How to Become a Digital Marketer: From Entry-Level to VP

women learning digital marketing

When modern business leaders want to promote their brand, they don’t turn to splashy magazine ads, billboard displays, or radio jingles — instead, they gravitate toward online channels.

Of course, if you have a passion for branding and an appreciation for good advertising tactics, you probably already know this. But do you know the specifics involved in becoming a digital marketer, or even what the role entails?

If not, don’t worry! In this article, we’ll provide a thorough explanation for how to break into this high-potential field and succeed as an online marketer.

But first, let’s develop some context.

What is a digital marketer? What do these professionals do on a day-to-day basis — and why?

Digital marketing is the promotion of services and products via online platforms. The professionals who work in this industry are called upon to develop a company’s communication strategies, target key consumers, and increase brand awareness using a variety of digital tools.

However, being a “digital marketer” doesn’t constrain workers to a single mode of digital advertising. The term encompasses a broad array of specialties, such as social media marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), mobile marketing, and affiliate marketing. However, all roles within the discipline will have a few core similarities; all professionals will need to know how to analyze a market, for example, and build a brand.

But regardless of their chosen specialties, all digital marketers enjoy a significant opportunity for career growth. According to a 2019 forecast by eMarketer, digital ad spending will outstrip traditional ad spending and constitute more than two-thirds of total media spending by 2023.

eMarketer’s forecasting director, Monica Peart, commented of the report’s findings:

“The steady shift of consumer attention to digital platforms has hit an inflection point with advertisers, forcing them to now turn to digital to seek the incremental gains in reach and revenues which are disappearing in traditional media advertising.”

Digital media has begun to dominate the marketing landscape — and kickstart demand for tech-savvy industry  professionals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the number of digital marketing manager roles will grow by 8 percent between 2018 and 2028. This is significantly faster than the average for all occupations, which currently sits at a 5 percent growth rate.

So, how can you become a digital marketer and take advantage of the opportunities at hand? Let’s start by reviewing what you’ll need to break into this high-potential industry.

Find One (or More) Specialty That Interests You

Not sure how to get into digital marketing? It might help to find an area or two that interests you, and then see where those interests take you over time.

Let’s be clear: Choosing a specialty does not mean that you will need to focus exclusively on that discipline for the rest of your career. In fact, some marketers choose to take a jack-of-all-trades approach and become marketing generalists.

Dubbed T-shaped marketers, these generalists have both a wide breadth of basic knowledge in many overlapping disciplines (the horizontal arm) as well as comprehensive knowledge in one or two subjects (the vertical arm).

While not all marketers need to qualify as T-shaped, having a generalist’s perspective can help you develop your career. In fact, given that so many foundational skills are universal to the field, it might be easier to cross over into new roles than you might expect.

Below, we’ll jump into the main competencies that digital marketers specialize in.

SEO

You may have already heard of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is the practice of optimizing content so that it is discovered and ranked favorably by a search engine. Search engines rank online properties based on how well they adhere to a client’s search parameters, perceived authority, searcher location, and other factors.

You would be hard-pressed to find a searcher who ventures onto the second or third page of their browser’s search results — or even scrolls beyond the top results. One 2019 survey from Moz found that 75 percent of surveyed Google-searchers click on the first few results they see or scan page one in search of a more relevant answer. Only 7 percent of those surveyed claimed that they regularly browse beyond the first page.

As you might have guessed, a high ranking provides free, passive traffic to a business’s online platform.

And yet, one 2020 Ahrefs study found that 91 percent of content receives no organic traffic through the Google search engine. Businesses need to ensure that their online properties are as well-optimized as possible — otherwise, their target consumers may never realize that they exist. Marketers improve ranking by ensuring that sites load quickly, have copy that features search terms customers are likely to use, and are well-optimized for search engines.

SEO marketing is relatively accessible for beginners because aspiring professionals can research and practice it independently. Below, we’ve included a few resources to help you kickstart your exploration into SEO.

Social Media Marketing

Considering that most consumers are connected to social media, it’s mission-critical for companies to get this mode of advertising right. Social media marketing helps companies communicate with clients and create brand awareness. Social media marketers develop long-term plans to optimize an organization’s presence on popular platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest.

