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How to Launch a Career in Digital Marketing (and Beat the Competition)

Digital marketing is a huge (and growing) career field right now. As the internet grows, more and more companies are finding themselves in need a savvy marketers who understand social media, analytics, ads, sales funnels, and more.

If you can master these skills, then you’ll have access to a lot of lucrative job opportunities — and the best part is that you don’t need to go to college to learn them.

If you want to start a career in digital marketing, this is your jumping-off point.

6 Reasons You Should Consider a Career in Digital Marketing

So what makes digital marketing such a great field to work in? There are lots of reasons, but here are six of the most compelling ones:

1. Digital Marketing Jobs Are in High Demand

When you’re looking for a job, it’s best to look for roles that have high demand and low supply. Why? Because if companies really need to hire for a position but can’t find enough qualified applicants, they’ll be much more likely to hire you if you do have the necessary skills. Plus, they’re also likely to pay a higher wage than positions with low demand and high supply.

Digital marketing is a field where demand certainly outstrips supply. For instance, here’s a search for “digital marketer” on

digital marketing jobs available on Indeed

This search alone returned results for over 69,000 jobs. Now sure, not all of these postings are going to be great positions, but they do demonstrate just how high the demand is.

In contrast to this high demand, supply is still quite low. There are lots of digital marketing courses floating around the internet, as well as a few formal educational programs that teach digital marketing (though with questionable efficacy). But few of them are producing graduates with the skills and knowledge necessary for modern digital marketing jobs.

For you, this is a big opportunity to both learn and earn. Which brings us to another benefit of working in digital marketing: the pay.

2. Digital Marketing Jobs Pay Well (Even for Entry-Level Positions)

While salary isn’t the only thing you should consider when looking for a job, it is an important consideration nonetheless. Digital marketing as whole commands impressive salaries, especially when you consider that most companies hiring for these roles don’t even care if you have a college degree (more on this later).

According to Indeed, the average salary for digital marketing jobs in the United States is $63,857 (based on 8,069 anonymous salary submissions by real companies and employees).

Of course, this number doesn’t tell the whole story, as it doesn’t take into account level of experience or the variations in cost of living among different cities. Still, it shows just how lucrative this field can be.

3. Fun Companies to Work For

If you think that all entry-level jobs involve sitting in a cubicle at a faceless corporation, then you’re fortunately mistaken. For every job like that, there’s also a startup or agency that wants to provide a casual, fun work environment.

This isn’t to say that all digital marketing jobs will be in dog-friendly offices with bean bag chairs and beer on tap, but lots of them are (and far more so in this field than others).

These jobs also tend to have cool benefits. For instance, at social media marketing software company Buffer, all team members get monthly stipends for books, continuing education, and even coffee shop visits.

If you’re looking for a work culture that’s a bit more interesting than the norm, then a job in digital marketing can be a great way to find it.

4. Flexible/Remote Work Arrangements

We could’ve included this in the previous section, but it’s such a key benefit that we think it deserves its own point. Given that digital marketing roles often come with working at young, tech-savvy companies, it’s also common to find digital marketing jobs that allow you to either have a flexible schedule or even work 100% remotely.

You won’t find this at every company, but because digital marketing work is, well, digital, it makes sense that many companies allow digital marketers the freedom to work from anywhere in the world. Even if they don’t give you total location flexibility, you can often get a more flexible schedule (unlimited PTO isn’t unheard of) than a traditional 9 – 5 job.

5. Digital Marketing Allows Plenty of Opportunity to Freelance

So far, we’ve focused on all the cool full-time jobs that are available in digital marketing. While these are exciting opportunities, digital marketing is also a field that lets you freelance quite easily if you want. This is especially true once you’ve gotten experience and training at a larger company.

If you have digital marketing skills and can learn some basic sales, then it’s easy to build up your own roster of clients to earn as much as (or even more than) you would in a full-time job.

If you want, you can even structure your contracts so that you only work for part of the year and then take the rest of the year off to travel or work on other projects.

6. Digital Marketing Is Easy to Learn On Your Own

With lots of high-paying jobs, you have to have a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s. Or, you need to attend some kind of lengthy certification program or spend years as an apprentice.

One of the great benefits of digital marketing is that you can learn almost all of the necessary skills on your own.

To start, digital marketers use tools that are mostly free or very cheap. This means that you don’t need to invest in any expensive equipment or software to start learning.

