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!