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How to Start Working in Digital Marketing

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If you would have asked me a few years ago if I thought I would enjoy working in digital marketing, I would have looked at you with a blank stare trying to work out in my head what that really means.

Before starting A Way Abroad during recovery from ankle surgery, I never had a blog, hardly used social media, and was one of those extroverts that loved working side-by-side my colleagues. I had used that drive to work all over the world from a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador, a tour guide in Panama, a yacht stew in the South of France, an English teacher in South Korea, and then again in Vietnam.

South Korea is where I injured by ankle but Vietnam is really where I paid the price for ignoring it so long.

So, having had to quit my job of chasing around 3-year olds all day to actually recover, I was stuck thinking, "What now?" I enjoy a raining day binging Netflix or reading a book but weeks and maybe even months of that? No thanks.

My husband is a UI/UX designer and was a digital nomad before that term even came to light. He played it smart and got me intrigued enough to do something online so I wouldn't lose my mind and bring him down with me during recovery.

So he bought me a course by the Creatives Platform and set about building my website on Webflow.

What I thought would be only in the interim has turned into a full-fledged career that has stretched beyond the boundaries of A Way Abroad.

What is Digital Marketing?

Photo by shutterstock.com/fizkes

In simple terms, digital marketing is the promotion of a brand on the internet. Think what billboards, magazine ads, and TV commercials once did, just now anywhere online. From Google to Pinterest to TikTok and Spotify and everywhere in between.

These are sometimes shown as actual ads, where they pop-up on the side bar of websites or are tagged as "sponsored" on social media. Other times digital marketing is softer, like a blog post or an email newsletter. Often a brand will want to "show up" on platforms all across the internet but other times they might narrow their focus to mastering 1 or 2 areas.

This is also often referred to as content marketing but that really only includes the production of online content, like blogs, social media posts/videos, and emails. Content creation is a lucrative industry but more often than not, you'd be the influence that digital marketers look towards to promote their products. It also overlooks some of the more technical skills that digital marketing includes like Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Pay Per Click (PPC). Content marketing can also appear in print, not just online like in digital marketing.

The Many Career Paths in Digital Marketing

It's a common misconception in my experience that someone in digital marketing is a master of all faucets of the industry (more on those details below) but instead, if you want a successful career in digital marketing, I suggest choosing 1 or 2 areas of expertise and becoming an expert on that.

Sometimes a small brand will want to hire 1 person to handle all of the digital marketing - they'll put them on socials, creating content for their website, writing up quirky emails, and everything in between.

Often times though bigger companies or marketing agencies will want to hire a few experts instead. It's helpful if you have a solid understanding of the objectives and basic strategy of each to bounce off ideas and collaborate but from my experience in the field, the better paying jobs prefer those who are highly specialized.

When choosing where you want to take your digital marketing career, you have a few different paths.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search Engine Optimization is my field. When I stared A Way Abroad I had never heard of "SEO" and didn't have a clue what it meant. In just a few years of learning everything there is to know about it, I fell happily into the rabbit hole.

SEO means utilizing a search engine algorithms to organically show up highly on a search results page, thereby maximizing visitors to a website. In simple terms, it just means optimizing web content to make the search engine happy so they'll show it at the top of search results.

The higher you are in search results, typically means the more website traffic you'll get. And the more traffic, the more people will learn about your brand, products, or services, ideally converting into paying customers.

Skills Needed to Work as an SEO Specialist

Now, I'm no psychologist, but I do think SEO specialists have a few soft skills in common:

  • Great organizational skills because search engines understand organized content best.
  • Meticulous because you'll need to really understand keyword research, search intent, and SERPs to see success.
  • Works well alone because a lot of the time you'll create the content that the rest of the team will then use to do their work. You need to be a self-starter.
  • Enjoys researching because you'll really need to understand your ideal customer, your brand, that of your competitors, and changes/updates to search engines.
  • Critical thinking to be able to understand and improve a website's technical SEO.

In terms of hard skills, an SEO specialist should know how to:

  • Do keyword research with a variety of tools, like Keysearch, Ahrefs, or SemRush.
  • Write content and sometimes copy in a way that search engines can easily crawl and understand (tools like SurferSEO help with this) but still appeals to your target audience.
  • Understand analytics and identify areas of improvement.
  • Read and understand a basic tech SEO audit.

