Whether you’re getting into digital marketing as a career, or just want to learn the basics to broaden your business skillset, learning digital marketing can be a significant undertaking. One of the biggest challenges can be just knowing where to start, particularly considering the wealth of (sometimes conflicting) information out there.
So, what should you do and where to begin? The following guide outlines my recommendations for learning the basics of digital marketing, from someone who’s personally been through the process. While this won’t teach you everything, following the steps below should give you a pretty good introduction to the world of digital.
1. Choose Your Focus
From SEO to social media to PPC, digital marketing contains a range of disciplines, so you shouldn’t expect to master them all immediately. Trying to learn too many different areas at once can be daunting, especially if you’re new to the industry.
Instead, consider focusing most of your efforts on a few key areas first. If you’re new to digital marketing, developing basic skills in on-site SEO, content marketing, social media, and (Google) analytics will probably be the most useful, especially for a junior digital marketing role.
Of course, the above is just a guideline- if you have your sights set on becoming a social media sensation or PPC expert, then don’t let me stop you! The important thing is to decide what to focus on from the beginning, based on your aims and priorities.
2. Make a Plan
Once you’ve decided what areas of digital marketing to focus on, the best thing to do next is create a plan. Having something in writing will not only help structure your learning efforts, but it should help to keep you motivated and on track too.
Depending on your current circumstances, it might be useful to allocate a certain amount of “learning time” to aim for each week- just remember that you’re more likely to stick to a realistic target. After that, consider breaking your time down into different activities, such as reading industry news or learning more about a particular topic.
Not sure where to start? Don’t panic! The points below should give you some inspiration, and you can always adjust your plan as you go along.
3. Start Reading (and Don’t Stop)
This might sound obvious, but one of most important first steps is just to start reading things- “how to” guides, opinion articles, and industry news.
In particular, I’d recommend that you start by understanding the basics of SEO- how search engines work, keywords and content, and the fundamentals of optimising the different components of a website. From here, you can start to understand the value of content marketing (and how it ties in with SEO). The next step is social media, for engaging with people outside of your website and sharing content with them. Finally, learn some basic digital analytics, so you can assess the impact of these tactics.
So, how do you do all that? Google is your friend. Not too surprisingly, people in the digital marketing industry are pretty good at SEO and content marketing. This means there’s blog posts and resources for almost any digital marketing question you can think of. More specifically, I’d recommend looking at HubSpot, Moz, and Search Engine Land as a starting point, particularly their guides for beginners.
Learning about the areas above should give you a fairly broad (if not incredibly detailed) understanding of some of the fundamentals of digital marketing. However, reading alone probably won’t make you a digital marketing expert. It’s also important to understand how all of these concepts fit together and to practice what you’ve learned- that’s where the next steps come in…
4. Try Some Online Courses
While reading is easy to jump into and covers many different topics, online courses are inherently more structured in their approach, and usually cover most (if not all) of the important concepts of a given tactic. So, for consolidating your knowledge and filling in any gaps, online courses are ideal. Likewise, beginner courses can be a great place to start if you prefer a more interactive and visual method of learning.
In addition, completing a few online courses (particularly those with certifications) can demonstrate both knowledge and a willingness to learn, which might set you apart from others when looking for a new role. “I completed this course” is more tangible than “I’ve read some blog posts”, regardless of which activity was actually more useful.
I’d recommend starting with Google Digital Garage to learn some of the basics, followed by the HubSpot Inbound Certification for a more comprehensive overview on inbound marketing techniques and how they all fit together. From there, consider the Google Analytics Academy (and associated certification) to learn how to get around the most widely used website analytics program. Finally, if you want to develop a more specialist area, consider something like the AdWords (PPC) or Hootsuite (social media) courses. These are a few suggestions, but there are also good courses on other websites such as edX and Udemy. Once again, Google is your friend.
Before you start checking your bank balance, all of the courses mentioned above are free. While paid courses have their place, I personally believe you can go a long way using just free resources if you’re willing to put in the effort.
What’s one of the best ways to practice digital marketing? Start marketing yourself online (in this case via social media).
Don’t worry, you don’t need to transform yourself into an influencer or thought leader overnight, and I’m not suggesting that you post updates every hour. However, there’s (at least) three good reasons for starting up and regularly using a public-facing social profile. I’d recommend either Twitter or LinkedIn, depending on the sort of content (i.e. strictly business/marketing or a bit more casual) you’re planning on sharing.
Firstly, a social profile gives you a platform to share your new-found understanding and opinions of topics in the industry- for your own benefit. Communicating your knowledge has long been cited as an effective learning technique, and you’ll probably find that you understand and retain the information better if you’re actively thinking and then writing about it. (Bonus points if you can bore a family member/friend in person by explaining random digital marketing concepts to them.) Of course, this is also a chance to practice your social media skills- don’t forget the hashtags!
Secondly, communicating your knowledge and opinions online demonstrates your interest in and growing understanding of the field. Even if some of your understanding isn’t perfect, the important thing is that you’re showing you actually care- you haven’t just applied for a digital marketing job (when you get to that point) on a whim. Of course, if you can impress a potential employer with your insight, that’s even better. A social media profile is also a great place to share your own content.
Finally, while this is similar to the point above, it’s worth highlighting: on social media you can connect and network with other people in the industry, without even getting out of your chair. You might even find your first job/experience opportunity this way, particularly if you’re following the right people. Aside from direct networking, following industry experts is also a great way to learn from the best.
6. Set Up & Optimise a Website
One of the best ways to learn and practice two core areas of digital marketing – SEO and content – is by setting up and optimising a website. Depending on how in-depth you want to go, I would recommend either Blogger or WordPress; although for the purposes of learning more advanced SEO and getting to grips with the most widely-used content management system (CMS), WordPress is definitely preferable.
Creating a website will allow you to implement the best practices and optimisation techniques you’ve learnt (or will learn), including keyword research, on-page optimisation, technical SEO and more. Plus, it doesn’t really matter if things go wrong. A website can also be a great opportunity to start blogging, which can help to refine your writing skills (useful across digital marketing) and allow you to practice other aspects of content marketing. If you enjoy the technical side of things, you could even learn some HTML and/or CSS and try editing your website’s code directly.
Of course, your website can be about any of your interests or passions- it doesn’t have to be remotely related to digital marketing! The most important thing is that it’s something you can enjoy working on, to practice your skills and demonstrate them to potential employers.
7. Get Experience
Ultimately, real experience is going to teach you the most about digital marketing. That said, learning the basics first using the methods above will both speed up the learning process and allow you to get more out of your practical experience.
I would recommend trying to get some unpaid experience or an entry-level role at a digital agency if possible- my own work experience was the most valuable thing I did at the start of my journey into digital marketing. If you complete the steps above, you should have comfortably proved yourself to be worthwhile taking on.
If that isn’t suitable, another option is to offer your services to a few small, local businesses, either at a relatively cheap rate or for free. The downside here is that you won’t have the opportunity to learn from other professionals in the field, and this is definitely a “deep end” approach with lots of responsibility too.
8. Don’t Give Up!
Don’t be surprised if learning the basics takes several weeks or months, especially if you’re starting from scratch. Likewise, don’t worry if a particular tactic doesn’t align well with your strengths- you don’t need to be great at everything! The important thing is to keep consistently putting the effort in, and you’ll get there eventually. Just focus on why you’re doing it, and what you want to achieve.
Ultimately, remember that everyone started somewhere. Good luck!