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14 Universal Digital Marketing Skills You Can’t Ignore

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14 Universal Digital Marketing Skills You Can’t Ignore

Social media marketing, search engine optimization, email marketing, marketing automation… the list of digital marketing specializations goes on and on. Of course, they are all different. Yet when you do enough of them in your career, as I have for the past 14 years, you start to identify certain skills that are fundamental to all of those specializations.

The sooner you start to learn those “universal” skills, the better—because those skills act as investments. They will pay off nicely when you work your way toward becoming an expert in a given field or when you switch to another marketing specialization that’s currently trending.

So let me tell you a bit about these universal skills:

  1. Data literacy
  2. Understanding different marketing channels
  3. Copywriting
  4. Getting around essential digital marketing tools
  5. Basic design skills
  6. Assertiveness
  7. Social intelligence
  8. Critical thinking
  9. Curiosity (constant learning)
  10. Adaptability
  11. Strong work ethic
  12. Performing experiments
  13. Coping with pressure
  14. Understanding code

Digital marketers swim in a pool of data all of the time. Insights come from data, decisions are based on data, results are in the form of data, and your reports will be filled with data too.

I’m talking about metrics, graphs, trends, and statistics, not to mention the more advanced stuff like predictive analytics. It’s important to develop an appreciation of these things because marketers are required to do these four things really well:

  1. Report on the past – Example: calculate the conversion rate from trial signups to paid subscriptions
  2. Analyze the present – Example: calculate the lifetime value of customers
  3. Predict the future – Example: what type of message can increase your chances of converting the user 
  4. Compare with competitors – Example: what keywords your competitors target that you do not

And all of those four things are impossible to do without knowing where to look for data and how to work with it.

But let’s make it clear: You don’t need to be a data scientist in this role. You have to be data literate. You must learn how to collect, read, and communicate data.

A good example of the level of data literacy you’ll need is shown in this article on creating SEO reports. This is especially recommended if SEO is the specialization you wish to excel in.

Or take this article on 10 Google Sheets Formulas Every SEO Should Know. Stuff like this is your friend in the digital marketing world. It helps you work more efficiently. It makes your work possible in the first place.

How to get better at it

Certifications and courses. You should work on those even if your future employer doesn’t require you to do so. Despite what other people may say, these don’t help you get your next job. But the true reason for doing these courses is to boost your skills and confidence.

Just think about it. To hone the data skills, you need to practice. And to make your skills actionable (not like learning a new language on totally abstract sentences Duolingo-style), you need to practice on real problems. And then you need to be guided on what to learn. Because how can you know this, right?

Here are a couple of courses to get you started:

2. Understanding different marketing channels

Even if you don’t specialize in a particular marketing channel, you still need to understand how all of them work and what to use them for. That’s because:

  1. There is a high probability you will need to work on the intersection of various digital channels (e.g., in a startup or in a small team).
  2. Your target audience will most likely hang out on different websites and platforms.
  3. You can improve communication with other people on your team.
  4. You will make a better decision on what to specialize in. 

Let’s face it. Brands today need to embrace something called omnichannel marketing. It’s when a brand is present on, ideally, all marketing channels a prospect is likely to use. Plus, the company should ensure all of those channels work together to create a seamless experience for the prospects.

Cycle chart showing store, web, mobile, phone, and social media marketing channels are connected

What this means for digital marketers is that they need to become experts at some of those and understand all of them.

For example, when trying to reach potential customers through search engines, you’re going to think in terms of SEO: search volume, ranking difficulty, SEO content, link building, etc.

But since that same content can be repurposed on other channels, you may want to turn, say,  an article into a Twitter thread. Then you’re thinking in terms of short, zero-click content, post engagements, etc.

In a small team, you do that all alone or with somebody who helps you with some deliverables.

As a manager, you may not have direct contact with any of these channels. But it sure does help you understand what your team is doing.

How to get better at it

Try to develop a new kind of “inquisitive” perspective for what you see every day on the internet. So not only consume content from your favorite creators on the web. Try to analyze how they did what you like so much or what made thousands of people engage.