Furthermore, there’s a vast amount of digital marketing information available online for free, and there are also plenty of affordable courses if you’re interested in accelerating your learning. Be sure to read to the end of the article to learn more about one of our favorite free digital marketing courses.

The Skills You Need to Land an Entry-Level Digital Marketing Job

Convinced that digital marketing is the field for you? Great! Now we need to get to the part that trips most people up: getting the necessary skills and experience.

When you look at a typical digital marketing job posting, you’re going to see all sorts of acronyms and scary-sounding technical terms.

Don’t be intimidated. You may not understand what all of this jargon means, but neither do most applicants.

The difference is that you’re going to do the work necessary to learn just enough to talk intelligently about the field, use the necessary software, and gain the required skills to land an entry-level digital marketing job.

So what are the skills you need to get started in digital marketing? Here’s an overview of each, along with suggested resources to learn more.

0. Understand What Marketing Is

Before we get into specific skills, you need to understand what marketing is and what purpose it serves at a company.

There are many competing definitions of what marketing is, but it doesn’t really matter which of these is “correct.”

For our purposes, marketing is just making people aware of a product or service with the goal that they’ll eventually make a purchase.

Digital marketing, then, just describes all the ways you can accomplish that goal using digital tools. This includes most methods of marketing, including those annoying ads that pop up when you’re reading articles and the short videos YouTube makes you watch before your favorite subscriptions play.

When you’re learning about digital marketing, here are some terms you’re likely to come across, as well as what they mean:

6 Key Marketing Terms and Definitions

1. Traffic – This is the number of people visiting a web page during a given amount of time.

For any company selling something online, traffic is a key metric to measure. It shows how many people are looking at what you sell.

2. Conversion – Traffic is cool, but conversions are what really matter.

A conversion is when someone who visits your website takes the action you want.

This could be buying a product or just signing up for an email list.

3. Conversion Rate – This is the ratio number of people who take an action you want (conversion) to the number of people who visit your site (traffic). We usually express conversion rates as a percentage.

For instance, if 1,000 people visit a web page and 20 of them make a purchase, then your conversion rate is (20 / 1,000) x 100%. This means the conversion rate is 2%.

Conversion rate is an important metric for understanding how effective your sales pages are at converting traffic into sales (or another important action).

4. Funnel – A funnel describe the process that a person goes to in order to make a purchase. There are different ways that people break up funnels, but you’ll often hear people describe the “top”, “middle”, and “bottom” of the funnel.

This is a shorthand way of explaining where a person is in the purchase process.

Customers at the top of the funnel have just become aware of your product. Those in the middle are considering a purchase but haven’t taken action yet. And those at the bottom of the funnel are people who have made a purchase.

Here’s a simple example taken from Wikimedia Commons:

Sales Funnel Illustration
The Purchase Funnel by BronHiggs, CC BY-SA 4.0

There’s a lot more to funnels than this, but you’ll learn the finer points as you study digital marketing further.

5. Customer Lifetime Value – Customer Lifetime Value (CLV or CLTV) describes the expected net profit for the entire time a customer has a relationship with your company.

It’s a way of predicting how much money a customer will make for your company, and it can help a company decide how much they can spend to acquire a customer (see next item).

6. Customer Acquisition Cost – Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) is the amount of money it costs to get new customers. You can calculate CAC by taking your total marketing expenses for a given amount of time and dividing them by the number of customers you acquired during that time.

For instance, if you spent $1,000 last month to acquire 100 new customers, then your average customer acquisition cost is $1,000 / 100 = $10. Once you know CAC, you can figure out if your product is priced appropriately, as well as if there are things you need to do to decrease your marketing expenses or increase the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.

Digital marketing includes a lot of different skills, but there are really five core ones that are valuable in almost all digital marketing roles.

If you can learn the basics of these, then you’ll be way ahead of most other people applying for digital marketing jobs. Let’s go through each of the skills:

1. Build Your Own Website

With any digital marketing job you get, you’re going to be dealing with websites. All the other activities you do, in fact, generally revolve around getting people to visit a specific page on a website.

Therefore, it’s crucial that you understand how websites work. The best way to do this is to build your own basic website. Not only will it teach you a lot of key digital marketing skills (such as HTML and WordPress), but it will also give you an online platform to learn and test the skills we’ll talk about in the next sections.

