How To Get Started in Digital Marketing

Throughout this article, we’ll walk through a bunch of the roles in digital marketing, some practical advice on getting started with a career in this space, and some tips for on-the-job success, but we’ll start out with some basic definitions and descriptions.

What is Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing is the use of the Internet, electronic and mobile devices, social media, search engines, and other online channels to reach consumers in order to promote a product, service, or event.

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What are the Areas of Focus?

There are a number of components that make up the world of digital marketing. Below we will walk through a brief overview of each

SEO (Technical & Local)

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and it is the work associated with increasing traffic to your website, both in quality and quantity, from organic listings and search results. There are various capabilities within SEO, but technical SEOs focus more on website enhancements to increase crawlability to search engines and, ultimately, visibility to end-users. Local SEO can help locally-based businesses use all the features of a search results page (SERP) to their advantage to gain visibility.

Copywriting / Content Marketing

Content marketing and copywriting focus heavily on crafting a company’s message, upholding the brand identity, and delivering value to their end-user. Content writers are essential for creating website content, blog posts, and social media posts, and they’re oftentimes consulted when writing ad copy. Copywriters are charged with making sure content is relevant to a brand and its users and keeping it consistent across various platforms. Ultimately, copywriters ensure that an organization understands its audience and is using the right tactics to communicate.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is exactly what it sounds like—the practice of making sure your company has a strategy in place and is executing on that strategy to communicate to its customers through email correspondence.

Paid Media (Search, Display, & Social)

Paid media focused on driving traffic to your website through paid channels. There are countless platforms, engines, and partners in the paid media space, but suffice it to say there are plenty of people who make entire careers specializing in just one of the primary spaces: Search, Display, or Paid Social.

Social Media Marketing

Intentional organic marketing is done on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Linkedin, Twitter, and more. Social media marketers are tasked with driving engagement with a company’s social channels, driving traffic to the website, and, oftentimes, driving revenue impact for your organization. Social media marketers often balance their messaging between talking to an existing customer or fan base and conversing with new customers who are unfamiliar with your brand, product, or services.

Web Development / UX

Web development is creating, building/developing, and maintaining a website. While developers aren’t usually considered marketers, it’s important to mention them here because of how often their role interacts with all the roles listed above, from working with content creators to display that work as beautifully as possible, to working with SEOs to ensure that the site is optimized for search engine bots to crawl, read, and ultimately display the site to relevant traffic. UX roles (user experience) work with market researchers to better understand a user’s needs and to tailor the experience of a website.

Graphic Design

Graphic designers are also a grey area in marketing. Some consider themselves marketers while others do not. Either way, they, like web developers, work with a lot of marketers in their day-to-day roles, either in creating graphics to share out on social media, creating variations of ad banners to test, or making sure that the content being published is styled perfectly so that it puts a professional backing on the messaging being delivered.

While each of these roles has a very different job description, you may find yourself stepping into one or more in your career in digital marketing. It’s important to have a foundational understanding of them all so that you know who you’re working with, what their skill sets are, and what goals they are trying to achieve.

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Prior to starting a career in Digital Marketing

Before starting a career in digital marketing, or many other digital and technical fields, you will probably sign up for a whole host of college classes that will introduce you to the field: Introduction to Marketing, Product or Brand Management, Digital Marketing 101, etc. Those courses are important, but even more important to your overall success in the business world are softer skills such as creative writing, problem-solving & critical thinking, and—probably most importantly—learning how to advocate for yourself.

Creative Writing

Here are some incredibly valuable writing skills that are terribly underrated:
  •  Creatively telling the story of your campaign’s performance through data and written word
  • Crafting hyper-specific summaries
  • Articulating your thoughts in a clear and concise manner

Problem-solving & Critical Thinking

As for creative problem solving and critical thinking, it should be no surprise that the workplace is filled with challenges, from designing a winning campaign under the best of circumstances to figuring out how to hit your client’s targets with a diminished budget. Having a creative mindset and thinking outside the box are skills that will serve you incredibly well in the digital marketing space, even if you’re not the one designing the website or shooting the Superbowl commercial.

Self-Advocacy

Lastly, learning how to advocate for yourself, especially in a college setting, will be one of the most important skills you develop, No, you probably won’t put that on your resume, but from day one you will find just how often this skill is used. From getting the job in the first place, to getting placed on high visibility projects, to getting time to learn, train, and grow in your skillset, all the way to getting raises and promotions.

