can Make a Living Doing This, You Know.”
That’s what my friend said to me during the time that I helped out with a WordPress site at a nonprofit we were both volunteering for. I didn’t really take her seriously because I never took the work very seriously. Making, breaking, and fixing websites had been a hobby of mine for years, plus a whole other constellation of marketing-adjacent activities. I learned how to make videos using my little FlipCam and a copy of iMovie. I eagerly jumped on every social media platform as soon as it opened up to new users. I was putting my content on the web in every form I could, from podcasts to tweets, and I never made a single dime.
This blog isn’t about me, it’s about the top 5 skills you need for a career in digital marketing, but I’m telling you about my past because
a) I have a career in digital marketing
b) I work with a lot of digital marketers
c) I’m the one writing this post.
This also helps me give you context for my number one trait that you need for a career in digital marketing: curiosity. You should be excited by learning new things, because this stuff moves fast and changes often. No matter where you’re starting in the field of digital marketing, you have a lot to learn. Curiosity will serve you well.
But curiosity isn’t a skill, and I don’t think you can fake it. You either consider yourself a curious person or you don’t. Unlike the rest of the items on this list, nobody can teach you that.
I will also note that this list of skills is applicable to anybody and everybody in the field of digital marketing. I’m not going to focus on one specific subset. Luckily, the most important skills are applicable to everybody in digital marketing.
1. Learn How SEO Works
Even if you never find yourself wrenching on a WordPress backend or crafting a FAQ schema, you should know the basics of how search engines index the world’s information. SEO is not just about increasing a website’s attractiveness to search engines. Learn a little bit about how the tactics we use to improve our organic rankings work and you will understand better how the whole internet works, and how people use the websites we make.
2. Learn How Digital Ads Work
Just because you’re an SEO or a social media manager doesn’t mean you don’t have to know how advertisers do their jobs. Sometimes SEO and PPC feel like two entirely separate disciplines. But they are intrinsically linked. One look at the search results for a high-competition keyword will tell you that much. Still, it’s up to you to know how one can affect the other.
3. Learn How to Tell a Story
All marketing is storytelling. I might seem biased in stressing the importance of telling a good story, but even social media, ads, graphic design, and PR are forms of storytelling. If you can tell a good story, you can take an audience from the beginning to the end and make them feel something or learn something. You’ve done more than just sell a product or make a conversion. They’ll remember that.
Sidebar: A Brief Defense of Learning a Little Bit of Everything
I just told you to learn three things that might not have a direct influence on what every single digital marketer does on a daily basis. More precisely, you might not really see the point in learning how to code an H2 heading if you’re working on the advertising side. Again, I can’t make you curious if you aren’t already. But here are two reasons to learn a little bit about things other people are doing in your agency or marketing team:
- Knowing how other stuff works makes you do your stuff better. Since we’re all working toward the same goals, it helps you do your job better when you know what everybody else is doing. If you know that the PPC side is advertising against a certain set of keywords, that information can help you pick the keywords you use in SEO.
- Knowing how everything works makes you a more attractive job candidate. Since this post is about careers, consider this: If you can strut your stuff in a job interview and show off a little bit of knowledge in areas that don’t apply directly to the job you’re hoping to get, it shows you’re curious, knowledgeable, and at least conversant in areas that don’t apply to you.
4. Learn How to Analyze Data
One of the most appealing features of digital marketing over the conventional kind is the ability to measure it. You can’t track who sees a billboard or who reads your newspaper ad. But every version of digital marketing has at least one observable and measurable dimension to it. Knowing how to track those metrics—and, most importantly, what those numbers mean—is vital to figuring out what works.
5. Learn How to Optimize for Conversions
I saved this for last, because it gets overlooked a lot when our heads are all a-tizzy with all the other stuff we do as digital marketers, and it applies to both SEO and PPC. Don’t forget why we’re doing all these things in the first place: to improve the bottom-line success of the business you’re marketing for. If you’re in an agency, that means you work for your clients. If you’re in the marketing department of a company, you might only have one client. Whatever your role, you are there to help those customers move down the sales funnel, to convert those leads, and to help your clients meet their goals.
I started doing this for fun. For many years I never took it all that seriously. That was fine when I was just a hobbyist playing around with my own little creative projects, but as a digital marketer for a digital marketing agency, I am no longer just having fun—I’m helping our clients meet their traffic and sales goals. The fun is still there, but now I have the additional satisfaction of watching my work make a real difference for the clients I work for.
If you can check the boxes on those skills, and you’re looking for a rewarding career with a great agency, come join me at Direct Online Marketing.