Saturday, February 11, 2017

How to Apply Digital Marketing Certification Content

Applying Principles from a Digital Marketing Certification 

In my prior post on teaching with digital marketing certificates in the undergraduate degree programs at St. Edward's University, I spoke about the available digital marketing certificates, such as Hubspot, HootSuite, Google Analytics and how they could be integrated into a course in Digital Marketing or other University-level courses.  However, as some readers noted in their comments, certifications are just a piece of paper, albeit electronic, and don't  provide real-world application of digital marketing that can aid in the transition to practice.

Certifications Are Like a Driver's License

For example, getting a certificate in AdWords is a bit like getting a driver's license.  When I got my license, I could operate a car, but I lacked the experience to drive in different types of traffic and handle the more challenging aspects of driving.  A driving license let me practice so I could get better.  The same principle applies in digital marketing certification.

Practice Makes Perfect

Therefore, a certificate in Google AdWords or Analytics is not that meaningful without practice in the discipline.  So I wanted to share how, in our classes, students practice these skills.  Let's talk about the major certifications we use in our classes here at St. Edward's University and how students apply these skills.  All of these certification programs are free to the students.  There are others, but we focus on the ones that are of high quality and are available at no cost.
Hootsuite, application, marketing practice
Students and their clients in Social Media class, Fall 2016, St. Edwards' University

Applying HubSpot Inbound Marketing Certification and Google Analytics

Many of the digital marketing classes are taken by three majors:  Marketing, Entrepreneurship and Digital Media Management.  In the Digital Marketing and Analytics class, each student effectively plans, implements and measures a digital marketing campaign.  The students write weekly blog posts on a topic related to their major or their personal passion in Blogger, which can easily be linked to Google Analytics under settings . They write about the information in Google Analytics and and Blogger statistics each week as they promote their blog and practice with posting different types of content.  The project Students comment on where their traffic is coming from and relate that to the personas from their blog

This project allows students to practice the good blogging principles of HubSpot Inbound Marketing certification such as the use of white space, headings, the effective use of headings and good titles.  Students also learn the basics of analytics that prepares them to become analytics certified in our Marketing Metrics class. The Google Analytics certification allows students to practice on an e-commerce database provided by Google, which is another great way to practice their certification knowledge.

Applying Google AdWords Certification

Google Adwords certification is great and gives students a resume builder and an understanding of paid search. To apply these concepts,  one approach is simply to have the students create sample ads and critique them in class. Another approach is to use a marketing simulation.  

However, arguably the best way to practice AdWords is to have the students compete in the Google Online Marketing Challenge (GOMC) or to work with a client on a project.  In the challenge, students get a $250 budget to work with a company that has not had a paid search campaign on AdWords at least in the last six months.  In a client project scenario, I have worked with companies that provided a similar budget and we have worked on paid search campaigns of interest to them.  Each approach has it's pros and cons, which I will discuss in another blog post.

The good news is that Google now allows students to take AdWords Certification for free, which involves passing the Fundamentals exam and an exam on one other on a topic such as search, video or mobile advertisements.  In fact, Google recommends that students become AdWords certified before or during the GOMC.  We have restructured our courses so that students do the GOMC in the senior course in the Marketing major, having previously been certified in the required Digital Marketing and Analytics course.  I know other Universities where the challenge in the sole focus of a course and I have taught it that way also. The projects can be done simultaneously, but, as I covered in a prior blog post in this series (check out the blog archive), the Challenge is so time consuming that involvement in it can take away from other classroom learning in digital marketing.

Applying Hootsuite Platform Certification

In our social media classes, students also write a blog related to their professional aspiration in the context of a personal branding exercise and plan. Students then use the Hootsuite social media management tool, which is available while they are getting Hootsuite Platform certified, to promote that blog and their personal brand.  This free certification is just how to use the tool and a bit about social media, but does not include the Social Media Marketing Certification, which is now, unfortunately, a paid exam. They learn how to use the Hootsuite. platform and also how to analyze the effects of their posts.

Students also apply the Hootsuite Certification material when they work with real-life clients in the second half of the class.  In addition to making suggestions as to how to manage the process of a social media management tool, students recommend which platforms to use and how frequently to post.  Clients have then implemented these suggestions and had applicable results in just a few weeks of working with students in our class. 

Plan, Implement, Measure

In all of these examples of applications of certification, the students learn how to plan, implement and measure a marketing campaign, whether it be it be promoting their personal brand, launching a blog or creating a paid search campaign.  Certification programs on their own are not effective in helping students understand the material or get jobs after graduation.  These projects provide application for deeper learning and professional preparation. We also incorporate HubSpot Inbound Sales and Salesforce Trailhead in to our Sales class, but I will cover this approach in a later blog post.  

Please let me know what other approach you take in your classes to apply the tools of digital marketing certifications. All of these certifications an be used in conjunction with textbooks that I have co-authored with Cengage to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Comment on this blog, email me at or catch me on social media.  Good luck!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Nine Tips for Coaching the Google Online Marketing Challenge

The Google Online Marketing Challenge as a "Real-World" Experience

This blog is dedicated to techniques of teaching digital marketing.  Previously, I addressed the issue of industry certification and some of the benefits in preparing the students with qualifications that are sought by employers.  There are other ways to provide real-world preparation in the Digital Marketing classroom.