There are things you can do in your university classes or internships that will help you develop and hone this skill, like attending office hours with specific questions, topics, or needs, asking for transparency around grading structures and pushing back when you feel like you have been unfairly awarded a score, advocating for groups you support or take part in on campus, and so much more.

However you go about practicing it, I can’t recommend enough learning to speak up for yourself.

Group Projects

Next up, we’re going to talk about everybody’s favorite project to hate, the unavoidable group projects. If you are a high achiever, the prospect of your grade depending on another student isn’t super appealing, I know. But here’s the deal: When you are out in the workforce, every project is a group project. Every delivery team works together to produce the best results they can for the client.

Your success is always dependent on how well you function as part of the team.

Take the time while you are in school to learn how you like to function within each team you are on. Do you prefer to lead the group—to organize the notes and delegate, or do you prefer to dive deeper into the material and build out the report? Do you thrive in the spotlight, presenting to your classmates on your group’s findings, or are you up all night the night before sweating, thinking about faking an illness so you don’t have to stand up behind the podium?


You might have a natural inclination, but be intentional about trying on all the roles across the many group projects you will have the opportunity to participate in. Once in the workplace, you will likely play all the roles at some point or another across different teams and projects. Sometimes you’ll play them all over the course of a single day! Learn about your natural tendencies and start practicing overcoming your reluctance to step outside of your comfort zone.

Extra-Curriculars

Next, we will focus on some things you can work on outside of your coursework. I would recommend you learn how to teach, whether that is through peer-led teaching opportunities through your university or through less formal tutoring situations. Get really comfortable grasping the material and then turning around and teaching it to someone else.

You are never the newest kid on the block for very long in an agency, and one way to set yourself apart from the pack is investing a portion of your effort and time in teaching your peers and those who start after you.

Oftentimes, this isn’t a formal teacher/student relationship, but as you enter your second, third, and fourth years in the industry, you will be able to look back and see just how quickly you grew and how much you learned. The gap between someone just entering the industry and someone with only a year’s experience is huge. If you can help your team bridge that gap with new hires, you will become invaluable to your organization’s success.

Internships

Finally, I wouldn’t be writing a blog about getting started in this industry if I didn’t talk about taking your internships seriously. Get internships and show up ready to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. The classroom doesn’t scrape the surface of what the actual job entails.

To gain the best understanding of the industry, find internships that will give you good experience, but then take it upon yourself to go beyond that. Spend a few days shadowing people in their roles, even if they aren’t necessarily doing something you see yourself doing. Find role models and mentors who you can look to for advice and recommendations.

When you’re an intern, there’s a pretty good chance you might work on a bullshit intern project that also has nothing to do with the real world. By shadowing other folks who work for the company in their many roles, you get exposure to a lot of workplace experiences that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Beginning Stages of Your Career in Digital Marketing

You have the job. Congrats. Let’s start at the very beginning with some tips for getting started on Day 1 / Week 1 /Year 1. Some of this may seem basic or like its table stakes, but it bears repeating.

Day 1 on the job

First, bring a notebook, and actually take notes. You will have a lot to learn (even if you did all the things I mentioned before)—names to remember, new processes to adhere to, and action items or tasks to take on—and it won’t look great if you drop the ball because you can’t juggle all that in your short term memory because you showed up without a notebook.

Next is a little less tangible than your notebook, but equally important. Be humble and be receptive to feedback. You won’t get everything right on your first try, and that’s OK, but make sure you are listening to the feedback being given and adapt your approach so that you don’t make the same mistakes twice.

A note on not doing things right—go ahead and just accept that failure will be a part of working in Digital Marketing.

Failure gets such a bad wrap, but, really, you should revel in failure. If you failed at something it usually means you tried something new, and that’s a really good thing. Keep doing that and keep learning and take failure in stride.

Week 1 on the job

Another piece of advice that should be pretty foundational is to take pride of ownership over your work. What do I mean by that? Proofread and check the formatting and overall presentation of your deliverables before shipping them off for internal review, or, worse, to the client.

Somewhere between graduating from college and burning all your papers and textbooks (or selling them back for a fraction of what you paid for them and what they will resell them for) and starting in your career, it’s really easy to get lulled into a false sense of security about the fact that you aren’t working for a grade any longer. Without the immediate reinforcement that a grade provides, it’s an easy trap to fall into. Check your work before you send it.