Luckily for you, we have an entire guide on creating a personal website. Check it out here, and come back to this article once you have a site set up (or at least make your website before you try to learn any of the other skills we discuss).

This is where much of the spending happens in digital marketing. Paid search includes all the ads that Google displays across search results, YouTube videos, and other channels that they own. Collectively, this falls under the Google Ads platform (formerly known as AdWords).

The other major player here is Facebook. They have a massive advertising platform across Facebook and Instagram, earning $55 billion (yes, that’s billion with a “B”) in 2018 from advertising alone.

So your goal, then, is to learn how to use the two main digital ads platforms: Google Ads and Facebook. We’re going to suggest that you start with Google Ads, as it tends to be more in demand overall. Once you’ve gotten a grasp of how that works, you can play with the Facebook Ads platform as well.

To start learning paid search, we recommend you consult the official training from both Google and Facebook. Specifically, take Google’s Academy for Ads course and Facebook’s Get Started with Advertising course (both are free).

Once you’ve done that, start using the skills you’ve learned to run your own (cheap) ads and then start using what you’ve learned to work on real client projects ASAP.

3. Google Analytics

If you want a way to track the effectiveness of your digital marketing activities, then Google Analytics is a key tool to use.

It lets you see a truly mind-boggling amount of data about a website, including how many people are visiting the site, which pages they’re visiting, and where those people are located. When you combine it with SEO (next section) and ad knowledge, Google Analytics becomes especially powerful.

To learn how to use Google Analytics, your first step should be to install it on your personal website (which you totally created before moving to this section, right?).

This will help you get a feel for how the interface works and understand all the things that Analytics lets you track. You can also check out the official Google Analytics Academy for more specialized training.

4. SEO

So far, we’ve talked mostly about paid promotion. While ads can be a very effective way to get people to visit specific pages on your website, they’re also quite expensive.

This can make them an unattractive method for a small company, especially one competing in an industry with larger companies who can afford to spend more on advertising.

This is where SEO comes in. It stands for “search engine optimization,” and it’s just the process of getting articles or other web pages to show up as high as possible in search engines.

To do this, a marketer will generally use the following process:

  • Figure out what people are searching for (these are called keywords)
  • Find article ideas related to these keywords
  • Write articles that answer the question (called search intent) behind the keyword
  • Optimize that article to show up in search engines (usually with the help of software tools)
  • Publish the article
  • Track the article’s performance (usually with Google Analytics)
  • Repeat the above process as necessary (i.e., forever)

So how do you learn SEO? The best way is to attempt to improve the ranking of articles on your own website. You can use Google Keyword Planner to get the necessary data for free, research and write the best article possible, and then use Google Analytics to check if what you did worked. After that, you can take this knowledge and apply it to larger projects for real companies.

If you’re looking for a step-by-step guide, you can’t go wrong with this classic resource from Moz. You’ll also find some rapid-fire SEO tips in our guide to personal SEO.

5. Email Marketing

You might think that email is a boring, old communication method, but answer this: Do you have an email address? Maybe even more than one? And do you check it regularly?

If you answered yes to all of the previous questions, then you’ve just demonstrated that (at least on some level) email isn’t dead. Email marketers know this, and they use email communications to perform a variety of marketing activities.

This includes promoting existing products, announcing new ones, and generally keeping subscribers aware of whatever it is the company does.

To accomplish these tasks, email marketers will use specialized software that lets them send email to large numbers of people at once (and then track if people open the emails and what they click on).

They also tend to use basic marketing psychology and copywriting to make it more likely that people will open an email and take action on what’s inside.

To learn email marketing, you should first pick an email marketing software. We recommend MailChimp. It’s both free (as long as you don’t go over 1,000 subscribers) and widely used.

Once you’ve learned the basics of MailChimp, you should add a subscription box to your website, collect emails, and then send an email of some kind to your subscribers on a regular basis.

6. Social Media Marketing

The final skill you need to get started in digital marketing relates to social media.

Now, this doesn’t just mean knowing how to use social media platforms. That’s certainly part of it, but social media marketing takes things beyond just being a consumer of social media content and into creating content to serve a specific purpose.

Normally, the goal is to build awareness of your brand, but some businesses have even figured out how to use social media to sell products directly.

