10 New “Must Have” Skills for Digital Marketers

SMS Text
10 New “Must Have” Skills for Digital Marketers

In January I had the opportunity to do a guest lecture about content marketing at Texas Tech University.

It was a great experience and one of the highlights of my marketing career so far, but it also got me thinking about something.

What should universities be teaching kids to prepare them for a career in digital marketing?

Back when I was in school from 2001 to 2005, this wasn’t something professors were even thinking about. We learned about the basics of marketing, how to conduct market research, and the importance of customer-experience marketing, but we didn’t talk about anything digital because it hadn’t yet burst onto the scene (keep in mind that during this time, Facebook still required .edu email addresses to get access to their network).

So what should universities be teaching students and what skills do students need in order to prepare themselves for a career in digital marketing? The list below is my take on some of the top skills students should be learning while in school so they can be ready to contribute right away when joining a digital marketing team.

#1: Writing and Copywriting

The first thing students should be learning is how to write clearly and persuasively.

Clear communication is important for being able to explain your ideas and concepts to developers, designers, and other team members. If you have trouble writing clearly, then you’re going to have trouble communicating your ideas and getting things done.

Writing skills are also important for writing blog posts and website content, something more and more marketers are being asked to do. And since writing website content is something any digital marketer may get asked to write at some point, it’s also important to pick up basic copywriting skills so you know how to write persuasively and how to get people to take the action you want them to take.

Some resources I recommend for improving one’s writing skills include but are not limited to:

In addition to these resources, I recommend reading voraciously, as reading is known to improve writing as well or more than reading about writing or even practicing to write.


Screenshot from Amazon.com taken on 5/21/2015


#2: WordPress

Have you noticed that people still list Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint as skills on their resume? That drives me a bit crazy.

At this point, you’re expected to know how to use Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint if you grew up at any point after the 1970s. It’s not something that makes you stand out and really should be standard at this point.

If you don’t know how to use Microsoft Office, then that’s when we have a problem.

 More importantly, WordPress, to me, is the new Microsoft Word when it comes to relevant skills for digital marketers. Not only do you need to know how to write a post in Word, but you also need to know how to upload it and schedule it in WordPress.

Yes, I understand that not everyone who graduates college will know how to use WordPress, but at this point, it’s much more impressive to be able to say you know how to use WordPress than it is to say you know how to use Word.


Screenshot of WordPress.org taken on 5/21/2015


#3: Photo Editing

In addition to being able to write well and being able to upload your writing to WordPress, it’s also important to have some basic photo editing skills. I’m not saying that everyone needs to become a full-fledged designer, but even understanding the basics of Photoshop can go a long way.

Let’s say, for example, that you upload a blog post to your company blog and need to include an image. Do you know how to use image editing sites like Picmonkey to take a screenshot and resize it for the post? Do you know how to use Photoshop to edit the photo slightly so that it will look better and make your post stand out more? Can you add captions to an image to draw readers’ attention to key parts of the screenshot or photo?

All of these are super basic photo editing skills that every digital marketer needs to master, which means Photoshop is not just a tool for designers—it’s something every marketing student should be taught and learn to become proficient at.

I’m not expecting that digital marketers will learn to design websites and ads themselves. I’m simply stating that a little Photoshop experience can go a long way for today’s marketing professionals.


Screenshot taken of Photoshop.com on 5/21/2015


#4: HTML

HTML is another skill that digital marketers should pick up because you need to know HTML well enough to format a blog post correctly or to fix a formatting issue on an email you’re sending out.

Again, it’s not expected that digital marketers will code an entire website, but they do need to know the basics of HTML so they can change a link color when needed or to resize a photo or video to fit within a blog frame. HTML is also something that marketers can pick up on the job, but it would be even better for marketers to learn HTML in school so they’re ready to hit the ground running once they get hired.


Screenshot taken from W3schools.com on 5/01/2015


#5: MailChimp

MailChimp (or other email management tools like Constant Contact and GetResponse) is another important skill for digital marketers.