On average, users spend roughly three hours a day on social media networks and messaging apps. Statista reports that 3.4 billion people are social media users (45 percent of the global population); that number is expected to reach 4.41 billion by 2025. Similar research from EMarketer breaks this trend along demographic lines, noting that 90.4 percent of millennials, 77.5 percent of Gen X, and 48.2 percent of Baby Boomers are active social media users.

The percentage of each generation in the U.S. that uses social media

Companies aren’t blind to the importance of social media, either: 74 percent of global marketers invest heavily in social media marketing.

As with SEO, it’s relatively simple to experiment with social media marketing as a newcomer. Here are a few resources to get you started:

Content Marketing

Content marketing refers to the process of creating curated and relevant content that both attracts new audience members and retains existing consumers.

Content marketing fosters a parasocial relationship between a company’s brand and its intended clients. By generating a variety of interesting, brand-relevant content, content marketers strive to boost conversions, educate potential consumers about products, and create a more profound sense of community around the brand itself.

This method of marketing is highly effective. Hubspot’s 2020 State of Marketing report found that 70 percent of marketers are actively pursuing content marketing, while 60 percent surveyed described content marketing as being either “very important” or “extremely important” to their overall strategy.

New content marketers should start honing their content marketing skills by improving their writing abilities, crafting a personal brand, and experimenting with content analytics tools.

Want to get started? It’s not too hard, especially since many of the primary methods used can be learned on your own. Here are some resources to help get you started:

Pay-Per-Click Marketing

With pay-per-click (PPC) marketing, advertisers pay a nominal fee every time users click on an ad for their brand or website. This promotion method allows companies to essentially purchase customer visits, rather than accumulating them organically, which, as we discussed during our SEO section, can be difficult.

If you use Google at all — and let’s face it, most of us do — you’ve probably already seen examples of PPC advertising at the top of your search results. When PPC marketers bid on specific keywords, they can potentially claim one of those top spots for their advertisements, thereby near-guaranteeing that searchers will see their pitch before any organic links.

Needless to say, the practice is very beneficial for diversifying a company’s traffic stream and keeping engagement rates high. When used properly, PPC strategies can provide a high return on investment, so long as the advertiser’s landing page and informational material are relevant to the target market.

Companies understand this; according to Social Media Today, 80 percent of marketers allocate at least some budget to search, social, display, and remarketing ads. Moreover, researchers for Marin Software’s State of Digital 2019 report further found that 39 percent of surveyed companies’ digital advertising budgets go to pay-per-click search.

Of course, it can be difficult for newcomers to get started on PPC; to be successful, you’ll need a robust budget dedicated to your strategy and an established brand to promote. Before launching a campaign, you may need to perform client research to identify the most influential keywords and use competitor research tools. Here are a few resources to start exploring!

Email Marketing

It may not be the flashiest tactic out there, but email marketing remains one of the primary ways that companies keep in contact with customers. Email marketers develop recurring campaigns that help to build trust and boost consumer engagement.

Studies show that email marketing produces $42 for every $1 spent, ranking its return on investment higher than that for social media, SEO, and affiliate marketing. According to one survey, 59 percent of consumer respondents stated that marketing emails influence their purchasing decisions, while just over 50 percent buy from marketing emails at least once a month.

It may be challenging to break into email marketing, given that you need an established list of contacts to be successful. You’ll want to start by learning how to build pleasing templates and gather contacts through an email sign-up list on your personal platform. Below, we’ve included a few resources to help you on your way.

Conversion Rate Optimization

Conversion rate optimization, or CRO, is the process through which marketers increase the percentage of site visitors who take desired actions — say, filling out a form, making a purchase, or even subscribing to an email list.

Successful CRO requires an intuitive understanding of how to capture and keep an audience’s attention. New marketers start by focusing on micro-conversion goals such as encouraging clients to sign up for newsletters, create an account, or add a product to their cart. By relying on on-site surveys, user testing, and raw analytics, CRO marketers can make changes to a client’s platform and increase conversion rates.

It might be tricky to break into CRO, given that you either have to be trusted to make big decisions in a company or have an established traffic stream on your personal platform. Start by integrating site analytics onto your site to monitor user behavior, using quantitative data to see how effective your platform is.

Need some guidance? Check out the linked resources below.

Get the Skills You Need

If you’re feeling a little lost, don’t worry! There are plenty of ways that aspiring marketers can pick up industry-ready skills. From college programs to boot camps and self-guided courses, we benefit from living in the golden age of accessible educational content.

