This post was originally published in June, 2018 and updated in November, 2020.
There’s no better time than right now to get into digital marketing.
Digital marketing has been one of the top ten industries for over a decade, and it’s showing no signs of slowing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the broad job outlook for the industry is continued growth by twice the national average throughout the 2020s.
If you’re looking for a career change, it’s well worth your consideration.
Of course, all of this opportunity also means there are lots of people lining up to take your money by offering courses, certifications, and all manner of industry secrets.
Some of it will be well worth each penny. Others? Not so much.
Here’s a deep dive into the world of digital marketing courses, certifications, and what you need to know before you pursue either.
3 Reasons Why You Should Beware Digital Marketing Certifications
Online courses aren’t just booming. They’re here to stay. Combined with the popularity of digital marketing, you’ve got a loooot of online training at your fingertips.
Getting into digital marketing has never been easier.
However, you’ll notice pretty quickly that in the competition for your cash, some courses make a lot of too-good-to-be-true claims.
One of those claims involves certifications, diplomas, or other very official-looking pieces of paper with your name and a seal of approval that says “digital marketer.” …!!!
Let me be clear: Beware courses that offer to “certify” you as a digital marketer. There are three big reasons why:
1. The Digital Marketing Industry Values Demonstrated Experience (A.K.A. Results)
Marketing efforts tie directly to sales and revenue. Therefore, much of it relies on metrics, making it a performance-driven field that can be measured easily.
That means “fake it ‘til you make it” is not an option in digital marketing. If you’re not delivering results, your boss/clients will know.
However, some less-than-reputable courses or organizations will push the fact that they offer “certification” in digital marketing or one of its specialties. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that they stay weirdly silent on the exact skills or knowledge they provide.
In general, you should walk away from any good course with a set of demonstrable skills that make you ready to take a job. Pay attention to whether or not the course offers the following:
- Quizzes or exams
- Assignments and homework
- Opportunities to build spec for your portfolio
- Other projects
2. There’s No Single, Respected Authority Handing Out Certificates
Unlike a degree from an accredited college, online certificates don’t carry much weight. It’s very easy to purchase one from an official-looking website for minimal to no effort.
Chances are, if you’ve never heard of this site or the “experts” behind it, and Google doesn’t have much to say about them either, then you’re probably dealing with an opportunist trying to sell you a piece of paper.
Don’t fall for it!
That said, some well-respected marketing associations and industry authorities do offer certifications. Usually, you need to take a test and become a member of their organization. This is a viable option for experienced marketers who would benefit from networking with a professional organization.
However, if you’re just getting into digital marketing, you don’t want this option for a few reasons:
- You won’t learn the skills you need to perform
- You’ll spend a lot of money that could be put to better use
- A job interviewer will spot if you can’t walk your talk in a heartbeat
I’ve yet to see certifications from any of them listed as a requirement in a job posting. Save the certifications with big-name organizations for when you’ve got a few notches on your belt.
3. The Success of the Course Depends on the Quality of the Teacher
Online learning is beautiful because it democratizes teaching. Lots of people have lots of real, valuable insights on different topics. They can now easily share their genuine expertise online.
Just like in a classroom, what you learn depends on the quality of your teacher. However, unlike a classroom, it’s easy to obscure exactly who’s doing the teaching.
Here’s a quick checklist to help you identify whether an instructor is a quality one:
- Overall quality of course contents. Does it seem well put together and professional, or is the content shoved into a poor web design and laced with typos?
- Instructor transparency. Is the instructor transparent about who they are and what their experience is? When you Google them, does evidence of their professional experience turn up?
- Independent reviews. Is it easy to find out what people are saying about this course? Can you find these testimonials on independent websites (not the course’s page)?
Learning from an experienced teacher with success in the trenches of the industry can take you further in your marketing career. When you look for certification opportunities, make sure your teacher has the chops to teach you well.
A better teacher = better results. And results are what matter.
Reputable courses will ALWAYS have instructors clearly identified. Source: Content Strategy & Marketing Course
What to Look for in a Solid Digital Marketing Certification or Course
I don’t want to scare you away from the idea of taking courses. In fact, many of them out there are well worth your time and money. However, spotting a solid course (especially when it’s advertising certification) can be tricky.
Here are six things to look for when you’re researching a course or certification program.