The reason is that most businesses use an email management software of some sort. Whether it’s MailChimp, InfusionSoft, or Aweber, everyone in marketing is building and managing email lists through a thrid-party software platform of some sort.

This means that the more students know about services like MailChimp, the more they more prepared they’ll be.

Like I mentioned above, Microsoft Word is a skill that’s absolutely necessary, but platforms like MailChimp are the new Microsoft Word when it comes to standing out and showing an organization you have the skills it takes to succeed as a digital marketer.


Screenshot taken from MailChimp.com on 5/21/2015

#6: Google AdWords Advertising

Another important tool for digital marketers is Google AdWords.

AdWords makes it easy to reach customers and to drive targeted traffic. It can get expensive pretty quickly, but it’s also one of the most reliable ways to drive traffic, get leads, and generate sales.

AdWords is also incredibly complicated which means nobody expects a new college graduate to be an expert the minute they walk in the door. But the more you know about AdWords, the better prepared you’ll be to manage a campaign if needed or to direct someone who is managing your campaign.

Honestly, I’d go so far as to say that schools would be smart to get all of their students AdWords certified before they graduate. This would help their students to stand out.


Screenshot taken from Google.com/AdWords on 5/21/2015


#7: Facebook Advertising

The next important skill is learning how to run Facebook ads and how to effectively leverage social media marketing.

Facebook ads are important because they’re a great way to drive target traffic, much like Google AdWords. The targeting options are super powerful, and the creative provides an even better branding exposure as compared to AdWords.

But it takes a while to learn the basics of Facebook advertising. You have to learn how to target your ads, how to test your copy and creative, etc. Any and all lessons students can learn about Facebook ads will help them on their road to success.


Screenshot taken from Facebook.com/advertising on 5/21/2015


#8: Social Media Marketing

Another very important skill is social media marketing, which is different from running a Facebook ad campaign.

Instead of paying to show an ad, you use social media marketing to engage with customers and prospective customers, to share content, and to interact with people in your target market before they’re ready to become a customer.

This means that learning how to manage a Facebook page and how to run a Twitter account are valuable skills as a starting point for learning what you need to do to run a full-scale social media marketing campaign.


Because social media marketing requires a platform fluency more than any other type of platform. If you don’t understand how Facebook or Twitter work, then you won’t know how to interact with people and how to share your content in a way that fits into the network versus spamming and annoying people. Thus, picking up a fluency on relevant social networks is a very valid skill to pick up before joining a marketing team.


Screenshot taken from Twitter.com/sejournal on 5/21/2015

#9: Search Engine Optimization

Learning the basics of search engine optimization (SEO) is yet another important skill for digital marketers.

Not every marketer is expected to become an SEO expert, but it is important to understand how SEO works so you can leverage its benefit for your organization.

This means you need to know about things like title tags, meta descriptions, keyword density, and link anchor text and how they affect your organic search rankings.


Screenshot taken from Moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo on 5/21/215

#10: Conversion Rate Optimization

Last, but certainly not least, is understanding the basics of conversion rate optimization (CRO).

CRO, in case you don’t already know, is the art and science of testing different versions of a page or pages to see which version convinces the most people to take the action you want them to take. Essentially, you create two versions for a single page, and then run a scientific A/B test to see which version is the most effective.

This means you need to understand both your customers and basic principles of web design, user experience, and copywriting. In addition, you also need to know how to learn more about your actual customers by conducting surveys, using on-site surveys, and utilizing user tests and customer interviews.

CRO might actually be one of the most important skills for digital marketers to understand and may also be the least studied at this point in time.


Screenshot taken from Optimizely.com on 5/21/2015


Wrapping It Up

In the end, it isn’t about becoming an expert in all of these topics. Yes, some digital marketers will become experts in one area or another, but most need a general understanding of all these skills to boost their value.

