How to Learn Marketing Online

Marketing Basics for Beginners:  How do I Learn Basic Competencies in Digital Marketing in 2020?

If you want to improve your skills, you will want to figure out how to prioritize and select which course you want to take. Do you actually need a certificate or is it just fluff and something to brag about, or will it do some good in your career or establishing your professional credibility?

Below are some of my favorite resources to learn about online marketing and related topics – some with certifications, some without, but most of these are free or have a free option.


Websites & Programming

If you need to learn about website building, design, development, coding, or programming languages, the most useful and easy-to-understand site is

Here you can learn the very basics from the beginning with their exercises, take some quizzes, and even work toward a certificate ($95 fee for certification as of this writing).

  • HTML                          
  • CSS                               
  • JavaScript                   
  • Bootstrap                   
  • jQuery   
  • SQL   
  • Python  
  • PHP
  • XML                 

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) & Search Engine Optimization

Everything related to optimizing your website, learning about your competitor’s presence, and more can be found through SEMRush’s Academy.

Of course, their overarching goal is for you to purchase their tool so these free lessons are geared toward that, but SEMRush is a widely used, well respected, multi-purpose tool that is good to know. If you cross over to another tool, much of what you learn with this tool will be transferable. When you’re done with the self-guided course and certificate, you can read their blogs and ebooks, watch their webinars, and listen to their podcasts.

Digital Marketing Products

Let’s face it, the web IS Google. Google IS the web. If you want to have any presence online, Google is the first place to be.

You’ll need to learn as much as possible about Google’s products. Previously, they called themselves Google Institute, but they now call their online learning portal “Skillshop,” and it’s still free. Some key modules you’ll want to learn include:

Content Marketing, Personas, & CRM

Learning about Content Marketing, how to build your customer personas and track them in a Customer Relationship Management platform (CRM) is the core competency of Hubspot, and they share a wealth of information for free.

While they have many competitors with similar offerings and educational modules, the Hubspot Academy is the proof in the pudding. They know you are in the early stages of the funnel, and they want to be front and center when you’re ready to use a CRM platform. Their credibility in the marketplace adds to their certification as well because the skill sets you learn are transferable to other CRM platforms.

Social Media

So many social media platforms are available. The key is to choose a few based on where your customers are and then learn the competencies of that platform.

While I’m not a fan of Facebook anymore, this behemoth is probably going to be a significant player for years to come, so it would be good to understand how to use it to its capacity. They have Facebook Blueprint to teach you the tips and tricks of their platform.

Hootsuite is a great tool to use to organize your content calendar and have it automatically put out on social media platforms according to your schedule. It can also alert you when someone mentions your company.

Hootsuite has created their Hootsuite Academy to teach social media marketers the best practices to master these ever changing skills.

While I have not used this resource previously, I’ve been reading about Alison training courses from some top bloggers.

Shortly, I’ll be uploading some additional free resources that don’t offer certifications. Stay tuned!

Online Marketing Basics

Marketing Basics for Beginners: Types of Online Marketing

Some marketing professionals will add or reclassify these categories, but for simplicity, I’ve broken online marketing down into 8 basic areas of study:

  • Social Media Marketing – this field encompasses all activities on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and other new platforms. YouTube can fit in here depending on what you do with it, but it can also fit under Content Marketing. Having a regular content calendar with a publishing schedule and using account management auto-publishing tools such as Hootsuite or Buffer will make life much simpler.
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization) & Local Search – this field focuses on organic results, that is, results that come up naturally on Google and other search engines when someone types in a query. These are unpaid ads that are found on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). If you have a local business, you must learn about how to optimize for local search. That means you want to be on Google Maps, have a Google My Business Page, and make sure anywhere your business name is mentioned, the Name, Address, and Phone (“NAP”) are consistent across the board. Any online directories need to be consistent, and there are tools such as Yext that can help push out your company’s information uniformly.
  • SEM (Search Engine Marketing) & Pay Per Click (PPC), Native Advertising, Affiliate Marketing – this is all paid advertising, often using Google Ads (formerly AdWords), social media ads, and other channels. Native advertising can be as simple as an ad that is designed to fit in someone else’s content, on their webpage or social media page, where it looks like a natural (“native”) part of the overall project. An example of this would be an advertorial on the heart health benefits of fish oil on a health magazine website. Affiliate marketing is when you place ads on someone else’s page altogether such as an ad for tires on a website advertising car sales. You can actually sell space on your own website as well and earn some money.
  • Website Design, Development, User Experience – so this is not actually “advertising” as much as it is building a presence online. This ties closely into SEO as search engines pull information from a well-built website to determine when to show your page to someone searching for something in your area of expertise. This is one essential asset any company should have, and a social media profile page won’t cut it. The biggest challenges here are (1) how will you create a great user experience (UX) , (2) who will create the actual website, and (3) who will make updates? The players involved in managing the website should have a basic to intermediate understanding or better of CSS, JavaScript, HTML, Schema Markup, and Google Tag Manager as well as the content management system (CMS) used to run your website (Drupal, WordPress, for example).
  • Analytics – this is also not marketing, but as the saying goes, if you’re not measuring, you can’t improve it. Learning the ins and out of this powerhouse tool will help you get an understanding of how people use your website, what they look for most and least, and help you make assumptions on which areas of your website to fix or enhance. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Having analytics enabled is imperative in a successful marketing plan, whether you use Google Analytics or an alternative such as Kissmetrics, Clicky, or a more comprehensive, all-encompassing tool such as SEMRush or Moz.
  • Email Marketing – while many marketers will say email marketing is dead, there are companies with a core group of users who appreciate email as a communication method over something like instant messaging or a text message. Discount or coupon codes, e-zines (email magazines or newsletters), company updates, appointment reminders, and enhanced features for users (how to use products in a new way) are great messages to send by email.
  • Mobile Marketing – Under the mobile marketing umbrella, you’ll find SMS, MMS, apps, games, and platforms. SMS is short for Short Message Service, such as a text, and MMS is multimedia messaging service sent by text but includes visual or audio content such as a picture, video, music or other audio content sent to a device. Mobile marketing can be customized by demographic and geographic location through geo-marketing tactics such as geo-targeting and geo-fencing. Have you ever driven near a drugstore or fast food where you had one of their mobile apps installed on your phone and then received a message that there was a sale at their store? This is geo-marketing. With geo-targeting, you deliver location-based ads to a smart device when a user has met your specific criteria. You can define your users based on several demographics such as device ID, zip code, city, and IP address. Geo-fencing, however, uses an actual geographic boundary like a virtual fence to define an area, usually by radius, by using either GPS signals (global positioning signals) or RFID (radio frequency identification). You could use this to push a sales notification when a potential client is visiting a competitor’s physical location. If you are only concerned about location, you would use geo-fencing. If you want to refine your customer with more granularity by demographics, you would use geo-targeting.  Please note when using these techniques, you have to be very careful that you are not encroaching on protected data that could offend a potential customer. For instance, you wouldn’t want to sell feminine hygiene products this way when your customers are visiting a gynecologist or urologist (an example of geo-targeting). Nor would you want to push ads for divorce when potential clients drive by a law firm that practices divorce (a YMYL type of business). These tactics would be seen invasive and predatory to many consumers, plus, there are definite guidelines for ethics in marketing based on industry.
  • Content Marketing – blogging, vlogs or online videos housed on your website or on YouTube or Vimeo, Powerpoint presentations, events and webinars, white papers, infographics, case studies, eBooks, newsletters, checklists, statistics, presentation file, or any other type of content that brings leads & traffic to your website is considered content marketing. Content marketing is intermingled with a variety of marketing channels such as social media, email, video, and even SEM as different types of content should be created for different channels. The acronym EAT relies heavily on content marketing as well as SEO as your Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness are demonstrated by your content signal to Google that you are the result that best matches the user’s search.

This is the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a good place to start. So where do you find online resources to learn these specific fields? Read my blog on How to Learn Marketing Online.

Digital Assets Every Business Should Have

Marketing Basics for Beginners: Where Do I Being with Online Marketing?

Whether you join a company that’s been in operation for years, you create your own business, or you join a start-up, every business needs some basic company assets.  If the company is already established and has an online presence, you’ll want to audit the tools they use to make sure they are working properly and that they are the most efficient as well as cost-effective for your particular needs.