While many people think that SEO just means writing blogs, it also includes the technical SEO (being able to look under the hood of a website to make sure it's running smoothly), link building (the process of getting your brand name out there on other sites), and creativity (depending on the company you work with, other forms of content might be crucial).

What's important to note here is that just because you're a great writer, it doesn't mean you'll be great at SEO. To succeed in this industry, you'll need to be able to consistently thread the line of writing to please the search engine and writing to please your actual *human* reader.

Social Media Marketing

Social Media marketing is most likely the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of digital marketing. This is where the world of Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and even Facebook come into play. Although more of a search engine than a social media platform, Pinterest tends to get lumped into this.

The goal for social media marketing is to build a brand, interact with potential customers, increase sales, and drive traffic to their website.

Typically, social media is a top of the funnel, meaning these people aren't typically looking to buy (they're just scrolling) but that doesn't mean it isn't possible to convert them today or months down the road if they give you a follow. This is a great way to capture a wider range of customers because they most likely didn't know they wanted to buy from you until you popped up on their screen.

Skills Needed to Work in Social Media Marketing

A social media marketer, should have a few skills to succeed in the industry:

  • Creativity: This will allow you to create campaigns that stand out among the crowd.
  • Communication: You need to be able to communicate with your target audience quickly.
  • Organization/Management Skills: Social media isn't something you can do last minute and see a lot of success with. You'll need to be able to look into the future and plan out your content in a cohesive way.
  • Flexibility: You'll need to be able to adjust or completely change your methods if you're not seeing results. Each market is different so you'll need to be able to adapt to fit not only your ideal customer but also the changes within each platform and their algorithms.
  • Monitoring Trends: Not only do you need the skills to put your campaign strategies into place but you need to be incredibly up-to-date on trends to know what's working and what's not on each platform.
  • Understanding the Platforms: You need to know that all platforms are not created equally. Different target audiences spend their time scrolling in different places and each of these platforms tend to like different types of content. Sure there might be some overlap but it's never a 1 size fits all kind of solution.

For someone that loves trends and being creative and having a little fun at work, social media marketing can be a fantastic career path. It's just important to know that this is the most competitive path within the digital marketing world and you'll really need to be able to showcase great results to stand out.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is a 2 part process. Part 1 is getting your potential or past customers email addresses and Part 2 is sending them emails that they not only open but also click-thru.

While there are plenty of spammy ways out there to collect email addresses, the companies that use those strategies often don't see success. Instead, you'll need to develop a strategy to get people eager to sign up for your emails and actually read and interact with them.

Just like on social media and with SEO, you'll work with an email marketing platform to collect, organize, and send off your emails but unlike the others, this is behind the scenes where really only you will know where these emails are coming from. It's helpful to understand a handful of platforms (I prefer MailerLite) so you can work with what the company is already using or guide them to a better service.

Email marketing is usually bottom or mid-level of the funnel. Since the people on your email list already know you and trust you to some degree, this is your chance to convert them from "kind of interested" to "yes, I need this."

Skills Needed to Work in Email Marketing

An email marketer should have a few skills to succeed:

  • Creativity: Just like with social media, you'll have to create your email campaigns from scratch and need to stand out from the crowd.
  • Writing Skills: Headlines are usually the biggest indicator of if someone will even open your email. You need to be able to hook people with minimal characters. Once you've got them reading your email, your copy writing skills need to be great to get them to click thru and buy.
  • A Bit of Psychology: You need to really understand people and know how to appeal to them. You'll need to get to know your audience and study what works and what doesn't work for them.
  • Organization: Just like with social media, you'll want to plan your campaigns out in advance and have them queued and ready to send as the ideal time each day, week, or month.

Email marketing is often overlooked compared to SEO and social media management but is a very important aspect of digital marketing that all companies aim to succeed at.  

Pay Per Click (PPC)

Online advertising is often referred to as Pay Per Click, or PPC. PPC is a model of advertising that just means a company pays the platform each time their ad is clicked on.

Think about every time you're on Google and see "sponsored" written right above the organic search results. SEO is focused on getting to the top spot without paying for but with PPC you bid on keywords to get shown at the top of the results.

