February 29, 2024

How to Start a Career in Digital Marketing

start a career in digital marketing

Starting a career in digital marketing comes with lots of advantages:

  • You don’t need a university degree to get started in the field
  • The digital marketing industry is rapidly growing
  • Digital marketing skills are in high demand across industries globally
  • Average salary is around $69k (source: Glassdoor)
  • Roles tend to have lots of flexibility around working hours and remote work

The digital marketing industry offers a wide range of roles. Right off the bat, this can make it a bit of a challenge to get started—especially if you’re not really sure what you want to do.

Most of the articles out there offer generic, unhelpful advice that fail to provide practical tools that can push you forward on your journey to becoming a digital marketer. As just one example, this article tells you that the first step is to “build your personal brand.” That advice—like a lot of advice out there—is oversimplified and misguided, because building a personal brand is definitely not the most immediate practical step for beginners entering digital marketing. 

This article is different. We’re going to provide a clear explanation of the different ways towards starting a digital marketing career. We’ll also introduce Climb Hire’s Paid Search Marketing program and show how it offers you a direct route into a digital marketing career.

Our (free!) program prepares students for getting Google and Meta Ads Certifications, and provides both extensive networking opportunities and dedicated support in the job search process. 

Before we begin, let’s look at the different specializations and job roles in digital marketing.

How to Enter a Career in Digital Marketing: Your Guide

Digital Marketing Specializations and Job Roles

Digital marketing is a pretty broad church. There’s a diverse array of specializations within the field, so it makes sense to get familiar with these so you can decide which track suits you. 

Listed below are a few areas in digital marketing that you might want to consider.

Note: It’s not an exhaustive list, and there are plenty of subcategories within each of these areas—but this list is a good place to start planning your journey.

  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization), which involves optimizing websites and web content to improve their visibility and ranking in search engine results (e.g. Google or Bing), driving organic (i.e. non-paid) traffic to websites.

    Job roles examples: SEO executive, SEO specialist
  • Paid Search Marketing, which involves creating and managing online advertising campaigns through ad platforms (like Google Ads), where advertisers bid on keywords to display their ads in search engine results pages (SERPs).

    Job roles examples: paid search analyst, Google Ads specialist, PPC executive
  • Social Media Marketing, which focuses on promoting brands, products, or services through social media platforms to capture the attention of audiences, drive traffic (for conversions, signups, etc.), and increase brand awareness. 

    Job roles examples: social media marketing executive, social media strategist
  • Content Marketing, which involves creating, publishing and distributing/promoting content (on a blog, website, or other web platform) to attract and retain a target audience, ultimately with the aim of driving profitable customer action. 

    Job roles examples: content writer, content marketer, content marketing executive
  • Email Marketing, which involves devising strategies and sending targeted messages or campaigns to a subscriber list with the goal of nurturing leads, promoting products or services, and building relationships with customers via email.

    Job roles examples: email marketing specialist, email copywriter, email marketing executive
  • Digital Analytics, which involves collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data from digital marketing efforts to measure performance, track key metrics, and make data-driven decisions to optimize campaigns and strategies. (All of these fields demand some level of analytical skill, because you’ll need to be able to measure results.).

    Job roles examples: marketing analyst, digital analytics consultant, data analyst
  • Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), which focuses on improving the effectiveness of a website by increasing the percentage of visitors who take a desired action (for example, making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, or filling out a form). This might be achieved through A/B testing, user experience improvements, and data analysis.

    Job roles examples: conversion optimization specialist, conversion strategist

While a university degree isn’t always necessary in this field, all digital marketing jobs do require some technical knowledge and experience. This means that official, recognized, certifications can be crucial for demonstrating proof of expertise to recruiters and employers.

This is particularly true for paid search, which is the path that we’ll be mentioning most often in this article. Also referred to as pay-per-click (PPC) marketing, when done well, it has been shown to have a 200% return on investment (ROI), making this a particularly attractive field to get into. Businesses continue to see the value of PPC marketing, which creates a consistent demand for professionals who are skilled in this area. 

How to Learn Digital Marketing Skills: 2 Options

Here, we’ll explore two distinct pathways for acquiring digital marketing skills: teaching yourself and getting certified. Understanding the pros and cons of these two options will help start your career in digital marketing on the best track. 