1. Practical, Up-to-Date Skills in the Main Disciplines of Your Field
You should do enough research into digital marketing or specific subfields to be able to spot outdated information.
Here are a few things to do to determine if the skills they’re offering are practical and modern, or if they’re selling a gimmick:
- Spend some time reading about the hottest skills in digital marketing in 2020. Is the course you’re considering going on and on about how PPC is the next big thing? Is it harping about the evils of “endless content marketing” or trying to sell the idea that SEO is dead? Pass.
- Google any statistics or numbers they drop. Check the source, especially how old it is. Are all of their statistics from 2014? Pass.
- Google terms you’re not familiar with and look for discrepancies in how they use the terms. For example, are they mixing up “content writing” and “copywriting” …? Pass.
- Look through the course syllabus. Does it seem mostly theoretical or can you identify the skills it teaches? Is it a lot of talking but nothing really hands-on? Pass.
2. Whether Case Studies and Tools Are Provided
Since digital marketing is so results-driven, it’s quite easy to create case studies that follow exactly what happened in a project and how it turned out.
Likewise, digital marketers rely on a whole array of tools to make their lives easier. Look through the curriculum and check to see whether you’ll learn at least one or two of the big ones that you might be expected to use. Some examples include Ahrefs, SEMrush, or Google Analytics.
3. Endorsements or Backings by Industry Professionals
One of the easiest ways to identify a quality course (and certification) is by studying who’s associated with it.
Professionals protect their reputations and won’t put their name on something that doesn’t meet their standards. Associations with industry leaders can be a major sign that you’re dealing with a reputable, quality course.
High-quality courses often have materials from industry leaders and professionals. Do you recognize these thought leaders? Source: Content Strategy & Marketing Course
4. Student Support, Both Within the Course and Tech Support
When it comes to technology, things can and do go wrong. That can refer to your studies, to the site functioning, or something else entirely.
What is the course you’re considering going to do about it? A good course offers the following:
- The opportunity for coaching, feedback, and mentorship from instructors
- Easy-to-access tech support
- A student community to connect with others and find social support
5. Clear Connections to How it Can Help Your Career Progress
Finally, any course or certification program you choose represents an investment. Therefore, it should have clear connections to how it helps your career progress. For example, many high-quality courses:
- Offer access to communities that you can use to grow your network
- Teach you industry best-practices that will be viable long-term
- Introduce the specific skills and knowledge you’ve identified that you need to move forward in your own career
- Demonstrates how its students have experienced increased earning potential and career advancements as a result of the course or certification
When Is a Digital Marketing Certification Worth It?
I’ve covered a lot about why you need to take care when you’re looking at digital marketing courses, especially when they claim to offer a certification.
However, I don’t want to demonize digital marketing certifications. Sometimes, they’re the right choice for you. A digital marketing certification is worth it when:
- It comes from a globally recognized brand. Some brands, like Google, are so large that certifications and courses from them will make a difference on your resume. Check out Google Analytics Academy, for instance.
- It’s in a specialty or niche that’s hard to learn on your own. If you specialize in content creation on YouTube, you may benefit from the YouTube Certification Program …an exclusive program only available to certain YouTube creators or partners.
- It’s on a topic that’s ahead of the curve. Some universities offer online courses and certificates on the forefront of technology in digital marketing. Stanford’s Machine Learning course is one such example.
- It comes from an accredited university. Many universities now offer rigorous courses and certifications in digital marketing that can bolster your resume. The one from the University of Vermont is an excellent example.
- You’re already an expert and want to enhance your credentials. If you’ve already got years of experience under your belt and want to prove it, a certification that requires an exam can help with that. Check out the American Marketing Association’s certification program.
Unless the certification falls into one of those categories, you’re probably better off taking a full course from an industry leader with demonstrated expertise. The Practical Content Strategy and Marketing Course is one example.
Bottom Line: Take the Course That Lets You Walk Your Talk
A digital marketing certification can be just what you need – if you choose wisely. With online courses and digital marketing booming, there are many people out there making fanciful claims with the intent of separating you from your money.
I’ve covered many of the more common gimmicks and provided plenty of tips for you to spot a solid certification program or course.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure the course delivers results. That’s what matters in digital marketing.
Interested in a free masterclass on content strategy and marketing? Check out the one I’ve created and get started mastering the hottest digital marketing skill of the year.