The good news is an interest in digital marketing and a desire to learn is the most important characteristic for someone who wants to become a successful digital marketer. Even if you don’t learn these skills in school, you can learn them on the job and become proficient in a short amount of time.

If you are looking to stand out in the interview process, don’t expect Microsoft Word or Powerpoint to do the trick. Today’s marketers need to pick up as many skills as possible.


Featured Image: Bloomua via Shutterstock

Joe Putnam

Joe Putnam

VP of Marketing at iSpionage
Joe Putnam is the VP of marketing at iSpionage where they provide competitive keyword research and are the only company to offer landing page surveillance... Read Full Bio
Joe Putnam
Subscribe to SEJ!
Get our weekly newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!
  • Alex

    As digital marketing proves to be an excellent career path, we encourage our interns to explore these skills during their time at RepEquity. Great tips Joe!

    • Joe @ iSpionage

      It sounds like your interns have an opportunity to learn a lot at RepEquity!

  • Madi Taskett

    Great post, and I also recommend those links for learning how to be a better copywriter, especially Ogilvy On Advertising. Also recommended for anyone serious about becoming a great marketer is My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising by Claude C Hopkins. It’s a classic and still valuable even today.

    • Joe @ iSpionage

      I’ve been meaning to read Scientific Advertising for a while now and need to pick up a copy. Thank you for the great recommendations!

  • Christine

    Great article – I have tried all but the CRO…which is probably the most important. I will have to implement this while restructuring my website.

    • Joe

      Congratulations, Christine. CRO is a lot of fun and provides a ton of value for organizations. Good luck picking it up!

  • Amit Sondagar

    Hey Joe

    Great post, you have covered all points, which must need into perfect Digital Marketing Expert but I will suggest one more point that also required into Digital Marketing Expert that is “Mobile App Optimization” and Marketing because as per current trend Google also going to improve search result on Mobile application and people also move that way

    I like your “Wordpress Point” that think we will need to improve in the CV, Microsoft office, excel, power point and all things are old now, you must need to add your technologies related experience into the CV like: Good CMS Knowledge about WordPress, Magneto, HTML, CMS, Excel and etc..

    • Joe

      Mobile optimization is definitely something that needs to be add to the list but unfortunately is not something I’m very knowledgeable about yet.

  • Rajendra Kor

    I know about HTML,Wordpress, SEO and social media marketing. Mailchimp is sound interesting. Now really looking forward to improve my other skills also.
    Thanks for sharing amazing post.

    • Joe

      You’re welcome. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment!

  • Sachin

    Thanks for this very informative post, Joe!

    I really appreciate your work because I want to make a career in Digital Marketing, and I have actually created my own WordPress website. However, I am facing some problem in social media marketing. How to engage? How to reach my post to maximum users? How to write a content?

    I hope I can learn more from you.

    • Joe

      All it takes is time, effort, dedication, and an insatiable desire to learn more!

    • Mallory

      Sachin, a great place to start is Social Media Examiner, although there is a TON of great free content on the web from a variety of sources. A great way to start a Google search to find more articles is type in something like “facebook best practices 2015” or “instagram tips 2015.” Then just dive in and read everything you can find on that topic, but don’t forget to also implement and test what you’ve learned on your own social media account.

      All of the social media platforms have their own unique quirks as well as best practices, so pick one or two that interest you the most to focus on at first, whether that’s Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc.

  • Anne Maria

    Very Useful article..

    • Joe


  • Arthur Wilson

    I think copywriting is absolutely key and not something you can really teach. This is why a lot of journalism and English graduates will find a career in digital marketing

    • Joe

      I disagree. Copywriting is something you can teach, but it takes the right student to learn. Sometimes journalism and English graduates are a good fit and sometimes their not since it requires writing skills (which can be taught) and an understanding of marketing (which is much harder to teach).

  • R.Rogerson

    I think it may be a little too specific.
    You name individual platforms – when there are multiples out there.
    Take WP – I personally still wouldn’t touch it. But things like Drupal, or another CMS/CMF – yes. It’s the general understanding of a CMS, what it is, how it works etc. that is important.
    Tying it to a single platform is a bad thing (how many people that used MS products also used things like Lotus, Ami Pro, WordPerfect etc.? Where those not actually better?).