Option 1: Teach Yourself Digital Marketing 

You might be thinking, do I really need someone else to teach me digital marketing when all the information is available online? The answer to that depends wholly on you. 

Teaching yourself digital marketing is definitely possible. You’ll find a plethora of information and videos online that’ll promise to teach you what you need to know about the digital marketing path of your choice. This option does come with some benefits. Learning on your own allows for the flexibility of studying at your own pace, and it is often the most cost-effective route. 

Once you learn the skills, you can put them into action in a number of ways. For example, you could develop your hands-on digital marketing experience by:

  1. Starting your own website/blog, and publishing content about your niche.
  2. Using free online SEO tools to optimize your content and audit your site.
  3. Installing free analytics tools (such as Google Analytics) to track performance.
  4. Testing small-scale ad campaigns with a modest budget, and tracking results.
  5. Tweaking your content to optimize for conversions, and running tests over time.

Practical, real-world experience is certainly desirable to hirers. But there are a few problems with just doing it this way without any formal structure.

First, independent learning isn’t for everyone—it demands a lot of discipline to stay focussed, overcome frustrations, and continue to hold yourself accountable to your learning goals. Second, it’s easy to slip into hidden bad habits without regular feedback, and some of the more technical parts of digital marketing will be difficult to grasp. Third, while recruiters love to see a self-motivated attitude, they’ll also need evidence that you’ve developed certain skills. It’s hard to prove this without some form of standardized certification.

Option 2: Get Certified!

Getting official certifications can make it significantly easier to enter the workforce as a digital marketer. As the skills involved in this field can be pretty technical and complex, these certifications serve as proof that you’ve not only acquired, but also honed, the skills necessary to excel as a qualified digital marketer. Put simply, they show you’ve really put the hours in.

Official certifications can significantly improve your chances of landing an interview, because recruiters specifically look for certifications on resumes to weed out lesser-qualified candidates. 

For example, some of Google’s certifications you can get for PPC include:

  • Google Ads Certifications, including:
    • Google Ads Search Certification (for search campaigns)
    • Google Ads Display Certification (for Display ads)
    • Google Ads Video Certification
    • Shopping Ads Certification (for eCommerce sites)
    • Google Ads Apps Certification

When it comes to getting these types of certifications, you have two options:

  1. Self-driven study, meaning you go it alone in your studies and take the certification exam without the support of anyone else.
  2. Guided learning, benefiting from expert teachers, a network of like-minded learners, and training in the soft skills that help you land marketing roles.

If you’re thinking of self-driven study, you’ll find the choice of online courses to be frankly overwhelming. A quick Google search will reveal thousands of video tutorials, each one with a different expert taking you through the various things you need to learn to pass the certification exams. These give you flexibility to study at your own pace, but you’ll lack structure and accountability. The courses range from very expensive to entirely free (though free ones often have a catch, such as paid-for Q&A sessions, or a subscription to reach the learning community). 

Guided Learning Towards Digital Marketing Certifications

Choosing guided and structured learning gives you an organized, accountable approach to acquiring digital marketing skills. The best programs will give you access to a community network that provides practical support, guidance, and—potentially—job opportunities.

Here are your guided learning options:

1. Community College

With around 1,000 in the U.S., you probably have one nearby. They cost less than universities and admission policies are usually fairly open. Also, you get access to a community of educators and some flexibility in class schedules (evening and weekend classes are common, which is useful for people who work full-time). 

However, you’ll be limited to what your local school offers, meaning specialist digital marketing courses might not be available. Plus, annual tuition to a community college is usually around $5k. Career advice is available, but it’s unlikely that you’ll be supported by a digital marketing industry specialist. And once you graduate, you’re on your own. 

2. Private Tutor 

A private tutor will give you personalized instruction and guide you through the material for passing the certification exams. However, this option tends to be pretty expensive. We’ve seen rates of between $50 to $150 per hour. 

If we estimate that preparing for a Google Search Ads and Meta Ads certification combined can require 90 hours, that adds up to a potential cost of between $4,500$13,500. That’s understandably out of reach for many people. 

3. Specialized Programs (such as Climb Hire)

Climb Hire is a non-profit organization that helps low-income and overlooked working adults land careers in tech. Climb Hire offers a specialized training program that provides students (aka Climbers) with the technical expertise, the soft skills, and the professional network that helps them successfully kick start their digital marketing career. 

