How to become a digital marketerOverview Skills, Knowledge & Attributes Training & Certification Career Paths Work Environment Compensation F.A.Q Explore Courses
How to become a digital marketer
Last updated: October 28, 2021
Digital marketing is an ever-changing, creative and strategic profession that is needed across all industries. It can look different from company to company, so let’s take a minute to define what digital marketing is at a broad level:
Digital marketing is the use of digital channels to reach an audience with a message about a company, brand, or product at different points in the customer lifecycle in order to achieve a specific goal.
The last 15 years have produced countless new digital products, social networks, and search engines, and with them, new techniques for automated, targeted, testable, and measurable digital marketing.
Before the 1990s, marketing and advertising were limited to print, TV, radio, in-store and outdoor advertising. Digital marketing emerged in the 1990s with the launch of the first search engine, Archie, and in 1994, the launch of Yahoo spawned the first strategies in search engine optimization (SEO). By 1995, there were around 16 million internet users worldwide. In 1997, the first social networking site, SixDegrees.com, was launched, and in 1998, Google, MSN, and Yahoo! Web Search were born.
The 2000s are when things really started moving. The first mobile marketing campaign was launched by Universal Music in 2001, and LinkedIn, WordPress, Myspace, Facebook, and YouTube all launched between 2002 and 2005. As more search engines and social networks came into existence, new opportunities for companies to market their products and brands grew. By 2004, internet advertising and marketing in the US alone brought in around $2.9 billion.
In this Career Guide, we’ll look at some of the forces shaping digital marketing today, and everything you’ll need to launch a successful career as a digital marketing professional.
Skills, Knowledge & Attributes
Digital marketing will require you to wear many hats, work with many departments within your organization, and multitask like there’s no tomorrow. A balance between creativity, strategic thinking, communication skills, and meticulous attention to detail is crucial to be successful in this field. You’ll also need to be data-driven and results-driven, as companies demand highly-measurable campaigns that map back to company goals and provide a return on marketing investment.
Digital marketing encompasses an array of specialties that can feel overwhelming when you’re just starting out. Each one requires its own set of knowledge and is ever-evolving, so you may choose to specialize in just one area and become a deep subject matter expert, or become a generalist and execute across the spectrum of tactics and channels, pulling in subject matter experts when needed.
The digital tactics and channels that a marketer chooses to use, and how they use them, will depend on the company, product, goals and audience.
Here are ten of the most in-demand digital marketing specialties that you should know about, in no particular order:
Every good marketing campaign needs to hinge off a strong digital strategy. Your digital strategy is your plan for how to use a set of digital tactics and channels to achieve a specific goal, such as increased awareness, brand affinity, brand engagement, purchase consideration, or conversion.
Your strategy should consider things like company goals, marketing objectives, target audience, positioning, messaging, digital tactics and channels, timeline(s), resources and budget. While you’ll likely develop a digital strategy annually and/or quarterly, you’ll want to continually measure and analyze your work, and then iterate and optimize your strategy accordingly on an ongoing basis.
Content marketing is about creating rich, engaging content that your target audience will want to read, watch, or listen to. Content can take the form of blog posts, articles, eBooks, videos, podcasts and more, and is a great way to increase visibility of your brand (via search ranking), drive people to your website (aka “inbound marketing”), nurture sales leads, and build credibility with potential customers. Content marketers are responsible for content strategy, editorial direction, content creation and promotion.
Content marketing goes hand in hand with search engine optimization, as you’ll want your content to be properly optimized to rank well in Google’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). And the most important factor for ranking high in the search results is high-quality content, which Search Engine Journal describes as content that increases time on page, lowers bounce rate, and provides helpful content for the user.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
The goal of Search Engine Optimization is to improve the organic presence of your website and content within a search engine’s results pages so that you can reach more customers and drive more visits to your website.
“Organic” refers to search results that a search engine like Google surface based on what it believes will be the most relevant and valuable information for the user. It determines that based on a number of ranking factors, such as the domain name and length, keywords used in titles, tags, and copy, linking structure, page load speed, content quality, and much more (a full list of google ranking factors can be found here).
This is different than “paid” search results, where companies bid to rank high in the paid results section of Google’s SERP and then pay each time their listing is clicked (i.e., “pay-per-click” – more on that in the next section).
Some digital marketers decide to specialize in SEO because it requires deep domain knowledge and the continuous learning necessary to master the algorithms behind search engine results. SEO professionals should have skills in data analytics, content and copywriting, research, marketing, and HTML.
‘Pay-Per-Click’ Advertising (PPC)
Pay Per Click (PPC) is a fast and effective way to get your website or content ranking in google, and a highly targeted way to reach new customers and drive them to your site. The pay per click model is simple: a company pays a publisher each time their online advertisement is clicked.
