So, you wanna be an online marketer? Build websites, rake in traffic, make money, am I right?
Yet, maybe you are not sure where to start. Is there a course you can sign up for? Will your local college be able to help?
Well, quick question: Do you know anyone who has a university degree in digital marketing? How about WordPress? How about how to run a website?
Coming up empty? Me too.
But how then does anyone learn online marketing? How do you get educated on how to run a successful website? Is there a secret school somewhere that nobody knows about but a select few?
Actually, yes. However, it’s far from secret and it is not so much in a unknown location as it is everywhere.
Formal education is dead, long live the Internet!
In times where the relevance of college degrees is steadily declining and the Internet is leveling the playing field in terms of schooling, more and more people make a living with stuff they have learned outside traditional classrooms.
Many of us who are in business for themselves, who work with WordPress and compete in the online market have no formal education to show for it.
For me, I can say that everything I know in terms of online marketing, web design, and WordPress, I have taught myself. Every single thing.
Sure, I have watched YouTube videos, read thousands of tutorials, maybe even took an online class here or there, but at the end of the day, I don’t have any official qualifications to speak of. I am just a guy who needed a website and taught himself how to make one.
I’m not saying that to boast. I’m very sure that I am far from the only one with this kind of resume. In fact, many of the Internet giants are just people who are really good at teaching stuff to themselves and applying what they learn.
Is that a good thing?
In one of my favorite posts ever, Chris Guillebeau makes the case for designing your own alternative graduate school program, instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a university degree.
It makes sense. Degrees no longer carry the oomph they used to and technology has made it easier than ever for people to strike out on their own.
Plus, especially in a field like online marketing, which is constantly changing and evolving, traditional forms of learning will have a hard time keeping up. It is a sector in which knowledge quickly becomes redundant and out of date.
Therefore, if you want to get good at this stuff, you will have to take your education in your own hands, design your own curriculum and build your own school, a university of one.
Don’t worry, it is much cheaper than traditional college but can be just as effective. In fact, there is so much material out there that you can get a first-class education without paying a dime. Want to know how? Just keep reading.
Key areas of online marketing
Before we dive into the tactics, however, let’s first look over what online marketing actually entails. The term itself is just an umbrella for a number of different disciplines.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to excel in every one of them to be an effective marketer and in fact, I discourage you from attempting to learn everything at once.
However, in one form or another, the following areas will have to become part of your study schedule:
- Link building
- Web design
- Blogging and copywriting
- Social media
- Paid advertising
- Email marketing
- Conversion optimization
Each represents an entire field on their own, complete with different rules and skill requirements.
That’s not to say that they don’t overlap. Getting skilled in copywriting, for example, will definitely help your email marketing.
However, each should be taken seriously on their own.
How to teach yourself online marketing
Without further ado, let’s look into how you can become a world-class digital marketer.
1. Study others
“To follow the path, look to the master, follow the master, walk with the master, see through the master, become the master. ” –Zen Proverb
One of the best ways to get good at anything is to follow in the footsteps of those who already are. Find people who do what you want to do and study them religiously. With so many great marketers out there publishing excellent content, you have more than enough opportunity to do so.
To keep up with what they have to say, I recommend Feedly. It is a free RSS-aggregator, which I migrated to after the death of Google Reader. Use it to sign up to the blogs of your role models (more an that below) and never miss out on their latest articles.
Another useful tool is Pocket. It allows you to save interesting articles and videos for later reading and viewing so you don’t forget about them if you are currently pressed for time.
As I already mentioned, you shouldn’t try to learn all online marketing at once. It’s a vast field and scattering your energies across all realms will slow down your progress. A better idea is to focus on one area, get really good at it and then move on to the next.
For example, my main skill is writing and blogging. I am a somewhat decent web designer, know enough code to make most things happen in WordPress, have a good grasp at SEO and other disciplines, but the first thing I learned was how to put together decent articles.
You will also see that many of the most successful blogs out there started out by being very niche. Brian Dean from Backlinko, for example, is first and foremost an expert on, you guessed it, building backlinks. Sure, on his blog he talks about much more than that, but this is his primary expertise.
So, go narrow first and then branch out to the next thing when you have the basics down.