More than 80% of Climbers get jobs within six months of completing the program—often doubling their salary to over $50k. 

Why Is Climb Hire Different From Alternative Guided Learning Programs?

Climb Hire stands apart from other programs and courses for many reasons:

  • In 2024, Climb Hire is giving scholarships to all students (thanks to our donors). This means the program is completely free to all students who are accepted. No catch!
  • Climb Hire offers intensive training that helps you truly learn the skills and approaches you’ll need in the field. 
  • Through our Paid Search Marketing program, you’ll earn the Google Ads Search Certification and become a Meta Certified Digital Marketing Associate. These are well-recognized certifications that digital marketing recruiters look for on resumes.
  • Climb Hire offers each student a dedicated Career Development Advisor who helps you land a job in digital marketing once you’ve completed the program. 
  • On top of the certification, you’ll get extra help crafting your resume and cover letters, and training for interviews. 
  • You’ll have access to a professional network of like-minded people who are in the same boat. You’ll get plenty of support, and many of our Climbers have found job opportunities through this community. Plus, even after you land a job, you’ll continue to have access to our groups.

Climb Hire’s alumni demonstrate our programs’ effectiveness. Miguel worked as a cook at various tech companies before realizing that other people at the company who were his age were making a lot more money than him. That’s when he decided he had to make some changes in his life and switch careers. After completing a program at Climb Hire, Miguel got a job at IBM in a role he’d not have been able to land before:

“Financially I’m making double what I was making before as a cook. It feels so amazing to me now on the other side. I’m so grateful for this opportunity.”
– Miguel Ruiz

Climb Hire’s Paid Search Marketing Program

With our Paid Search Marketing program, you get the Google Ads Search Certification and the Meta Certified Digital Marketing Associate certification. Both of these are globally recognized and in high demand among digital marketing recruiters.

These certifications give you a strong foundation of digital marketing principles, strategy, and analytical approaches. This includes not only paid search marketing expertise, but also strong SEO and social media marketing skills. You can preview the syllabus here.

But more than the certifications and the knowledge, you also get:

  • Hands-on experience delivering digital marketing work for a real client as part of the keystone project. 
  • Crucial soft skills that help you land jobs, such as participating in networking events, writing stand-out resumes and cover letters, and mastering the art of job interviews.
  • Your own Career Development Advisor dedicated to helping you with all aspects of applying for jobs.
  • A wide professional network, including partner companies who collaborate with Climb Hire and often recruit our outstanding entry-level talent. While we don’t guarantee job placement, the connections you’ll gain from the Climb Hire community—plus the demand for digital marketers—gives Climbers advantages when entering the job market.

You can apply for a spot in the Paid Search Marketing program via our website. Applicants will then be invited to a 30-minute interview with the admissions team. If you’re a good fit for the program, you’ll receive an offer to join. 

Remember: In 2024, all Climb Hire programs are tuition-free, courtesy of scholarships generously funded by donors.

Learning Programs for Other Digital Marketing Tracks

As we mentioned, the task of finding reputable, reliable courses can be overwhelming. To save you some of the trouble, we’ve done some digging and compiled several standout programs that cover the other digital marketing tracks we listed at the beginning of this article. 

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) 

Social Media Marketing

Content Marketing

Email Marketing

Conversion Rate Optimization

Digital Analytics

Next Steps: Starting Your Career in Digital Marketing

The next steps are up to you. Whether you choose the DIY path or a guided, structured, learning environment will depend on your individual wants and needs. 

Climb Hire’s Paid Search Marketing program gives you a realistic path towards a career in digital marketing. With free tuition for all students in 2024, not to mention a proven track record of 80% of graduates getting well-paid jobs within six months, the program stands out as a genuine opportunity to launch your digital marketing career.

To reiterate, completing the program provides:

  • Guided learning in a community to hold you accountable and keep you on track.
  • Official certifications in Google and Meta Ads, highly sought-after by recruiters.
  • Training in essential soft skills such as resume-building and interview preparation.
  • Access to a dedicated career guidance counselor and extensive professional network to facilitate job placement after graduation.

Apply today, and get started on your journey to becoming a digital marketing professional.

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