Some creators directly share the secrets of their workshops. At Ahrefs, we do this quite often. In fact, you can learn from our blog and YouTube channel everything that we do for digital marketing. For example, here’s our very own Sam Oh explaining how to overcome some struggles with video creation:

https://youtu.be/QCgDIhvFkCM?t=547

From that point, it’s all about applying what you have learned and analyzing the results.

Only video marketing and podcast marketing don’t utilize text as the main medium. However, even videos and podcasts start as text.

If you like writing, that’s great. This is because you will have a chance to get better at it, as there’s a lot of that in digital marketing. If you don’t like to write but are still serious about digital marketing, try some writing courses—maybe they’ll change your mind.

Sentence on Ahrefs' homepage summarizing what our toolset is all about Sentence on Ahrefs' homepage summarizing what our toolset is all about

Believe it or not, we have debated what our tagline should be like for quite some time. How to convey what an all-in-one tool does in one short sentence?

How to get better at it

First, we need to reiterate something: Everyone can learn to write well. Sure, some people may possess a “natural talent” for writing, but this job isn’t about creating the next blockbuster novel or film script. It’s about developing a workshop on writing clearly and convincingly.

On top of that, the web is quite specific when it comes to marketing communications because:

  • You can write with the help of writing assistants, so grammar is not so scary anymore.
  • Things don’t need to be perfect, as the web is used to imperfection. Plus, you will often have that “edit” button.
  • Utility trumps creativity. 

To get you started, here’s a great, free guide on writing by Julian Shapiro

4. Getting around essential digital marketing tools

Marketing technology, or martech, is what makes the job of digital marketing possible in the first place.

Moreover, better tools can make you a more effective marketer. Some tools just allow you to work faster, share your work easier, and get better results.

Try this: skim through some job boards in a specialization that’s interesting to you. You will start to see the expectations employers have of digital marketers are connected with certain tools.

Job post indicating candidates must have expert knowledge on Ahrefs Job post indicating candidates must have expert knowledge on Ahrefs

For example, last time I checked, Ahrefs is a required tool for some 900 jobs in the U.S. (jobs posted on LinkedIn).

How to get better at it

A lot of the essential marketing tools have free trials or even free versions. On top of that, they often have certification programs and other types of educational materials.

For example, if you want to start doing SEO with zero budget, you can get Ahrefs Webmaster Tools for free and hone your skills using educational materials on our site (as I said, you can literally learn everything we do from there).

One path you can take is to start with this introduction to AWT and learn more about Ahrefs and SEO for free in the Ahrefs Academy.

In some instances, you won’t even need a website. For example, Google Analytics has a demo account with prefilled data. On top of that, it has a free certification program.

Generally, there are a ton of different marketing tools out there. But if there’s one tool you definitely need to be acquainted with, it’s Google Sheets (or Excel, if you prefer). But eventually, all roads lead to Sheets. Just browse through Sheets for Marketers to see what kinds of reports you can build with this free tool.

If some tools you want to train with are out of reach, it’s still a good idea to start with the free ones. First off, tools in their respective categories are fairly similar when it comes to structure and core functionality. Second, it’s still a valid way to develop skills relevant to your specialization.

If you think that design is about colors and pretty pictures, digital marketing will challenge that belief time and again.

Design is a language.

With design, you can show the user where to click. With design, you can convey what your brand is about.

In smaller teams, you will need to design stuff on your own. In bigger teams, you will need to communicate with your design team through wireframing and design terminology.

Also, having an eye for detail and a taste for this craft really helps. This is because, as a digital marketer, you’re going to decide on that stuff a lot.

How to get better at it

You should:

  • Understand the basic web design principles.
  • Learn how you can create better experiences for your users with UX design.
  • Follow web design trends.  
  • Start experimenting with design software. What do marketers design? Usually, those are graphics for content, ads, infographics, presentations, wireframes and, sometimes, entire landing pages. The general rule is that you will be able to design almost anything using professional tools for graphic designers (Photoshop, Illustrator, Gimp). But there’s a steep learning curve, and the process may take some time. I believe marketers generally prefer streamlined tools (Canva, Genially) and tools dedicated to creating digital products (UXPin, Figma, Webflow).

Assertiveness is the ability to express your opinions and stand up for your own beliefs without being hostile or aggressive.

