Do You Need an Online Marketing Degree To Work in Digital Marketing?

According to HubSpot’s state of marketing report for 2021, 63% of businesses increased their marketing budget in 2021. This is just one indicator of many that the sector is growing. However, many businesses still struggle to fill digital marketing roles thanks to a shortage of specialist skills. This is where a hard truth comes in: online marketing degrees (a popular pathway for many) may look good on paper, but they don’t always guarantee a job.

While this might sound like bad news, if you’re considering becoming a digital marketer, it’s potentially a good thing. It means you don’t necessarily need an online marketing degree to succeed in this arena. Employers are increasingly aware that diversity of skills and people from different backgrounds are just as important as the piece of paper someone holds.

In this post, we’ll explore everything you need to know about becoming a digital marketer without a formal qualification. You’ll see there are plenty of options available to you.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  1. Do I need an online marketing degree to work in digital marketing?
  2. What skills are required to work in digital marketing?
  3. What are the other ways to learn digital marketing?
  4. How to get a job in digital marketing: a step-by-step guide
  5. Final thoughts

Ready to get the confidence boost you need to get started? Then let’s take a look.

1. Do I need an online marketing degree to work in digital marketing?

First up, if you’ve made it here, you’re probably wondering: do I need an online marketing degree to work in digital marketing? 

The short answer is no. While a degree in online marketing, digital marketing (or another related field) may give you the edge over the competition when applying for jobs, it’s not a surefire guarantee.

There are many reasons why you might not have an online marketing degree. Perhaps you studied a different subject at college and now want to change careers. Maybe you never went to college, or you’re old enough that digital marketing wasn’t an option when you did go. Whatever the reason, all that matters is what you want to do next. 

Let’s look at some reasons why an online marketing degree is not the only way forward:

  • Digital marketing requires specific skills and knowledge that you can learn just as easily through on-the-job training, online courses, or bootcamps.
  • Digital marketing is more about execution. Yes, you’ll need to be well-versed in digital marketing theory. However, for many employers, practical experience and a willingness to learn may trump having a degree.
  • Online marketing is an ever-changing field. Getting a degree takes time, meaning you may not be up-to-date with the latest trends and strategies when you graduate.
  • Many successful digital marketers have backgrounds in other fields: sales, customer service, graphic design, copywriting, business development, and various others. If this sounds like you, why not lean into your existing experience? It can give you a real edge over less seasoned professionals.

These are a few reasons you don’t necessarily need an online marketing degree to succeed in digital marketing. But you will still need to find a way to demonstrate your skills.

Let’s explore these next.

2. What skills are required to work in digital marketing?

While many skills will serve you well in online marketing, we can divide them into two main categories. 

First are discipline-specific skills. These are the skills you need to carry out day-to-day digital marketing tasks.

Second are transferable skills, sometimes known as meta skills. These are more job agnostic but are nevertheless important.

Let’s take a look at both in more depth.

Discipline-specific skills

Whether you learn on the job, via an online course, or elsewhere, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with some core digital marketing activities.

Some of the most common digital marketing skills include:

  • Content marketing: The creation and distribution of high-quality content (from the written word to multimedia) that will attract and engage an audience.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO): The process of optimizing a website or other content for search engines, helping you to rank higher than your competitors.
  • Social media marketing: Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok can help you build relationships with potential and current customers.
  • Email marketing: Email is key for sending newsletters, promoting sales, and building new customer relationships.
  • Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising: A form of online advertising, PPC involves businesses paying a fee every time someone clicks on one of their ads.
  • Web development: The ability to build and maintain websites is not an absolute must, but it’s a useful skill to cultivate.
  • Web layout: Even if you’re not a developer, you’ll need to know how best to design visually appealing websites that also map your desired user journey.
  • Data analysis: Collecting and analyzing data is crucial for understanding which aspects of your digital marketing campaigns are and aren’t working.
  • A/B testing: A/B testing is a method of comparing two versions of a piece of content or ad to see which performs better with your audience.