I’ve selected these Priority Assets as a starting point:

  1. Company Website – if your business is a Your Money Your Life (YMYL) category such as finance, health, legal, and more, you need to know Google’s guidelines for these industries while creating the content for your website.
  1. Social Media Profile(s) – you don’t need them all! Pick up to 3 where your customers play and build your skills with these. Regardless of the three you select, you need to also have LinkedIn and a Yelp! Business profiles.
  1. Google Analytics Account – without the ability to measure who comes to your website, from where they came, where they go on your page, and where they leave, you lose the basics to understand your customer. There’s so much you can learn about your company’s online presence with this essential tool.
  1. Google Search Console Account – this service helps you check how your website functions online by identifying any key issues such as if your website is mobile friendly (“optimized for mobile”) and is indexing properly by the Googlebots.
  1. Google Ads Account – if you plan on doing any paid advertising, you need Ads linked to your Analytics. Also, when you become proficient, Google Tag Manager can help you with a variety of tasks that you can manage on your own without asking a developer to add additional code to your website with each campaign or task. While I’m not a fan of Bing and have never seen any valuable results when using it, if this search engine works for you, you will need to create a Bing Ads Account as well. Yahoo as well, maybe (does that still work?), LOL.
  1. Google My Business Profile for each location – claim your locations on Google maps to respond to your reviews. You can also build a stronger profile so Google has more information on your company to give to users as Google moves further away from serving up company websites during search results. While Bing is not a heavy player in any market, you’ll want to claim your company’s Bing Places profile.
  1. A citation data management tool such as Yext will submit your company’s critical NAP(name, address, phone) information to dozens upon dozens of local directories online that you may not even know exist. While many directories are useless, Google still sees their signals as valuable enough to make a difference if old, inaccurate data about your company remains online. There are some directories such as Yellow Pages (the Real Yellow Pages – beware of fake ones!), Foursquare, Chamber of, Hot Frog, Superpages, and the Better Business Bureau pages are some you may want to claim your own profiles, if you can.
  1. Google Alerts – set up an alert using key business phrases along with your company name so you know when and if your company is being discussed online in articles or blogs by a third party.

While this is not nearly an exhaustive list, it’s a good start for getting your business online accurately.

Traditional Vs Online Marketing

Marketing Basics for Beginners: Traditional versus Online Marketing

The internet has so much information about online marketing that it’s hard to know where to begin, especially if you are a newcomer. The field alone has several different names – online marketing, digital marketing, website marketing, inbound marketing, omni-channel marketing.

Many names are actually used incorrectly or are a subset of a specialty fields. Some subcategories overlap into others, making it that much more confusing.  Even the seasoned marketer can fall behind in the terminology as marketing influencers create new terms.

With such a complex field, it can be overwhelming, so let’s start by breaking down Marketing into two categories: Traditional Marketing and Online Marketing.

Traditional Marketing | Outbound Marketing | Push Marketing

Before the internet, “traditional” marketing consisted of reaching out to the customer by being in front of them wherever they were:

  • Yellow Pages, phone books, directories
  • Television, cable, & radio ads
  • Direct mail – postcards, flyers, brochures, magazines
  • Print media such as newspapers & magazines
  • Tradeshows, conferences, Lunch & Learns, and other events
  • Promotional items, product samples, giveaways, t-shirts, swag (something-we-all-get)
  • Cold calls, sales calls, door-to-door, word-of-mouth and referral marketing
  • Billboards, signage, and other out-of-home (OOH) placements (buses, transits, airports, shopping carts, grocery bags, skywriting, banners, blimps, displays, etc.).

The list could be exhaustive, but in a nutshell, wherever there was space in a public area, there was a possibility that space was available for ads. I remember decades ago, some people even sold space on their chests as walking billboards at televised sporting events. This form of advertising – reaching out to the customer would later be coined “outbound marketing.” It was also called “push” marketing as you would be pushing ads out to customers.

One pro to traditional marketing is reaching a large population with your message which would enhance your brand, thus brand or product recall would be strengthened. The cons are there was little direct interaction with your core customer as it is more of a blanket approach. Additionally, it’s more difficult to measure accurately, and the cost could be high for the investment made.

Then, mid-1990s: Enter the internet.

Online Marketing | Inbound Marketing | Pull Marketing

Now with a new method of communicating, customers had the power in their hands to seek solutions to their problems online. They would be drawn inward to a company by the content a company shares online – hence, “inbound marketing” was created.