Those who are confident and disciplined enough may opt to learn digital marketing independently by referencing self-guided tutorials, books, and resources. Although this is the most flexible option, it requires a great deal of self-motivation and accountability. Moreover, those who take the independent route may face barriers that enrolled students don’t. For instance, they may have a harder time networking or convincing potential employers to believe in their expertise.

If you prefer to gain your education through a more traditional channel, you may want to consider a four-year degree. College allows budding marketers to develop strong network relationships, build a quality portfolio, and obtain cross-over skills that apply to many industries. Digital marketers tend to earn degrees in majors ranging from computer science to marketing, economics, and business administration.

That said, college requires a commitment to take yourself off the job market and spend a significant amount of money — so consider your available resources and schedule carefully before enrolling!

If you want the support and guidance of a formal program but can’t commit the time and resources that a conventional college program requires, consider an online or in-person boot camp program! These intensive, short-term educational programs equip learners with on-the-job skills within a relatively short period — usually within four months.

Digital marketing boot camps cover topics like content marketing, social media, SEO, analytics, and affiliate marketing, all within a short time frame. (Want to explore a real boot camp program to see if a fast-tracked educational experience would be right for you? Check out UCF Digital Marketing Boot Camp’s Curriculum.)

While boot camps don’t provide as deep a theoretical background as a degree program, they tend to be more flexible and cost-effective. In the end, your educational route will depend on your goals.

Ask yourself the following questions to help guide your path:

  • How long do you want to commit to a program?
  • What daily obligations do you have to meet?
  • Do you want to pursue digital marketing concurrently with your current career?

Build and Promote Your Own Projects

Aside from obtaining the right education, a crucial part of landing marketing jobs is to build your portfolio. Curated portfolios demonstrate your experience and competencies to interested employers or direct clients.

We suggest starting with crafting copywriting material or developing your own blog. All companies require written content, whether that content is in the form of event invitations, ads, social media posts, product descriptions, or informational guides.

In contrast with technical writing or blogs, copywritten material captures attention and invokes action in a limited number of words. Use tools like Grammarly or HemingwayApp to get your written work up to par!

You can also pair written material with SEO practices, tactfully injecting keywords and phrases onto your portfolio website. Integrate site analytics tools to gather data and structure your site in a browser-friendly way. The more viewership your projects gain, the more advanced tools you can integrate. Create an email sign-up form to start an email marketing campaign and think about utilizing pay-per-click advertisements.

A good project will show off a holistic ecosystem of technical and soft digital marketing skills. Good copywritten content can be bolstered with SEO, PPC, and CRO tactics.

Network With Other Marketers

There’s no question that digital marketing is communication-intensive. You need to be responsive to clients, but you also need to build relationships with other marketers. After all, experienced professionals can help land you new opportunities or mentor you in trending technologies.

Start small by following new people with relevant experience on Twitter and LinkedIn. Respond to their content and reach out personally when you’ve got something interesting to share.

We also recommend strengthening weak connections. It’s unlikely your best friend will land you your next position — but a friend-of-a-friend or old classmate might just refer you to your next job. Invite an acquaintance out to coffee or reach out online to strike up a conversation and rekindle your relationship.

You may also make useful contacts by attending local community events or career fairs. Before attending, look over the event agenda and identify key speakers you’d like to connect with. Rather than wading through a queue of people after a speaker concludes, set up a time to talk to them before they hit the stage.

When you’re first building your network, it can be helpful to see how veteran marketers curate their platform. Digital marketers frequently share projects they’re developing via social media. If someone has sparked your curiosity, don’t be afraid to go the extra mile and offer to help out on a project, meet over coffee, or ask for advice.

If you’re wondering how to become a digital marketer, a significant aspect of the journey lies in making — and retaining — industry contacts.

Get in Touch With Small Clients

If you have no experience, it can feel insurmountable to land that first major role. It’ll be much less challenging to offer your services to small clients, such as non-profit organizations or peers, for free or at a reduced rate.

In particular, volunteer organizations are always looking for skilled individuals to improve their online presence. Volunteering can help demonstrate your passion for a specific industry, while a great referral from a single customer can go a long way toward helping you build your client roster.

Common Digital Marketing Jobs

Digital marketers come in all stripes. Here are some of the most common roles that companies hire for, from entry-level roles to specialists, managers, and directors.