Meta skills

In addition to the skills already described, meta skills are essential for all online marketing professionals. Some key meta skills for digital marketers include:

  • Communication: The ability to communicate clearly and effectively is key for any online marketer. This includes the written word (such as reports, emails, and documentation) and oral communication (such as presenting to clients or speaking to colleagues, individually or in meetings).
  • Teamwork: Marketing is a team sport. Working effectively with others is indispensable. You should be able to collaborate, compromise, and support your fellow team members, while building support for your ideas.
  • Problem-solving: No two days in digital marketing are the same. You’ll face unique challenges each time you launch a new campaign or simply open your inbox! Being able to think creatively will help you devise innovative new approaches.
  • Time management: You’ll have to manage your time effectively. This means prioritizing the most important tasks (even if they’re not the most flashy or exciting ones!) and setting and meeting deadlines.
  • Flexibility: Adaptability to change will serve you well in digital marketing. An openness to new ideas and a willingness to change plans when something isn’t going as planned will be a lot more effective than digging your heels in.

If you’re changing careers, it’s like you’ve already developed many of these meta skills in the workplace. While an online marketing degree can prove someone’s job-specific competencies, meta skills are easy to underestimate because they rarely come with formal qualifications. Nevertheless, as the skills that employers most want, you shouldn’t underestimate or downplay how valuable they are.

3. What are the other ways to learn digital marketing?

There are many ways to learn digital marketing besides an online marketing degree.

If you’d still prefer a formal qualification—it can look good on your resume, after all—you might want to opt for a certified online course, or participate in a digital marketing bootcamp.

Less formal approaches include free courses (be sure to check out YouTube), digital marketing books and blogs, and podcasts. 

Regardless of the route you choose, the best way to hone your digital marketing skills is through practice. Consider carrying out some side projects as you develop your digital marketing skill set. Doing so can also be a great way to build a portfolio of pet projects that highlight your skills.

Below, we’ll touch on each option in a bit more detail.

Online courses

There are many digital marketing courses available online.

Universities or colleges provide many, but private companies and respected individuals working in the field also offer course options.

Alternatively, you might want to get started by watching some YouTube video tutorials. While most of these don’t go into high levels of detail, they’re great for getting a taste of the different areas you can specialize in.

Whichever approach you take, online courses are generally cheaper than going back to school for a full online marketing degree. They also allow you to learn at your own pace in a flexible environment that you can fit around your other responsibilities.

And, of course, online courses offer a great deal of variety. Whether you want to learn all about social media marketing or prefer to focus on something content consultancy, you’ll find plenty of options available.

To find out more, check out our hand-picked top free digital marketing courses.

Digital marketing bootcamps

A digital marketing bootcamp is a short, intensive course. More hands-on than those we’ve described so far, bootcamps are designed to cover the core, practical aspects of digital marketing that you’ll need to land a job.

As a rule, bootcamps are offered by private companies, which means they come with a price tag. However, some providers accept employer scholarships, and in most cases, you’ll find the cost is still pretty modest compared to a full online marketing degree. It’s also a much better way to learn digital marketing in a short space of time.

So what features should you look out for when perusing digital marketing bootcamps? For starters, they should always focus on getting you industry ready. They should also be led by experienced industry professionals. Ideally, you’ll have help building a portfolio of projects and a resume, too. Some bootcamps are even supplemented by mock interview training and job guarantees, meaning you can get your money back if you don’t land a job within a particular time frame. Not many degrees will offer you that!

Naturally, you’ll need to check the exact offer from each provider, but a digital marketing bootcamp can be a great investment if you know what you want to do.

Get started by checking out these digital marketing bootcamps.

Digital marketing books, blogs, and podcasts

If you’re not ready for a full-blown course or a bootcamp, there are many digital marketing books, blogs, and podcasts available. These provide a nice entry-level option if you want to learn about different aspects of digital marketing without investing too much money.

Blogs are particularly great for getting a high-level overview of a topic or an insight into the daily life of a digital marketer. If you have time for a long read, books are excellent for diving deeper into areas that interest you (plus, it never hurts to disconnect once in a while).

Finally, you’ll find an increasing number of podcasts available out there. Many are more formal or corporate, while others adopt an interview-style format, providing a more casual insight into professionals working in the industry. Decide which works best for you and go check them out!

Digital marketing side projects

Besides courses, books, blogs, and podcasts, one of the best ways to learn about digital marketing is to get hands-on with a real project. Whether you’re working on a pet project for yourself or your organization, real-world experience offers unrivaled insight into how digital marketing works. Courses can teach you the theory, sure, but only getting hands-on will show you all the nuances and subtleties that make digital marketing so interesting.

As an idea to get you started, why not create a blog about digital marketing or another topic that interests you? You can then use this to promote yourself on social media and try to build a following. While you’re doing so, why not build a portfolio website to showcase how your work is progressing? You can even optimize this to practice your SEO skills… You get the idea!