Before the internet, this strategy was called “pull” marketing as you were trying to pull customers to you. Branding and loyalty programs were part of pull marketing strategies before the internet. Because this inbound method relies heavily on what a company publishes online to draw in customers, strategies for success in this area include content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO).  Content marketing is basically a strategy that encompasses all content that your company publishes through social media, blogs and vlogs, white papers, online events/webinars, just to name a few.

A key component of inbound marketing is defining customer personas. This can be very time consuming if you have a large customer base, but even if you choose not to formalize the persona process (read more about creating personas here), you must have a solid understanding of your clients and their motivations to make a decision.

Another component of content marketing is learning about the many stages a customer goes through when considering a product – what is called the buyer’s journey.  Someone looking to buy a new car will go through a different journey than someone wanting to purchase some shoes online, so it’s important to know your customers’ needs, habits, decision-making process, and what options are available to them as well as where they are in their journey. Hence, educating the consumer is a critical component of inbound marketing.

Many marketers agree there are five stages in the purchasing funnel:

  • Awareness
  • Engagement/Opinion
  • Discovery/Consideration
  • Preference/Evaluation
  • Purchase

Some marketers add additional layers to the funnel for more complex decision-making processes. These may include post-purchase layers:

  • Repeat purchase
  • Brand Loyalty
  • Advocacy

Marketers have different strategies for customers depending on where they are in their journeys, and it’s important to know what would be receptive to your customers and when.

The pros of online marketing are that you can reach your custom audience and measure results more accurately, which can prove your marketing investment to the higher-ups.  The cons are the lack of access by audiences without internet access and lack of awareness that your services/products even exist, especially if you’re in a niche market.

Additionally, you have to continually optimize your organic online presence so it takes a lot of time and work behind-the-scenes. It’s not as simple as saying, “I spent 3 hours creating this blog page, it cost me nothing since it’s organic search, and I gained 30 customers from this, so my ROI is $x.” That is something you can do using analytics, goals, and sales funnels, but do you then consider how much time it took other departments to review, edit, and upload the blog? Making sure you track your time invested as dollars is part of that investment, unless you decide it’s just included with overhead and the cost of doing business.

Overall, a sound strategy for most companies includes a combination of both traditional and online marketing as well as agreed-upon goals and ways to measure success.

For new marketers, it’s important to understand Online Marketing Basics: social media, the difference between SEO and SEM, website design & management, analytics, email marketing, mobile marketing, and everything under the content marketing umbrella.

It’s also a critical step for every business to have some key Digital Assets. Learn more about essential assets by reading my blog post on Digital Assets Every Business Should Have.

Making Your Event Accessible for All

A few years ago, I had two knee surgeries that required me to be temporarily mobile through the assistance of a wheelchair. While I was only in a wheelchair for about 3 months, it opened up a new world – and new perspective – to me when I wear my events planner hat.

For a marketer, we love kudos when attendees tell colleagues how awesome the event was, post pictures on Facebook, or hashtag what blew them away. But where marketers fail at is inclusiveness and accessibility.

Whenever I wanted to attend a professional function, I had to call ahead and let them know what my special needs were. Most of the time it was about handicapped parking, but oftentimes it was about accessibility to the venue…. those trendy downtown locations that have been modernized for cool office spaces. Can you believe in this day and age that events are still held on the 2nd floor of historic buildings that have no elevators?  The solution for that event is that the female host was going to “carry me up the stairs”… as if that wouldn’t bring attention to my disability.  I could write a book on the lack of ADA compliance at North Carolina State University – a state funded college at that.

People who have special needs, temporary or permanent, don’t want the attention of what makes them different – especially in the workplace. Independence and dignity are important.

When you plan your next event, see what it will look like at another perspective. Borrow some assistive devices (wheelchair, walker, crutches) from a local healthcare facility and navigate yourself through exhibits, doors, conference rooms, and buffet stations. Walk through the event with dark sunglasses to see what those with low vision see. Don’t forget the backstage areas for the speakers or entertainers as well.

While it seems like a welcoming idea to add a statement on a brochure or website about letting the event organizers know if you have special needs, why do people have to take that extra step?

