Essential technical skills for digital marketers

Sadly, in my experience, marketers often lack technical skills. I fully agree with a post by Simo Ahava on the Myth of the Non-Technical Marketer. Digital marketing is technical, so you need to accept it and learn the skills you lack. It is not as hard as one may think and actually quite fun ;)

It is hard to learn things when you don’t know where to start. So I tried to summarize some topics I believe are important to begin with. I will provide some links, tips and thoughts on each, and the rest depends on your curiosity.

Technical skill requirements may vary based on your job role and responsibilities. In this article I will cover mostly PPC and Analytics, as those are the disciplines I have the most experience. Hopefully, that even if you have different specialization, you will find something to learn as well.

Solid understanding of Google Ads, Google Analytics, Facebook and other platforms

While those may not be perceived as “technical skills”, I strongly believe that it is essential to have a deep understanding of platforms you work with.

For example, some questions that you definitely will encounter in your work and should understand:

And this is by far not the full list of questions you may (and should) have.

So.. where to start? I would strongly suggest to start with brilliant basics:

Reading Help portals and documentation is not the most fun thing, but it is definitely worth it.

Once you have those covered, you can subscribe to blogs and specialists that cover the latest news, tips and learnings.

For PPC I would suggest to start with:

For Analytics and Google Tag Manager:

Again, this list of resources it surely not full, but I encourage to start with fundamentals and google the questions that you will have later.

Few tips on SEO and Facebook Advertising basics:

Excel and Spreadsheets

Also quite obvious, but as a digital marketer, you will work a lot with Excel and/or Google Sheets.

You definitely need to know pivot tables, conditional formatting, basic formulas and data visualizations, text-to-columns for data splitting (SPLIT function in Google Sheets). And know how to do this all both in Microsoft Excel (if you work with Microsoft Office Suite) and Google Sheets.

For Google Sheets, you also should know IMPORT functions, that allow to import RSS, XML, CSV and HTML data that you can reprocess and create own feeds for ad personalization and automation. Here is how you can publish your Google Sheets to the web.

How the Internet works: websites, browsers, cookies, ITP

As a digital marketer you will work a lot with websites. Do you really understand how the Internet works and what happens when a website loads?

If not, watch How The Web Works video by Academind.

Next, learn how to use Chrome Developer Tools as a Marketer. It will allow you to better understand how website tracking works (and how to debug it). So when it breaks (it will, sooner or later), you will be more successful in finding the issue and fixing it.

URL structure knowledge will help while working on campaign tracking and Google Analytics setup.

One more common technical challenge for marketers – redirects. They sometimes may screw your campaign tracking parameters or lead to error pages, so it is important to be aware of it. I really like this tool to check redirect status codes and if having redirect chains, ensure that does not break the tracking.

Last but not least – cookies. Cookies are critical for web analytics and conversion tracking. And with the recent privacy and data protection initiatives, cookies (and digital marketing specialists) are having a tough life.

If you haven’t heard about Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP), Safari announced that in their newest browser versions first-party cookies will be removed after 7 days (ITP 2.1) and after decreased it to 1 day (ITP 2.2).

What does that mean? After 1 day the cookies will be deleted by Safari, regardless of the setting set by Google Ads (30 day conversion attribution by default), Analytics (up to 2 years, 6 months for campaign attribution) and other platforms. That will mess up conversion attribution & optimization, remarketing audiences. Conversion volume will drop for businesses with path from click to purchase longer than 1 day. Remarketing lists will decrease significantly.

Prior to that, Intelligent tracking protection 2.0 by Safari already “attacked” 3rd party cookies, that were also used for conversion tracking by Google Ads and other platforms. Luckily, Google came up with a solution and updated their tracking code, now called global site tag and also introduced Conversion Linker Tag in GTM. Bing presented a similar approach with Universal Event Tracking. Facebook also changed their approach and introduced fbclid tracking parameters in URLs.

However, with first-party cookie limitation the situation becomes more complicated. For now, Safari has the most dramatic approach, with Firefox closely following. Learn more about ITP impact, workaround and implications in more details :

And the recent big news on this topic (mostly driven by Safari) came from Google, announcing their plans to drop 3rd party cookies in the next 2 years.

Yes, could’t resist to place this gif here :)

Cookie and privacy topic is definitely important to follow, as it directly impacts digital data we all rely on, reshaping marketing technologies and strategies. And definitely more updates and changes will come.

Coding basics

Ok, so this is the part where many give up before trying. Coding is not as hard as you may think. And while not all may become professional developers (that indeed requires some serious efforts), anyone can and should learn the basics. Some schools even include coding as one of the classes for kids to learn. So do you still think why?

First of all, there are many cognitive benefits of learning to code. It teaches you logic, problem solving, creativity – more in this TED talk.

For example, debugging, a process of finding errors in the code, is a good training for problem solving in digital marketing. Similar as with the code, if you have issues with your PPC ads or tracking setup, you need to go through all the steps and identify where is the issue, understand what caused it and how to fix it. And test again to ensure all is working as intended.

Second, as a digital marketer, you may occasionally need to write the code, or at least read and understand it.

All the tracking, from Google Analytics to Google Ads and Facebook pixels is based on JavaScript. If you understand basic JavaScript, how websites works (see above) and, of course, platforms you work with, you will find it much easier to setup website content and conversion tracking. Or at least better to communicate your needs to developers who will do the implementation for you.

You would often need to modify the data you are sending or receiving. For example, when building reports with Google Data Studio, lowercase or replace some incorrect campaign naming, or get part of the string for custom dimension. Here are the few functions you most probably will need. Or add some custom variables to Google Tag Manager – see some examples by Simo Ahava and in my blog. That all will require some basic coding as well.

When working with Google Ads, you could automate many things with Google Ads Scripts. There are many premade scripts you could use just by copy-pasting. You can find some here or just google – there will be plenty of free scripts to choose from. With basic coding skills, you could not only read and implement those, but also tweak and even write your own from scratch.

As you may have noticed already, JavaScript is the number one language to learn as a digital marketer. You can start with:

Basic HTML knowledge (W3Schools and CodeAcademy) will also be beneficial.

Knowledge of CSS selectors will help if you work with GTM, so you would know how to select any HTML element. Here I would suggest to learn by playing a game :)

And learn RegEx to be more efficient in filtering data when working with Google Analytics reports, or creating Triggers in Google Tag Manager.

Oh, and if all arguments were not sufficient enough, coding is also fun. And you will understand coding memes and jokes. That alone is a good reason to learn coding :)

Be curious and learn constantly

This is surely not the full list of technical topics to learn as a digital marketers, so if you have any suggestions from your experience, I would be interested to learn.

As digital economy and technology evolves, I am sure that technical skills will be in high demand. However, don’t forget to develop your soft skills – critical thinking and problem solving, data analysis, communication and presentations, creativity and others. They also are important and it is the combination of technical and soft skills that will help you succeed.

Most importantly, be curious and ask questions, as the answers (in most cases) can be easily found in Google :)

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