A list of the most common digital marketing jobs

Entry Level

Content Writer

Content writers help to enrich companies’ online platforms with blog posts, technical guides, and marketing copy. Before crafting content, writers research industry topics and generate ideas for new content approaches. After research, writers produce brand-related content based on online sources, first-hand interviews, and studies.

Digital Marketing Analyst

Digital marketing analysts take on a more technical role, monitoring the efficacy of current marketing strategies and improving them via targeted campaigns. While some work as independent contractors, most take on a long-term position with a specific company.

Analysts review the efficacy of marketing campaigns by studying page clicks, keyword hits, organic site traffic, and other metrics. They may also be tasked with keeping the sales team up to date on what methods are effective before promoting other campaigns, products, or ideas based on collected data.

Social Media Marketer

Social media marketers enhance an organization’s social media presence by creating engaging content and interacting closely with customers. By working with various departments, social media experts improve brand consistency and awareness through product development, brand management, and targeted advertising campaigns.

Specialist Roles

Rather than assuming a broad role, specialists have in-depth knowledge concerning one particular area of digital marketing.

Email Marketing Specialist

Email marketing specialists are wholly responsible for delivering email marketing campaigns that effectively promote a product. These marketers use gathered data, like email open rates and customer conversion rates, to launch more attention-grabbing campaigns.

Marketers may be responsible for segmenting marketing campaigns based on the target audience, responding directly with clients, and developing an automated email personalization strategy.

Marketing Automation Specialist

In addition to taking on client-facing responsibilities, marketing automation specialists have in-depth technical knowledge in analyzing and managing client campaigns. Automation specialists segment and investigate the efficacy of automated procedures, which helps them refine reporting standards and client engagement strategies.

Search Marketing Specialist

Search marketing specialists are responsible for planning and managing a company’s SEO strategy to optimize ranking in organic search results. These professionals work with web analytics tools to determine the most effective site information architecture, keyword frequency, and client engagement tactics.

Managerial Roles

Wondering how to become a digital marketing manager? After receiving entry-level experience, many digital marketers take on a managerial role within a company.

Marketing Campaign Manager

Campaign managers often take on a long-term job with a single company, helping to devise a long-running marketing campaign. These specialists hire freelancers, monitor campaign efficacy, and measure the return on investment of current engagement tactics.

Moreover, campaign managers usually have experience in print and TV campaigns, in addition to digital media.

Social Media Manager

Social media managers usually work in an office department in combination with several departments. Responsible for researching audience preferences and creating engaging content, coordinators seek to increase web traffic and engagement metrics in alignment with a company’s goals.

Digital Media Manager

Digital media managers take on a more specialized role that oversees a business’s online media campaigns through email, social media, and company sites. Digital media managers create engaging content, determine suitable platforms for content sharing, and build a social media presence.

Director Roles

Many aspiring digital marketers eventually land more senior director roles, giving them the ability to implement and oversee effective marketing campaigns from a high level. Typically, these senior roles require more than five years of managerial experience.

Director of Marketing & Communications

In addition to implementing and monitoring marketing communication strategy, directors of marketing lobby for campaign budgets and report findings to upper management. Directors not only communicate online but also advertise and plan public relations events to bolster consumers’ brand awareness.

Director of Social Media

Social media directors help to plan, implement, and manage an entire company’s social media strategy. Ultimately, directors hope to increase brand awareness and maximize client conversion rates.

Directors typically oversee an entire social media team. This communication-intensive role requires also communicating with upper management, company stakeholders, and the sales department.

VP of Marketing

A marketing vice president develops and implements a cohesive marketing plan to increase brand awareness and, ultimately, sales. VPs set both short- and long-term goals for the marketing department, in addition to designing and reviewing the team’s annual budget.

A vice president takes on a very significant role in shaping the future of a company. VPs may conduct market analysis to identify challenges and growth opportunities. Moreover, they closely track the activity of competitors.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far, you recognize that digital marketing encompasses an ecosystem of several distinct yet interrelated activities. Marketers are called upon to be savvier than ever; today, the profession requires a keen eye for detail, strong communication skills, and sometimes even a technical background.

If you’re genuinely interested, don’t shy away from the challenge. Learning how to become a digital marketer can take many forms, depending on your learning preferences, budget, and timeline. Whether it’s through a boot camp, college degree, or late-night online tutorials, there are plenty of ways to develop the skills you need.

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