    Digital Marketing is a very broad topic, with the potential to specialise.
    Though it would be great to have some HTML or Desktop Design skills – are they really needed for someone who will be generating Ad-Copy?

    I think two skill sets that could be useful have been missed (and would benefit most of the digital stuff in general).
    Basic Statistics.
    Basic Scientific Principles.
    Knowing how to collect data, how to handle it, render it and read information from it is such an important skill – yet most people actually lack it. Those that do have some degree of skill with it often focus on a singular outcome, rather than being able to look at the data in various ways, and thus extract the most potential.
    Knowing how to conduct a test without skewing the data collected, or being able to compensate for skewed data is very important. Most decisions should be data – based, but often people run tests that are flawed, and the results are of less use than they could have been (if not inaccurate).

    There are also the soft-sciences that could come in handy, such as Communication Studies and Psychology.
    A fair amount of the original (And still applicable!) advertising, sales and marketing techniques actually relate to certain forms/views of psychology and communication.
    Having a stronger grounding in them could offer all sorts of benefits.

  • Beryl Pettitt

    I would agree with all of this, Joe. Well said.

    • Joe @ iSpionage


  • Abbas Sarfraz

    Joe, great article as far as the essential skills a digital marketer must have but I didn’t saw the “new” in here :). I’m sorry. If you take my word than the new skills would be;

    1) Data Mining: Google Analytics collects tons of data and patterns but most marketers just scrape the traffic numbers and goal conversions. F.y.i. I’m one of those marketer who sadly don’t make much data driven decisions or even try to go beyond just the traffic numbers.

    2) Bullseyeing Traction Channel: Not all marketing channels drive equal results. Marketers need to nose-in on top 3-4 channels that work best for them.4-6 months are enough to test 15-20 different marketing channels for most businesses.

    3) Salesy: Yea, learn how to close a sale and you will have better control over the sales funnel. Marketing is husband and Sales in Wife ( sorry for my bad humor but I hope you got the close context 🙂

    4) Master Engagement : Eventually a digital marketer will gain traffic even through SEOish fluffy trashy articles. But what’s next? Do they just read the blog and ta ta. Digital Marketer should know how to engage viewers. And same goes and infact more importantly for social media- where you are head on head with the audience.

    5) Innovation: This is my favorite. A digital marketer should be like Einstein. Always experimenting and looking to reach perfection. Who loves the routine job anyways?



  • Ankur Pathania

    Incredible post, and I likewise prescribe those connections for figuring out how to be a superior marketing specialist, particularly Ogilvy On Advertising. Additionally suggested for anybody genuine about turning into an incredible advertiser is My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising by Claude C Hopkins. It’s a fantastic and still profitable even today.

  • Lars Lofgren

    This list is a great start. Couple of thoughts:

    – I’d definitely put copywriting at the top of my list too. By far, the most important skill set of any marketer. It’s the building block for everything else.

    – I’d expand HTML into HTML/CSS. HTML is pretty limited these days. And if you know a bit of CSS, you’re a lot more dangerous on a marketing team.

    – I’d drop specific tools like WordPress and Mailchimp. The tools change super fast, it’s always a different stack with every company I work with. Here’s a better skill set: can you learn a completely new tool (like a marketing automation tool) and fully implement it at your company inside of 30 days? That separates the real marketers on the team.

    – The major thing missing from this list is a systems-based approach to growth engines. Marketing is no longer about sexy campaigns that win advertising awards (was it ever?). You need to be able to iterate your way to a profitable growth engine, scale it, and keep building new engines as old ones taper off. That’s how you scale growth.

    • Joe @ iSpionage

      Great points, Lars; thank you for adding to the discussion.

