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A local plumbing contractor trying to get his business found online.

A recent college grad who just accepted a marketing position in a manufacturing company and is in charge of increasing the brand’s social media reach.

A digital marketing agency content manager who is tasked with creating a content strategy for her clients but has no background in search engine optimization.

What do all of these people have in common?

They all need to learn the skills that it takes to be successful in digital marketing.

A recent article by HubSpot, 5 Essential Skills Marketers Need to Succeed This Year, included an infographic from TEKsystems listing the skills that are in demand by marketing leaders. Organizations investing in their marketing strategy are seeking knowledge and experience in key areas of digital marketing.

It was an eye-opening look at the vast array of skills needed to pull together a complete digital marketing strategy. The marketing subsets of digital advertising, social media, content development, web design and mobile marketing top the list of the most prized skills. Like many of the readers who commented on the article, I was left wondering, “so where do we go from here?” We now know what organizations want but where do we get those skills?

According to TEKsystems’ research, here is a list of the skills that marketers need to succeed.

Digital Advertising:

  • Digital business analytics
  • Digital project management
  • Graphic design
  • Pay-per-click analytics

Social Marketing:

  • Social media management
  • Digital business analytics
  • Content strategy
  • Creative direction

Website Design/Development

  • UX design
  • Front-end development
  • Web development
  • Content creation and management
  • Consumer/behavioral analytics
  • Product management

Content Development

  • Content management
  • Digital project management
  • Web/traffic analytics
  • Content creation and management

Mobile Marketing

  • Mobile design
  • Mobile development
  • Web/traffic analytics
  • E-commerce analytics

You’ll notice that some skills are important in more than one subcategory of digital marketing, for example, analytics, project management, and content creation and strategy. If you are working for a small agency or local business, you may have responsibilities in several areas of your firm’s marketing department and will need a broad range of skills.

Many of us come into digital marketing from other areas of business. And individuals with a traditional marketing background may transition into the world of online marketing with no experience in it. So, where do we turn to fill the skills gap?

Fortunately, you don’t need to go back to college to learn digital marketing. The good news is that learning about marketing on the internet can be done on the internet, for free, in your spare time. There are many online sources from which to learn web design, social media marketing, content marketing, SEO and inbound marketing. Some of them are structured courses and certificate programs. Others are tutorials that can be found on the websites of digital marketing tools. If you’re like me, you’ve been thrown into this crazy, exciting industry and you’ll learn it on the job!

Free Digital Marketing Training

SEO is the bomb dot com if you want to learn the essentials of SEO. Their free online training guides you through the basics of SEO and link building. They also offer low-cost bootcamps and seminars if you want to take a deeper dive into search engine marketing.


Google’s Analytics Academy provides free training and resources to learn Analytics and data analysis tools. If you’re brand new to utilizing Google Analytics to monitor your website’s reach, the beginner course will walk you through setting up a dashboard, navigating the reports, setting up goals and tracking campaigns. The Advanced Google Analytics course will instruct you on setting up reports and metrics for your business.

The Analytics Academy also prepares you for AdWords certification. Visit Google Partners for more information on joining the Partner program and taking the free certification exam.

Another option for learning web analytics is Alison’s Diploma in E-Business. It covers how to develop and implement an online marketing strategy, including using Google Analytics, AdWords, Adsense and Webmaster to help you attract customers online.

Inbound Marketing

HubSpot provides exceptional video courses in several areas of inbound marketing. Their free certificate courses in Inbound Marketing, Email Marketing, Sales, and Content Marketing are like taking mini college classes. They are very thorough and provide an in-depth look at the inbound methodology and its application to the way consumers use the internet today. Visit the HubSpot Academy for more information.

Social Media Marketing

Hootsuite, one of the leading social media management platforms, offers free social media training courses covering every aspect of social media from optimizing your social media profiles to developing a social media strategy to social media advertising. Should you want the credentials, for a fee you can take a certification exam based on the training.

Constant Contact’s free Social Media Quickstarter program offers “101” courses covering all social media outlets. There are separate training modules for each platform, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat. You’ll learn to set up your profile, use the platform to increase exposure and sales, analyze your reach, and advertise.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is more than just writing blog copy. It’s is an integral part of digital marketing and is intertwined with SEO, inbound marketing and social media promotion. So it’s no surprise that several online digital marketing or inbound marketing courses include content marketing in their mix. As mentioned before, HubSpot’s certification training offerings include content marketing. Their in-depth course covers every aspect of content marketing and will give you a strong foundation on which to build and carry out your content strategy. Moz also offers a beginner’s guide to content marketing.

Copyblogger’s Internet Marketing for Smart People (love the title!) is founded on the principle that “Internet marketing builds authority using content to inform and build trust with prospects and customers.” This free online course is delivered to your inbox via 16 eBooks and 20 emails. One section of the course is devoted to Content Marketing.

Email Marketing

Email marketing remains one of the most effective ways to connect with your prospective buyers and continue the relationship post-sale. There are a lot of moving parts in email marketing. Taking an online course that covers the basics will serve you well. HubSpot offers an email marketing certification course that includes list segmentation, writing engaging email copy, lead nurturing and analytics.

While not an online course, Constant Contact’s blog provides a wealth of information on email marketing and automation. There are many email marketing platforms available. Whichever one you choose should provide ongoing training and support. For example, MailChimp sends weekly tips on effective email marketing and has a training and support portal on their site.

Web Design

Not every marketer needs to know HTML and CSS, but some basic knowledge of web design will help you understand the mechanics of your website and allow you to fix little issues yourself without calling your developer. Codeacademy comes highly recommended and is teaching the world “to code interactively, for free.” Give it a try and release your inner computer geek!

Not Free But Worth a Look

Coursera is an online education platform that offers courses in many professional disciplines, including marketing. They partner with universities to offer flexible learning opportunities to busy professionals. From single courses to multiple course series to online degrees, they offer it all. They have a huge library of courses available at various price points. Their Content Strategy for Professionals is a 5-course program developed by Northwestern University and culminates in a capstone project and certificate exam.

Online Marketing Institute (OMI) has a strong reputation in the industry and is perfect for busy small business owners who want to select from a broad range of courses. OMI has courses in everything digital marketing, including email marketing, web analytics, search engine marketing and mobile marketing. You can select a group of courses based on your skill level and your marketing channel or hand-select individual courses. The basic membership is $27 per month which includes unlimited access to their video course catalog.

One thing is certain, advances in technology and the way we promote our businesses online will continue to evolve. Staying up-to-speed on effective ways to market your business will help you be successful and set you apart from others in your industry. Whether you are new to digital marketing or want to expand your marketing skill set, there is sure to be a free course available online.

Have you taken any online digital marketing courses? What do you recommend? We’d love to hear your suggestions.