It’s the art of saying “no” in the workplace. It’s the art of firmly admitting to a mistake in the workplace. And it’s the art of confidently expressing appreciation for others in an environment that is competitive by design.

How to get better at it

Practice saying “no” and saying what you really want to say.

Now I’m no psychologist, but I agree with this article from Healthline. It’s a good idea to start practicing assertiveness in some typical, everyday life situations. You can try to:

  • Speak up when you’d rather watch a movie at home instead of going out.
  • Let your partner know you won’t be able to do a specific errand; don’t be tempted to offer a full backstory.
  • Visit a new restaurant and ask for a table that’s in a quieter area or near a window.

Want to become a manager? Start with social intelligence skills. Want to work more efficiently with various contractors? Start with social intelligence skills.

Once you understand how little you differ from other people, you’ll start to speak their language and get work done together more efficiently—without hating your workplace.

How to get better at it

Work on these skills:

  • Active listening – This involves being open-minded and empathetic toward others and recognizing their intentions (not everyone is a skilled communicator).
  • Fostering positive feelings – A number of studies have shown that this is crucial to effective leadership.
  • Observe managers in your workplace and try to identify how their actions and words affected others (if possible) – Did they inspire people to do better work? Do people feel comfortable sharing opinions around them? Or maybe they do things that cause totally unexpected reactions? What would you do differently?

The world of digital marketing is flooded with advice. Some good, and some not so good.

The thing is that you won’t know the difference if you don’t apply critical thinking to what you read, hear, or watch. Including this article.

Sometimes, critical thinking can be the very thing that saves you and your brand from bad marketing ideas. Experimentation is one thing, but some ideas are bad right off the gate:

Person dressed in white grabs another person dressed in black by the chin. Next to them are the words "PlayStation. Portable White is coming" Person dressed in white grabs another person dressed in black by the chin. Next to them are the words "PlayStation. Portable White is coming"

How to get better at it

You can think of critical thinking as healthy skepticism. I’m not saying, “Don’t trust anyone.” I’m talking about not accepting things at face value, especially when they lead to important decisions.

This requires you to question ideas to uncover two things: a) the kind of argument or evidence that supports an idea and b) what a given idea leads to.

Based on that, you can develop your own objective, independent opinion.

9. Curiosity (constant learning)

There’s always something new to learn in digital marketing. New technologies, new tactics, new philosophies, Google’s algorithm updates, industry regulations, etc. You’d want to stay on top of that.

If you like to learn new things on a day-to-day basis, digital marketing is definitely for you.

How to get better at it

Well, I guess things related to digital marketing will either be interesting to you or not. I doubt there is some “hack” to make uninteresting things suddenly interesting without fooling yourself.

What you can consider is optimizing information gathering. Trying to read every interesting article or book on all things digital marketing will make you frustrated, as you likely won’t find enough time to consume all of that information.

Solution: try following content curations, e.g., newsletters curated by industry pros like SEOFOMO

The market and your goals—those things frequently change in marketing.

One day, you may be working on a blog post; on another, you may be doing some conversion optimization experiments.

On Friday, your company may be the leader in your niche; but after the weekend, some other company may start fighting for the same customers.

How to get better at it

I think it’s all about mindset. You need to acknowledge the fact things can change quite fast in this type of work. And this is not necessarily anyone’s “fault.”

Reacting to change is part of the game. If you’re a perfectionist, this may be tough to deal with. When you start in digital marketing, you may be extrapolating your experience from other areas of life. You may have taught yourself to “finish what you started” each and every time. But when conditions change rapidly, there is no virtue in perfection.

If you’re not reliable, honest, and respectful of others, no one will want to work with you. Seriously.

You may get away with some things every now and then, but this shouldn’t be your norm because this “tendency” will only hinder your capability to work in smarter organizations.

How to get better at it

I believe ethics is an area where a person should make conscious decisions. There’s not much advice I can/should give you here.

But if you ask me, one thing that really matters is understanding what consequences your actions will bring in the long term. Ethics is a marathon:

And don’t forget about critical thinking when seeking advice on the matter of work ethic.

