How to Learn Digital Marketing: A U.S. News Guide


If you want to find new ways to capture consumers’ attention, learning digital marketing might be a good move.

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Digital marketing is an umbrella term for the methods businesses use to reach an audience through nontraditional outlets, including through email, a search engine results page or social media. One advantage of digital marketing is that it lets businesses, nonprofits or other organizations pursue the consumers most likely to use their services or buy their products.

“With digital marketing, you can target the exact audience that you want to reach and get detailed metrics on how well your efforts are working, so it can be a lot more effective than older forms of marketing,” says Julia Bocchese, CEO and consultant of Philadelphia-based Julia Renee Consulting.

Businesses can reach consumers through a variety of digital marketing channels. These include:

  • Search engine optimization
  • Pay-per-click advertising
  • Social media marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Content marketing
  • Video marketing
  • Mobile marketing
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Website/conversion rate marketing

Digital marketing does not include traditional advertising methods, such as TV, radio, billboards and print ads.

Small business owners and entrepreneurs should learn the basics of digital marketing, even if you outsource those efforts as your business grows. This will help you understand who your customers are, how to reach them and what to expect from various marketing efforts. Professionals in the marketing field who are looking to expand their knowledge may also benefit from this guide.

With multiple free resources available and no formal education required, learning digital marketing is attainable. Start with an overview, such as Google Digital Garage’s free certification course on the fundamentals of digital marketing, before diving deeper into specific disciplines.

Becoming an effective digital marketer involves learning and experimenting with multiple platforms to find the right fit for your industry and strengths. You may never have put together a digital marketing game plan, per se, but if you use search engine optimization to make the most of keywords on your website or social media to engage with consumers, you already have some understanding of digital marketing.

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the practice of increasing website traffic based on organic search engine results, or results that are not paid advertisements. A good SEO strategy focuses on the quantity – are you seeing an increase in visitors? – and quality – are you providing readers with the content they’re searching for? – of a site.

Search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo have crawlers that collect and index the information they find on pages across the internet. The index is fed through an algorithm that tries to match what appears on a search engine results page, or SERP, with a user’s query. Several factors contribute to a search engine’s algorithm, which goes through periodic updates.

Search engine optimization occurs when you, as the manager of your site, try to make your content user-friendly and search-engine-friendly. Increase your SEO by including sought-after search terms and keywords in your copy, ensuring your title tags – the clickable headlines on a SERP – are informative and including links to other useful content on your site.

What Tools, Software and Other Skills Are Necessary in SEO?

SEO requires you to be analytical, to see trends in data and keep up with changing algorithms. But don’t let that scare you if you’re more creative; there are multiple tools available to help you.

SEO experts use sites like Adobe Analytics, and Google Analytics to track metrics such as how many unique visitors come to their site and which pages visitors spend the most time on.

Google Search Console is a free tool that helps marketers understand, monitor and troubleshoot their site’s presence on Google SERPs.

Platforms like SEMrush and Moz offer tools that identify keywords relevant to a topic and analyze keywords by search volume.

Helpful SEO Industry Resources and Courses

SEO software companies offer subscription packages to users who want a full toolkit of charts, graphs and reports on their websites’ performance. They also offer free resources for those who are just getting started.

You can start learning SEO by reading industry primers and blogs, such as:

Sites offering courses to help you get started learning SEO include:

To learn more about the SEO industry, you can attend national conferences like the Search Marketing Expo and Pubcon.

Conversion rate optimization, or CRO, is about making the most out of users’ visits to your website. The focus isn’t only on the number of visitors to the site; it’s on the number of visitors who complete some desired transaction while on the site. This could be a literal transaction, such as a user making a purchase from an online vendor, or some other goal you set, like visitors signing up for a newsletter or a free trial of a subscription service.

A website’s conversion rate is found by dividing the number of times a visitor completes a goal by the number of total visits your site receives, and then multiplying that number by 100. If a user can complete a transaction each site visit and six out of 30 unique site visits resulted in a transaction, your site has a 20% conversion rate.

To optimize, you need to understand how visitors navigate your site and make sure it’s designed so they can easily make the conversion.

What Tools, Software and Other Skills Are Necessary in Web/Conversion Rate Optimization?

To be successful at CRO, you should have an understanding of testing protocol and analytics platforms. Tools like Optimizely and Crazy Egg can help you analyze your website and make data-backed decisions for optimization.

You also need to get familiar with coding and programming.

Helpful Web/Conversion Rate Optimization Resources and Courses

To learn more about CRO, you can explore resources such as:

Conferences for the website/conversion rate optimization industry include Opticon and Click Summit.