3. Start a project
Like many people out there, I learned a lot of WordPress-related skills simply by using the platform. Only after I had already built several websites, did I take an online class that taught me more.
While it was totally worth it because I learned a bunch of new things I had never heard of, I probably never would have sat down and consciously studied WordPress if I hadn’t had a need to build a site first.
Therefore, in order to learn whichever skill you are trying to acquire, one of the best ways is to find yourself a project you can pour your energies into. Theory is never as good as doing things in real life.
So build a website, start a blog, offer someone help with their online presence. Just make sure you have something to work on and get better at.
This doesn’t have to be huge. For example, at the end of last year I decided to improve my knowledge on Twitter. Since I had never sat down and made an effort to learn this platform, the follower numbers of earlier accounts were meager. Now within four months I have attracted over 500 followers without any paid advertisement. All through careful content curation.
By the way, if you are interested in all things online marketing, SEO, social media, and WordPress, consider hopping on the list as well (sorry for the shameless plug).
Learning only happens when you are pushing your boundaries and going outside your comfort zone. Same goes for online marketing. Come up with ideas for your online project that you think could work, implement them on a small scale. If that doesn’t work, try something else.
It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop. – Confucius #quote #businessquote #inspiration
— Nick Schäferhoff (@nschaeferhoff) March 15, 2015
Again coming back to my Twitter account, one experiment that I am running at the moment is to tweet inspirational quotes about business and see how my followers react. If the interaction is good and followers go up, quotes will become a permanent part of my social media strategy. If nobody cares, the quotes go.
5. Analyze and tweak
This goes hand in hand with experimentation: One of the most important parts when it comes to learning is the ability to make your progress (or lack thereof) visible. If you can quantify your outcomes, you can make informed decisions.
Popular blogger Tim Ferris is a master at this (to the point of obsession). But never fear, you don’t have to become a member of the quantified self movement in order to become a decent online marketer.
What you do need to do, however, is to familiarize yourself with web analytics, as well as A/B split testing. Tools that can make your results visible in other areas are also freely available. In fact, even Twitter has an analytics page.
6. Learn by teaching others
Teaching is another excellent way to improve your skills. Presenting complex information so that others will understand it, requires you to be really clear about it first. This makes learning pretty much inevitable.
Blogging is a medium that you can use to publish your learning for the benefit of others (such as I am doing at the moment). In fact, most bloggers write about stuff they struggle with or are trying to figure out for themselves.
Pat Flynn from Smartpassiveincome.com is such a case. His slogan is actually “Let’s see what works.” Pat built a very successful and profitable website by sharing his own lessons and failures in building online businesses. If you solve problems for other people, you also solve your own (and might even create a business in the process).
Resources to build your own curriculum
Ok, now that you are all fired up and ready to go, let’s look at a bunch of resources, and then soak up all of the knowledge on online marketing that you can fit into your brain. The list below should suffice to keep you busy for a long time.
- New to WordPress: Where to start
- WPBeginner: How to learn WordPress for free in a week (or less)
- WPBeginner: WordPress beginner video lessons
- Lynda.com: WordPress essential training (paid)
- WPMU DEV: How to learn WordPress in a week (free)
- Code Academy
- Treehouse (paid)
General marketing and online marketing advice
- Marketing Land
- Neil Patel – Quicksprout
- Ramit Sethi – I will teach you to be rich
- Derek Halpern – Social Triggers
- Pat Flynn – Smart Passive Income
Blogging and Copywriting
- Quicksprout: The definitive guide to conversion optimization
- Backlinko: Conversion rate optimization (CRO) techniques, the complete list
The possibilities to learn online marketing are endless
Online marketing is something few people learn at college. Yet, it is becoming an increasingly important skill in our hyper-connected world.
Thankfully the Internet is abound with resources for anyone who is serious about taking up this trade. The material is already out there, all you need to do is collect, learn, and implement.
With dedication and discipline, you can become a decent online marketer over time. To make this outcome more likely, it is best to focus on mastering one area at a time before moving on to the next skill.
If you are willing to found the university of you and design your own curriculum, the above resources should give you a good start. Happy studying!
How did you acquire your skill set relating to building and promoting websites? Do you have any resources to share with the rest of us? If so, please do!
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