Title with the words "How to Develop an INSANE Work Ethic" Title with the words "How to Develop an INSANE Work Ethic"

12. Performing experiments

This involves devising hypotheses and designing experiments to validate them. It’s important because, oftentimes, it’s the only way to get an objective answer.

Here’s another reason: the recent popularity of growth marketing. It’s a type of marketing that is characterized mainly by prioritizing data over opinions. And as you may have already guessed, the source of that data is often experimentation.

Experiments will come in all shapes and sizes. Here’s an example where we devised an experiment to find out if it’s possible to build links with Google Ads:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uz2bGhdnJN0&list=PLvJ_dXFSpd2u_ABxIRO6RVK3ucKyzn96Y

How to get better at it

Here’s a framework you can use to perform your marketing experiments:

Growth hacking cycle: analyze, ideate, prioritize, testGrowth hacking cycle: analyze, ideate, prioritize, test
  • Analyze – Uncover areas of growth opportunities, e.g., look at the events or pages that cause a user to churn or leave the product
  • Ideate – Generate ideas on how to improve the focus area and turn them into an idea pipeline
  • Prioritize – Prioritize ideas by using the ICE scoring model (impact, confidence, and ease of execution)
  • Test – Conduct the experiment and analyze the results

But before you do, you can dip your toes in growth marketing by seeing the video below—years of growth experiments at HubSpot distilled into a beginner-friendly presentation spanning just ~30 minutes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luNpm9ueFDA&t=672s

Results. This is what digital marketers are hired for.

In marketing, there is always pressure to get results. Because to a lot of companies, there is no such thing as “enough traffic” or “enough sales.”

Having a bad year? Work harder. Having a great year? Great, let’s double that. That’s what you’re going to hear all of the time.

Speaking about time… marketers are always racing against time. Planning ahead and well really helps, but you won’t always be the one in charge of planning.

Every type of organization has its own race against time:

  • In agencies, clients demand results ASAP and like to add things at the eleventh hour.
  • In startups (especially VC-backed) and small businesses, the hunger for growth and revenue is legendary. There is a reason why most popular growth metrics have time embedded in them (“monthly growth rate,” “annual recurring revenue,” etc.).
  • Bigger companies and corporations want to be the best. This means achieving better results in a shorter time than the competition. Also, they like to “squeeze” results before the end of a billing cycle.

How to get better at it

Pressure in digital marketing is normal. Since this is an issue directly related to health and psychology, I will only go as far as telling you what worked for me:

  1. Assertiveness (point #6 of this article)
  2. Learning to recognize and enjoy other things in life
  3. Healthy diet
  4. Realizing that perfect is not always better (this helps me move faster)

Too much pressure in digital marketing is normal too. (Or should I say “common”?) But there’s a point where pressure stops being your problem and starts to be the problem of the person putting pressure on you.

Sometimes, the only way to cope with it is to find another job. I know. It’s easier said than done. Just remember that your environment has a tremendous impact on shaping your beliefs and attitude. You may thank yourself later for leaving a toxic environment.

Sooner or later, you will be exposed to some form of programming or markup language. How exposed? It really depends.

Your job may require something basic like inserting a tracking tag or editing some lines in your WordPress template. Other times, it may require you to do data analysis for customer databases with SQL or Python.

Learning this skill can save you a lot of time on redundant tasks, especially when you need to perform them at scale. Check out the video below to see an example of how understanding code can make you super efficient at work:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMk2iaJGpSA

That said, I feel that the no-code movement will make us marketers less reliant on coding and more reliant on martech. But there’s no point in waiting for that moment.

Last but not least, learning code really exercises your problem-solving muscles. 

Recommended reading: Excel to SQL: Why You Should Make the Switch 

How to get better at it

As with data literacy, it’s best to acquire knowledge by completing courses. Here are some good ones:

Final thoughts

As you may have noticed, I chose not to include creativity as one of the main skills. So what about all those famous marketing campaigns that permeated popular culture? What about Mad Men?

I think that creativity has its role in digital marketing, but it’s just not as much of a fundamental skill. And I’m talking about outstanding creativity here, not the “typical” connect-the-dots creativity that any human being is capable of.

The former can help your ads or any type of content to stand out in the crowd, but it does not guarantee efficiency. And it seems that this quality matters the most in digital marketing.