The Outline of the Challenge 

For example, The Google Online Marketing Challenge is another way that instructors can give their students ‘real-world’ experiences in digital marketing. I have used many tools and techniques over the years and the Challenge has many benefits as well as some limitations. In a nutshell, students plan, implement and measure an online paid search campaign using at $250.00 AdWords budget from Google.  In the process, the challenge requires first finding a client and defining what makes the product/service unique so it can be promoted online.  The challenge can be used to reinforce the strategic marketing concepts that are taught in many classes because search keywords convey the company's unique strengths and positioning.  What follows are some tips for coaching teams in the Challenge.
GOMC, AdWords, search, Google, paid search
Students work in teams on the Google Online Marketing Challenge

Some Planning Tips

1) Emphasize learning. I have coached over 40 teams, many of them quite skilled, and we have never made it to any award level.  In speaking with those who have been selected, it seems that the difference is the dedication of the team, not the skill of the coach.  If the students and you get to fly to California, that is great, but it is also unlikely. Therefore, I recommend emphasizing the team's learnings or outcomes of the project and not necessarily the prizes.  The reflection part of the post-campaign report will help in this area, or instructors may also include other reflection assignments before, during and after the campaign.  I personally grade the challenge on the caliber of the written assignments and the team’s reflection, not necessarily the results of the challenge.  We often have a presentation based on the pre-campaign report so the entire class and sometimes the client can give feedback and we all learn in the process.
2) Expect the unexpected.  Especially when you are a new coach, you may not be able to foresee difficulties.  We had a team pick a support website for a psychological disease, not realizing that Google places many restrictions on that particular advertising category.  Believe it or not, there are sites that promote this particular behavioral disorder and Google goes to great lengths to make sure that it does not encourage this type of behavior in the ad envrinoment.  Inappropriate, dangerous, dishonest or counterfeit products or services are not allowed to advertise on Google’s networks. However, if you find your team in a sticky position, make the most of the situation.  There is a lot to be learned from even negative experiences and one of the women who was on the team that had all the challenges from Google still considers it to be one of her best project experiences and uses the experience in job interviews to talk about how she has overcome adversity.
3) Be prepared for mono-mania. This project can be all-consuming.  I recommend making the project the only project during the course and just having a few examinations and maybe a presentation.  Students will become completely absorbed during the running of the campaign and it is often good to give them class time to work on their campaigns and discuss problems as a group.
4) Consider timing. This project used to be confined to the Spring, which meant that after a few weeks of course intro, finding the client and working on the pre-campaign report, we were almost at Spring break.  Then we had to decide whether to run the campaign over break or how to handle the timing. Students are now allowed to run the campaign for any 21 days over a 31 day period, which means that teams can suspend their campaign over break. In any case, timing can be critical. I have run this challenge in an eight-week class, but we only had two weeks for the campaign. Instructors wishing to run the challenge in a short-form course would be wise to line up the clients before starting and have them present to the class during the first week.  
5) Try it yourself. I recommend setting up an AdWords account and writing some ads. I was fortunate to run a program where I had my own budget and we ran some ad campaigns for events. I got to learn how to do AdWords well while I was coaching my students.  Even so, I learned a lot from coaching the projects. Since the AdWords Fundamentals and other exams are now free, I recommend also taking at least the Fundamentals exam before starting as a coach. 
6) Expect some challenging clients. Even if clients have the best interests of the students at heart, they get busy and sometimes can’t help as much as they would like.  Ideal clients give access to their site analytics to the team, make website changes to improve the relevance of landing pages, and stay involved in the entire process.  Less than ideal clients never return students phone calls or emails.  Make sure the client companies already have a landing page so there is something to work with if the client gets too busy to work with the students.  Involving the clients by requiring them to have some 'skin in the game' like attending class at the beginning, end and middle of the project helps with not only the student experience but the project outcome. 
7) Consider two courses.  I’m not kidding. Most of us that have been doing this for a while are not trying to teach the students Internet Marketing and also have them run the Challenge.  Our approach at St. Edward’s is to get them certified in one course and teach the background and then have them participate in the Challenge or a similar project for another. 
8) Realize this is not Google’s major business. Google does not make money on the GOMC.  The GOMC is a public service that also benefits Google by getting them clients and training future digital marketers to use their software.  However, sometimes Google can  be late in approving pre-campaign reports or crediting accounts with cash and sometimes students don't follow directions exactly to get their campaign credits.  Sometimes there are technical difficulties in getting things set up properly.  All of these potential problems mean that it is important to include enough time in the schedule to correct any problems or difficulties.  I always let the students decide which three weeks they wish to run their campaign during any four week period, just in case a team runs in to trouble.  I build slack time in the course schedule to accommodate unforeseen circumstances.
9) Check for special contests.  Each year, Google runs special contests along with the Challenge. These contests are sometimes for use of social media, sometimes for having a non-profit client and sometimes for being AdWords certified.  Check the challenge guidelines each year to see if your students qualify as these opportunities can be extra ways to win.  
These are just a few tips that I have for you from my years in doing the Challenge.  If you have any questions or comments you can post on this blog or email me. If you would like a copy of the complete GOMC Appendix to accompany the new Zahay and Roberts Internet Marketing text, please email me at