The most common type of PPC is GoogleAds, (i.e., ads that appear as a paid listing in Google’s search results). GoogleAds works as an auction, where companies bid money on certain keywords in order to get their ads placed. Google then weighs the bid with the quality of the content to decide which ad gets placed, with the goal of providing the best experience to their users.
Digital marketers will often combine SEO and PPC in their strategies, knowing that it takes time for content to rank organically, while GoogleAds enables a site to rank almost immediately.
The “pay per click” model is also used in display advertising (banner ads), video advertising (e.g., YouTube) and social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Your website is your first chance to capture your audience’s attention, make a good impression, create brand affinity, and convert customers. It’s where you show off your company’s mission, who you are, what you offer, why you’re different, and so much more. It is essentially the most important part of your digital marketing strategy. As a digital marketer, you will have ownership of your company’s website, and be responsible for making sure it is easy to use and clearly conveys your brand values, attributes, and messaging.
Your website can be a key driver of sales, whether that’s an online purchase, a trial of your software or a demo request for your sales team. You’ll need to make sure your website is optimized for conversion, and that you’re tracking and analyzing the visitor and usage data in order to optimize both your website and overall digital marketing strategy to reach your goals.
Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing is the use of social networks and platforms, like Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok, to build and strengthen your brand, grow your audience, and drive sales. It can be organic or paid (using the PPC model), with paid advertising enabling you to target a specific audience outside of your followers based on demographics, interests, behaviours and more.
Social media is extremely effective to help increase reach, connect with your audience, drive website visits, and sell products. For example, if you’re working for an apparel brand, you can run ads on Instagram with “Shop Now” buttons that drive visitors to your eCommerce page. Or, you can run a fundraising campaign on Facebook to drive donations. Or, you can use Twitter ads to simply build your brand following or generate leads for your sales team.
Becoming a social media specialist will require deep domain knowledge, as well as creativity, great writing skills, and an analytical mind.
Email marketing is the use of email to promote your brand, product or services, develop relationships with your customers, and reach new customers. It usually takes the form of newsletters, email blasts, direct outbound emails, or email nurture flows using email creation and automation software, like Hubspot, MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, and Braze.
Email is a great tool to engage with your consumers in a place they’re already spending time (their inbox!), and if people find content valuable, they are more than willing to subscribe to and read a newsletter.
At B2B companies (Business-to-Business), email is often used as a form of lead nurture, where emails are sent to potential customers, segmented based on the stage of their buying journey, with content to keep them engaged and interested in the company until they are ready to make a purchase.
Email marketing is a popular tactic at both B2C and B2B companies, with 59 per cent of marketers citing it as the top ROI-generating marketing method for their organization. In order to succeed in this speciality, email marketers should be creative and have the ability to write, as they will need to craft engaging and persuasive emails and subject lines. They should also be results-driven and analytical, as they’ll spend a lot of time A/B testing, analyzing data, measuring results, and optimizing for performance.
Affiliate marketing is when affiliates – publications, bloggers and influencers – earn a commission when products or services they reference or link to are then purchased.
For example, an article with a product review, or top ten products in a category (like top ten headphones, or best shampoos for curly hair), which links to websites where you can purchase those products, is likely an affiliate program in action.
One of the most well-known affiliate programs is Wirecutter, which provides product recommendations to its readers and earns commissions on any products sourced and purchased through their site. Amazon, Shopify, and Hubspot are also well-known for offering robust and successful affiliate programs.
Video marketing (videos that promote your brand, products and services) should be a priority for most marketing strategies, with 71 per cent of consumers watching more video online than they were a year ago according to a recent HubSpot report.
Common types of videos used in marketing are explainer videos (a short, usually animated video that explains a product or service), video blogs, tutorials, testimonials, product reviews, live streams, and of course, advertisements.
Video marketing is tied closely with social media marketing, since social channels are a common way to disseminate videos to your audience. In fact, according to Social Media Today, video marketing is the top performing digital content type, driving more views, engagement and response than any other type of social post. For example, Tweets with video see 10x more engagement than those without. Video is also tied closely to SEO: YouTube, for example, has become the second largest search engine online.
Perhaps one of the most important skills you can gain as a digital marketer is collecting and analyzing data and metrics (e.g. consumer interactions, website engagement, product usage, etc.) in order to determine the success and return on investment (ROI) of your marketing efforts. This practice is crucial to proving your work is having an impact on your company goals, and in turn, securing more budget for your department.
Most companies today look to hire “data-driven” digital marketers, which refers to marketers that use consumer data and insights to develop marketing strategies that will yield the highest ROI, as well as using past campaign metrics to inform future marketing decisions.
Common analytics tools include Google Analytics to measure website traffic, Hubspot Analytics to measure marketing engagement and map interactions back to revenue, Moz Pro, SEMRush and ahrefs to measure SEO success, and Optimizely to A/B test different web pages, for example.