With pay-per-click advertising, advertisers pay a fee each time someone clicks on one of their ads. A common form of PPC advertising is search engine marketing, or paying to show up on a search engine results page rather than relying on appearing as an organic result. With search engine marketing, advertisers bid on keywords consumers might enter when searching for a particular product or service.

This results in advertisers’ content appearing alongside organic search results as product listing ads, which are accompanied by photos, or as text results. Either way, Google and other search engines will label these listings as ads to distinguish them from organic search results.

Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn also offer PPC advertising plans specific to their platforms.

What Tools, Software and Other Skills Are Necessary in PPC?

Like many aspects of digital marketing, effective PPC campaigns require a working knowledge of data platforms like Adobe Analytics or Google Analytics and exposure to display advertising and conversion/website optimization.

Businesses can use tools like Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising to connect with potential customers through search engines.

Subscription service SpyFu helps users create an advertising strategy by studying competitors’ sites to find their keywords and spend history and searching their own site to identify high-priority keywords. SEMrush allows businesses to analyze their closest Google Ads competitors and even view keywords in multiple languages.

WordStream offers a paid service to help improve ad performance on Google Ads, Bing and Facebook by analyzing a business’ account and suggesting ad optimization. WordStream also has free tools to help users create display ads or receive a grade on their Google Ads performance.

Helpful PPC Industry Resources and Courses

Some industry blogs you might follow include:

Multiple free online courses teach the basics of pay-per-click advertising, such as:

Conferences for the pay-per-click advertising industry include Search Marketing Expo and Hero Conf.

Social media marketing is the practice of using social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat to reach and engage with your audience. Social media allows people to interact with their favorite brands in a casual and public setting. Businesses can directly reach an audience that chooses to follow their posts and can cultivate a brand image beyond what traditional advertising methods offer.

Businesses use social media in myriad ways. A website with a blog might publish links to articles on its social media accounts, driving clicks to its site. A restaurant or brick-and-mortar retail store can post photos of their products to encourage followers to visit their businesses or alert them to new offerings. A local radio station can use social media for contests and promotions, encouraging follower engagement to determine the winner of a prize, such as a pair of concert tickets.

Which social media platforms businesses use, as well as how they use them, depend on the industry and the type of content. Your social media strategy should aid your overall marketing goal. Ask yourself why you are using social media – to engage with consumers? To drive traffic to your website? To cultivate or enhance your brand image?

What Tools, Software and Other Skills Are Necessary in Social Media?

Social media marketing specialists need to be creative, as they decide the images and text that best promote their brands to target consumers. They also need to be analytical and able to use metrics from analytics platforms to evaluate how successful their campaigns are.

Some useful tools for social media marketing include CrowdTangle, which allows users to see performance data for their own social media accounts and those of their competitors. Sites including Buffer and Hootsuite allow users to schedule when their social media posts publish.

But it’s not just the tools and plans that make an effective social media marketer. Justin Runyon, senior digital marketing manager for Chili’s, says the most important skill for this job is listening.

“I know it sounds trite, but the social media moments that people most remember are the ones where a brand was aware of either its audience’s cultural assumptions of the brand or a general cultural moment that the brand was able to insert itself into appropriately,” Runyon says. “These moments only happen if the brand is paying attention to both the users that follow the brand and the overall zeitgeist.”

Runyon says one of his favorite moments working for Chili’s relates to a reference in the sitcom “The Office.” In a 2005 episode, one of the characters, Pam, was banned from the restaurant chain. In 2017, actress Jenna Fischer, who played Pam, tweeted a selfie in front of a Chili’s restaurant with the caption, “Should I try to go in?” Chili’s responded by issuing a press release unbanning “Pam” from its restaurants, a move that drew attention from thousands of Twitter users as well as national news outlets.

“All of this was done because we were paying attention to what was relevant for our brand through listening,” Runyon says.

Helpful Social Media Industry Resources and Courses

Learn more about the latest in social media marketing by following industry publications and blogs like:

Free social media marketing courses abound online, including:

Conferences for the social media marketing industry include Social Media Strategies Summit and Social Media Marketing World.

Email marketing is the process of reaching your target audience through their inboxes. It allows businesses to communicate information to their subscribers through newsletters, alerting readers to relevant web content or sales and promotions that might be of interest.

A successful email marketing campaign stands out from the other emails inundating a subscriber’s inbox each day.

What Tools, Software and Other Skills Are Necessary in Email Marketing?

Email marketing is more than just scheduling when content arrives in subscribers’ inboxes. Email marketers determine their audience and connect with them.