Months 2-11 on the job

You have survived the first month on the job, you have a pretty decent routine of when you leave in the morning to beat traffic, you know who you like to take lunch breaks with, and you know what’s expected of you on a day to day basis. The hard part is behind you, right? No! Now what?

These months are critical for your long term success in your new career. Once you have the basics on your role down, you can start looking for opportunities to expand in other skill sets or capabilities. Set aside time to shadow people who work on a different team or in a different department. This will give you a larger view of the organization as a whole, how teams work together (or don’t!), and how you can potentially fill additional roles to bridge gaps.

Make space in your calendar for continued education. Take a class or online training, plan to go to events, and get involved in your local marketing organizations’ chapters. Use those skills advocating for yourself to be seen by your boss as someone who is hungry for more challenges.

Do not get complacent in that first year. As you develop, continue to ask a lot of questions, but only after you have put in the work. Think back to sophomore year in high school, struggling with that pre-calc problem. I don’t know about you, but my teachers wouldn’t help unless I had shown my work to demonstrate that I tried. Working through obstacles in the workplace is no different. Think through possible solutions accounting for right and wrong approaches before going and asking for assistance. Taking this extra time will show that you are invested in the outcome and that you value others’ time.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, track your successes throughout the year and where you have fallen short. It’s important to do this throughout the year, not just at the end of the year when you are reflecting back over the past 12 months. An important part of this reflection, and a responsibility you will have throughout the year, is understanding what you will be held accountable for in your review and tracking examples to discuss with your boss of where you succeed and where you potentially failed but learned in the process. Be open and honest about instances where you feel as though you shined, but also talk about where you felt that you came up short, because those will be your opportunities to grow in the next year.

Towards the end of your first year, you will want to schedule a review if your boss hasn’t already scheduled one for you. Don’t leave this opportunity to meet one-on-one with your boss to chance, because this is when you really get to try out your skills of advocating for yourself. You should have more regular check-ins with your boss than one a year, but at the very minimum, this end of year check-in/review is critical to your success in year 2.

One other point of clarification: When I say ‘boss’ I don’t necessarily mean your immediate supervisor or your mentor or the person you report to on a daily basis. By ‘boss’ I mean the person who is responsible for what work you are aligned to, how much money you make, and, overall, who could make a determination as to whether or not you stay at the company.

Now that you know who you are meeting with and the time is booked on the calendar, make sure you prepare for that conversation with examples of the work you have done, areas where you feel you are really strong and provide great value to the organization, and opportunities you see for yourself for growth. On the day of the meeting, make sure you walk away from the conversation with actionable next steps and critical feedback that you can work on implementing in the coming months.

One bit of advice that I have learned over the years is that you really can’t go wrong with pushing yourself to continue to learn and master new skills and take on new challenges and opportunities. If you become a utility player within your team and your organization, you have more opportunities for growth and advancement, you tend to get to work on the more exciting projects, and you are overall more valuable to your team.

Things to do throughout your early career and beyond

Below are a few tips that I have taken from interviewing for my first few jobs out of school and from my experience as the person conducting interviews as our teams grow with younger talent.
Tip 1: Have an online/social presence and make sure it reflects who you are, but keep it mature. You hear the few shocking stories of a company shaming an individual for their online presence being totally normal but not buttoned up to their standards. These aren’t companies you want to work for, so don’t sweat it. More often than not, organizations are looking for a person with interests, values, and ideals. Let them know what you can bring to their company culture.
Tip 2: Don’t squander opportunities to network. Meeting new people and growing your network is not only great for you, in terms of finding new opportunities and job connections, but it’s also great for the company you land at because those skills will help build relationships with current and future clients and will serve the business well.
Tip 3: Keep up with the trends and be willing to adapt and change. Algorithms change. Platforms change. And strategies have to adapt with them. Having a fixed mindset is one of the surest ways to be left behind in the field of digital marketing.
Tip 4: Last but not least, this one bears repeating. Revel in failure. Yes, failure. Taking risks and diving headfirst into new opportunities will inevitably lead to some failures. Expect them. Embrace them. Learn from them.

We’re Hiring!

Search Discovery hires a number of entry level people each year, including in Digital Marketing, typically in the Spring. If you’re interested in checking out career opportunities at Search Discovery, check out our open positions here

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Check out our career opportunities and get in touch if you’re interested in training for your Digital Marketing Team.

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