In my opinion, digital marketing is more of a craft than an art form. It’s about being able to discover what works and repeating it until it works. Though, you may often repeat someone else’s work (and that’s not very creative).

So I’d say that, however grim this may sound, don’t strive for creativity in digital marketing at all costs. Don’t make it your #1 priority, as it can hinder your ability to perform effectively.

Got questions or comments? Ping me on Twitter.

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How do you hire an SEO manager?

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How do you hire an SEO manager

30-second summary:

  • Business leaders struggle to hire SEO managers, and often wonder if they need one
  • SEO visibility is key to business success and is hard to increase your customer base and sales
  • SEO is a great contributor to brand growth and essentially needs the right mindset
  • This is a checklist to help you hire the right fit for your business

If you’re looking to improve your website’s search engine ranking, you may be wondering how to go about hiring an SEO manager. It can be a daunting task, but with the right information, it can be more straightforward than you think.

In this article, we will discuss some of the things you should consider when hiring an SEO manager. We’ll also provide some tips on how to make sure your team works well together and gets the most out of your SEO manager.

Why hire an SEO manager?

Without an SEO manager, it’s often difficult to know where to start when it comes to improving your website’s search engine visibility. And without valuable organic traffic, it’s hard to increase your customer base and sales. SEO can be a big contributor to brand growth.

An SEO manager can help you identify the best strategies for improving your website’s search presence. They will also be able to monitor overall performance, spot potential improvement opportunities, and create effective tactics to get the best results from your website’s content.

This includes conducting keyword research and creating SEO content, optimizing existing website pages, analyzing traffic sources, managing link-building campaigns, monitoring search engine performance, and regularly reporting on the progress of organic traffic. An SEO manager will ensure that your business sees SEO progress much more quickly.

What responsibilities does an SEO manager have?

The primary responsibility of an SEO manager is to ensure that your website ranks as high as possible in search engine results (not just Google, but Bing, and Amazon too).

If you’re not on the first page of Google for your most important keywords, you’re missing huge sales opportunities. This is particularly true for ecommerce SEO, where a poorly-performing website and SEO strategy can literally be the difference between a thriving business and bankruptcy.

It is crucial to hire an SEO manager who understands all aspects of SEO, including technical SEO, content-related tasks, analytics tracking, website performance, and link building.

They should have the ability to assess the current health of a website, developing plans to improve ranking in organic search results. The successful candidate should also be able to track and analyze performance metrics, such as click-through rates, conversion rates, and bounce rates.

What characteristics make a good SEO manager?

When looking for an SEO manager, you’ll want to find someone who is knowledgeable in the field, has good communication skills, is a self-starter, and can work independently.

Personality traits are key too. The person should be creative, persistent, and have a passion for problem-solving. They should also have good organizational skills and the ability to prioritize tasks.

It is important that the SEO manager you hire is a team player, and can take direction from upper management. Having the ability to build relationships with stakeholders and clients is also essential.

The importance of project management

Project management skills are essential for an SEO manager as they will need to coordinate activities between multiple teams and departments, manage timelines and budgets, and report on project progress.

Without good project management skills, an SEO manager will struggle to get results and could cause delays in achieving desired outcomes.

How can you ensure that your team gels well?

The key to creating a successful SEO team is finding people with complementary skills who work well together. This involves looking for individuals who have experience in different aspects of digital marketing, such as content writing, web design, and analytics.

You don’t want to hire a team of people who are all experts in the same field, as this will limit your team’s ability to think creatively and come up with innovative ideas.

It is also important to ensure that your SEO manager has good interpersonal skills. Having an open-door policy where everyone can easily communicate with each other is essential. This will help build trust between team members and ensure everyone is on the same page.

Having an open dialogue between all team members will also be crucial. This will ensure their feedback and input on how best to optimize the content or improve strategies.

Ideas for welcoming and onboarding your new hire

This could include creating an onboarding checklist, setting up regular meetings, assigning tasks to the team members, and scheduling time for team-building activities. Do make sure your SEO manager has face time with key leads from across the business to get a strong understanding of the business and its needs. This pays off in the long run.