Marketers can use tools to design eye-catching and personalized content, optimize ads for mobile, or seek email campaign strategy ideas. Programs range from more entry-level platforms like Mailchimp and Constant Contact to enterprise platforms like Salesforce and Adobe Campaign.

Because digital marketing disciplines overlap, a successful email marketer will have exposure to website/conversion rate optimization and an understanding of data platforms like Adobe Analytics or Google Analytics.

Helpful Email Marketing Resources and Courses

Some email marketing industry publications and blogs include:

There are multiple online resources for those looking to learn email marketing, including:

Conferences for the email marketing industry include MailCon and EiQ.

Content marketing involves sharing useful information with your audience, rather than advertising a product or making a particular brand the center of attention.

Examples of content marketing include:

  • Newsletters
  • Educational articles
  • Videos
  • Webinars

An insurance company that publishes a blog article about staying safe during a tornado isn’t telling potential customers how great its rates are; it’s sharing relevant content that can help build trust between those customers and the company. A bank sharing tips on preparing for a job interview isn’t advertising its financial services, but the content might help foster a sense of loyalty among student checking account holders.

What Tools, Software and Other Skills Are Necessary in Content Marketing?

Effective content marketing calls for strong writing skills. If the content you produce includes videos, you also should have an understanding of how to shoot and edit videos your target audience will want to watch and will find helpful.

Content marketers should understand SEO so they can incorporate relevant keywords and topics in their communications, as well as analytics programs. And as with other digital marketing disciplines, knowing how to create a content marketing strategy can maximize your potential.

Tools available to help with content marketing include HubSpot’s CMS Hub, which allows marketers to create and edit their own web pages, and BuzzSumo, which provides real-time views of viral trends and helps users find influential writers and creators from across social media and the web.

Helpful Content Marketing Resources and Courses

You can learn more about content marketing by reading:

Free online courses to help you learn more about content marketing include:

Conferences for the content marketing industry include Pubcon and Content Marketing World.

Analytics programs allow you to see whether the strategies you implemented on your site are working. Most aspects of digital marketing can be tracked or measured, so keeping up with these metrics is critical. Many digital marketers have some digital analytics experience, but this often is a different skill set entirely.

“That’s going to aid you no matter where you end up working in marketing,” says Rachel Vandernick, founder of digital marketing consulting business The Vander Group.

Most practitioners learn several digital marketing disciplines before focusing on one or more. When choosing what to specialize in, consider your skills and experience as well as your client’s needs or your desired industry.

“Being proficient in Instagram and growing a following is going to be very different from being proficient in Facebook ads to sell products for a major brand,” says Bocchese, a self-taught expert in SEO and Pinterest who works with clients in creative industries.

“It took a year or two of learning SEO and Pinterest on the side before I felt proficient in them. The types of clients that I work with also require less technical SEO work than something like a large e-commerce company, so I would need more time to become proficient for that.”

Because many of her clients work in visual industries, such as photography and interior design, Bocchese says Twitter isn’t a good fit for her business. She narrowed her focus to SEO and Pinterest after finding that creative businesses often need help in these areas and because she enjoys working with search engines.

The time it takes to build your skill set and feel confident pursuing a digital marketing career depends on multiple factors, including the industry and platforms you’re focused on. Even throughout your career, you’ll need to stay abreast of the ever-changing business landscape.

“Digital marketing is not just a one-time investment,” says Vandernick. “It requires the patience to redo your work and learn – and relearn – a skill that you’ve perfected when the landscape or players change. I think any professional who has been through major shifts in disciplines like SEO will tell you there are days when you feel like you’re starting over, even if you’ve been in the industry a decade.”

Anyone interested in digital marketing can learn over time using the free resources available online. No degree or formal training is required, although becoming certified in Google Analytics or other tools can help make you a competitive job candidate.

To take your first step into the digital marketing world, find a way to translate your passion into something that could provide value to a business.

“If you’re in marketing for the right reasons – namely, you’re interested in how to get people interested – there has to be something you’ve been doing in your life that can translate well to prove you’re the right person to become a specialist,” says Runyon, who highlighted his experience advertising for rock bands he played in as a teenager when applying for marketing internships.

What you’ll do in your first job depends on your role and your company’s needs. Even if you have previous experience in another field, you may have to take an internship to get your foot in the door, Runyon says. But take that as an opportunity to grow your skills as much as you can under the direction of your supervisors.

Aside from technical skills and passion, digital marketing requires that you remember customers are at the center of it all.

“Understanding what incentives people respond to, how they weigh and process different information, and how they may weigh competing factors like cost, risk and value is paramount to success in digital marketing,” Vandernick says.


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