Are Digital Marketing Courses Worthwhile? Pro Marketers Respond

Digital marketing courses are everywhere. Everyone offers them.

You can take digital marketing courses from colleges, third-party organizations, and the platforms themselves.

But are digital marketing courses worth it?

I’ve been in the digital marketing space for 20 years and have worked in marketing even longer.

Digital marketing classes weren’t around when I was in college – because digital marketing itself wasn’t around.

So I asked my peers what they thought about digital marketing courses and whether they’re worth the time.

Digital Marketing Courses Have Their Challenges

Some marketers felt that the courses were too basic and not practical.

Both posters make good points.

College courses in general, not just marketing courses, can be too theoretical, making them impractical.

It’s hard to apply theoretical concepts in real life.

And digital marketing changes so fast that, to Wenner’s point, course content becomes outdated very quickly.

In an internal discussion at work, we discussed how creating detailed process documents for paid search is kind of a waste of time. Things change so fast that we’d spend inordinate amounts of time updating them.

To help keep course content fresh, some savvy digital marketing instructors bring real-world practitioners as guest speakers or lecturers to their courses to keep course content fresh.

I’ve spoken to a few classes at Michigan State University about what it takes to succeed in paid search and paid social.

Learning from real-world speakers is effective because they’re up to speed on the latest in digital marketing.

Basic Marketing Strategy Is Still Important

Marketing strategy, however, doesn’t change as fast as technical knowledge does. Many concepts don’t change at all.

There are marketing concepts I learned in my undergrad courses that I still use today, 30-something years later.

Many advertising professionals reference David Ogilvy, who is widely considered, the “Father of Advertising.”

Ogilvy was born in 1911. The height of his career came during the Mad Men era of the 1950s and 1960s – more than 50 years ago.

Yet his adages about advertising strategy are still applicable today.

This quote is just as applicable to paid search today as it was to print advertising in Ogilvy’s day:

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

A “how-to” course on setting up a Google Ads campaign or bid management may not be worthwhile, but a course in marketing strategy certainly is.

Many Kicked Off Careers With Digital Marketing Courses

Even though digital marketing seems to change daily, most professionals say that digital marketing courses are worthwhile.

Some credited digital marketing courses as the reason they work in the field today.

Good teachers also make a difference, as Elley and Krantz indicate above.

Go Beyond Digital Marketing Coursework

Becoming a successful digital marketer is about more than just taking marketing courses.

Several experts cited a well-rounded education as the basis for a successful digital marketer.

Michael Stebbins, who co-founded OMCP to bring standards to digital marketing and courses, says:

“There are courses out there that can fill in as much as 70% of the hard skills a marketer needs to practice on the job.

Lately, a majority of digital marketing practices can be evergreen; for example, landing page agreements with ad offers, analytics reporting tied to business objectives, or even keyword research methodologies.

The best blend for someone entering the industry combines three things: Completing an accredited course covering generally-accepted practices, some platform course completion, and real-life experience.”

Brad Geddes, who has taught digital marketing courses since 2011, agrees:

“Overall, people seem best suited to PPC if they do a mixture of digital marketing with a minor in psychology (or a double major as there’s a lot of math when you get into Psych BS majors).

My background was personality psychology (0 marketing courses), and it serves me well in running PPC campaigns.”

So Will Digital Marketing Courses Help Me Find A Job?

The answer goes beyond yes or no.

We’ve established that digital marketing courses can quickly become outdated, especially those focusing on technical training.

A course taken 5-10 years ago is likely obsolete.

That said, candidates, especially those new to the digital marketing field, can fill in some hard skills with reputable courses.

But soft skills, such as communication, teamwork, and problem solving, are harder to teach.

And soft skills are crucial for success in digital marketing.

In fact, the OMCP® 2019 Role Delineation Study found that strategy and communication of practice were the top priorities for most digital marketing disciplines across all job responsibilities.

Think about that for a second.

Strategy and communication of practice were more important to employers than technical skills such as keyword research, bid management, developing audiences, and developing content.

Consequently, a marketing strategy course would most definitely be worthwhile.

And work on developing your soft skills.

What Should I Look For When Hiring Digital Marketing Professionals?

If you’re hiring digital marketing professionals, most experts agree to look for hard skills, including digital marketing certifications, and soft skills, such as communication and critical thinking.

According to Matt Bailey of SiteLogic:

“When I had my agency, I looked for people who were excellent communicators in writing and speaking, as most of the job is working with clients and constantly presenting, reporting, and working with a team. I hired for soft skills and trained the digital skills.”

Bailey looks for individuals who “share a critical and creative thinking core necessary to accomplish their work and solve problems.”

Problem-solving is a huge part of digital marketing, and people without this aptitude often struggle in digital marketing roles.

Stebbins suggests that hiring managers recruit from unlikely majors. “When John Marshall and I were building ClickTracks, our local university did not have a strong marketing program. Yet, we had interest from students to join our web analytics team,” he said.

Stebbins added, “We learned to recruit reliably from the economics department for marketing talent and the genetics department for digital analytics. We also learned that sales reps tended to make great PPC and digital advertising specialists (with some minimal training).”

In my own experience, I’ve found that digital marketing courses and certifications are not a good predictor of success.

I’ve had people who passed several certifications who we ended up letting go and others who came to us without a single course and were stellar performers.

As far as soft skills, in my opinion, the biggest skill digital marketing pros need is curiosity.

As Bailey mentioned above, digital marketing involves a lot of problem-solving.

To effectively solve problems, one must be curious about why the problem exists.

Wondering why a campaign suddenly stops performing, or why a particular keyword isn’t converting, is critical. Looking at performance changes, shrugging, and saying “it is what it is” will not cut it.

Successful digital marketers can think critically and ask “why.”


Digital marketing courses can be helpful.

Completing coursework shows that a person is dedicated and able to complete a task.

Those who have verified skills, experience, and education industry certifications stand out as even more invested in the practice.

But courses and certifications aren’t the end-all, be-all.

Plenty of successful digital marketers have not taken a single course.

As Derek Mollins of Brainlabs said, “There is no substitute for running a live campaign.”

If you’re not currently working in the field, volunteer for an organization that needs digital marketing help.

You’ll learn a lot and can help a worthy cause at the same time.

Combine digital marketing courses with developing your soft skills and experience, and you’ll give yourself the best chance for success in the field.

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Featured Image: fizkes/Shutterstock

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