Hiring in-house vs SEO outsourcing

When it comes to deciding if you should hire an in-house SEO manager, outsource the work to an SEO agency, or simply get a freelancer – you need to gauge the pros and cons.

Hiring in-house may be more expensive but can provide a greater level of control and allows for closer collaboration with the team. You totally own your processes and have granular input on everything.

On the other hand, outsourcing to an agency or freelance professional may be more cost-effective and can provide specialized skills that are not available in-house. Many SEO providers will offer types of monthly SEO packages, which make costs predictable and controllable. And depending on the terms of a contract, you likely have the freedom to cancel whenever you like. This can be much less hassle than employing someone ­– a poorly-performing employee, which can be more troublesome to resolve.

  Hiring in-house Hiring an SEO agency or freelancer
Pros • Greater control and collaboration

• Easier to monitor progress

• Assign tasks quickly

• Affordable

• Access to specialized skills

• High level of expertise and experience

Cons • Can be more expensive

• Limited experience level

• Can be difficult to find the right candidate

 

• Lack of control over the process

• Communication can be more difficult

• Accountability can be less clear

Interview questions to ask your potential SEO manager

When interviewing a potential SEO manager, you should ask some specific questions to make sure they are the right fit. These can include questions about their experience with SEO, how they stay up-to-date on algorithm changes, and what strategies they would use to improve your website’s ranking.

Example starter questions

  • What experience do you have with SEO?
  • How do you stay up to date on algorithm changes?
  • What strategies would you use to improve our website’s ranking?
  • How would you optimize our content for search engine visibility?
  • What kind of link-building tactics do you employ?
  • What do you consider to be the most important SEO trends?

Common mistakes to avoid when hiring a new candidate

When hiring an SEO manager, there are some common mistakes you should avoid:

Not understanding the responsibilities of an SEO Manager

It is vital you have a clear idea of what the job entails and that the candidate has the relevant skills for the position.

Not considering the team’s current culture

When bringing someone new onto your team it is important to consider how they will fit in with existing colleagues.

Not asking enough questions during interviews

Make sure you ask any potential candidates about their experience and qualifications, as well as their ability to work with the team and manage client relationships.

Not setting clear goals for the role

Setting clear expectations will ensure that everyone is on the same page from the outset and that any targets are achievable.

Not agreeing on a budget

Before you start your search, make sure to set a realistic budget for this role. This will help you determine how much you can afford to pay, and what kind of person is best suited to the job.

Not conducting background checks

Background checks are important when hiring an SEO manager as they will provide insight into their past experience and any qualifications they may have. It’s also a good way to make sure that there are no discrepancies in their resume.

FAQ

Q: How do I find an SEO manager?

A: You can look for SEO managers on job boards, or hire a freelancer or agency. Make sure to ask them questions about their experience and qualifications, as well as their ability to work with the team and manage client relationships.

Q: What should I look for in an SEO manager?

A: A good SEO manager should have experience with SEO, and up-to-date knowledge of algorithm changes and strategies to improve a website’s ranking. They should also be able to optimize content for search engine visibility, employ link-building tactics and keep track of the latest SEO trends.

Q: How much does it cost to hire an SEO manager?

A: The cost of hiring an SEO manager will depend on the level of experience, skills, and services required. Generally, in-house managers can be more expensive than agencies or freelance professionals. It’s important to set a realistic budget before you start your search.

Q: Is it a good idea to hire an SEO manager overseas to work remotely?

A: This depends on the situation. Hiring a remote SEO manager can be beneficial if they are highly experienced and able to deliver results, however, communication and accountability can be more challenging with remote workers. It’s important to weigh up the pros and cons before making your final decision. There may also be legal or compliance issues when employing internationally.

Closing thoughts

Finding the right SEO manager is an important step in ensuring your website’s success. Make sure to ask potential candidates plenty of questions and take into account their skills, experience, and ability to fit into the team culture before making a decision. Consider both the benefits and disadvantages of hiring an in-house employee or outsourcing to an agency or freelancer, and don’t forget to set a budget. With the right candidate on board, you’ll be well on your way to achieving long-term SEO success.


Joe Dawson is Director of strategic growth agency Creative.onl, based in the UK. He can be found on Twitter @jdwn.

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