We get choked up when we are asked to like a Facebook post of a soldier with a myriad of physical disabilities, and these soldiers are coming home to integrate back into the workforce.

You may not always see a wheelchair, leg braces, or other devices. You may not notice a missing or artificial limb, and people who have a physical limitation should be allowed to attend events without having to ask if the event will be inclusive for them.  The event organizers should have enough creative weapons in their event planning arsenal to make all feel welcome.

The Art of the Schmooz: How to Open the Door

When you’re a salesperson trying to get your foot in the door to meet the head of marketing, it can be nearly impossible to get that face time.  Will you succeed in getting the magic key or will the door be closed forever?

Here are four critical tips from the other side of the marketing door you’re trying to breach:

  • Know the company’s name, how to pronounce it, and what it does

Sounds like a no-brainer, but I have at least a dozen people a month who fail this basic test. When someone mispronounces my company’s name, they have to have something I really want if I am to continue the conversation. If think, “if they didn’t do the basic homework on my company, will they be able to do a good job in whatever they are selling?” If you call my company by another name, I wonder if you really intended to call my company or the one with the other name instead and this was a mistake. If you misspell my company’s name, I think you probably don’t pay attention to detail. If you want to get your foot in the door, your number one task is to do your research before you even pick up the phone.

When I worked at a rehabilitation hospital early in my career, I had a myriad of phone calls asking me to advertise in directories and other books for alcohol abuse. These sales people hadn’t even bothered to find out that my hospital was a physical rehab facility. It was a waste of my time, but also theirs. When you have sales goals based on number of contacts, and your contact list doesn’t match, that hurts your metrics as well. And, do you really need another “no”?

  • Know the name of the current person in charge and with whom you’re intending to speak

People change jobs and get promotions. There’s about a 3-month grace period wherein it’s acceptable to not know of any personnel changes (and this is a good ice-breaker if you get through – asking them where they were prior to joining the company, but be respectful of their time).

If the company has a receptionist, ask that receptionist how to pronounce the person’s name. Look at LinkedIn for a quick bio so you know a little about the person, but don’t stop there. Google the person’s name to find out more. I can’t emphasize this enough. It’s a sign of respect that you took the time to find out as much as you could about the company and with whom you want to do business. And it will help you gain a better understanding of where to begin the conversation.  For instance, if you are calling me about SEO or PPC services your company offers, a quick look at LinkedIn will show you I am GAIQ and AdWords certified. Your conversation can start at a higher level than someone who has no understanding about click-through rates and conversion goals.

  • Know that we know all the tactics salespeople use to get in the door

One thing many salespeople don’t realize when they are contacting the head of marketing is that marketers are in the same field as salespeople! How about that. Those of us who have been in the industry for awhile have had salespeople or subordinates and know the training and stop-gaps salespeople are taught when they hear the word no. If you are contacting the head of marketing, you need to approach the person as an insider – like you would your boss. How would you persuade your boss to buy your widget?

Active listening is imperative. Listen for cues to what they are saying. Of course, you have to know not just your product or service well, but you have to know what their needs and problems are so you can give them an actual resolution to what pains them.

What gets my attention is someone who knows more about something than I do. As the department head, I have a wide knowledge of many subjects; however, I may not be an expert at implementation with all of them. I know a little html code to get myself in trouble, and I could spend time figuring out the rest… if I needed. I need a hero to solve my problems and do the jobs that I can’t do or don’t have time to do.

  • Be obvious about the schmooz

When my career has taken me to other companies, I have brought many of my vendors with me. We’ve built relationships with time and experience. Respect that you may be competing against a well-established competitor. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a fit. It means that maybe you should start by asking for a little piece of pie instead of the main entree.

So let’s get down to the obligatory schmooz. We all know the deal. Be obvious, laugh about it, and let’s enjoy. Don’t try to win me over with false adoration or dig deep about my inner most desires to find out what motivates me.

And swag – I’m the master of swag at my company. I have a closet full of it because it’s something we all get, right? I don’t need another cellphone stand or koozie.  Now, if you are going to come by with a Starbucks, bring me a venti Salted Caramel Macchiato or a Caramel Brulée Latte, and you’ll get about 4 minutes of my time.

But seriously, if you want to open the door, just be genuine, be funny, be helpful, and most importantly – be yourself. If there is a natural fit, it will happen.