To learn social media marketing, first make sure you have accounts with the following platforms:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest

You don’t just want any old account, though. Ideally, you should create a business account (don’t worry, it’s free) and learn how to use it. From there, start creating and promoting social media content of your own.

This can be about whatever you want — the point is just to show that you know how to grow social media following and engagement. If you’re feeling fancy, you can also try to use social media to drive traffic to your website (and then use Google Analytics to track the results).

Keep the Goal in Mind

One final thing before we move on: Remember that you aren’t trying to create a business or build the next viral site. Those can be nice bonuses, but they aren’t the point.

Instead, the goal is to gain enough skills that you can present yourself well both on paper and in a job interview.

With that, we can now move on to the other part of the equation: getting experience.

How to Get Digital Marketing Experience

Having digital marketing skills is great, but most companies are going to want you to have some experience as well.

But to get experience, you need a job, so what the heck? This is known as the experience paradox. It’s not unique to digital marketing, but it’s certainly something you’ll encounter when looking for a digital marketing job.

So how exactly can you beat the experience paradox? It’s all about landing that first gig. If you can find any way to get experience with digital marketing, then you’ll be able to stand out amongst all the other applicants who claim to have skills but lack the experience to back them up.

To gain experience in digital marketing, we have a couple suggestions:

1. Don’t Focus on Money at First

First, you need to be comfortable starting out with a job or internship that may not pay the best or best the most interesting. Getting a contract job that pays $11 per hour can seem like a waste of time — after all, you could make that much working as a Walmart cashier.

Focusing only on the money, however, distracts from what really matters: the experience. You may not get paid much in this first digital marketing job, but you are getting paid to gain valuable experience that you can quickly turn into a higher-paying job.

2. Reach Out to Local Businesses

If you’re not having luck getting an introductory digital marketing job, there is another option: create your own experience.

Odds are, you know someone (or at least know someone who knows someone) that needs help with digital marketing. If you can find these people and offer to help them for cheap or free, then you have an easy way to gain real-world experience.

So how do you go about finding these people? It really comes down to asking questions and paying attention. Make a list of every business that you interact with on a regular basis. Now, take a look at each business’s web presence.

More than likely, their website is either non-existent or poorly optimized for local customers. If you can convince the owner to let you improve their website, then you all of a sudden have a great piece of experience (with results you can link to).

3. Get Help from Friends and Family

Beyond this, you can also talk to friends and family to see if they know anyone you can help.

Take a look at LinkedIn to find out where your friends and family work. Ask if they can introduce you to the person that handles marketing or advertising for their company.

Not only is this a way to land a potential gig, but it will also help you start building a network of digital marketing peers and pros who can help you find future jobs when you’re more qualified.

After you’ve gained some experience with real companies and clients, you can really start making some moves. Don’t be surprised if recruiters start contacting you (especially once you update your LinkedIn profile to reflect your new career and skills).

Before you know it, you’ll be on your way to a job that easily pays $60K (with the potential to grow to six figures within just a few years).

How to Fast-Track Your Digital Marketing Career

We know this guide has given you a lot of information, but hopefully, you’re now excited about the possibilities that come with a career in digital marketing.

Using just the information in this guide, you can certainly get a digital marketing job. You’ll have to deal with learning things on your own, which can be exciting but also slower than you’d like (especially if you’re trying to change careers).

If you’re looking for some help, then I highly recommend you check out the free course that my friend Seth Hymes created. In the course, Seth shares how he went from unemployed film school grad to digital marketer earning $100K annually.

He’ll show you how you can go from zero digital marketing knowledge to a well-paying job in just a year. Here’s a testimonial from a student who’s benefitted from Seth’s course:

Samantha Digital Marketing Career Testimonial

This course is completely free, but we also want to let you know that if you decide to sign up for Seth’s paid course, we’ll earn a commission that helps keep the site running. At just $95 per month, the course is really quite a bargain considering all the knowledge and resources it contains.

In addition to a detailed introduction to the skills and software of digital marketing, you’ll also get personal guidance from Seth and access to a community of other digital marketers (super valuable for when you’re looking for a job).

Javier Digital Marketing Course Testimonial

Again, you don’t have to take the paid course to get started working in digital marketing. But I encourage you to at least take a look at the free course, as it already contains tons of valuable info that will put you way ahead of the competition. Check it out here.

Image Credits: featured image, sales funnel