If you’re stuck for inspiration, this article exploring our favorite digital marketing examples might whet your appetite.

4. How to get a job in digital marketing: a step-by-step guide

In this section, we’ll explore what steps you can take to land that all-important first digital marketing job.

1. Learn the basics

Okay, so all jobs in digital marketing require a good understanding of the online sphere. That’s obvious. You’ve made it this far, so we’ll presume you already know how the internet works! But it’s one thing to understand search engines and social media as a consumer; it’s another to understand their nuances from an online marketing perspective. Covering the points outlined in the previous section should help you here. 

On top of the basics and the theory of digital marketing, you might want to learn about some basic digital marketing tools and how to use them. You can cram with our list of 12 digital marketing tools you need to know about!

2. Grow your experience

Employers love candidates with digital marketing experience. Waiting for the right opportunity to come your way might work, but a proactive approach is even better. If you have limited experience, one option is to try contacting agencies or companies that require digital marketing support. If you’re lucky, they might offer you an entry-level position. 

You could also consider an internship. These are often unpaid, though, so it’s totally fine if you don’t want to go down this route. 

The easiest option, by far, is to start some personal projects. Even playing around on your own, there’s a lot you can learn about the nuances of digital marketing by blogging and building your brand online. For instance, when I first started out as a digital marketer, I learned all about SEO and website design by documenting graffiti in my hometown. The blog built such a large following I listed it as an achievement in my resume and it helped me land a job. Best of all, it didn’t feel like work because it was fun. This is one example, of course. But if you track everything you do, you can document it as evidence of your skills.

3. Research your favorite companies or agencies

Next up, create a list of companies or online marketing agencies you’d ideally like to work with. Next, research them. Your first port of call should be the company’s website and social channels, which will offer you a flavor of its public-facing brand. 

After that, dig deeper, by checking out sites like Indeed, Glassdoor, or LinkedIn. These offer reviews and testimonials from past and present employees, which can offer some pretty valuable tidbits of information about what it’s like to work for the company.

Ask yourself: Does their public brand align with what their employees say about them? How much do they pay? What are the perks? What’s not so great? You might find that a business doesn’t seem quite the fit you thought it was. 

Alternatively, you might also find some useful insights about what they value in their employees, allowing you to refine your resume or job application accordingly.

Additional reading: What does a digital marketing agency do?

4. Start your job search

Once you’ve got a little experience under your belt and have an idea of the marketplace, it’s time to start your job search properly. There are a few ways of getting started. The obvious approach is to use job sites like Indeed or Monster. These often focus on entry-level jobs only though, so if you’re aiming higher you may want to try a different tactic.

One approach is to check out the job pages on a company’s website. Or find out if your local area has a digital marketing jobs hub, which is pretty common. Better yet, find a friend or colleague who can put you in touch with someone in a hiring position. Use your discretion here, though. There’s a fine line between taking the initiative and bombarding someone with unsolicited requests for work. 

Last but not least, it’s worth contacting your existing network of colleagues to see what opportunities you can find on social media. Many digital marketers, myself included, have found jobs like this online. You may be surprised by what comes up!

5. Apply for jobs!

Last but not least, it’s time to start applying. Depending on the job in question, you may need to create a portfolio, resume, cover letter, or various combinations of these. What’s most important is that you sell yourself in the right way, and try to personalize your application for each digital marketing position that you’re applying for. 

Get it right, and before long you should land an interview. And from there, it’s just a short (if nerve-wracking!) step to the job of your dreams. And all this, without going anywhere near a college, university, or marketing degree program. See? It’s possible after all.

Additional reading: What are the best digital marketing jobs?

5. Final thoughts

In this post, we’ve explored the all-important question: do you need an online marketing degree to work in digital marketing? 

As we’ve seen, while having a degree won’t hurt your chances, it’s not a must-have either. Nor does it guarantee that you’ll land a job. Ultimately, what matters is whether you have the skills and experience to do the job at hand. If you’re a quick learner and are passionate about digital marketing, this is often just as attractive to employers as a formal qualification. 

And if you have previous job experience in other roles, remember: far from being a hindrance, this breadth of expertise will work to your advantage, giving you an edge over less experienced applicants.

We hope you’re now feeling confident to kickstart your digital marketing career. You can learn more about what a career in the field might entail with this free, 5-day short course. You can also check out the following introductory guides:

What You Should Do Now

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  2. Take part in one of our FREE live online digital marketing events with industry experts, and check out digital marketing student Adelina’s portfolio project.

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