  • Hakan Can

    Good evening Joe,

    I very much enjoyed reading your post and forwarding it to a few colleagues. Every skill you listed above is either already under my belt or is on my list of skills to learn. Full disclosure–there are more on the skills-to-learn list than ones already under my belt. I would have had a list of 11 skills adding one for analytics, leading to certification.

  • Tim Fehraydinov

    Hi Joe,

    Speaking frankly, I expected to see something abstract, but you absolutely nailed it. Thanks for making this list.

    • Joe @ iSpionage

      You’re welcome, and I’m glad you liked the list! I personally feel like too may marketing students learn general marketing knowledge and don’t pick up enough hard skills that help marketers be more successful in the long run.

  • Vikas Singh Gusain

    we are making custom toolsets to make repitive work easier and fasters.

  • Greg Stobb

    Like the post, with a few exceptions! Like it or not, a digital marketer has got to know MATH. How can you make optimization or buy recommendations without it? Amazing how mnay marketers I know who still say, “I hate math”…fine, you can hate it, but you can’t run to a career in advertising to avoid math any more!

    Also, you have to have a good working knowledge of programmatic display, and really, of display in general. SEM works with display, works with social works with content…nothing exists in a vacuum – they all work together, and they’re all important pieces of the pie.

    Not sure about the WordPress ‘need’, it’s definitely a ‘nice’!

    • Joe @ iSpionage

      Great comment, Greg. I’ve found that analytical skills are more and more important for marketers but that we can still get away without knowing a lot of math. You definitely need to be able to use basic math from time to time, but fortunately for me, it’s not required to have super advanced math skills.

      I also agree that everything works together which means advertisers/marketers need to understand different channels and how to get the most by using all of them together.

  • Gregory Stringer

    Very helpful. I am a grad student studying social media marketing, and still need to learn some of these skills, though many will be covered in classes not yet taken. This is a balanced list that is highly informative.

  • Harendra

    Hi Joe Putnam,

    you have described 10 skills for digital marketing very nicely, i will utilizing all the skills for digital marketing.
    thanks for sharing with us.

    • Joe @ iSpionage

      Thank you, Harenda!

  • Oyinda

    Wow! Very impressive and educative. I just got a new job as a social media officer in a multi-national company and I was a bit doubtful about whether I have the required skills to succeed in this role. This article has been quite an eye-opener. And I don’t rank so badly in the rquired skill but i’ll sure learn more of these skills on the job. I’m surely gonna bookmark this article.

  • michael Ng

    what makes a digital marketer different would be the ability to get content viral. Not by just producing good quality content but marketing the content out to the target audience. Increase the visibility of the content.

    • Joe @ iSpionage

      This is true if you’re doing content, but there are a lot more facets to internet marketing than content.

  • Ingrid Cliff

    Great article Joe. I agree that copywriting is the basis of everything else – if the words don’t work nothing else matters. That said, I would also add in the basics of good visual design. Campaigns these days have a strong visual element and knowing the essence of font choice, colours and layout go a long way from turning a boring visual into something that grabs attention for the right reasons.

  • Rajnish

    What if one doesn’t have all these skills. Is it like he would not be a good digital marketer. For my case, I am pretty sure I don’t have copywriting skills. What should I do in that case.?And another problem is that here in India digital marketing is not pursued as a career, I mean there is less importance given to a digital marketing guys compared with the developer or a graphic designer.

  • Ravi

    Woww.. awesome list, I would like to add 3 more skill sets, which require a basic knowledge to become best marketer…

    # Data Analysis
    # Analytics
    # A/B testing

  • Nelly Wandu

    I may not be a marketer, but I am a blogger planning to set up a series of online entertainment platforms: VOD, YouTube, websites and blogs. This article helped me in putting together most of the tools I will need to succeed. Thanks!

  • Mark Simchock

    Solid list but it kinda lacks depth. For example I can teach a noob all they need to know about using WordPress (for content) in a couple hours. On the other hand, analytics and basic statistics take far more time a grasp and even longer to master.