This same strategy is used on social media platforms, too, so your ads are shown to your ideal customer. Again, social media marketing tends to focus on organically getting in front of them, where PPC is a pay-to-play solution.

Many small companies prefer the free solution and aim of organic traffic but these strategies can take months or even years to get enough traction to see results. PPC is a shortcut to the top but at a cost.

A person who works on PPC is someone that creates ads for search engines and social media platforms. The real secret to succeeding in this industry isn't just taking your client's budget and divvying it up, it's about the behind-the-scenes set-up. Anyone can launch an ad but only an expert can get the cost per click to a level that's profitable.

You need to know exactly who you're targeting - down to their hobbies, where they live, what their job is, age, race, sex, etc. The more you know about your target audience, the more successful your ad will be. Meta (the parent company of Facebook and Instagram) allows you to get so specific on your ads because, let's face it, they know everything about you already. For PPC on Google, you'll need to be able to keyword research and understand your competition.

Skills Needed to Work in Pay Per Click

A PPC marketer should understand:

  • E-Commerce and who buys what, when, and how online.
  • Keyword research to ensure you're targeting the right keywords for each campaign.
  • Social media strategy and what types of campaigns convert on each platform.
  • How to find sneaky opportunities. Not all keywords and campaign types cost the same so you should have the ability to find those hidden gems.
  • Analytics and how to analyze data from past and current ad campaigns to improve on future ones.
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How to Get a Digital Marketing Job

Photo by shutterstock.com/JKstock

Ok, now that you understand the different types of digital marketing careers and have hopefully narrowed down your area of expertise, it's time to figure out how to translate that excitement into a paying job.

First and foremost, you need experience. This isn't an industry where you need to necessarily have a university degree so the door is open to a lot of people. What's typically important here is experience and being able to showcase your results.

Gaining Experience

Trainings, courses, and school can certainly teach you these skills or you can do what I did and teach yourself. This is the route I went because even while doing it, I didn't foresee a career in digital marketing, it honestly just worked out that way. In hindsight though, it's something anyone can replicate.

So, unless you already have experience in the industry, you need to create some. Some people would recommend reaching out to friends and start offering a service or two for free or at a low price. Personally, I'd say create your own path. This way you can have all the freedom in the world to test, try, and experiment without any backlash.

  • If you're interested in social media marketing, pick a platform or two and start creating. Run a few ads to your own page to get experience with PPC.
  • If you're interested in SEO, email marketing, Pinterest marketing, or PPC on Google, you'll need to start a website. Pick a focus, build a quick brand, and dive right into trying.
  • If though you want to head towards podcast marketing, you can certainly start your own podcast but this can be a harder industry to break into so in my opinion, you learn how to become a podcast manager.

Job Hunting

When you feel ready to apply for jobs and shoot your shot, there are plenty of platforms to find remote work. Luckily for you guys with the travel bug, working in digital marketing can be done 100% remotely. I found my current digital marketing job on Dynamite Jobs, others use Upwork or LinkedIn. I recommend using a variety of those platforms listed above to find your ideal position.

Know that this is an industry that nearly every company in the world is looking to master but also one that more and more people are looking to break into. It can be competitive to break into the digital marketing industry but if you're able to showcase real results in your area of expertise, you'll find a job. No matter where you're from.

Working Remotely From Anywhere

Photo by shutterstock.com/Olezzo

Like I mentioned, digital marketing is one of those careers where you really can work from anywhere. This is a fantastic job if you dream of becoming a digital nomad and want to take your work wherever you go, all while making a competitive salary. For example, the digital marketing team at the company I work for is spread across 4 time zones and 2 nationalities.

This will really open up the doors to you to be able to have your cake and eat it, too - if you're anything like me and think living all around the world makes for an incredibly fun and filling lifestyle.

Luckily, we live in a time that to do this doesn't mean you have to constantly be hopping from country to country (unless you want to) but you can take advantage of one of the many countries offering freelance visas. Fear not freelance visas are also called digital nomad visas and remote worker visas and really just mean a visa to live in a foreign country if you make your income online.

Will You Start Working in Digital Marketing?

For me, digital marketing was something that fell into my lap but I'm so happy it did. It's opened up so many doors and has my mind buzzing for the future. If you're looking for a way to fully live a laptop lifestyle where your job goes where you go, digital marketing might just be the career for you, too.

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