Training & Certification
A range of digital marketing courses, social media marketing courses, and digital marketing degree and marketing diploma programs are available to help learners begin a new career or upgrade their skills with a digital marketing specialty.
High school graduates are encouraged to consider a well-rounded degree program that will help them develop their research, writing and critical thinking skills while acquiring a broad body of knowledge.
Working professionals or career changers, on the other hand, may prefer to pursue a short course, program or bootcamp with a strong work integrated learning component. While business schools, for example, have offered marketing degrees for years, many of today’s digital marketers are using specialized digital marketing courses in combination with on-the-job training to advance into senior positions.
In-demand marketing specialties include digital strategy, search engine marketing (SEO), Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and video marketing. A wide variety of introductory courses are also available to help learners interested in gaining a 30,000-foot overview of the field.
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Generalists vs. Specialists
Many digital marketers will start as specialists – for example, in SEO, email, or social media – and then progress to a more general digital marketer (manager level or above), overseeing a team of specialists.
If you join a larger marketing team, you’re more likely to specialize in one area for your first few years and contribute to the overall strategy from your corner. If you join a smaller marketing team – 3 people or less – you’ll work across all areas and progress from Coordinator or Manager to Director, VP, or CMO. The speed at which you progress in terms of title and salary will depend on you and your organization.
Internships & Co-Ops
A great place to start your career as a digital marketer is as a student intern. Marketing teams are often happy to have a recent graduate come help out on a contract basis. More often than not, it will turn into a full-time role if both parties are happy. An internship is a great opportunity for you to test the waters as you kick off your career. You’ll have a chance to evaluate the team, role, and area of digital marketing before you hang your hat at any one company.
During your job interviews, look for a manager with a track record of building and supporting the professional growth of their team. Of course, hard work and strong output that ties back to business goals will always contribute to a faster career progression.
Build Your Portfolio
Another way into the profession is to start your own blog, build a website for yourself or a friend, or build out a personal brand on instagram – anything that lets you experiment with different platforms and techniques, and build up your resume and portfolio. Offer to manage social media for a university club you belong to, or volunteer to promote a fundraising event.
Most job titles for digital marketers will include one of digital, social, content, email or video + marketing preceded or followed by Intern, Coordinator, (Sr) Manager, (Sr) Director, or VP. For example: Social Media Intern or Director of Digital Marketing or Email Marketing Manager. Your title might not have “digital” in it – for example, Senior Marketing Manager – but you’ll still be expected to develop and execute a digital marketing strategy.
Digital marketing is a common role across almost all industries today, from consumer goods to technology, government, financial services, education, non-profit, healthcare, apparel, hospitality, and the list goes on. You can either join a digital marketing and advertising agency and work across different industries and verticals – as an Account Manager, Social Media Specialist, SEO Specialist or Strategist. Or, you can join an “in house” marketing team in one of the following areas:
Business to Consumer (B2C)
This includes any company selling goods or services to consumers. Consumer goods includes food and beverage, consumer packaged goods like Unilever, Kraft, or Procter & Gamble, apparel, pet food and supplies, and more. Financial services, hospitality, and travel are examples of consumer services.
Business to Business (B2B)
Business to business companies sell products and services to other companies in order to help them operate and grow. You can find B2B companies in almost every industry, including education, healthcare, sales, manufacturing and more.
The growth of technology companies is on the rise – 27.3 per cent year-over-year growth in new business formation between 2018 and 2019 – and with that, so are digital marketing opportunities. Technology companies span both B2B and B2C, and they all need digital marketing to build their audience and sales.
Whatever you choose, digital marketing skills are in-demand across virtually everyone industry. This is one skillet that can take you just about anywhere.
According to a recent report by Digiday, 78 per cent of digital marketers are satisfied with their work. This was compared to 58 per cent of all workers who claimed they were satisfied with their jobs.
Digital marketing jobs will require a considerable amount of teamwork and collaboration across departments in an office or home/remote setting. The work tends to be sedentary, and requires a lot of time on computers and mobile devices, especially at remote companies where tools like email, Zoom and Slack are routinely used to collaborate.
A safe working environment, the most common health and safety concerns among digital marketers are due to stress and ergonomic concerns. Digital marketing careers, especially at agencies and high-growth companies, can be varied and require considerable task-switching, and pressure to perform and meet tight deadlines while managing multiple stakeholders.
The average salary for digital marketing specialists in Canada is $58,788 according to Talent.com. But here is a closer look at salary ranges based on job type and seniority:
|Email Marketing Specialist||$55,524|
|Vice President, Marketing||$148,219|
|Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)||$167,315|
Tech companies tend to offer higher compensation, with a mix of salary and equity. Well established tech companies like Google pay the best, while smaller private tech companies have potentially larger upside if they get acquired.
Roles in financial institutions pay well and provide plenty of job security, while you’ll find lower salaries at advertising agencies to start, but with the potential to increase as you mature at the company.